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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.
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«  Old Edwardians  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

2.12.2021


Old Edwardians

George D. Painter, OBE, wrote the famous, standard biography of novelist Marcel Proust (London: Chatto & Windus, 1959-65), the first volume of which he dedicated "For Henry Reed." Reed would later would return this honor by dedicating his collection of radio plays, Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (London: BBC, 1971), to Painter. It's no coincidence that Reed chose to dedicate his book to Painter, considering that the Hilda Tablet plays concern a young, idealistic biographer researching a famous (infamous, it turns out) author. Reed had given up writing his own biography of Thomas Hardy, after years of impossible perfectionism.

Walter Allen was a critic and novelist, and was a close second in reviewing Reed's collection of poetry, A Map of Verona: Poems, in 1946 (The Listener's anonymous review was printed just two days earlier). Allen's own poetry appeared in The Penguin New Writing in the 1940s, later spent a stint as an editor of The New Statesman and Nation, and frequently chaired the 1960s BBC radio programme, "The Critics."

What did these men have in common? What did they share in common with Henry Reed? All three were graduates of King Edward VI Grammar School, Aston, Birmingham.

That Allen and Reed shared a Birmingham connection I already knew, but it was not until I happened upon Jim Perkins' extensive personal website that I discovered Painter had been there, as well. Mr. Perkins was a member of Aston's class of 1950, and he has an exhaustive section devoted to his love for KEGS Aston, including an "Alumni Achievements" page, which has brief sections on Reed, Painter, and Allen. Aston Old Edwardians, all.

Mr. Perkins thoughtfully provides a database of graduates (in MS Works or Excel), with their dates of admission, "an alphabetical list of the 11,500+ lads who went to Aston between 1883 and 1997." This list pegs down the year of Reed's entrance to King Edward VI Grammar School as 1925, the same year that Painter was admitted. They were both 11 years old. (Allen was already there, since 1922.) I am deeply indebted to Mr. Perkins for these facts.

Many of Reed's biographies mention that, after graduating from the University of Birmingham, he tried teaching for year, "at his old school." I e-mailed Mr. Perkins to thank him for all the information he provides, and he rather selflessly forwarded my curiousity on to his fellow Aston Old Edwardians. One gentleman was kind enough to drop me a brief note, which reveals:

I remember being taught in an English class by Henry Reed in 1940/41 while at the school, which had been evacuated from Birmingham to Ashby [link mine] during WW2. I think he was teaching there for a short time before joining the army. We had classes in the Manor House [also mine] in the town which was also used as accomodation for some of the boys. I lived in Ashby for three years with a couple who had no children and was well treated.

So, Reed was teaching in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1940 and 1941. If he was taught for seven years at King Edward VI, he would have matriculated to the University of Birmingham in 1932. The facts of which match perfectly with Stallworthy's introduction to the Collected Poems. Assuming Reed traveled to Italy for the first time after university in 1936, and again in 1939, we're left only with a troubling gap for the years 1937 and 1938, during which he had poems published in The Listener and New Statesman and Nation, and wrote at least one article for The Birmingham Post. Where was he writing from?


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1532. Vallette, Jacques. "Grand-Bretagne," Mercure de France, no. 1001 (1 January 1947): 157-158.
A contemporary French language review of Reed's A Map of Verona.



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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