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There was cricket, as seen in The Best Loved Game (1979), and Lord's (1983).

There was Rugby League, about which he wrote the classic At the George (1989), a book which evinces his loyalty to the North of England and which would lead to Hell's Foundations of 1992.

Inspired, as he was throughout his life, by an intense curiosity about human experience, he had attempted a crossing of the 3,600 miles of the Sahara Desert from the Atlantic to the Nile, accompanied only by camels and one guide.

Much went awry: a camel rolled on the sextant, the guide lost supplies and life-saving water was only found by following the tracks of nomads.

Geoffrey Moorhouse's early book on the Church, followed by Against All Reason, bear witness to his long devotion to Anglicanism as a regular communicant up to his death.

But as a driven writer he could hardly avoid having a rather wayward personal life, being three times married and three times divorced.

In it he recalled being woken one night by the din of traffic which proved to be the Russians withdrawing from Afghanistan.

This is immediately evident in what was his next book, written while still in journalistic harness: Against All Reason (1969), an acclaimed and intense study of what makes the "religious" take holy orders.

In 1970 he dauntlessly resigned from The Guardian to become a full-time author, devoting himself, through a tally of some 29 books, to any subject which engaged his passions.

It was a matter of pride to him that he did not and could not carry any authorial label, or be fitted into any commercial pigeonhole, and whatever loss that carried in terms of a recognisable popularity was counterbalanced for him through the recognition of his peers.

He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1982 and (precious to one who long regretted having had no academic career) awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Warwick in 2006.

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His desire to write took him into journalism, initially as a Bolton Evening News reporter and then briefly at the News Chronicle.