Thanks to the Wiltshire Times, a longstanding mystery regarding the identity of the author of a book regarded as one of the best French language learning guides ever written has been solved.

In September 2008 the Times printed a letter from Irish firm Phaeton Publishing Ltd, asking for information about former Trowbridge man Harry Thompson Russell. In the 1920s his books on Brighter French, written in a typically 1920s style, had great appeal and sold like popular novels. He had published them only as HTR, and his identity was still a secret as recently as the 1980s.

The firm had discovered that the copyright holder had lived at Southfield House, Hilperton, and had died in 1953 in Hilbury Nursing Home in Trowbridge, now the Hilbury Court Hotel on Hilperton Road.

Desperate to get permission to reprint the books, the firm had got in touch with many former and current Trowbridge and Hilperton people before approaching the Wiltshire Times: the letter in our columns got an almost immediate response from Harry Thompson Russell’s granddaughter and copyright holder, Anne Aston, who still lives in Trowbridge.

Now the books have been re-printed, together with a biography of their author put together using pictures and information supplied by Mrs Aston.

Lt Col Russell was from a well-connected family (his grand-niece was a lady-in-waiting to Diana Princess of Wales) and he led a thoroughly Establishment life for his first 50 years, retiring from the Army at the end of the First World War and settling in Ireland.

All this was changed by a divorce in 1926, which cut him off from his financially comfortable past and sparked him into becoming an author. He remarried, and had a daughter, Patricia who became the mother of Anne Aston. He and his second wife Marion worked as private detectives for a time in London, and in 1927 he published Brighter French, which enjoyed a huge popular success and was re-printed ten times. In the 1930s the family lived in the south of France, returning to England in 1940 as war refugees. Eventually he got a job as head gardener at The Courts in Holt, and from 1946 he and his family rented Southfield House in Hilperton and took in paying guests. After his death in 1953, his widow moved to Warminster.

Brighter French and the Brighter French Word Book will be published on May 28 and will be available in bookshops locally.

Phaeton Publishing would love to hear from anyone who has memories or anecdotes about Lt Col Russell when he lived in west Wiltshire: they can be contacted at