Sayers, Michael (1911–2010), writer and journalist, was born on 19 December 1911 in Dublin, the youngest of four children (three sons and a daughter) of Philip Sayers (1876–1964), a businessman, and his wife Molly (née Harmel). Philip Sayers was born in Lithuania, came to Ireland as a young man, and developed a successful business career successively in Cork and Dublin. He was an active supporter of Sinn Féin, and through his contact with Michael Noyek (qv) met both Arthur Griffith (qv) and Michael Collins (qv); Michael Sayers had strong memories of police raids on the family home during the war of independence. After the Anglo–Irish treaty, Philip Sayers went to London, where he enjoyed considerable success as proprietor of the Albion Greetings Card Company in Hampstead; he returned to Ireland after the second world war and is buried in the Jewish cemetery at Dolphin's Barn.
Michael Sayers was educated at Cheltenham College, and then studied law at University College London (at his father's behest) before decamping to TCD, where he wrote poetry for the College Miscellany and mixed in the milieu around the Gate Theatre, writing for Motley, a magazine published by the theatre and edited by Mary Manning (qv). After graduating from Trinity (where Samuel Beckett (qv) was his tutor in French), Sayers lived a bohemian life in London (with the assistance of maternal subsidies), complicated by his parents' separation and by an intense love affair he was conducting with his cousin Edna. He wrote poetry and short stories of Irish life modelled on those of James Joyce (qv); three of these appeared in successive issues (1935–7) of the annual anthology Best short stories [of the year], edited by Edward O'Brien. T. S. Eliot thought Sayers's poetry showed promise and recruited him as a drama critic for his literary magazine the Criterion. Sayers also engaged in a lively correspondence with Ezra Pound and contributed drama criticism and stories to the New English Weekly (edited by A. R. Orage (1873–1934)) and the Adelphi magazine (edited by John Middleton Murry (1889–1957)).
Through the latter two journals Sayers made the acquaintance of the writer Rayner Heppenstall (1911–81), with whom he flat-shared for a time. This in turn brought him into contact with the former imperial policeman Eric Blair (1903–50), who was in the process of transforming himself into a proletarian writer under the name George Orwell. (Sayers always referred to him as 'Eric Orwell'.) For six months in 1935, Sayers and Heppenstall shared a flat with Orwell in Kentish Town, London. Sayers recalled their intellectual exchanges – which included Orwell's questioning Sayers about Ireland and arguing over the literary value of the poetry of W. B. Yeats (qv) – as intense to the point of homoeroticism. Both younger men were self-consciously highbrow and looked down on Orwell as an amiable eccentric who might become a popular writer but was unlikely to produce anything of artistic value (though Sayers was impressed by the care with which Orwell worked to develop a 'transparent' literary style). Sayers was at this stage a communist 'fellow traveller' and regarded Orwell as a sentimental tory anarchist. Their cohabitation ended after a violent quarrel between Orwell and a drunken Heppenstall. Sayers's Adelphi review of Orwell's early novels Burmese days and A clergyman's daughter is often cited by Orwell scholars.
Sayers left for America in 1936 (with letters of introduction from Eliot) to work with the famous theatre designer Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958). He also experienced further radicalisation, partly through marriage in 1938 to Mentana Galleani (daughter of the notorious propagandist of anarchist terrorism Luigi Galleani (1861–1931)), with whom he had two sons. Sayers also became a journalist for left-wing publications such as the magazines Friday and PM, and the newsletter the Hour (run by the left-wing activist Albert E. Kahn (1912–79), producing journalistic exposés of pro-Nazi activity in America and elsewhere.
In 1944 Sayers published a series of articles in PM alleging that the Irish government of Éamon de Valera (qv) was pro-fascist and anti-Semitic and connived at the existence of spy networks run from the Dublin embassies of the Axis powers; he cited the Berlin activities of Francis Stuart (qv) as 'proof' of the existence of an Irish-based 'fifth column'. In a subsequent debate on American radio, Sayers repeated these allegations but refused to name any of the Axis agents supposedly active in Ireland, leading de Valera supporters to accuse him of 'telling lies about the Irish people' and making assertions without evidence. These activities led the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs to inquire into Sayers's background; several prominent Irish Jews (prompted by the government) produced a statement denying that the Irish state was in any way anti-Semitic.
Sayers and Kahn co-authored three best-selling books. Sabotage!: the secret war against America (1942) outlines the activities of Axis agents and sympathisers in the isolationist movement (opposed to US entry into the second world war) and alleges that isolationism, unknown to its rank and file, was a deliberate Axis-directed conspiracy involving both psychological warfare against America and schemes for physical sabotage. The plot against the peace (1945) combines accurate description of the crimes of Nazi Germany (including the enslavement of Slavs and the genocidal mass murder of Jews in extermination camps; Sayers reported on the camps for Fortune magazine but the editor rejected his story as unbelievable) with claims that Nazism was simply the latest manifestation of an ongoing conspiracy (pre-dating the first world war, and incorporating the governing classes of the Weimar republic) by German political and military elites to brainwash the German population and work towards world conquest. The book claimed that an international Nazi underground was already being constructed to prepare for a new war, which could only be avoided by comprehensively dismantling German military and economic power and punishing war criminals. Criticism of the Soviet Union was an attempt by reactionaries and Axis sympathisers to divide the victorious alliance and prepare for the resurgence of pan-Germanism. This theme is further developed in The great conspiracy: the secret war against Soviet Russia (1946; reissued as The great conspiracy against Russia), which cites accurate information about the reactionary, pro-Axis and anti-Semitic nature of much anti-communism in an effort to delegitimise all criticism of the USSR. The book extensively reproduces the allegations of the Moscow show trials (1937–8) that numerous leading Bolsheviks had conspired with Hitler at the instigation of Leon Trotsky, and that Stalin's purges had been far-sighted and successful attempts to suppress fifth column activity. Among the independent Marxist organisations thus smeared are the Spanish POUM, with whose militia Orwell served in the Spanish civil war until its liquidation by the Stalinists.
On a visit to London in 1946, Sayers renewed his acquaintance with Orwell at a long, boozy, and amiably quarrelsome dinner. Orwell later sardonically remarked that Sayers seemed entirely Americanised, with his Irish accent only re-emerging when he had drink taken, and suggested that his pro-Sovietism was mainly influenced by hope of profiting from increased Soviet trade with the West. Sayers, however, was sufficiently influenced by Orwell's denunciations of Stalinism (and insistence that his anti-communism did not mean he had ceased to be a leftist) to adopt a more independent Marxist position.
In the post-war years Sayers moved into the developing American television industry, writing scripts for NBC television dramas (which at that time were broadcast live). His satirical play 'Kathleen' (a gender-inverted version of The playboy of the western world by J. M. Synge (qv), implicitly hoping that Ireland would not succumb to the forces of gombeen capitalism) had a short Broadway run in 1948. Soon afterwards, however, Sayers was blacklisted at the behest of the House un-American activities committee (which he had denounced as a Nazi front) and obliged to leave America, initially settling in London. Here he introduced the actor Dirk Bogarde (1921–99) to the blacklisted film director Joseph Losey (1909–84); they became regular artistic collaborators.
Like several other blacklisted writers, Sayers wrote pseudonymous scripts for television costume drama serials produced by the company Sapphire Films, including, as 'Michael Connor', four episodes of the celebrated serial The adventures of Robin Hood and an episode of the 1958 ITV serial The invisible man; he is also alleged to have written episodes of Ivanhoe, William Tell, and The avengers, and he scripted several British and German TV dramas under his own name, including the 1954 BBC short film The walking stick. He contributed stories to the international, Italian-based multilingual literary journal Botteghe Oscure. In 1955 Sayers's marriage to Mentana Galleani ended in divorce, and in 1957 he married the Paris-based American artist Sylvia Thumin (d. 2006). They acquired a house in the village of Alba in the Ardèche department of southern France, but also lived in Crosshaven, Co. Cork, in 1958–9 with the aim of renewing contact with Sayers's Irish roots. (After Sayers's American visa was withdrawn, Conor Cruise O'Brien (qv) assisted him in obtaining an Irish passport.) 'Kathleen' received a Dublin premiere in 1955, and was broadcast that year on BBC television and radio.
Sayers produced the final script for the profitable though critically execrated James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967), in the process securing readmission to the United States, and from 1980 mainly lived in New York. He acted as creative consultant on other Bond movies and produced an early script for the 'hippie musical' Hair; he taught screenwriting and encouraged many younger writers. In his last years his plays 'Electra: the legend' (1997) and 'The neutrals' (1998) were staged in New York, while 'Joan Saint Joan' (1991) was produced in London. He also returned to poetry, which had not been published at the time of his death in New York on 2 May 2010. As his literary work has not been collected and is relatively inaccessible, it is difficult to assess his achievement, but he was certainly an influential man of letters and a late-surviving witness to the inter-war literary scene.