Sir John Cecil MastermanOBE (12 January 1891 – 6 June 1977) was a noted academic, sportsman and author. His highest-profile role was as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, but he was also well known as chairman of the Twenty Committee, which during the Second World War ran the Double-Cross System, controlling double agents in Britain.
Masterman was born in Kingston upon Thames, and educated at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, and Dartmouth, then at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read modern history. In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, he was an exchange lecturer at the University of Freiburg, and as a result spent four years interned as an enemy alien in the Ruhleben internment camp. During his internment, Masterman took the opportunity to further polish his German.
After his return from captivity, Masterman became a tutor in Modern History at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was also censor (senior tutor) from 1920 to 1926. In the 1920s he became notable as a player of cricket, tennis, and hockey, participating in international competitions, and in 1931 toured Canada with the Marylebone Cricket Club; in Stephen Potter‘s book Gamesmanship he was acknowledged as a master gamesman.
After the Second World War Masterman returned to Oxford, becoming Provost of Worcester College (1946–61), where Ann Mitchell was his secretary until 1949. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford during 1957 and 1958. In 1959 he was knighted for his services to education.
In 1933, he wrote a murder mystery novel entitled An Oxford Tragedy, set in the fictional Oxford college of St. Thomas’s. It was written in the point of view of an Oxford don named Francis Wheatley Winn, who was Senior Tutor at St. Thomas’. He served as Watson to the novel’s Sherlock Holmes, an amateur sleuth named Ernst Brendel, a Viennese lawyer “of European reputation”.
In the novel, Brendel delivers a series of lectures to the Law Faculty. He had a good reputation as a detective with the quality of “a man to whom secrets will be confided”. When an unpopular tutor was found shot in the Dean’s rooms, he took it upon himself to solve the crime. He of course solved the case, and the murderer thus exposed committed suicide.
The novel itself was quite unusual for its time in providing an account of how murder affects the tranquil existence of Oxford dons. While it was a variation of the old theme of evil deeds done in a tranquil setting, it did establish the tradition of Oxford-based crime fiction, notably in the works of Michael Innes and Edmund Crispin.