Critical and biographical information for the poet, radio dramatist, and translator Henry Reed (1914 - 1986), author of "Naming of Parts."
Henry Reed, poet and radio dramatist
The Poetry of Henry Reed Homepage
Boston, Richard. "Always a Good Reed." Guardian (Manchester), December 10, 1986, 25 (.pdf).

RICHARD BOSTON pays tribute to Henry Reed, who died on Monday

Always a good Reed

'OF COURSE, we've all dreamed of reviving the castrati; but it's needed Hilda to towards making them a reality ...She's drawn up a list she thinks would benefit from treatment. It's only a question of getting them to agree.'

So says someone or other in Henry Reed's radio drama, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet. Another line from the same play: 'The sooner the tea's out of the way, the sooner we can get on with the gin, eh?' If memory serves (which it probably doesn't) those words were spoken by Derek Guyler, playing the part of General Gland, who said in the play, Not A Drum Was Heard: the War Memoirs of General Gland: 'It was, I think, a good war, one of the best there have so far been. I've often advanced the view that it was a war deserving of better generalship than it received on either side.'

Dame Hilda and General Gland were just two of the characters who lived and moved and had their being in the radio plays of Henry Reed, from a A Very Great Man Indeed onwards. The BBC's Third Programme of the post-war years had a reputation for arid and joyless intellectualism—'Dons talking to dons' was the phrase. The truth was quite different. The Third Programme was consistently exciting and entertaining in music and drama and talks, from Benjamin Britten to Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood to Stephen Potter's Lifemanship and Henry Reed's plays.

These plays were as witty as anything by Oscar Wilde, and the cast of characters is rivalled in our times only by those of Beachcomber's By the Way column and Osbert Lancaster's Pocket Cartoons. One of Henry Reed's characters was Herbert Reeve, the wretched man (superbly played by Hugh Burden) who was trying to write the biography of the very great man indeed (whose identity has temporarily slipped my mind). The name of Herbert Reeve is close to that of his creator, and indeed Henry Reed was forever being confused with the art critic Herbert Read. It is hard to imagine two people more different than the solemn Herbert Read and the humorous Henry Reed, which made the joke even better.

In fact, there were many Henry Reeds. There was the one who wrote a series of radio plays which used the medium as imaginatively and as enjoyably as it has ever been. There was Henry Reed, the comic poet, who wrote Chard Whitlow, the brilliant parody of T. S. Eliot's Burnt Norton. There was the Henry Reed who wrote Judging Distances and The Naming of Parts, two of the most memorable poems to have emerged from the second world war. There was the Henry Reed who translated Balzac and Natalia Ginzburg, the Henry Reed who wrote a radio dramatisation of Moby Dick (performed with a cast which included Ralph Richardson, Cyril Cusack, and Bernard Miles).

His output was not great, but more of what he wrote will be remembered than that of many other writers who were far more prolific. He had the reputation of being something of a recluse. I have long relished the story of his cancelling a lunch engagement on the grounds that he was not hungry.

It would be going too far to say that he was A Very Great Man Indeed, but he was very good indeed, and provided sophisticated entertainment, and some deft and thoughtful poetry, for a couple of generations.



Page last modified: 01 October 2016