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Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
Dusty Answer: Young, privileged, earnest Judith falls in love with the family next door.
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.


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«  Bumph Palace  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

17.12.2017


Bumph Palace

I think that I shall never see
A sight so curious as BP,
This place called up at war's behest,
And peopled by the strangely dressed;
Yet what they do they cannot say,
Nor ever will 'til Judgement Day.

For six long years we have been there,
Subject to local scorn and stare.
We came by transport and by train,
The dull and brilliantly insane,
What shall we do, where shall we be,
When God at last redunds BP?

The Air Force types that never fly
Soldiers who neither do nor die,
Landlubber Navy, beards complete
Civilians slim, long-haired, effete;
Yet what they did they never knew,
And if they told it wasn't true.
If I should die think only this of me...
I served my country at BP.

And should my son ask: 'What did you
In the atomic World War Two?'
God only knows and he won't tell
For after all BP was hell.
—Anonymous
I stumbled upon this ditty today, while trying to track down an apparent "Ode to Colossus." There's a paragraph of rather purple prose in Good, Michie, and Timms' General Report on Tunny with Emphasis on Statistical Methods, the 1945 document describing the early computers created at Bletchley Park during World War II to break the German "Fish" codes. This particular section laments the lack of language or skill required to describe the famous Colossus computer sputtering and hacking away at a decrypt like a demented Walter Mitty machine, concluding:
Perhaps some Tunny-breaking poet could do justice to this theme; but although an ode to Colossus and various fragments appeared, all seemed to have been composed in times of distress and despondency, and consist almost wholly of imprecation or commination. (p. 327)
The internets, alas, have not confirmed the existence of the hinted-at Ode.

But I did find "Bumph Palace," on a couple's photo journal of a visit to Bletchley (which includes some excellent shots of props used in the filming of "Enigma," as well as the reconstructed Colossus and bombe machines). The caption states the poem was 'found pinned to a BP notice board during the war' (though it must have been rather near the end, since the poem mentions 'atomic' war after 'six years'). It's a delightful insight into daily life and attitude at Bletchley, and perhaps even one of the comminations mentioned in the Tunny report.

I first thought the title must be a bastardization of some German word or placename. Bumph, I was tickled to discover, is British slang for easily-disregarded official paperwork (of which the Government Code & Cypher School must have had in superabundance), dis-affectionately nicknamed bum fodder. Toilet paper.


  1 Notation  »

Tony Fairbridge: "This is generally ascribed to "Anonymous", but I have seen it ascribed to Bobby Osborn, of hut 8, Bletchley Park. She was later Lady Hooper"

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Notation for "Bumph Palace":
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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1513. Hodge, Alan. "Thunder on the Right." Tribune (London), 14 June 1946, 15.
Hodge finds 'dry charm as well as quiet wit' in "Judging Distances," but overall feels Reed is 'diffuse and not sufficiently accomplished.'



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)


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