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Montgomery was born in Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and graduated from St John's College, Oxford, in 1943, with a BA in modern languages, having for two years been its organ scholar and choirmaster. From 1943 to 1945 he taught at Shrewsbury School. He first became established under his own name as a composer of vocal and choral music, including An Oxford Requiem (1951), but later turned to film work, writing the scores for many British comedies of the 1950s. For the Carry On series he composed six scores, ending with Carry On Cruising, including the original Carry On theme subsequently adapted for later films by Eric Rogers. Montgomery was responsible for both the screenplay and score of Raising the Wind (1961).
Montgomery wrote nine detective novels and two collections of short stories under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin (taken from a character in Michael Innes's Hamlet, Revenge!). The stories feature Oxford don Gervase Fen, who is a Professor of English at the university and a fellow of St Christopher's College, a fictional institution that Crispin locates next to St John's College. Fen is an eccentric, sometimes absent-minded, character reportedly based on the Oxford professor W. E. Moore. The whodunit novels have complex plots and fantastic, somewhat unbelievable solutions, including examples of the locked room mystery. They are written in a humorous, literary and sometimes farcical style and contain frequent references to English literature, poetry, and music. They are also among the few mystery novels to break the fourth wall occasionally and speak directly to the audience. Perhaps the best example is from The Moving Toyshop, during a chase sequence – "Let's go left", Cadogan suggested. "After all, Gollancz is publishing this book."
Gareth Roberts has stated that the tone of his Doctor Who novel The Well-Mannered War was modelled upon Crispin's style. He also remarks (of The Moving Toyshop) that "It's more like Doctor Who than Doctor Who." Christopher Fowler pays homage to The Moving Toyshop in The Victoria Vanishes, his sixth Bryant & May novel. Crispin is considered by many to be one of the last great exponents of the classic crime mystery.
Montgomery's output of music and fiction all but ceased after the 1950s, but he continued to write reviews of crime novels and science fiction works for The Sunday Times. He had always been a heavy drinker and there was a long gap in his writing during a time when he was suffering from alcohol problems. Otherwise he enjoyed a quiet life (enlivened by music, reading, church-going and bridge) in Totnes, Devon, where he resisted all attempts to develop or exploit the district, and visited London as little as possible. He moved to a new house he had built at Week, a hamlet near Dartington, in 1964, then married his secretary Ann in 1976, just two years before he died from alcohol-related problems. His music was composed using his real name, Bruce Montgomery
A biography by David Whittle, Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books (ISBN 0754634434) was published in June 2007.
Crispin also edited seven volumes entitled Best Science Fiction, which were published during the 1960s.