Charles William Shirley Brooks (1816-1874), English novelist, playwright and journalist, was born on the 29th of April 1816. He was the son of a London architect, and was articled in 1832 to a solicitor for five years. He became parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle, and in 1853 was sent by that paper as special commissioner to investigate the subject of labour and the poor in southern Russia, Egypt and Syria; the result of his inquiries appearing first in the form of letters to the editor, and afterwards in a separate volume, under the title of The Russians of the South (1856). He wrote, sometimes alone, sometimes in conjunction with others, slight dramatic pieces of the burlesque kind, among which may be mentioned Anything for a Change (1848), The Daughter of the Stars (1850). Brooks was for many years on the staff of the Illustrated London News, contributing the weekly article on the politics of the day, and the two series entitled "Nothing in the Papers" and "By the Way." In 1851 he joined the staff of Punch, and noteworthy among his numerous contributions were the weekly satirical summaries of the parliamentary debates, entitled "The Essence of Parliament." His long service as newspaper reporter gave him special aptitude for this playful parody.
In 1870, on the death of Mark Lemon, "dear old Shirley," as his friends used to call him, was chosen to succeed to the editorial chair. His first novel, Aspen Court, was published in 1855. It was followed by The Gordian Knot (1860), The Silver Cord (1861) and Sooner or Later (1868). Brooks was a great letter-writer, deliberately cultivating the practice as an art, and imitating the style in vogue before newspapers and telegraphs suppressed private letters. He had an astonishing memory, was brilliant as an epigrammatist, was a great reader and a most genial companion. He was in his element with a group of children, reading to them, sharing their fun and always remembering the birthdays. He died in London, on the 23rd of February 1874, and was buried near his friends Leech and Thackeray, in Kensal Green cemetery.
See G.S. Layard, A Great "Punch" Editor: Being the Life, Letters and Diaries of Shirley Brooks (1907.)