The black sheep of the family? The rise and fall of Hitler's scouse nephew
He was born in Liverpool in 1911, a product of the romance between the Fuhrer's brother and his Irish sweetheart. Now the extraordinary story of William Patrick Hitler is coming to the stage. By Jonathan Brown and Oliver Duff
The year 1911 was one of Liverpool's most turbulent. Tension among the city's seamen was to spill over into a general transport strike that would paralyse the "Second Port of the Empire" for 72 days and bring hardship to the thousands of families dependent on the men's wages.
But for a young Irish woman living in a tiny flat at 102 Upper Stanhope Street in the Toxteth area, the times were good. Bridget Dowling had met the man of her dreams at a horse show in her native Dublin the previous year. With his handsome features, fashionable clothes, and handlebar moustache the young Austrian, called Alois, appeared every inch a man of the world.
Telling her he was a wealthy hotelier studying the industry in other parts of Europe, he swept the impressionable 17-year-old off her feet. "Everything he said was so new and interesting that even his broken English seemed charming," she later recalled.
But the course of Bridget's love was not to run smoothly. As the couple enjoyed trysts at Dublin's National Gallery and planned a future together, the girl's father, William, was growing concerned about the relationship. Not least because he had discovered his daughter's suitor was a waiter in the Shelbourne Hotel - a position he had been sent to by a London employment agency.
Pre-empting their disapproval, Bridget and her boyfriend eloped to London and were married on 3 June 1910. The wedding infuriated William Dowling who tried to have Alois arrested for kidnap. But by 1911, peace had broken out in the family and Bridget's father had made the sea journey to Liverpool to attend the baptism of his first grandchild. The child's name was William Patrick Hitler.
The boy was to grow up to be regarded as one of the most notorious scoundrels of the 20th century. A man who tried first to cosy up to, then to blackmail and to betray, before finally trying - for the rest of his lifetime - to conceal his relationship with his uncle, Adolf Hitler. Next year, British theatre audiences will have the opportunity to learn more about his extraordinary life when the New York playwright Mark Kassen brings his play Little Willy to the West End.
The one-hour show has already proved a hit with US audiences and critics. The New York Times described the character created by Kassen as "a parastic, failed careerist who had not one moral or political conviction that he wouldn't sell for a dime."
History has not been kind to William Hitler. Little is known of his early life growing up in Liverpool except that, like many around them, the family was poor. William's father ran a restaurant on Dale Street, a boarding house on Parliament Street and a hotel at Mount Pleasant. But his skills as a businessman were lacking and he was eventually made bankrupt.
Much attention has been focused on a visit to the family said to have been made at this time by his down-and-out half brother. In her memoirs, My Brother Adolf, Bridget said the future Führer stayed with the family between November 1912 and April 1913.