Documenting the quest to track down everything written by
(and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio
dramatist, Henry Reed.
An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive
bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his
Read "Naming of Parts
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.
Cold Comfort Farm: Sensible Flora Poste moves in with her eccentric country relatives.
The Dog Stars: A man, his dog, and an airplane survive an apocalyptic flu.
Lern the Big Apple 10 ¢
Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog
In 1950 and 1951, there was a series of broadcasts on the BBC's Home Service, produced by Brandon Acton-Bond, wherein three travellers would make the same journey separately, and record their impressions.
There were four programs, in all: "Pictures of a Road
: Coleford to Newnham through the Forest of Dean" (June, 1950, with Audrey Russell, Henry Reed, and Ralph Wightman); "Pictures of a River
: The Dart from Dartmouth to Totnes" (August, 1950, William Aspden, Georgie Henschel, and Johnny Morris); "Pictures of a Railway Journey
: Plymouth to Princetown" (May, 1951, Georgie Henschel, Ralph Wightman, and Johnny Morris); and "Pictures of a Ferry-Boat Journey
: Lymington to Yarmouth (Isle of Wight)" (June, 1951, Audrey Russell, Charles Causley, and Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald).
The first program, broadcast on Sunday, June 18, 1950, was apparently not well-received by the locals. It featured Audrey Russell
, Ralph Wightman
, and Henry Reed walking through the Forest of Dean from Coleford to Newnham, and resulted in this criticism of their reporting in the Gloucester Citizen
for June 22, 1950:
Foresters angry about broadcast
"NOT A TRUE PICTURE"
THERE was sharp criticism in the Forest of Dean yesterday of the B.B.C. broadcast about a walk that Audrey Russell, Ralph Wightman and Henry Reed took from Coleford to Newnham.
"If the purpose of the broadcast was to convey a true picture of the district they traversed," said the vicar of St. Stephen's, Cinderford (the Rev. D .R Griffiths) in an interview, "then the descriptions given were very unfiar and misleading.
"Henry Reed said that when he got into sight of Cinderford he found stretching out in front of him for miles a place of 'grey and pink hideousness.' We can allow poets to indulge in any amount of license, but to use 'hideous' as a term of Cinderford is an exaggeration."Ralph Wightman said that St. Stephen's Church is just as 'Victorian and ugly as the huge chapels in the main street! Mr. Wightman doubtless knows a lot about pigs, poultry and sheep, but we cannot take his judgment on church architecture as possessing any value. The church was built just over 60 years afo, designed by a fine architect named Lingen Barker. The design was approved by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Building Board of that time which had a panel of 13 architects. St. Stephen's church cannot be described as beautiful, but it is not ugly."
Said Henry Reed of Coleford "I didn't think Coleford had looked after itself very well. The cottages on its outskirts were horribly dilapidated; its church tower had no church; the little Town Hall, with its blue egg cosy on top, was one of the oddest buildings I've ever seen. I was only persuaded that it WAS the Town Hall by the backs of five uncomfortable-looking chairs in a first floor bow window."
Audrey Russell noticed that when the town clock struck the hour the hands were two minutes to.
Said Mr. C. E. Gillo (chairman of the Coleford Parish Council): "The Forest of Dean has suffered at the hand of the B.B.C. I am tired of people coming here and running down the place. We are painfully aware of the lack of amenities and the ugly blots, but the Forest of Dean has suffered years of industrial depression and was often governed by men with a retarded outlook."We are now trying to catch up on what we have lost. We are not helped by those who come here and condemn. It is grossly unfair to be measured by what might be called the municipal yardstick."
Imagine my delight, when perusing the travelled route through Google Street View, to find that Coleford's church tower still has no church.
1508. Birmingham Post, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Birmingham Post.
In the Spring, 1972 issue
of the journal of the Society of Teachers of Speech and Drama
there appears an argument for the release of recordings of Henry Reed's radio plays. Jane Gregg reviews two collections of Reed's plays produced for the BBC Third Programme, published in 1971 by BBC Publications: Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio
, and The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio
Gregg calls the Hilda Tablet plays "the funniest and most sustained piece of social comedy written for radio," and expresses concern over the ephemeral medium of "aural" art such as radio, arguing that Reed's plays should get the same treatment as Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood,
and be released as recordings.
Hilda Tablet and Others — four pieces for radio
by HENRY REED. BBC: £2.10.
The Streets of Pompeii and other plays for Radio
by HENRY REED. BBC: £3.15.
All Third Programme listeners please note that the plays of Henry Reed you so enjoyed between 1949 and 1958 are now in print—a permanent memorial of the radio drama which otherwise has no permanent life.
As Reed says in a most interesting foreword to The Streets of Pompeii, 'They were not for the most part written with any idea that they might appear in print. When it was suggested that they should, I was naturally delighted: it seemed to imply that they had not entirely gone in one ear and out of the other'.
I have just taken up knitting and when reading the pattern I have tried to visualise the finished article. Possibly knit two together through back loops creates a picture for the experienced knitter but even so it remains for most of us simply a code. In the same way the printed word is a poor substitute for radio drama. 'Cross-fade rapidly' needs a great deal of aural imagination.
Hilda Tablet and Others consists of four pieces from what many regard as the funniest and most sustained piece of social comedy written for radio. They are A Very Great Man Indeed, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet, A Hedge, Backwards, and The Primal Scene, as it were. The productions were all by Douglas Cleverdon, with music by Donald Swann and the casts include most of the great BBC repertory names: Hugh Burden, Carleton Hobbs, Gwen Cherrell, Mary O'Farrell, Marjorie Westbury . . . (dear Marjorie Westbury as Steve in Paul Temple — there's nostalgia for you) . . . the list is endless and very well-loved. The plays arise out of the research by Reed's alter-ego Reeve into the life of Richard Shewin, novelist.
The Streets of Pompeii on the other hand contains those plays which have Italian themes and settings. They are Leopardi in two parts: The Unblest and The Monument; The Streets of Pompeii, Return to Naples, The Great Desire I Had, and Vincenzo. Again the productions were by Douglas Cleverdon with a cast which sounds like Who's Who in Radio.
The BBC are of course quite right and to be commended for publishing Henry Reed's radio plays but now, before they disappear aurally altogether, may we have them recorded? After listening to the record of Under Milk Wood recorded by Argo with the cooperation of the BBC, I am convinced that there is a market for radio plays on record.
I note with some dismay that a quick search of the British Library Sound & Moving Image Catalogue
reveals no recordings of A By-Election in the 'Nineties
(1951), The Great Desire I Had
(1952), A Hedge, Backwards
(1956), The Primal Scene, As It Were
(1958), or Musique Discrète
(1959). Perhaps, however, the current Save of Sounds
project might turn a few up.
1507. Daily Telegraph, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Telegraph.
On the inaugural International Dylan Thomas Day
, Twitter turns up treasure! @DylanThomasNews
posted a programme for a May 14, 1946 poetry recital performed for the Queen (and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) at Wigmore Hall
, organized by the Society of Authors and featuring everyone who was anyone in mid-century poetry and theater:
Poems were introduced by David Lloyd James, with readings by John Masefield (Poet Laureate at the time), Edith Evans, John Gielgud, John Laurie, Flora Robson, Edith Evans, Dylan Thomas, Valentine Dyall, C. Day Lewis, Walter de la Mare, T.S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, and Louis MacNeice.
The organizing committee consisted of George Barker, Walter de la Mare, John Lehmann, C. Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, none other than Henry Reed
, Denys Kilham Roberts (Chairman), Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, and Lawrence Whistler.
Previously, we posted about how this particular poetry reading impacted the career of Vita Sackville-West
1506. MacGregor-Hastie, Roy. "The Poet in His Workshop: No 4—The Great Unclassified." Arena 48 (March 1958): 10-13 [12-13].
MacGregor-Hastie shows great respect for Reed in this series on the state of poetry (but little regard for the poets of the 'Thirties).
Henry Reed was for many years a member of the Savile Club
, Mayfair, London, where he spent much of his idle time drinking, playing bridge, drinking, and occasionally dining with friends (or the occasional boyfriend
). Reed was probably introduced to the Savile by one of his more-established peers — Walter Allen or Louis MacNeice — but the attraction of the Savile surely resided in the fact that it had been the club of Reed's hero, Thomas Hardy.
A history of the club by Garrett Anderson, Hang Your Halo in the Hall: The Savile Club from 1868
(London: Savile Club, 1993), contains a section devoted to poets who were members of the club. Anderson relates a delightful anecdote concerning Reed having to appear in court to explain his inability to pay his council tax:
For his eightieth birthday in 1989 the Savile organized one of its more Lucullan Soirées to celebrate Sir Stephen's [Spender] years of membership and, as Patric Dickinson observed on the other occasion, nobody stopped talking for long. It is a pity that one of Spender's old friends, one of the more brilliant talkers in recent times, another Savile poet, Henry Reed, could not have been present.
Like several of his lyrical colleagues at the Savile, Henry brought translations of his classical predecessors as well as his own distinctive verse to a wider public through the medium of radio, and like Spender and Pudney he had been much influenced in his youth by Auden; like Pudney too he had served in Intelligence during the war and had produced one of the most famous poems in English to come out of it — "Naming of Parts". In 1946 his fellow Savilian Edward Sackville-West persuaded him to write a dramatization for radio of Moby Dick which was produced a year later featuring two other Savile members, Ralph Richardson and Bernard Miles. It won the Premio della Radio Italiana and established Henry with the critics as a radio dramatist with a rare poetic gift.
In 1970 a collection of his poems, The Lessons of War, was published to wide acclaim and in 1971 the texts of his poetic dramas for radio were published as The Streets of Pompeii. A Very Great Man and its sequels Hilda Tablet and Others also appeared, between them revealing much of the man himself, a master of comedy with a deeply sombre interior. In manner and appearance he resembled a classically educated Tony Hancock, presenting a lugubrious exterior from which emanated surprising flashes of wit. Many contemporary members will retain happy memories of evenings spent in his company. On one occasion when he was suffering one of his regular bouts of financial starvation he regaled the long table with an account of his appearance that morning before the magistrates to explain his inability to pay the rates: "And what, Mr Reed, is your profession?" asked the magistrate. Diffidently, Henry admitted that he was a poet. "Yes, yes," said the magistrate testily, "but what do you do for a living?"
It should be pointed out that it was Reed's The Streets of Pompeii
(1952) which won the Radio Italiana prize, for 1953.
1505. Orwell, George. "Young Writers." Review of New Writing and Daylight (Summer 1943), edited by John Lehmann. Spectator (30 July 1943): 110.
Orwell says of "The End of an Impulse," Reed's criticism of the Auden-Spender school of poetry, 'Henry Reed's essay contains some valuable remarks on the dangers of group literature.'
An antipodean appearance of Henry Reed, in the Wellington, New Zealand literary magazine Arena
(Noel Farr Hoggard, ed.), from March, 1958, where Roy MacGregor-Hastie
wrote a contentious, four-part series of articles on the state of poetry, titled "The Poet in His Workshop."
MacGregor-Hastie first mentions Reed in Part 2 of his series, "The Vertical Men" (from the Auden poem, "Let us honour if we can / The vertical man, / Though we value none / But the horizontal one"):
There is little of the morbid, though a great deal of the introspective in the writing of Henry Reed, who I should have liked to have included in this article as a vertical man. However, he is at an angle of ninety degrees to himself, so I shall leave him for the Miscellaneous section of this series, and deal with Alexander Tvardovsky, a contemporary Soviet poet.
Arena, no. 46 (March 1957): 18.
The promised Reed finally arrives in Part 4, "The Great Unclassified," where MacGregor-Hastie places Reed in a European miscellany, after Alfredo Panzini
, Giuseppe Ungaretti
, and Joaquín de Entrambasaguas (I can only guess: MacGregor-Hastie has written "Juan de Estrembasagua"), but only after thoroughly bashing the old guard—Auden, Eliot, Stephen Spender, and C. Day-Lewis—for their complacency and selling-out:
In England the work of any poet who is unfortunate enough to be under thirty is ignored completely, anyway by the larger publishers; if in the nineteenth century poets had to be both famous and dead before they were owned by their families, in the twentieth century, after the pre-war flood of slim volumes of garnered fancies, publication of verse has dried up. Only the little magazines can guarantee to the dedicated poet any frequency of publication, and their solvency is not always as great as one would wish; the Listener, the New Statesman and Nation, the Times Literary Supplement—these are the major media now and only publish the sort of verse you would expect....
There is probably only one man who remains cheerful through it all and unperturbed by the commercialism and disinterest he finds in the world of the Arts. His name is Henry Reed and he is sui generis, unclassified and unclassifiable. He published a collection of poems in 1946 called the 'Map of Verona', which established him in English Literature as perhaps the only living poet who could have written Lawrence's 'Innocent England' and write more; he published in this collection a series of poems about the war itself and the duality of experience of the sensitive soldier, his preoccupation more with the trivial detail of Army life than with the consequences to some other person's family of his firing the rifle—he is at such pains to be clean in the regulation way. In one of these poems, 'Naming of Parts' he shows his extreme sensitivity and ability to approach the emotional through the every day experiences of the world of trivia. He is being taught the names of the parts of his rifle, and the beauty of his surroundings intrudes into the lesson:
. . . . rapidly backwards and forwardsAnd that is my epilogue. The most valid commentary on this our civilisation so-called, which tries to live without the Arts, which are its flowers—
the early bees are assaulting the flowers;
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
if you have any strength in your thumb:
like the bolt and the breech and the cocking piece, and the point of balance,
which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
silent in all of the gardens, and the bees going backwards and forwards
For today we have naming of parts.
the point of balance
which in our case we have not got.
Arena, no. 48 (March 1958): 12-13.
MacGregor-Hastie's respect and appreciation for Reed is laudable, if a bit idealized: Reed, even as early as the late 1950s, was hardly remaining 'cheerful' and 'unperturbed', and he probably would have taken more than some offense at the author's rough-handling of his friends, Spender and Day-Lewis—not to mention his idols and authorities, Auden and Eliot.
1504. Ludwig, Jennifer. "Lessons of the War: Henry Reed." In vol. 2, Literature of War: Experiences, edited by Thomas Riggs. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2012. 359-361.
A relatively lengthy assessment of Reed's influences, position, and the impact resulting from his famous sequence of poems, Lessons of the War.
Online since October 2014, the BBC Genome
project contains the text of program listings in the Radio Times
from 1923 through 2009.
The search function at the top of the page allows keyword (and advanced) searching, as well as browsing by service, year, and issues
in pull-down menus.
The search result for "Henry Reed
" yields 1,013 results (many belonging to a popular band leader of the same name), but setting limits in the advanced options for "Radio only" brings us to Reed's possible first billing, for "New Poems
" on August 3, 1944: 'The ninth of a monthly selection of very recent or unpublished poems : "The Jungle," by Alun Lewis , and "Philoctetes," by Henry Reed.'
The listings are OCR text which contain many errors, and there are no images from the original magazines — but the project does allow users to submit corrections (or notice of changes to the original schedule).
Read about the BBC's Genome at the About the BBC blog
1503. King, Francis. Yesterday Came Suddenly: An Autobiography. London: Constable, 1993. 79-80.
Mentions Henry Reed and Angus Wilson making fun of the Bletchley Park Writers' Circle.
The Cadbury Research Library
at the University of Birmingham, for Henry Reed's centenary, has very thoughtfully made available some selections from the Reed's papers on their Flickr page: Henry Reed: Behind the Scenes
. There are scans of some of Reed's early writings from the University magazine, The Mermaid
, photographs, and letters (slideshow
One of the more important items (or, at least, important to me), is a letter Reed wrote to his sister Gladys (affectionately called "Babbis," married to Joe; Henry, is of course, Prince "Hal" to his family). This letter was quoted by Professor Jon Stallworthy for his Introduction to Reed's Collected Poems
(Oxford University Press, 1991; Carcanet, 2007), and was written at nearly the same time as another (similar) letter to John Lehmann
: during the summer of 1941, during the Birmingham Blitz and close on the heels Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, whilst Reed is in the midst of his basic training, expecting to be sent into combat and doubtful of his effectiveness:
Address etc. as beforeMy dear Babbis,
July 10th, I think
Thank you for writing; you have no idea how much one longs for letter here, even brief ones; and I should be very glad if you would always drop me a note, or get Jane to, every morning after a raid. We always know when there has been one — among our other duties is fire-watching — and it is worrying of it has been over Birmingham.
We have begun departmental training — which means that army training has to be concentrated into 5/8 of the day, and is therefor increasing in savagery. This blitztraining is, to my mind, absurd. The R.A.O.C. lost 10% of its personnel in Belgium, through being noncombatant. They aim, therefore, at making us combatant, in 9 weeks; at the end of that time we are expected to be able to shoot accurately, to manage a bren gun, an anti-tank gun and various other kinds, to use a bayonet, to throw hand-grenades and
whatnot and to fire at aircraft. I do not think the management of a tank is included in the course, but pretty well everything else is.
Our departmental training, some of which is an official secret, known only to the British and German armies, has consisted mainly of learning the strategic disposition of the R.A.O.C. in the field: this is based, not, as I feared, on the Boer War, but on the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. It is taught by the lecturers who rarely manage to conceal their dubiety at what they are teaching. But it is restful after the other things, and we are allowed to attend in P.T. 'kit'. This is nicely balanced by the fact that we attend P.T. wearing all our 'kit', except blankets. (I will never call a child of mine Christopher.)
Please let mother have the £1, as I know how much greater her need is than mine; I do assure you that I have, so far, all the money I need. I get £1 every Friday, and should get more, were it not for some compulsory
voluntary deduction which they make; and I don't seem to spend even £1. I am still too tired to go out much at night, the beer here is undrinkable and I am having to give up smoking, as my lungs will not stand the strain of smoking and the other things they are called upon to do. So, I am comparatively well off; I should be glad of some more cheques: as this will be my last chance of paying much to my debtors I thought I'd better pay them all a little bit. This, I'm afraid involves a lot of cheques, and if you could let me have another half dozen, it would greatly help me.
I should be glad to have the New Statesman, if that is possible; it comes out on Friday, and if I got it by Saturday that would be marvelous.
I hope a good deal from Russia, of course, but rather joylessly: the scale of it all is beyond my grasp, and it is terrible to see a country
which, with all its faults, has been alone in working to give the fruits of labour to the people who have earned them, thus attacked; I think you should think about Russia very seriously, and try to learn something about her, and try to find why she can perhaps do things that we cannot — things that France, for example, could not. Stalin and Molotoff may be bureaucratic villains: I don't know. But if they are, they are only the passing evil which cannot wipe out what the period of Lenin gave. While we — we are only beginning to turn up a little doubtful virtue in our rulers, after decades of Chamberlain big business. And big business still can stifle the efforts at wise government here, as any workman you meet on a train will tell you. The British people are fighting a battle on two fronts, at home and against Germany: so far we have only been able to hurt Italy, who is fighting a battle on three: against us, against the banker-princes,
and against Germany also; Russia has fought, and largely won, her battle against capitalism. She is only fighting Germany now. That is why she may win; without that earlier victory, her enormous size would avail her nothing in these days. And when she is secure against fascism (which isn't confined to Germany and Italy) perhaps the horrible side of Russia will fade away more rapidly than now seems possible.
I don't know what to say about Joe. It is clear that an officers' mess is a decadent place, even if there are in it people as gallant and intelligent as Joe and a few of my own friends who have recently got commissions; I gather that an officers' mess is boring and dull, and therefore easy to set up expensive forms of distraction in; and I suppose most of Joe's companions were regular commissions officers, who are usually stupid and illiterate (our Lieut-Col. told us we were now fighting alone, last
week, since France failed us; I suppose he hadn't heard about Russia) and they may lead him astray, which could happen very easily, I think, knowing Joe. If you think telling him about the O.D. would shock him into remorse, do so; I think this would be the best way. It means great inconvenience to you, always to shoulder Joe's burdens like this, but eventually it ought to aruse his conscience. The time for a general settlement will be after the war is over; everybody will be so shatteringly poor then, that things will probably settle themselves, even overdrafts.
The enclosed is a present (not a repayment — not yet) from me; I am keen on its being divided thus, and thus only: 5/- for mother (for her birthday), 1/6 for Jane (because why should she have any more than that) and 13/6 for you (to be spent as "pocket-money"
on oddments, meals and so on, because by now you ought to be learning what it feels like to have 13/6). Please do this arrangement for me, as faithfully as if it were a will.
And write again soon.
All my fondest love to you all.
I hope to find time to transcribe more of these letters from Henry. Click here to see the University of Birmingham Special Collections' catalog record
for Henry Reed's letters to his family.
1502. Reed, Henry. Poetry Reading. The Poet Speaks. British Council recording, no. 1636. 12 March 1970. Co-sponsored by the British Council and the Woodberry Poetry Room in the Lamont Library of Harvard University. TAPE ARCHIVE PR6035.E32 A6 1970x, Woodberry Poetry Room, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Henry Reed reads a selection of his poems for the British Council series, The Poet Speaks.
(1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8
Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC
, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945.
Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.
A Map of Verona: Poems
The Novel Since 1939
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel
Lessons of the War
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio
The Auction Sale
Posts of note: