Monday, 3 September 2018

20th Century Notts, 1950-1959

It's time for the 1950s:


And So to Rome (1950) by Cecil Roberts
An inveterate traveller, Cecil Roberts came to Italy in this year, aged 58, and lived for many years in the Grand Hotel in Rome. And So to Rome is one of his history slash travel works, in the same style as his previous And So to Bath (1940) and And So to America (1946). According to its blurb And So to Rome is a vivid portrayal of 2,000 years of life in the most astonishing city in the history of mankind. Roberts, who edited of The Nottingham Journal from 1920 to 1925, was awarded the Italian Gold Medal in 1966. 

Beeston held a photo exhibition to mark the centenary of the Public Libraries Act. The Public Libraries Act of 1850 made it possible for public funds to be used to support public town libraries. It was left to those holding the local purse strings to decide if public money should be used for such a purpose. The people of Nottingham petitioned for a public library but none was forthcoming at the time. Eventually the act created our enduring national institution that provides universal free access to information and literature, as was indicative of the moral, social and educative concerns of the time.


The Vixen's Cub (1951) by Katharine Morris

Between 1933 and 1958 Katharine 'Mollie' Morris published five novels set in Nottinghamshire villages. Nottingham born Katharine Morris moved to a small country house in Bleasby and by the age of twenty-three had written the first of her gentle stories of life in the English countryside. Morris became involved in PEN during the 1930s, the human rights organisation originally for ‘Poets, Essayists and Novelists', and by the ‘50s she was at her most productive. The Vixen's Cub was published by Macdonald of London.

He no longer saw the tree or the water, only this woman who was his mother. (from The Vixen’s Cub)

In 1951 a short story called Mountain Jungle won a prize at the Nottingham Writers' Club. The author was a 21-year-old Alan Sillitoe.


The Gentle Falcon (1952) by Hilda Lewis

The Gentle Falcon is a fictionalised biography of the child bride who married Richard II. Narrated by young Isabella Clinton, a close companion of the Queen, the book was published by Oxford University Press in 1952 and adapted for television two years later with Glen Alyn as the adult Isabella and Victoria Nolan playing her as a child. Hilda Lewis’ historical novel had special appeal to younger readers. There are excellent illustrations throughout from fellow Nottinghamian and renowned artist Evelyn Gibbs creator of the Midlands Group of Artists.

Some men brought home gold from the wars and some fine jewels, my father used to say, but he brought back the rarest jewel of them all - his bride. (from The Gentle Falcon

It was in 1952 that Agatha Christie attended the opening of what would become the longest running theatrical production. Christie’s The Mousetrap was performed for the first time in Nottingham’s Theatre Royal. The first Detective Sergeant Trotter was played by a young Richard Attenborough. The production opened here because Nottingham was regarded as a lucky city to launch new plays.


Nottingham, Settlement to City (1953) by Duncan Gray

Duncan Gray, a local librarian between 1935-1953, traces the history of Nottingham from the Anglo-Saxon settlement, on the site of the Lace Market, to the modern city of the mid-twentieth century. Detailed and well-illustrated, Nottingham Settlement to City is a companion volume to Gray’s Nottingham through 500 years.
We do not know anything about Mr. Snot excepting that he gave his name to the earlier form of Nottingham, which was Snotingaham – the Ham or Home of the people of Snot. (from Nottingham Settlement to City)

There was a major exhibition in Nottingham in 1953. Independent television companies arrived here with their ideas to pitch and pilot new shows. Held at Nottingham's Albert Hall, the mostly light performances featured celebrities who also gave interviews. One of the game shows piloted set out to find the most happily married couple in Nottingham, with Eamonn Andrews as the host.


Food in England (1954) by Dorothy Hartley

Dorothy Hartley (1893–1985) was a social historian, skilled illustrator, and prominent author. She attended Nottingham Art School and later returned there as a teacher. Her books cover six centuries of English history but she’s best known as the author of Food in England. Still in print it’s been described by Delia Smith as, ‘A classic book without a worthy successor – a must for any keen English cook.’

In 1954 Michael Eaton was born in Sherwood. From his grandfather he inherited the complete works of Charles Dickens, and later adapted Dickens for theatre and radio. An award-winning dramatist Eaton is the writer behind the TV drama-documentaries Why Lockerbie, Shoot to Kill and Shipman, and original dramas including Signs and Wonders and Flowers Of The Forest. He has written several plays for Nottingham Playhouse including Charlie Peace – His Amazing Life and Astounding Legend and was Visiting Professor in the School of Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.


Country Dance (1955) by Katharine Morris

Country Dance is another of Morris’ light stories of the English countryside. The locations are alive with nature providing an enriching influence on the characters as they respond to the season and their cycles of life. After her first novel was rejected, Morris sought advice from the eminent writer Lionel Britton, who urged her to base her next work on something she really knew about. From then on, village life and nature provided her with the inspiration she needed. 

Novelist Eric Malpass (1910-1996) was a household name in Germany (and across Europe), regularly topping the bestseller lists with his humorous and witty descriptions of rural England and family life. Malpass worked in Long Eaton for Barclays Bank for four decades. Encouraged by winning the Observer Short Story Competition in 1955 he left the bank to try to make it as a writer and his first novel followed two years later, winning Palma d'Oro in Italy for the best humorous novel of the year. He also wrote historical fiction as well as a trilogy of novels about Shakespeare, and other books including a novel based on the life of Notts-born Thomas Cranmer. Malpass lived close to his roots in the Midlands for all but the last few years of his life. He was President of the Nottingham Writers' Club.


The Hosanna Man (1956) by Philip Callow

Philip Callow’s debut novel is set in Nottingham and the Hyson Green area. Full of strong working-class, self-educated bohemians, its style is influenced by Lawrence, of whom Callow was a great admired and later wrote a biography Son and Lover. The autobiographical story has its protagonist Louis mixing with a range of well-defined characters. A Nottingham bookseller claimed one such character was based on him, and threatened to sue for libel for depicting him as someone who peddles under-the-counter pornography. Under this threat the novel was withdrawn and remaining copies were pulped. Thanks to Nottingham’s Shoestring Press, The Hosanna Man is now back in print.

In 1956 Willis Hall (1929-2005) spent eleven days at sea on a trawler to gain first-hand knowledge of the life of fishermen for his story Harvest of Sea. Hall was an English playwright and radio and television writer whose writing drew on his working-class roots. His is best-known for his stage adaptation of Billy Liar co-written with the book's author Keith Waterhouse. Hall penned the play The Long And The Short And The Tall set in British Malaya. After returning from Malaya he directed the then unknown John Dexter in a Nottingham YMCA production of Antigone. Hall moved from Nottingham to London in 1959.


Penny Lace (1957) by Hilda Lewis

Nicholas Penny works his way up from the factory floor to a master in this gritty story of lace in the late Victorian Nottingham of which it is mostly set. Perhaps the best novel about our lace industry Penny Lace is insightful and authentically descriptive. Mr Penny’s uneasy relationships with his colleagues and competitors add conflict to the strong storyline. Driven by hatred he adopts new methods of working that can undercut his rivals, one such man is to become Penny's father-in-law.
Penny Lace was republished by Bromley House Editions in 2010.

Nottingham Playhouse announced Val May as their new artistic director in 1957. He joined the Playhouse at an important time in its history as building work had already started on its new home. May was one of the busiest and most versatile directors of his generation, forging links between regional theatre and the West End. His productions included 11 premieres between ’57 and ’61. From here he revived Richard II at the London Old Vic and his Nottingham production of Celebration, an early Waterhouse-Hall kitchen-sink regional comedy, was later seen in London at the Duchess.


Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) by Alan Sillitoe

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was written over seven years: some of the chapters originating from short stories, sketches and poems, all focusing on working class Nottingham and the Seaton family. Sillitoe portrayed ordinary people as he knew them and, in this book more than any other, he found his true voice. For twenty-two-year-old Arthur Seaton, a factory worker at Raleigh in Nottingham, life is one long battle with authority. After work is done Arthur becomes a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hedonist, happy to bed married women and stuff the consequences. But following every Saturday night is a Sunday morning. Seaton aims to cheat the world before it can cheat him. He is unlikable and fascinating: as one reviewer put it, he ‘has the charm of a naughty dog’.
Alan Sillitoe’s debut became an instant classic. Critics said Sillitoe’s voice was more authentic than D H Lawrence's but he never much valued the opinions of critics. He did, however, value the success of this novel which shifted over a million copies and brought him security which allowed a freedom to write throughout his life.

For it was Saturday night, the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath. (from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

Nottingham’s Empire Theatre closed in this year. Many famous names treaded the boards here including Charlie Chaplin, Houdini, Lily Langtree, Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Vera Lynn, Phillis Dixy, Laurel & Hardy, Buddy Holly, Billy Cotton & His Band, Eddie Calvert, Morecambe & Wise, Julie Andrews and Des O'Connor. It was at The Empire in 1954 that Ken Dodd made his first professional performance. In its later years weekly striptease shows appeared on the bill. The Theatre was closed by the Moss Empires chain in the June of ’58 with assurances that it would later re-open. Instead, the building was demolished.


The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1959) by Alan Sillitoe

This collection begins with the title story, a powerful work focusing on Smith, a working-class lad in Borstal. Back home his use for running might have been to get away from the police but he’s now on the road to bringing glory to the institution he finds himself in – or so his governor and gaffer think. Smith has other ideas. A rebel whose only honesty is to himself, Smith uses running as a time to think and reflect on his situation. At the heart of this story is the contempt the young man has for established authority. The Sunday Express said that ‘this story should be required reading for do-gooders and do-badders alike’.

You might think it a bit rare, having long-distance cross-country runners in Borstal, thinking that the first think a long-distance cross-country runner would do when they set him loose in the fields and woods would be to run as far away from the place as he could get on a bellyfull of Borstal slum-gullion – but you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why. (from The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner)

In 1959 a twenty-three-year-old Brian Blessed performed at Nottingham Playhouse in Two For The See Saw. A year earlier Blessed had met Agatha Christie here while he was working on the set of Spider’s Web. Blessed recently recalled the occasion, ‘I’d just left drama school, I built the sets and all kinds of things, and one day I was on my own in the theatre and silhouetted against the doorway which led onto the street was this tall women. She told me “You can call me Clarissa, my favourite name”.’ (Clarissa was Christie’s middle name) Blessed added, ‘I spent a fortnight with Christie and she helped me with the play… And she took me all over Nottingham.’

Meanwhile at our Theatre Royal; one-time Nottingham resident Willis Hall's play The Long And The Short And The Tall arrived at the theatre and starred a then little-known Cockney actor called Michael Caine. Caine had been Peter O’Toole’s understudy when the play had been in the West End but Caine took over for the national tour after O’Toole left to make Lawrence of Arabia.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Will Nottingham get the Central Library it deserves?

Since the Tories came into power, nearly 500 public libraries have closed (and even more Sure Start centres). Many surviving libraries have been passed over to community groups, the result of an austerity-driven government starving local councils of cash. Throughout this time the Labour controlled Nottingham City Council has remained committed to providing a decent library service. Now there are plans to build a brand-new central library. But will we be getting the flagship venue we deserve?    

Let’s start with the good news. The proposed new library will house the best children's library in the country, according to Jon Collins, leader of Nottingham City Council, who has said: "We want our children to have access to books, learning, imagination and ideas. That’s why we’re ambitious to build Britain’s best children’s library as part of a new Central Library development.”

Addressing poor literacy levels in the city is a priority and promoting early-age reading is of the upmost importance. Libraries play a vital role in this. Last year, nine out of the ten most borrowed books in Notts libraries were children’s books. If the new library is to become the ‘best’ then it will be a destination that parents and children will flock to, an inspirational setting, which in turn will help boost literacy levels and social mobility. But what is the best library we can offer?

Are we aiming to rival the Library of Birmingham?

Not a chance. The Library of Birmingham is Europe's largest: a state-of-the-art venue that attracts 10,000 visitors a day making it England’s most visited tourist attraction outside of London. However, it cost £189m to build and has not been without controversy; they have had to cut library jobs and chucked £1.2m at Capita for website costs.

What about England’s UNESCO cities of literature, how do our plans measure up?

Norwich has a beauty, the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium library, which clocks up well over a million visitors a year. Designed with natural light in mind it’s self-billed as “Britain’s most advanced library” and houses a Heritage Centre. 
Norwich's Millennium Library
Manchester spent £50m on its central library just to bring the listed building into the 21st century.  
Manchester's Central Library
So, what are the plans for our City of Lit?

The current six-floor central library on Angel Row would be sold off for office space bringing in much needed money (and hopefully jobs) to the city. This has been in the planning for some time. The only doubt was/is relating to whether or not some of the building is retained for the library. The redevelopment option would be costly so the council has been looking for a suitable alternate for its premier library. That, it seems, is to be the new Broadmarsh area. In particular, the site of the old car park which has been demolished.

The net cost of the new library? £3m.

"The aim is for this to be an impressive building," said Jon Collins.

Words like impressive and best (in reference to it being the best children’s library) are difficult to quantify but for £3m it would be an absolute bargain. The obvious concern is that the new library might fall short. The proposed central library would be smaller than the current one.

A key question is will it be housed in one of the new generic units or become a distinct venue with its own identity?

Like a book by its cover, people often judge a library by its exterior, and here is a chance to make an iconic statement that shouts: ‘Welcome to Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’. The façade could be an enticing Disneyesque scene that every child wants to enter, or it could be hidden behind modern glass and look like the rest of the new Broadmarsh. The library will face onto a pedestrianised Collin Street and Carrington Street so it would be visible to visitors from the south of the city. How wonderful if it actually looked like Britain’s best children’s library.  
It will probably look like this:

But it could look like this:
The new Broadmarsh will need a wow factor, something iconic, an identity. The planned cafés, shops, bowling alleys, cinema (nothing we don't already have), can’t be saved by a modern glass frontage and swanky signage. But a children’s library that’s recognisably the best in Britain might just do it. That would bring families to the new Broadmarsh, and its private owners, Intu, should be digging deep to contribute.

Perhaps an overwhelming public support for the new library could show a demand that might encourage private funding. After all, the better the library, the more visitors to the new Broadmarsh area.

What about those who don’t want a children’s library? Don’t worry. The new library will house the current stock of books and adult services should be maintained. There will be the usual areas of fiction, non-fiction, etc plus much more. A good modern library is a social hub of innovative activity, with a remit for supporting education, employment, culture and health; expect business aid, dementia groups, courses and clubs aplenty. There will also be an area dedicated to local history (and I hope our literary heritage) and there will also be an events’ room.

Does this mean an end to the old Cecil Roberts room, dumping the much-forgotten author for a more suitable name? Probably. May I get an early suggestion in, The Geoffrey Trease Room.

A public consultation into whether the plans should go ahead has now begun. If they receive support the new central library could be here in 2020, if not, it could remain where it is (but reduced in size). Nottingham city council has been hit by huge cuts from central government and their budget is set to further reduce. Can we get the ‘impressive’ library we desire for £3m net? Unlikely, but I’d settle for the best children’s library in the country. It’s a fitting aspiration.

To get you in the mood, here’s 13 of the world’s top libraries, well, we can dream:

Our Busts, an update.

Last month NottsLit questioned the future of the bronze busts at the castle. Here’s a reminder -

The freedom of information request has now been answered and the upshot is that the busts are being moved to Newstead. The two plaques – of the Howitts and Thomas Miller – are staying at the castle, due to their being part of a listed structure.
I argued the case on Radio Nottingham’s breakfast show that the busts should stay put. The castle’s new development is to focus on the theme of protest, with a new rebellion gallery. To that end our busts (of rebel writers) should remain at the castle. Mr Hawkins of the city libraries argued for the council. He said: “When was it we last talked about these literary greats?” adding “People do walk past those busts but probably don’t know a lot of those names.”

This demonstrates a point I previously made, that the busts were being treated poorly, with no information about the writers available to the castle’s visitors, other than their names, a situation that should have been rectified. The upgraded castle will feature three themes: the Civil war, the luddites and parliamentary reform, all of which are linked to our writers (see my previous post).
Mr Hawkins first and main reason for moving them to Newstead was that the council are planning to glaze-in the colonnade for better air quality. Hmm… The best hope now seems to be that Newstead Abbey provide a special writers’ garden for the busts to be displayed, with access to information about them and their work. Time will tell.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

What will happen to our writers?

Writers with the Spirit of Rebellion About to Disappear?
In two years’ time Nottingham Castle will have been returned to the Victorian splendour of its early days.  The thirty-million-pound transformation will include a new display: Nottingham – Creative City, and at the heart of this project will be a Rebellion gallery. You might be expecting our rebel writers to feature in this new endeavour but they appear to have been overlooked. Byron will get a passing mention but that’s it! And that’s not all; sources have revealed that plans are afoot to remove the local literati currently taking pride of place in the colonnade, perhaps splitting the group up with the majority going to Newstead.

For years, visitors walking towards the entrance of the castle have been welcomed by eight of our writers and poets, in the form of bronze memorials. All but one of these were paid for by a former schoolmaster whose last will and testament left funds for the ‘cultural advancement of the city’.

Surely our writers should be included in the new Rebellion exhibition and, rather than removing the busts from the portico, we could make more of them, providing information to visitors so that they can learn about the history behind the figures.

A Freedom of Information request has gone in to the council to find out what they are intending to do with the writers. Meanwhile, let’s meet them. From left to right, they are:

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902)
Nottingham’s Philip James Bailey is best known for his epic poem Festus. Bailey became obsessed by this poem, revising and expanding it until it boasted 40,000 lines. Festus was supposed to be a favourite of Queen Victoria. In 1856, Bailey was awarded a Civil List pension of a hundred pounds a year, which he drew up until his death, 46 years later.

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart throbs: he most lives

Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.

Philip James Bailey

Albert Toft created the bust. As with the other sculptors - except Thompson (the Lawrence bust came much later) - Toft received £300.84 for his creation (about £35,000 in today's money).

Thomas Miller (1808-1874)
Given the lack of portraiture of the basket-maker's apprentice, Ernest Gillick decided to sculpture ‘an allegorical subject suggestive of the poet’s sympathies with nature.’ The resulting memorial panel shows two female allegories appearing on both sides of a simple inscription. When Thomas was a toddler his father - an unsuccessful wharf-keeper and ship-owner - left the family unit. Thomas left school at nine and became a voracious reader whilst finding low paid work (he once threw ‘an iron instrument’ at his vicious boss). On moving to Nottingham in 1831 he set up his own basket-making business and a year later published Songs of the Sea Nymphs. Thomas Miller wrote poems, children's books, penny dreadfuls and several novels, including Fair Rosamund. Often monetarily challenged, in 1851 he unsuccessfully appealed to Charles Dickens for financial assistance.

William Howitt (1792-1879) & Mary Howitt (1799-1888)
William and Mary Howitt are brought to life by George Frampton who depicts the writers reading. The married couple were prolific, controversial and radical. Their interest in spiritualism and nature was matched by a determination to provide wholesome and instructive literature for all. They produced the radical People’s Journal together and collaborated throughout their long literary career, the first of their joint productions being The Forest Minstrels and other Poems (1821). Mary considered herself ‘bound to no class’ and her writing was popular with both adults and children. In addition to her own prose and verse she translated the fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson and the novels of the feminist reformer Fredrika Bremer.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Alfred Drury’s bust of the scandalous Lord Byron, one of England’s finest poets, faces the castle’s entrance. The notorious nobleman, poet, peer, and politician was a leading figure of the Romantic Movement. Byron’s maiden speech in the House of Lords came in response to plans to make the breaking of weaving machines a capital crime. He later became a hero in Greece after supporting their movement for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Henry Kirke White (1785-1806)
Oliver Sheppard's bust of Henry Kirke White sits above a pedestal on which a bowed woman is depicted holding a spray of laurel. Born near the Old Market Square, the son of a local butcher was a prodigious knowledge-seeker and by the age of 13 a prolific writer of poetry.  Refusing to follow the career path expected of him, and inspired by Wilford and Clifton, Henry wrote a collection which greatly impressed the Poet laureate Robert Southey.  With wealthy benefactors admiring his talent, our young poet went to study at Cambridge but tuberculosis cut short his life at the age of 21.

D H Lawrence (1885-1930)
The portrait bust of our greatest and most controversial writer D H Lawrence, sculpted by Diana Thomson, was the last to appear in the colonnade. Thompson also created the life-sized bronze statue of Lawrence placed at the University of Nottingham’s University Park campus in 1994. Thirty years after his death Lawrence helped secure greater freedom of expression following the acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley Trail. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was just one of Lawrence’s works to have been banned.

Robert Millhouse (1788-1839)
This sculptured panel by Ernest Gillick depicts Robert Millhouse with his quill pen.  Nottingham’s weaver-poet, Millhouse was a factory boy who lived in poverty all his life. With an education gained by reading he produced poems such as The Destinies of Man, Sherwood Forest and Blossoms. In 1828 he took part in a strike by the frame-work-knitters.  According to Sir Richard Phillips, Millhouse suffered ‘for his fidelity to his brethren, every kind of privation. He justified this strike, and displayed, with great energy and eloquence, the wretched situation of himself and others’. 

Millhouse was named ‘The Artisan Poet’ and ‘The Burns of Sherwood Forest’.

Hail, Fair Nottingham, albeit thy name

Is not poetical, yet from thee rise

Names mounting up to virtue and to fame.

Robert Millhouse.

Our convention-breaking writers represent Nottingham’s spirit of rebellion and deserve a place at the castle. Of course, the names featured above are only eight that warrant inclusion, there are many, many more rebel writers that should not be overlooked. How can we have a rebellion gallery that does not feature Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton?

I appreciate that Nottingham has a strong history of rebellion, such as the 1831 Reform Riots in which the Castle was burned down, but our reputation is also built on our writing and stories. It is Lucy Hutchinson’s diary (currently in the castle) that informs much of our knowledge about the castle during the time of King Charles and Nottingham’s role in the English civil war. And where would our most famous hooded rebel be without the tales that made his legend?

20th Century Notts, 1940-1949

Notts through a literary lens. Next in the series is the 1940s:


To Church on Sunday by Geoffrey Palmer (1940)

Edwinstowe born Geoffrey Palmer (1912–2005) was a member of Edwinstowe’s well-known Rabbitt family. Educated in Notts he became a teacher here until becoming a Conscientious Objector in the war. Forming his own small theatre group, he soon met his partner, the actor Noel Lloyd. Palmer’s only adult novel, To Church on Sunday, was published by Chapman and Hall in 1940. He went on to have a prolific writing career with Lloyd. Their books consisted of adventure and ghost stories as well as many works of non-fiction. In the early 60s they wrote three children’s books set in the Sherwood Forest area (Edwinstowe becomes Edwinston). Palmer later returned to teaching before retiring to become a bookseller.

Immediately after Nottingham entered World War II cinemas across the country were forced to close their doors and become dark. That suspension was lifted after the importance of keeping the cinemas open was realised. At this time two more screens were being built in Nottingham, taking our number of separate cinemas up to 52, a record high (to this day). It was in 1940 that Sunday openings were permitted for the first time despite concerns that Sabbath screenings would harm the moral fibre of the population and reduce the number of churchgoers.


The Long Walk by Słavomir Rawicz (1956)

Slavomir Rawicz escaped from a Russian gulag camp in 1941. He was one of seven escapees that made their way from Siberia to British India, by way of China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalayas. This incredible journey was told in the 2010 film The Way Back and, earlier, in Rawicz’s ghost-written book The Long Walk. The memoir is an epic tale of physical and mental resilience; a 4,000-mile walk, living off the land in a harsh environment. By the time he was rescued Rawicz weighed just 5 stone. After the war he settled in Nottingham, one of thousands of Polish people to make a life here. He worked as a school handicraft and woodwork instructor, and a cabinet maker, later to be employed by the Nottingham building and design centre, before becoming a technician at Trent Poly (Nottingham Trent University). His wife Marjorie, a librarian who had helped with the book, assisted ‘Slav’ in answering the many letters he continued to receive from admirers. The Long Walk, never out of print, has sold half a million copies.  
It was about nine o’clock one bleak November day that they key rattled in the heavy lock of my cell in the Lubyanka Prison and the two broad-shouldered guards marched purposefully in. (from The Long Walk

The Nottingham Poetry Society was founded originally as the Nottingham Branch of the Poetry Society of London. It was in 1941 that Margery Smith wrote to the society in London requesting the names of members living in the Nottingham area. She then met with three other women to form the Nottingham branch. The Society met on Friar Lane once a month. Annual Subscription was one guinea, a fee that included issues of Poetry Review. The Nottingham Poetry Society continues to thrive, holding a variety of events throughout the year, including slam competitions, workshops, readings and lectures. In 2011, the society published an anthology marking their 70th anniversary.


One Small Candle by Cecil Roberts (1942)

During the war Cecil Roberts worked for Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador in Washington, and he gave speeches on behalf of the British Government, whilst still managing to have several books published. His 1942 novel, One Small Candle, is about a gifted and lucky young playwright with a strong desire to travel. The protagonist leaves an idyllic Henley-on Thames to live, love and see the world after a generous offer arrives from Hollywood. It was described by The New York Times as ‘a book that keeps you entertained and never throws you out of balance’.

At the age of twenty-seven Roberts had been England’s youngest daily newspaper editor. This was at the Nottingham Journal on Parliament Street. 

John Gielgud appeared as Macbeth at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal as part of a 1942 tour of the play. Gielgud had volunteered for active service at the start of the war but was told that, at thirty-five, he was not required at that time. The government then decided that professional actors would be better used performing for the troops and general public than on active duty. Critics said that Gielgud was not up to playing the Scottish general whilst the actor himself conceded that he could not achieve the “ruthless energetic quality” required of the role.

During this tour of Macbeth the costume and set designer committed suicide, and a further three actors died - and they say the play’s cursed.


They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple (1943)

This the story of three sisters, the different marital choices they make and how those choices impact on them; all set in an era when women stuck in a bad marriage had little or no option of reprieve. Whipple’s writing has aged well; her characters well-drawn and recognisable. They Were Sisters is an authentic account of domestic middle-class life with a menacing undertone that holds attention.

Moral failure or spiritual failure or whatever you call it, makes such a vicious circle... It seems as if when we love people and they fall short, we retaliate by falling shorter ourselves. (from They Were Sisters)

Alma Reville co-wrote the 1943 psychological thriller Shadow of a Doubt, a screenplay described by the New York Times as ‘a graphic and affectionate outline of a small-town American family’. Reville was born in Nottingham in 1899, a few hours after her future husband and collaborator Alfred Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone. It was in 1925, on a stormy boat journey back from Munich, that lovesick Hitchcock proposed to seasick Reville. She later said, ‘It was the first time I had ever seen him in a state of disorder, and the last time too. His hair had been blown about by the wind and his clothes had been soaked with ocean spray.’


SAS Operation Galia by Rob Hann (2009)

In SAS Operation Galia Nottingham author Rob Hann describes his father’s experiences as a paratrooper dropped behind the lines in Italy, two days after the Christmas of 1944 during the harshest of winters. Drawing on post-op reports and memoirs, this Impress Prize winning book is a fictionalised account of the operation, one of the hardest fought and most successful operations of the Second World War. Well researched and richly illustrated, Hann's personal narrative brings to life the co-ordinated attempts of the SAS and local partisans to engage and evade the enemy.

A sixteen-year-old Edmund Ward left home in 1944. Ward’s mother had died when he was six leading to an unhappy domestic life which he was glad to escape. A talented and prize-winning schoolboy, Ward was denied the chance of a job at the Nottingham Post because they only paid 15 shillings a week. Instead he was obliged to take a book-keepers role at Boots – his father’s employers – for double the wage. He hated the work and took time off to read every book in his local library, a feat achieved by his twentieth birthday. Nottingham born Ward later moved to Sweden. He wrote seven novels including Summer in Retreat, The Gravy Train and The Private Tightrope, and his screenplays created some of the most popular television dramas of the ‘60s and ‘70s.



The Escape by Clare Harvey (2018)

In a winter morning of 1945 a translator for a Nazi-run labour camp for French workers passes a group of exhausted prisoners of war marching westward. The following day she receives an urgent message to contact the local priest who is harbouring a group of escapees. Can she help? Published later this year (2018), The Escape is another mix of secrets, drama and relationships, as Clare Harvey continues to meld thrilling historical fiction with real-life characters and events. The author lives in Nottingham and completed a MA course in creative writing at the University of Nottingham.

The year sees a film version of Mapperley Park resident Dorothy Whipple’s novel They Were Sisters. With its all-star British cast, the film was voted one of the four best films of the year. The sisters are played by Phyllis Calvert (as Lucy), Dulcie Gray (as Charlotte) and Anne Crawford (as Vera). Of the different men pursuing them it is James Mason who lands the role of Geoffrey, the ambitious and cruel businessman wanting a stay-at-home trophy wife. The film is noted for its harrowing depiction of marital abuse.


The Day is Ours by Hilda Lewis

Former teacher Hilda Lewis began writing after she arrived in Nottingham in the 1920s. Her 1946 novel The Day is Ours concerns the life of a young deaf girl and the affects her condition has on her family as they struggle to give her a better life. The book was inspired by the work of her husband Professor M. Michael Lewis who was a specialist in the education of the deaf at the University of Nottingham. The Day is Ours was adapted as the film Mandy, described as ‘the greatest emotional drama yet brought to the screen’.

The Nottingham Co-op bought a chapel on George Street where it founded the Co-operative Arts Theatre in 1946. The need for the theatre had come after the Choral, Operatic and Drama groups had outgrown their previous venue at Co-op House. When the Co-operative Wholesale Society intended to close the theatre - in 1999 - a theatre group started a campaign to buy the building. With help from Nottingham City Council and the Broadway Media Centre the asking price was met. The small theatre in the Lace Market remains active. Now called Nottingham Arts Theatre, this pink building is home to an educational charity which still provides opportunities for all within performing arts.


Eight for Eternity by Cecil Roberts

Published in 1947, Eight for Eternity is one of Cecil Roberts’ more accessible reads. A Freeman of Nottingham, Roberts spent his later years living in Italy, and Monte Cassino is the setting for this story of war. The world wars have ripped apart cities and families, and peace cannot repair the destruction. Roberts reflects on the meaning of life and the nature of death. Told with flashbacks Eight for Eternity explores guilt and spirituality at a time when the world is processing great loss.

It was in 1947 that Stephen Lowe was born in Sneinton. The son of a labourer and a machinist, Stephen grew up in a neighbourhood of back-to-back housing before his family moved up in the world, to the high-rise flats of Manvers Court. A love of the theatre grew from his joining the youth group at the new Co-operative Arts Theatre, a place he enjoyed so much he was known to sleep there at weekends. The actor, director and artistic director but is perhaps best-known as a playwright (Touched, The Spirit of the Man, Glamour), but he has also written extensively for film and TV, including a hundred episodes of Coronation Street. Stephen Lowe is the President of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature.


1948 by Andy Croft (2012)

Echoing George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Croft’s comic verse-novel is set during the 1948 London Olympics. It’s a radical alternate history of the Cold War, in which Britain rebuilds under a Labour-Communist coalition government. In Croft’s vision the Royal Family has fled to Rhodesia and the US threatens to impose an economic blockade on Britain. Featuring illustrations by Martin Rowson, 1948 combines the hard-boiled detective novels with Pushkin sonnetry, film-noir and Ealing comedy.

It was a bright cold day in April. Oh no it wasn’t – for a start I cannot find a rhyme for April… (from 1948 by Andy Croft)

In 1948 University College Nottingham was awarded the Royal Charter becoming The University of Nottingham, Britain's first post-war university, and now able to award degrees in its own name. Today, University of Nottingham is consistently ranked amongst the world's top 100 universities and has over 43,000 students from 150 countries.


Miranda Seymour, novelist, biographer and critic, was born in 1948. Seymour began writing as a historical novelist, moving from fiction into biography during the 1980s with her remarkable group portrait of Henry James and his literary circle: A Ring of Conspirators.

Also born in this year was Max Blagg. The Retford born poet, writer and performer is an established and respected figure on the New York literary scene, the city in which he’s lived since 1971. In the last two years Blagg has raised the dead in a series of interviews with famous deceased celebrities.



No Boats on Bannermere (1949) by Geoffrey Trease

No Boats on Bannermere the first of Trease’s five Bannerdale novels set in Cumberland, in the Lake District. The author’s daughter and her friends requested he write a ‘modern’ story about boys and girls who went to day schools rather than the usual boarding school stories they were given to read. In the book, Bill (the narrator), his practical sister Sue, and their mother move to the Lake District. Finances are tight and the children must start their new school which means making friends with the locals. The title is in reference to the character Sir Alfred Askew, owner of Bannermere Hall, who allows no boats on the lake. The kids investigate why? 

The iconic Nottingham entertainer Su Pollard was born in 1949. Our Su is a patron of the Nottingham based group New Writers UK.