Peter B

Peter B

Peter was born in Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield on 26th March 1930.

Peter is being interviewed by Sue Roe on the 29th May 2012.

SR: Between 1945 -65 did you live in Sheffield in that period?

PB:’45 To (19) ‘47 Lived in Millhouses, Bannerdale Rd; and  from ‘47 –’49 on Crescent Rd in  Nether Edge. And then- no (19‘48.) And then it was Army and Oxford and then came back to Sheffield and to Dore till the ’65 period.

SR: Oh thank you. I’m just going to ask you some questions about your reading.

Did anyone read to you when you were young, as a child?

PB: Yes: Mother.

SR: Mother read. And any particular time? Any particular situation?

PB: Usually bedtime stories.

SR:  Any particular books?

PB: None that I recall now but they would be the usual child books.

PB: Child books.

SR: What were the first books that you read that made you feel you were reading adult books?

PB: I used to visit my cousins who lived in Greenhill. Two girls who were three and five years older than me. And they had books. I was a fairly precocious reader- I could read very readily by the time I was five. And they had books – they were, sort of, I suppose, girl- slanted, but the one I can remember most clearly was Little Women, is that Louisa May  Alcott? And I  also I read some sort of  boys, pretty  basic, Robin Hoods and Hereward the Wake, and you know, sort of quasi-history stories.

SR: You say you were a precocious reader – you could read when you went to school?

PB: Yes

SR: And did you read much on your own as a child?

PB: Yes

SR: What sort of books did you progress onto? What sort of books did you read as a child, before you read Hereward the Wake?

PB I suppose – Winnie the Pooh and then I got, by the time I was sort of seven or eight -Richmal Crompton’s Just William. It sounds dreadful now but it was, they were reasonably well written and grammatical.

SR: So the sort of grown up books were more like Little Women and Hereward the Wake – historical type books. Where did you get books from?

PB: They were bought for me by my parents or I borrowed them from my cousins or friends or what have you .I wasn’t into going into bookshops then – I was too young for Blackwells.

SR: Did you go to the library?

PB: Yes – to Highfields.

SR: Highfields  Library.  Did you go on your own?

PB: Yes.

SR: Just catch the tram?

PB: No, yes I would catch the tram when I lived at Millhouses . Earlier I forgot to mention, before the period you mentioned, we lived with my grandparents on Chippinghouse Road [SR Oh yes I know] and that was  because – I went for a short spell to Lowfield  School – so it was  all within walking distance but when I lived at Bannerdale Rd I probably walked down to catch the tram.

SR: Hmm.

SR: When you say your parents bought you books, was that sort of for presents, for Christmas. For birthdays?

PB: Yes.

SR: Would you ask them to buy particular sorts of books?

PB: Yes.

SR: You had the sort of idea of what you wanted.

PB: Yes that’s right.

SR: Now these books that you read as a young adult. Can you think of any that made any particular impression on you?

PB: Up to what age?

SR: In your teens.

PB: Oh. By then I was reading pretty broadly – Dickens, and you know, the sort of easily accessible classics that you read. And – very difficult now to recall the specific impression from a specific book but I read a lot and I enjoyed it.

SR: So you read a lot as a teenager.

PB: Hmm.

SR: And classic books. Can you think of any others that you read – in your teens?

PB: Oh Lord, “Teens” takes me up to the Army.

SR: Yes. OK then – at school then.

PB:  Hmm well. One did various books, for instance School Certificate and High School Certificate- can’t remember oh now- Tale of Two Cities was one of the set books and also, at the time, it was very avant garde – sort of  what’s her name,  James Joyce, Ulysses – that sort of … and novels as they came out at the time I suppose.

SR: Contemporary novels.

PB: But bear in mind that by the time I was 16, I was studying fairly hard. I got a History Exhibition to Oxford and that involved a fair amount of reading so there wasn’t a lot of …  and what with that, I was also engaged in music – I played a lot of piano at that time.

SR: So not much time for reading.

PB: Not a lot but I like to think until I was out of my teens I was well read for my age. But then other matters take over.

SR: What kind of books did you really like in that period? Did you move on?

PB: I liked History – I’ve always slightly thought that novels are a waste of time in that … I suppose, indirectly, you learn things but … I got more out of biographies and history books and …

SR: You read those for pleasure as well as study?

PB: Yes I did.

SR: Any particular biographies stick out?

PB: Hmm. Oh yes, Elizabeth by Neale – that was the classic one then. But … and there was Peter the Great – H. A. L. Fisher or something like that. You know the sort of …

SR: Yes – good biography. Why is it that you were drawn to History and history books do you think?

PB: Could have been (chuckles) Hereward the Wake, I suppose, and Robin Hood. I don’t know- I’ve always been. When I was very young, my father was a musician and we travelled around and lived in a number of places and I would be taken to stately homes they would now call them and what have you

SR: Historical settings? Must be very appealing
PB: Yes

SR: As a teenager, young adult where did you get your books then? Did that change?

PB: School library.

SR: School library. Which school?

PB: King Edwards, and City Libraries. I used to spend as time got on … Sheffield Libraries were very good – either the Reference Library which was upstairs at Surrey Street and  then the Science and Technology Library which a lot of the History stuff was in downstairs so I read it there

SR: And did you use the Sheffield Central Lending Library?

PB: Yes, although – the answer is yes, but I wouldn’t have said that was the major source of reading.

SR: Because it didn’t have the sort of books, a lot of books you wanted?

PB: That’s right.

SR: Did you think that King Edwards was well equipped library wise?

PB: Hmm. Yeah.

SR: As a school? So you got plenty of history books, biographies?

PB: Yes that’s right. You know – got sort of various analyses of Shakespeare, still have them, some of it a bit esoteric.

SR: Did you get anything from bookshops?

PB: Oh yes – I used to … There was  a lovely second bookshop on Division St called Applebaums and I used to go in there and not only … I used browse as well as buy in there.

SR: I remember that one on Division St. Any others that you remember in town or elsewhere?

PB: Erm yes. There was one called Wards.

SR: Yes that was on Chapel Walk I think?

PB :Yes and  I’ve always had – of course  I was spoiled at Oxford – practically a bookshop on every street; but yes, Wards and some of the places like Boots – quite apart from their Lending Libraries which I didn’t utilise but they would sell stuff from time to time

SR: So you didn’t subscribe to the lending libraries like Boots and Red Circle?

PB: No – I didn’t feel the need quite frankly. As I said, the City Libraries were, I think, quite good and by that time I was beginning to amass a stock of my own.

SR; Did you go to second hand bookshops?

PB: Yes.

SR: Can you think of any of those?

PB: Well Applebaums but then there was a record shop called Violet Mays and she used to deal in second hand books.

SR: Can I just borrow that?

PR:  [he spells it out] and I think that  was somewhere on South St, down there, – of course it’s all demolished now- but she did and there was – oh it’s very difficult  to think of particular shops.

SR: There was Hartley Seeds that was Church St.

PB: Yes that’s right.

SR: What else is there? Dickinson’s? Does that ring a bell?

PB: That doesn’t ring a bell.

SR: Me neither. Cos Blackwells was on …

PB: There wasn’t a Blackwells then.

SR What was the one on West St – on the corner? Quite a big shop. Do you know what I mean?

PB: Yes. Yes I do – and Blackwells were pretty latecomers in Sheffield. Cos in those days the shops that are now Blackwells were called something else. The Broomhill one wasn’t Blackwells.

SR: It was Taylor’s Bookshop.

PB: I gather Blackwells are not renewing their lease in Broomhill

SR: No. It’s not renewed its lease on Sheffield Hallam either it’s gone from there which is a shame.

SR: So you didn’t mind getting second hand books either?

PB: No I like second hand books.

SR: Why is that do you think?

PB: Because if you browse in second hand bookshops you very often find something of interest, that arouses your interest – not the same way as in a new …

SR: They probably wouldn’t have stocked it. A bit more esoteric, left field?

PB: That’s right.

SR: Did anybody encourage you to read?

PB: Didn’t need encouragement.

SR: So your parents?

PB: Well they – I have no criticism – they knew I was interested in reading so they let me get on with it. I didn’t … and I wasn’t … they didn’t attempt to direct my reading in any particular way. Maybe if I’d started going wrong they would have corrected me but as far as I remember I didn’t.

SR: Did anyone make you feel reading was waste of time?

PB: No; and they would have received a fairly brusque rebuttal if they’d tried.

SR: So certainly not your parents?

PB: No.

SR:  Friends?

PB: They wouldn’t have been my friends if they were of that attitude.

SR: Where and when did you find time to read?

PB: I think if you want to do something, you can always find time. I’ve  always been – not so much lately – but I  was always  an early morning person – I found both at  school, and at university, army, everywhere  – if you get up early in the morning, particularly  light mornings we have in  spring and summer, you are not interrupted, weren’t interrupted. We didn’t have a telephone in those days but if we’d had one, it wouldn’t have interrupted you.  And you’re not impinged upon – the rest of the house is probably asleep. So I’m not saying I did all my reading in the early morning but if you could grab half an hour, something like that, or you know, after tea – it had to fit in with football and  piano playing and whatever, but if there was something I was particularly interested in reading, I suppose I would tend to concentrate on that and perhaps get shouted at … ‘Peter’…  by mother.

SR: Have you, were you ever made to feel embarrassed about what you read? Was it a guilty pleasure?

PB: No.

SR: No, right . Did you ever read anything because you thought it might improve you? The things that you ought to read, because they were highbrow?

PB: Erm I doubt it because – It may indirectly have improved me, by any increase in your knowledge is an improvement (tea would be lovely thank you) but nothing to – but  I didn’t read anything like “How to win Friends and Influence People” or something like that. I would have found that a bit pretentious.

SR: This idea of reading classic literature? Because it was classic.

PB: No but I did read you know a lot of it up to my teens but not to improve myself. I read it because I wanted to and partake of the knowledge therein.

SR: Reading … for like you say, for certificates, was not to impress, for a particular purpose,

PB: That’s right.

SR: Can you think of any books that you read when you were young and enjoyed that you wouldn’t dream of reading again, now?

PB: Well, Just William is one example or Enid Blyton. Erm.

SR: You mentioned Just Wiliiam. You read those as a youngish child? And Enid Blyton?

PB: And Enid Blyton, Famous Five and then also … Arthur Ransome.

SR: Swallows and Amazons? Did you enjoy those?

PB: Yes, I thought Arthur Ransome was good; and even at the age I then read it.  I was always a bit suspicious about Enid Blyton’s Famous Five  – they didn’t really seem to be the sort of group that I would have wanted to be a part of, really.

SR: So those sort of children’s books. Any of the books you read as a young adult, a teenager,  that you enjoyed, but looking back, you think, I wouldn’t read those now.

PB: Yes. Lots of sort of general histories that were not of the depth that you’d really benefit from but when you didn’t know anything about it, I mean there were books – somebody’s “An Illustrated History of the First World War”-and this sort of stuff, which, as a kid ,you saw photographs of Zeppelins, Kipling’s, Kitchener’s boat being torpedoed, I wouldn’t read it now.

SR Do you remember, I think we gave you these to look at.

PB: Yes I did. Surprisingly I couldn’t see Dickens on it anywhere.

SR: He’s in the Classics. If you look at the Realist fiction that’s on the first page, does any of that ring a bell?

PB: I’m just trying … no Thackeray but there it is.

SR: Any of the realist fiction and again – this is  not meant to be a definitive list.

PB: H. E. Bates – he’s a extremely good writer. And Arnold Bennett’s Five Towns. And Braine, which is Braine?

SR: Is that Room at the Top?

PB: Yes that’s right. Oh Cronin: not Stars Look Down but I’ve read other A. J. Cronin’s.

SR: You don’t like the doctor, medical stories?

PB; Well He was a doctor, wasn’t he, Cronin? That’s right … and the BBC serialised one.

SR: Dr Findlay isn’t it?

PB: No not Findlay. There was a chap who fought, the water supplies were impure and everybody was getting cholera. (SR: Oh yes) Anyway, yes that one.

SR: Do you like sort of realist fiction … like Bennett?

PB: Yes, I do like Bennett. I think Bennett is beautifully written.

SR: So that’s very important to you … as well as the plot and everything but how well it’s written?

PB: Oh yes.

SR: Have you heard Warwick Deeping?

PB: Heard of him yes but can’t honestly commit myself to saying I’ve ever read him. And going down the list … Gilbert Frankau, and Galsworthy- The Forsythe Saga and all that stuff.

SR: Have you read those?

PB: Yes, yes.

SR: Did you enjoy them?

PB: Felt they were a little heavy and the BBC – everybody was a bit pious in Galsworthy – do you know what I mean? Boring in a word and a bit, quite a bit of class, indirect class snobbery: Upstairs Downstairs that sort of thing.

PB: Bbb. [looking down the list] Lots of Somerset Maugham and er … and Priestley and Nevil Shute,

SR: Did you like Somerset Maugham?

PB: Oh yes.

SR: Can you think of any?

PB: The Moon and Sixpence.

SR: Yes. I get mixed up with Evelyn Waugh if I’m not careful.

PB: Yes they had similar private lives.

SR: Of Human Bondage?

PB: Yes that’s right.

SR: I didn’t come up with all of these names so I don’t necessarily know any of their works. Did you like Priestley? Yorkshire writer?

PB: Yes, provided you got used to the fact “he was a very simple man” [in Yorkshire accent].”We had to walk across three fields- it were Huddersfield, Sheffield…”

SR: “Trouble down at mill wit Luddites” Good Companions?

PB: Basically I always thought of Priestley as a playwright rather than a writer of fiction.

SR: An Inspector Calls?

PB: Yes.

SR: Does it , do you mind the regional aspect of Priestley … that wasn’t a bother?

PB: No I wouldn’t because I was a Yorkshireman but I can understand that those who weren’t would find him a bit tiresome.

SR: What about Nevil Shute?

PB: Erm, because he came … he wrote some war novels didn’t he?

SR: A Town Like Alice.

PB: Yes that’s right -that’s part Burma war, Jungle, Japanese war camp and then Australia.

SR: Then it’s On the Beach- that’s post- apocalyptic.

PB: That’s right – then they made a film. That’s the last film that Fred Astaire made- On the Beach.

SR: Slightly incongruous.

PB: That’s right yes.

SR: Did you enjoy Nevil Shute?

PB: Yees. But I wouldn’t have said … he didn’t, as it were, light my fire particularly.

SR: Any of the others? Any realists? Like … Did you read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist?

PB: Yes I did.

SR: Very often people have him on their shelves but don’t actually read it.

PB: Yes that’s right  the sort of thing you read as a sort of slightly  left wing student, isn’t, it before you learn sense.

SR: Did you, I won’t say enjoy it – it may not be the sort of book that you “enjoy”.

PB: I found it then, as I find it now, a bit sort of pious. I, erm.

SR: It didn’t ring your bell? As we say these days.

PB: No it didn’t.

SR: H. G. Wells?

PB: Yes, War of the Worlds. And er …

SR: Science fiction?

PB: Science fiction as a whole drives me up the wall. I cannot do with it particularly on the tele. I loathe and abhor and would run a mile to avoid War of the Worlds – I don’t mean H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds but I mean  the spaceships, zipping to and fro “Beam me aboard Scottie”.

SR: What is it about it? Is it because it’s unrealistic?

PB: It’s unrealistic, and I think  it’s a waste of time; it does nothing for me – it’s not well written, from the point view of language or grammar; it doesn’t, it seems to me, do anything by way of characterisation or what have you . I just find it … you know, mind you,  I suppose I’m in the minority but …

SR: Yes. Sometimes there’s not much science in Science Fiction.

PB: That’s right. I’d rather watch a good cowboy any day.

SR : Any of the sort of rural books?

PB: Er.. Well, obviously, I read Tarka the Otter.

SR: Did you like the sort of animal type stories?

PB: It’s a bit bunny hugging – if you’ve had an otter bite you, as I have, you don’t think of them as such  cuddly ..

SR: Rose coloured spectacles?

PB: Yes it is  -it’s anthropomorphism I think – as  Watership Down, and you know ..

SR: But did you enjoy it?

PB: I thought it was …  Tarka the Otter was well written and Sarla the Salmon I think he ‘s also written which I – instead of a furry one it’s a scaly one.

SR: Not as cuddly.

SR: Any political works? We’ve only got one example  but can you think of any?

PB: Well, in a sense that a lot of … I’ve got dozens of biographies on the shelf … you know … both Gladstone and Disraeli, all the way up through to Macmillan and what have you … so … and Churchill. So if you’re reading the lives of people Harold [?] Jenkins or whatever… then you’re reading politics and finance. But as a  book specifically politics of so and so … I would not read  …

SR: for choice.

PB: No, but by absorption you must be …

SR:  … reading about Gladstone and Disraeli.

SR: You’re obviously a History student – what about historical novels … do they …

PB: As a lad I would enjoy Baroness Orzcy and The Scarlet Pimpernel and … you know that’s good [?]

SR: Swashbuckling.

PB: That’s right. The Three Musketeers.

SR:  Quite exciting.

PB: Yes, and again well written.

SR: Any sort of female authors like Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy?

PB: Yes. But I didn’t read them because they were female authors, I read them ‘cos they were authors who happened to be female.

SR: Did you enjoy them? Georgette Heyer tends to be Georgian, Regency.

PB: Yes that’s right  – which is a good period anyway.

SR: A lot going on. Any adventure books like Tarzan? John Buchan

PB: John Buchan- Thirty Nine Steps; Salute to Adventurers; Greenmantle – Buchan yes.

SR: Did Erskine Childer have his … The Riddle of the Sands

PB: He looks upon the incipient German Navy, doesn’t he?

SR: It’s a pre First World War.

PB: Yes.

SR: But I can’t think of any other book that he wrote, personally.

PB: No, and I think, wasn’t he tried for treason?

SR: Was it the Easter Rising, I think – he was involved, in Ireland I think it was that. Perhaps he didn’t have time to write anymore. What about Rider Haggard- King Solomon’s Mines?

PB: Yes, yes.

SR: What was the attraction there, do you think?

PB: Well, the  exotic, I think – you know  up the Limpopo without a paddle, you know and crossing the Magic Mountains range and what was her name – Nefertiti, Umslopogaas and whatever. It’s a good raunchy [?] tale.

SR: Then She who must be obeyed, all sorts of things.

‘Cos you’ve got Victor Hugo- Les Miserables, all sorts of stories.

PB: Heavy going.

SR They’re long aren’t they – I’ve read Les Miserables and that could do with a bit of editing,

PB: Yes they could be pruned without losing anything.

SR: A whole chapter, 40 pages on the Battle of Waterloo?

PB: Have we time to record throughout this or do you want to switch it off?

SR: It’s easier if we keep recording. We can just have a hiatus. I’ll prune it later.

PB: Cake? I think there’ll be a plate under there. How do you take tea?

SR:  With milk but no sugar. Lovely cake – I’ll have to compliment Sandra

PB: Yes, made with the eggs of our ducks.

SR: Oh.

PB: I remember using the Bodleian Library and there was …

SR: That’s at Oxford isn’t i?

PB:  Yes, and a very sniffy woman said “You are not allowed to eat in the library”.  I said” I don’t eat the oranges – I just use their peel as bookmarks”.

SR: I bet that went down just as well.

PB: Yes, I was very lucky at Oxford because, apart from the Bodleian, which is lovely, my tutor was a fellow of All Souls as well as my college; and in All Souls was a library called Codrington. Codringtons were people who founded All Souls. It was all built from money from slaves and sugar. That’s where their money came from. But The Codrington Library is a long Georgian library, exquisitely furnished – sort of astrolabes and things like that  – and I found that more conducive to learning and studying than any place I’d ever been.

SR: Just the right atmosphere.

PB: It was magnificent; and if that’s elitism, then so be it.

SR: It does matter – your surroundings.

PB: So some good came out of the slave trade and the sugar business.

SR: I don’t know if you read any Dennis Wheatley?

PB: Yes- bullfights in Spain. And  it was all a bit … the Camargue and  places like that where he set a lot of his novels – I wasn’t impressed; if I’d been impressed I’d have been able to tell you. Is it The Devils?

SR: The Devil Rides Out, The Devil’s Disciple.

PB: Yes – read him.

SR: But not particularly memorable.

PB: No, not memorable, no.

SR: Did you read any war novels – like The Wooden Horse – those escaping novels.

PB: The Wooden Horse was written by Williams and he was a member of Exeter College which was my college at Oxford. Because he survived and escaped and he was there; I went up in ‘48 and he came down in ’48.

SR: So your paths didn’t cross.

PB: So our paths didn’t cross all that much. But yes, I remember it/him and it was a good book too.

SR: Did you like war novels generally?

PB: War and Peace. There’s one, a new one, newish one Vladimir Grossmann who was probably the bravest and most successful of all war reporters but not well known because he was doing the Russian bit and he has written a novel which I’ve got and the name of which I can’t – it’s like a latter day War and Peace but with the Russian war and concentration camps – amazing stuff. Yes.

SR: What about Biggles? Do you remember Biggles?

PB: Yes, I remember Biggles and Ginger!

SR: And Algy?

PB: But … Yes. I read it but I wouldn’t read it again you know. It’s ..

SR: Children’s stuff?

PB: Yes it is. It’s rather like the sort of literary version of like … Dandy and Beano and Wizard where all the Germans say Acht Schwein.

SR: But with fewer pictures. “We have vays of making you talk”.

PB: That’s right.

SR: Do you like thriller – like Eric Ambler etc?

PB: Yes.

SR: Graham Greene wrote some thrillers. Edgar Wallace As I said, these lists aren’t meant to be exhaustive if you can think of any …

PB: I can’t think of any.

SR: Alistair Maclean but he’s quite new, newer  think

PB: Yes – and a lot of the sort of stuff, I mean,  in the biographies like Fitzroy McLean- he was in Yugoslavia through the war, and it’s true and  real, and I find that  more rewarding than reading fiction

SR: That’s thrilling enough. Were you a fan of crime fiction? … detectives?

PB: A great fan of Raymond Chandler. I think I’ve read everything he’s ever written and seen most of his film scripts.

SR: What is it that you like about him?

PB: Oh, he writes brilliantly –and he can create an atmosphere. His description of anything – from the Californian foothills to the sleazy bits of San Francisco or wherever. He is, I think, without analysing it, I would have thought he’s technically a brilliant writer, and I found it engrossing both his characters. And of course he never…  he wrote in the present- it was never “he said, she said”. It’s Philip  Marlowe living;  love him. And Sherlock Holmes, of another generation.

SR: Conan Doyle. You like those? What is about that? Is it the plotting, the working it out?

PB: Yes, it’s ingenious.  Also Conan Doyle … he wrote … he always resented the fact that he was known for Sherlock Holmes . He wrote some very good historical novels – like The White Company for instance, and he had a sense of humour as well. When, in The White Company, they are travelling along and there’s rather a pious young man and they come upon somebody who’s about to be hanged and the pious young man says,”Should he not first come to justice?” and the … [?] captain says – …”Verily not, for see, for justice has come to him”.

Very good, I like that and I also like the Flashman series of novels – those are excellently written.

SR: George somebody … He’s got three names – I can’t remember.

PB: Scotch – George something McKenzie. He was in the jungle in Burma in the war.

SR: Was he really?

SR:  Not Compton McKenzie – that’s the, he was a comic writer.

SR: What about Agatha Christie? And Dorothy L Sayers?

PB: Not as much. I think it was one of the names Ngaio Marsh.

SR: The New Zealander?

PB: She does a good crime novel.

SR: You enjoy crime fiction. Apart from the good writing, what is it that does it for you? Is it the plots?

PB: Yes and the characters are sometimes interesting. Having spent a lifetime – not in crime – mine was civil law but concerning courts and it’s interesting when you read to see if the one who is writing knows anything about it or not.  It’s readily apparent when they don’t.

SR: It’s like reading historical novels when you’ve taught the period.

PB: That’s right. They make all sorts of interesting mistakes.

SR: Did you like comic novels at all?

PB: Mm.

SR: P. G. Wodehouse?

PB: Yes P. G. Wodehouse. Yes; I don’t think of those as novels, if you follow what I mean.

SR: Just books.

PB: Of course Wodehouse writes beautifully.

SR: Because it’s not just Jeeves – the ones with the pig who lives in the house …

PB: Lord Hemsworth of Blandings. The pig is called Empress of Blandings and – but they had those wonderful names … what was his name? one of his mates?- doesn’t matter now, but  they had bizarre names – Gussy Finknottle – that’s it.

SR: Have you ever heard of the Don Camillo novels?

PB: Yes Read them … or Giovannino Guareschi and it’s sort of post war and wartime Italy, isn’t it, with the priest and then there’s the bicyclist Peppe, and there’s this wonderful fencing between the communist mayor and the Catholic priest.

SR: And you enjoyed those?

PB: Yes.I enjoyed them. I read those when I … I think at the time, not long after they’d been written. I read those at Oxford so the late 40s/early 50s. Yes, loved those.

SR: Did you read Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbon?

PB: Yes.

SR: Did you like that?

PB: Erm all right.

SR: Did you read any of these sagas, Mazo de la Roche- type saga? The Jalna novels? I’ve not read then myself.

PB: No

SR: … and Hugh Walpole?

PB: Yes but … no.

SR I hesitate to ask this – do you read any romance novels? Like Ethel M. Dell and …

PB: No.

SR: Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone with the Wind and …

PB: Ah yes but Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell. I would have read Gone With the Wind because it had very good American Civil War stuff in it.

SR: Ah yes, excellent in the film -the burning of Atlanta.

PB: Yes but …The scenes when the drunken deserters go to the place and the sack of Atlanta. The film was well done – the film was fairly faithful to the book … but if anybody’d had asked me, I wouldn’t have first thought of it as a romance. That’s why I wouldn’t have thought of that as a romance.

SR: It is one of the great romances.

PB: Yes it is. Any more than Romeo and Juliet’s a romance.

SR: No Mills and Boon then.

PB: No Millsand Boon. Not knowingly.

SR: You said you liked Westerns – Western films or Western books or books set in the West.

PB: Yes, there are some good novels – Zane Grey is all right – he’s a bit dated now but yes …  they were all right.

SR: They were popular at the time.

PB: Yes.

SR: Did you like Westerns at the cinema?

PB: Yes. Oh yes and remember walking up through the fields from Bannerdale Road to go to Greystones Saturday mornings, when for 2d you saw the serial western and the main feature film and got a bag of sweets.

SR: All for 6d!

PB: 2d.

SR: It was 6d for me and I was at the Abbeydale Cinema- that big white one.

PB: My great grandparents were shareholders in that when it was built and so until I went to Canada ‘53 we had books of tickets which entitled us to get in … not free but reduced price.

SR: It was a good place. Did you read any of these which are loosely termed “Shocking books”? Books that were a bit risqué?

PB: A Clockwork Orange?

SR: Anthony Burgess – did you read that? Did you read there’s one called the Ginger Man, J.P. Donlevy.

PB: Heard of it but haven’t read it.

SR: These Radcliffe Hall books.

PB: Well, that’s Well of Loneliness – well, yes –it’s …you read it, as it were, to enrich, if that’s the right word, your general knowledge of the world.

SR: What about Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Because it was in the Sixties – all the hooha about that.

PB: Yes, but it was written in the Thirties – read it, of course, even before copies were generally available. Yes. Lots of that.

SR: Did you think it was a good book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

PB: Again It was a bit…. It’s a bit like Forsythe Saga if you know what I mean – it’s a bit dated.

SR: Yes because he’s a gamekeeper and she‘s a lady.

PB: So, yes. Read a lot of his – Virgin and the Gypsy.

SR: The Serpent, The Rainbow.

PB: Yes. I’ve been to … he finished his days at Taos in Mexico and there’s like a little museum thing  to him there.

SR: There’s a similar plot in The Go-Between.

PB: That’s right. But of course he was … his … he advanced literature in the sense that it was the first time that sort of thoughts had been attributed to the working class. You had to be either a business man or a lawyer or something to be written about.

SR: Working class were servants.

You said you read a lot of Dickens. Do you still like him, still enjoy him?

PB: I think he’s amazing as a spinner of plots and that’s why they can never make a decent film of Dickens because there’s so much more in a book than they can ever portray in a film.

SR: I always think in there’s a lot of the non-dialogue there’s so much humour and social comment and that’s what tends to get left out. You said you read most of them?

PB: Yes- well, half of them anyway. And just – there’s a very recent good biography of Dickens. Claire Tomalin.

SR: What about Jane Austen, a different sort of author?

PB: Georgette Heyer. I like the 18th century but that’s almost like a cartoon of the 18c, almost like a sort of parody – it’s not meant to be a parody.

SR: Did you read any of the other classics like Conrad and Hardy?

PB: Conrad’s Nigger of the Narcissus, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim – yes, a fair bit of Conrad.

SR: Thomas Hardy?

PB: Yep.

SR: ‘Cos people can have a sort of phase and read all the books of one author. Was that your technique?

PB: Yes, one of the books we had to do for Higher School Certificate was The Mayor of Casterbridge and I thought that was quite good.

SR: It’s a sad book.

PB: Yes – well Hardy wasn’t, I don’t think, a happy man quite honestly. You can’t think – he wasn’t a light comic writer was he? But Jude the Obscure and er … mmm I’ve certainly read half a dozen of his books.

SR: Do you like them? They’re set in 19c/ early 19c.

PB: Yes but I always think that Arnold Bennett is so much better. I know that’s not the general [?] now but I’m a Bennett man. But I’m not anti – Hardy, he’s – good West Country stuff.

SR: You said you read Joyce? Have you read Ulysses? Did you enjoy that?

PB: Yep it was a bit … it was the sort of thing you read as a young teenager you know. And Hereward’s Wake?  – what’s the other one? Finnegan’s Wake. And they were … it’s amusing.

SR: There’s some others sort of general- like Kingsley Amis, Pearl Buck, Catherine Cookson, Aldous Huxley – do their names ring bells?

PB: Aldous Huxley yes, but not Catherine Cookson

SR: ‘Cos Aldous Huxley is a sort of almost science fiction.

PB: Yes but it’s 1984, no, not 1984, Brave New World.

SR: Brave New World, Chrome Yellow?

PB: That’s right.

SR: Did you read any Orwell? 1984.

PB: Yes. I think Animal Farm as well.

SR: What about The Road to Wigan Pier?

PB: Yes. I’d put that in the same pigeon hole as The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist really.

SR: Too earnest?

PB: Yes.

SR: C. P. Snow?

PB: Corridors of Power and what have you. Again, I would have counted him as a political writer. Politics always featured.

SR: Science and Art, isn’t it?

PB: That’s right.

SR: Any, I don’t know, Elizabeth Taylor? – not Elizabeth – yes Elizabeth Taylor.

PB: That’d be a biography.

SR: Thornton Wilder; the Waughs- Evelyn Waugh? You said you read those.

PB: Yes the usual, Brideshead, Call to Arms, and Gentlemen and Officers [?] …  all those.

SR: Who’s not on the list?  Ernest Hemingway. Just occurred to me cos you mentioned bullfights earlier on.

PB: Yes I know – curious. Hemingway writes well but very stylistic: “I shot him; he lay there; he did not move”.

SR: Really short sentences, no fancy writing. What about Virginia Woolf? That sort of …? What do they call it, that set …

PB: Erm again, didn’t light my fire.

SR: And as we’ve said science fiction isn’t your particular bag. Can you think of any other authors that we’ve not mentioned. We talked about history books- you said like those?

PB: Well, history books – I could go on forever because I’ve got a houseful and there’s been some very good writing in the last half century. I remember when I went to Canada and lived there for two years, a couple of pals there who were also interested in history and they were very good on the American Civil War which I touched on partly when I was at school doing the history exams. Recently now, when I say recently, I mean in the last 15 [?] years there was a man called Bruce Catton who wrote a wonderful trilogy on the American  Civil War: Mr Lincoln’s Army, The Glory Road and A Stillness at Appomattox and he started a sort of technique of really telling the tale through the mouths of the individuals which is of course possible in the American Civil War, not possible with our, not a lot in the Civil Wars as  there weren’t many literary records (SR: A bit more one-sided).   That technique which I first came across is now used by Max Hastings and he’s a good history writer. His Armageddon and Nemesis about the end of the wars in Germany and  Japanese and another one called All Hell Let Loose and it involves a fantastic amount of research. They must interview literally thousands of people.

SR: That’s a more popular style of writing now – once it was very much a more Lewis Namier – type of approach.

PB: That’s right. And when you read the two great histories of the Peninsular War – Oman and Namier- they use part of that technique by citing from people like Private Turner and Sgt Whats-his-name but now I would imagine in  Hastings’ books two thirds of the script is probably quoting from people’s letters. But he strings it together well.

SR: So the balance … History is good for that technique effectively I think.

Do you think reading has changed your life at all- the reading you have done?

PB: Oh, Very much so – I would have thought of a very substantial part of such as I’ve learnt of life, I’ve learned from books. My life, let me put it this way, my life would have been different and I would have been different if I’d hadn’t had the ability and the privilege to have had access to a lot of printed stuff.

SR: Do you think that’s why you ended up at Oxford, because you read a lot? One of the reasons.

PB: One of the reasons yes. The irony was – I got there on a History Scholarship but I didn’t read History but I did, one of the advantages of Oxford … (Sorry Were you there? SR: No. I did History but I wasn’t at Oxford).

PB: One of the advantages of Oxford was, when you went up, you had access to all the lectures. I was Jurisprudence but I didn’t do a lot of their lectures because they didn’t fit in with the books and if they didn’t fit in with your syllabus, they weren’t really very helpful. But lots of lectures  – Lord David Cecil on the English Humorists – and things like that – you could go to stuff generally that was not part of your course, and as I say, when I went in the Codrington  Library  you could tiptoe across to the shelves and there were priceless volumes that you could just take down and read, which was a privilege.

SR: Can I ask you a few short biographical details because obviously when they need to flesh out, when they doing the analysis.

SR: You said you were born in 26 March 1930?

PB: That’s right.

SR: And you were born in Sheffield?

PB: In the ancient sort of Wapentake of Ecclesall Bierlow which was then the registration thing.

SR: In hospital or at home?

PB: No, at home. Well at my grandparents’ house on Chippinghouse Road. And it was very propitious because when I took the scholarship and got to King Edwards, I was also awarded an Ecclesall Bierlow bursary which gave me each term inter alia £5 which was more than it now sounds …  a new cap, a new school tie and a set of geometrical instruments, which, for a historian, weren’t a lot of use. But that was because I was born in Ecclesall Brierlow.

SR: How did your family come to be in Ecclesall?

PB: My mother’s parents came … my mother’s grandfather, great grandfather, was born in Sheffield. He was a builder, an estate creator. He had quite a large family, of which my mother was sort of part and so … My father’s family came from D.H. Lawrence country (SR: Nottingham?). Well yes but more particularly Eastwood, Heanor (SR: Is that where the mines are?). Yes that’s right. Right at the heart of the Nottinghamshire coalfield.

SR: And how did he get to be in Sheffield?

PB: Erm, my mother’ … they got there because his father was a miner and he moved from there to Sheffield because he was a very good brass instrument player. And he got a job working for a colliery and never went down the pit. He was paid just to play in the band and that’s how they were here.

SR: I’m sure that’s preferable!

SR:  And you lived in your childhood?. You said you born in Ecclesall.

PB: Well, Chippinghouse.

Sr: And did you then move to Millhouses?

PB: We moved to Millhouses, Bannerdale Rd in ’35. In between times, I’d lived all over the place with my father. Hastings, Bognor, Edinburgh, Ayr.

SR: That’s his job as a musician?

P: Then we moved to Bannerdale Rd in ‘35/’36 and stayed there largely because of the war, because my father was also an engineer … and so came the war he was working at Hadfields.

SR: How did World War Two affect your family? Was it … he was in a reserved occupation?

PB: … He was marginally too old because he was 40 at the beginning of the war and they weren’t conscripting people that age and also he was a qualified machinist and so they would not have released him anyway. He was driving a great big lathe down at Hadfields. So it affected us because it changed my father’s way of life to settling in one place.

SR: What about your mum? Did she work at all during the war?

PB: No they didn’t in those days. Not when your husband had a reasonably good job.

SR: Which school did you go to, you said you went to King Edwards but which school did you go to as primary school?

PB: I went to any number of primary schools because of …  I started in Sayle in Cheshire, and then Manchester and Leeds, and, as I say, for a time down at Heeley Bottom (SR:  Lowedges, yes) Lowfields but I started in ’36 at Carterknowle and remained there until the 11+.

SR: And you took your 11+ and went to King Edwards. And you got a Scholarship?

PB: That’s right. I was top in the city in the 11+.

SR: Because it had been a fee-paying school King Edwards.

PB: Yes. It was still partially fee-paying when I went there. We went to school on Saturday mornings. They had a junior school which was fee-paying and, so in the 11 year old, of the four forms, 2D was the scholarship boys and the other three forms were all paid for.

SR: You were there till you were 17, 18? (PB: 17) And so you left in 1947? (PB: Yes, ’47)

Is that when you got an Exhibition to Oxford?

PB: Yes that’s right, but my college, very wisely they wouldn’t let you go up until you’d done your National Service.

SR: So you had to do your National Service first?

PB: That’s right

SR: So which college was it? Exeter? (PB: Exeter)

SR: What about your National Service? Where did you do that?

PB: Er, oh! A good question. I enlisted, joined the Airborne 16th, the Parachute Regiment and so then I was off to Palestine, as it then was (SR: Not a good time) And then North Germany and Berlin and all sorts of places. And then I was Liaison Officer for our .. .because we’d lost all our aeroplanes, we were in a pretty bad way at the end of the war and so, if our Parachute Brigade wanted to work, the Americans had to take us there. So I was Liaison Officer with them so they flew me all over the place.

SR: Were you there at the time of the Berlin Blockades? ‘Cos that was a bit hairy. And Palestine of course.

PB: Yes, one has been shot at.

SR: So when did you go up to Oxford?

PB:’49.

SR: What did you do? You said you read Juridsp … law.

PB: Jurisprudence; Juggers pruggers.

SR: Did you enjoy it there?

PB: Oh, very much and the more so from having done my military service. Because if I’d have entered straight from school, I would have been a very different person than the one that went up …

SR: Life experience? Like being shot at?

PB: Yes and having your decisions as a young lieutenant, you affected the lads, those who were with you. You send somebody down the road, they might get shot (SR: A responsibility) It is. As much as I’ve ever had since.

SR: So what did you do after Oxford?

PB: I finished at Oxford and then I went to, started doing a post graduate degree at Sheffield but then I got the opportunity  of going to work in Canada. So I went to Canada in ’53.  In between times I hadn’t finished my post graduate … [inaudible]  and then I heard that  the Assizes were opening in Sheffield in ‘55 and it seemed to me … as an ordinary working class lad you weren’t supposed to go to the Bar because it theoretically  required family  influence and money. And I thought, well if there’s ever a chance to make a go of it, it would be now, so I came back and started at the Bar.

SR: So what did you do? Were you a barrister?’

PB: Yes I was a barrister, member of the Outer or Junior  Bar from ’55 until ’73 and then I took silk, admitted within  the Inner Bar (SR: a Q.C.?) Yes that’s right, until ‘83 and then I went on the Bench.

SR: So you became a judge?

PB: That’s right.

SR: How long did you do that for? Because judges don’t have to retire, do they?

PB: Yes they do. Very interesting now. Because they didn’t,  then they did and then there was a case which said you don’t but in fact, there’s a way round that. Basically you’re better out the way by the time you’re 70 odd. I did from’84 to … I retired theoretically fulltime in 2000 but then I’d been doing a series of cases and they persuaded me to stay on by throwing money at me.

SR: They made you an offer you couldn’t refuse.

PB: That’s right, because I was doing part time. I was getting paid more part time than I was paid fulltime so it seemed at the time a good idea. Anyway, I enjoyed it, and I don’t think I was ga-ga. So I wasn’t a menace.

SR: I’m sure you weren’t. Barrister;QC; Judge. In Sheffield?

PB: No, you used to sit in London for quite substantial periods of six weeks, three times a year. Basically centred on here and York AND Leeds but also London.

SR: The Assize – does it move around?

PB: Circuit.

SR: Did you marry?

PB: Yes. Sandra is my second wife. My first wife died of cancer in … a couple of years before I married Sandra. Sandra and I have been married 24 years now, I think. Yes, married and had three children.

SR: Are they in Sheffield?

PB: Er no. One is in San Diego where I’m going. He’s Vice President of Wells Fargo.

SR: [laugh] That reminds me of Dale Robertson.

PB: That’s right. But it’s now … they still run the transfer thing (SR: Pony Express) the main thing is finance. That’s the youngest. And my eldest is in Wissendine which is just outside Rutland, Oakham and the middle one is in Burley in Wharfedale so there’s nobody actually  on the doorstep. The irony of it is, I think I see more of the ones in San Diego than I do the others. Could be because of where they live.

SR: Probably the weather’s a bit better. Thank you for the biographical details I hope they’re not too intrusive. It helps with the analysis obviously.

PB: Not at all.

SR: You say you still read and you still reading history.

PB: Still buy books.

SR: Still buy books? Amazon?

PB: No. I think, it sounds a bit smug this, I think the book trade is suffering from unfair competition particularly with these electronic books and whatever so I just do my little bit. If there’s a book I like, I buy it from the bookshop.

SR: So you’ve not got a Kindle, an electronic.

PB: No, I’ve seen them. I can sit for hours with a book in my hand. I find it very difficult to sit for more than about a quarter of an hour with a screen. That’s probably an age thing, I don’t know.

SR: I know some people have them. I’ve not got one but you can’t say never I suppose. You can make the font bigger.

PB: It’s not a print thing. I like the feeling of a book.

SR: It’s an aesthetic thing/tactile I think.

Are you still reading the same sort of books? Have you branched out into different areas?

PB: Don’t read novels but still read either biographies or autobiographies and history.

SR: Have you got any period you enjoy most or particularly?

PB: Yes er. I like the Napoleonic Wars and the Peninsular Wars but I also like the War between the States as the Southerners would call it.

SR: Ah Yes. The Civil War.

PB: Yes. But my speciality for the Scholarship was Elizabethan.

SR: It was very popular ‘cos I did History A level and we did Tudor History. That was Elton, Bindoff none of this Nazis and stuff.

Did you enjoy the Elizabethan period?

PB: Yes because it had a good literary collection as well as …

SR: There were literary figures then plus the people who were writing about them were very erudite.

PB: And there were more polymaths than they are now.

SR: Yes. Renaissance men, and women, actually.  Well the Queen was anyway….

I forgot to ask. Did you read any horror like Frankenstein or Dracula?

PB: Yes but only a miniscule part of the time. I think Horror in fact is one of the few things in which the cinema’s better than the book.

SR: It’s the special effects. I was thinking – There is a very good film about the American Civil War – The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood. It’s been on recently.

Have you got any other books that you remember that we’ve not mentioned?

PB: Oh. Hundreds, every now and again, we’ve still a full room upstairs … I enjoy … I’ve got some early editions of Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler which are interesting both as to me as a fisherman – hence the shirt – and also from the historical context and of course there are strong local connections.

SR: Hartington, I think. Is it Charles Cotton pub?

PB: But Charles Cotton lived Beresford Dale in Derbyshire and the little fishing temple that he and Izaak Walton used is still there.

SR: Has Izaak Walton got a Sheffield connection? Or Derbyshire?

PB: Derbyshire.

SR: And you still go fishing?

PB: Yes. Going on Thursday

SR: Is it one where you can eat it or do you have to throw it back?

PB: Oh you can eat it.

SR: Well, I think we’ve just about exhausted it now. I’ve asked all the questions.

PB: Well, it’s difficult to be precise about dates.

SR: It is difficult to be precise, I think, about dates and also about authors. Did it affect your reading once you were married with a family and doing the circuit?

PB: It must have inevitably, and, of course, the actual job itself entailed a fantastic amount of reading – of law books, authorities and what have you and that pushes out excludes time for reading for pleasure.

SR: Have you come back to reading now you’ve retired? Back to more reading?

PB: Yes I think so. I was still toying with the idea – but Sandra bullies me to do things—I was thinking of doing either a Masters or a doctorate on some aspect of military history (SR: Oh) But whether or not I’ll get round to it, I don’t know.

SR: Well, one of our French class is in fact in charge of the MAs in History at Sheffield University – Karen- can’t remember her second name ‘cos a friend of mine is doing a MA in her group

PB: A colleague of mine – who’s just died very  tragically of dementia – I’ve got several books of his – he was quite a successful legal  history author – he was a bit  lugubrious – it was a question of prisons and punishments and what sentences. What have you -particularly in the early Victorian period?

SR: There’s some good books about that. There’s one called The Hanging Tree but that might be the eighteenth century.

SR: Do you ever give books away or do you just keep amassing them?

PB: I try and give them away but the trouble is, as soon as I give some away that creates a space and I get some more, yes, particularly the … particularly  paper backs. I do buy paperbacks. Very often I buy a hard back and a paper back of the same book because I … There’s a recent one called The Last Stand, that’s about General Custer and Sitting Bull and what-have-you. It’s a very good book and I wanted to take it on, I’ll probably take it on holiday when I go so …

SR: You need a paperback.

PB: Don’t want to be taking a great big hardback. For two reasons because it’s uncomfortable and difficult and also because you don’t want to damage it.

SR: Did you remember the Taylor’s bookshop down the bottom of the road? Did you go in there?

PB: Yes I did yes. Wasn’t there somebody from New Zealand there?

SR: Yes she ran it. I used to teach her son – he became a History professor. I think, once Blackwells opened, there was too much competition. It’s now a … I don’t know which shop it is … Zanzibar.

PB: Yes … thereabouts.

SB: You think you’ll always be reading?

PB: Yes.

SR: Well that’s a good note to end on.

PB: Thank you.

SR Thank you.

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Ken’s reading journey

By Mary Grover

Husband and wife Ken and Kath were interviewed together for Reading Sheffield. Their marriage includes a strong ‘reading partnership’, based on their shared political and local interests. We will post Kath’s reading journey after this.   

Ken was born on 27 April 1924. For the first 20 years of his life he lived in Fir Vale, Sheffield, in a house where he was surrounded by ‘tons of books’. ‘Everybody in the family read.’ Ken got books as presents and his older sister handed down her favourites – some of them novels his mother and father would not have approved, ‘Istanbul Train and all those stories’.

And of course I read all the boys’ books that you would have. You know, tuppenny bloods and all that sort of thing, school stories and that, which were really funny. By today’s standards rather silly, I expect, but I used to think they were marvellous.

Though Ken didn’t think much of the radio programmes in the Thirties, he did enjoy the books read on Children’s Hour, like Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and all are still with him. Down at Fir Vale shops was a tuppenny library, a rich source of popular books, Ken’s favourites being humorous books and The Saint books by Leslie Charteris.

And then, when he was about ten, a new municipal library opened in Firth Park. Ken’s main aim on his first visit was to get the thickest book possible because you were, in 1934, only able to borrow one book a week. So his first choice was The Great Aeroplane Mystery by Percy F Westerman[i]. ‘Absolute rubbish, of course,’ but thick.

The old Firth Park Library building today

It was when Ken gained a place at the Catholic grammar school, De La Salle, that his reading tastes expanded to include a whole range of authors that were new to him.

An English master who was a brilliant man put me onto all sorts of good books. And he was a very opinionated bloke. He used to think that all the best writers were people like Lytton Strachey and all that lot. You know – the Bloomsbury outfit and all those people.

We used to have an English room and there used to be favourite things pinned up on the wall. You know, things like The Land and all those famous poems. Things I’ve never forgotten. I mean all those dreadful poems you had to memorise like The Ancient Mariner and ‘Young Lochinvar has come out of the west / Through all the wide borders his steed was the best’. You know, that sort of stuff and all the classic things – Sohrab and Rustum and all those sorts of things. But it stamps what you’re going to do if you listen. And he was a very unusual person. I used to hang on his every word really, I expect. He never failed to be right in what he’d said. Well, I think so. I thought he was bang on the nail with everything.

During his school days Ken became a socialist, reading ‘loads and loads of pamphlets, political pamphlets. They were all the rage then’.

The outbreak of war led to the closure of Ken’s grammar school and the end to his formal schooling. At 15, he left school to go into ‘the works’, first as an apprentice and then as a draughtsman. But the war meant an increase in Ken’s reading.

During the war that was all you could do, read books, with very little other entertainment. Certainly nothing like the radio or TV as there is now so you were thrown onto books and written material, newspapers.

Towards the end of the war, just turned 20, Ken was lucky enough to marry Kath who shared his taste in books and politics. Kath introduced Ken to Sholokhov’s books, ‘Quiet Flows the Don and all those Russian novels’. ‘And Chinese books, famous Chinese novels,’ adds Kath. These books opened the couple’s eyes to the suffering in ‘Old Russia’ before the Revolution. Ken describes himself ‘ploughing his way through’ Das Kapital. He and Kath became communists and during the Cold War, they took their children to a children’s camp in East Germany. Their experience left them with a deep scepticism about the way East Germany was represented in Western spy stories.

A lot of them are a whole load of rubbish, you know. Weren’t they, Kath? Absolutely. We used to know this girl – East German girl who was a teacher there – and she used to go across the border every night to go and be entertained in West Berlin. They were supposed to be at daggers drawn and everything but it wasn’t like that a bit when we were there, was it? Not a bit. And it makes you wonder just how the news and everything has been manipulated in the past, you know? Shocking, shocking.

However, despite his firm political convictions, Ken describes his reading tastes as catholic: Quiller Couch, P G Wodehouse, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Just William, Ken has read and enjoyed them all. Indeed, when asked to pick out a favourite book, he chooses one written by the journalist and novelist, Philip Gibbs, who was no socialist.

It was called European Journey. It was set in the 1920s just after the First World War. He’s an artist and a crowd of about six of them toured through France and Germany by car – typical better-off officer-class people. You’ve got to forget all that part of it – because he was a brilliant writer and he writes about Paris and all – really great – just how France is. I love France. He writes about France with real feeling. But it was when he was a comparatively young man. That’s a book I got by sheer chance, just by picking it up. It was old, of course; I’ve still got it upstairs. It’s a lovely book to dip into and just, er, read all these bits and pieces now and again.

As Ken puts it, ‘We never were tied up to one set of things’.

You can find Ken’s full interview here.

 

[i] Although Percy F Westerman wrote over 150 books, none has the title The Great Aeroplane Mystery. He wrote The Secret Battleplane (1916) and Airship Golden Hind (1920). His son, John F C Westerman, also wrote adventure stories for boys, including A Mystery of the Air (1931). Another adventure writer, Captain Brereton, wrote The Great Aeroplane (1911) and The Great Airship (1914), John Westerman’s book seems the closest in title and date, but there is no way of knowing for certain which book Ken borrowed. The Westermans are discussed here.

 

 

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