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Monday, 31 August 2009

Malcolm Saville on BBC Radio.

Owen Dudley Edwards writes (p.212) of Saville's Mystery at Witchend as "the BBC 'Children's Hour' serial subsequently given book form". In fact, Mystery at Witchend was published on 1st October 1943, and broadcast on Friday afternoon, 5.20 - 6.00pm for four weeks starting Friday 8th October. The adaptation of the book was by Barbara Sleigh, an author in her own right who worked with her husband for the BBC. Sleigh's script is now published(2008) by David Schutte (ISBN 978 0 9546801 5 1).
ODE talks elsewhere of simultaneous publication and broadcast, which is about right, since the decision to broadcast and the preparations must have been pre-publication. Whether the story had been commissioned for broadcast is beyond the evidence - a new untested writer being asked to write a war story is unlikely, and more likely that Sleigh knew Saville (Geoffrey Trease was a common friend and confirms the friendships in his autobiography) and liked the story which she had read pre-publication (although I am uncertain whether she knew Saville prior to the broadcast decision). A spy story perhaps suited the feel of the time, when threat of invasion had receded and children could feel empowered to contribute to the war effort. In fact, MI6 histories report that by this time spies were not much of a threat and vigilance endangered innocent aliens more than spies.
ODE gives a detailed footnote (352-3 fn45) confirming these timings and commenting on the experienced cast. This had not been an economy production. ODE comments at length (253-7) that Mystery at Witchend was Saville's best book.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dorothy Eileen Marsh Heming

Owen Dudley Edwards has failed to uncover the story of this strange writer who produced over 120 books in twelve years before dying young at 48 years old. He refers only to Marise Flies South (1944) although he does talk about the 'impressively professional series' [222]. The biography/bibliography is Among Her Own People: Lives and Literature of Eileen Marsh, Jack Heming and Bracebridge Heming by Eric Bates (Bulman Lee Publishing, Ashford [bulman_lee@beeb.net], ISBN 0-9551014-0-9. I have a collection of about 60 titles.

Eileen Marsh wrote under many names often combining her real names Dorothy Eileen Heming (nee Marsh) or using other family names. She published 7 titles in 1936, 4 as Eileen Marsh, and one each of Dorothy Carter, Martin Kent and D.E. Marsh. Of the twelve titles in 1937, 5 were by Eileen Marsh, 2 by D.E. Marsh, and one each by James Cahill, Guy Demster, Martin Kent, Elizabeth Rogers and E M Shard. 1938 added John Annerley, D.E. Heming, Dempster Heming to two Martin Kents, and one D.E Marsh, Eileen Marsh and Elizabeth Rogers. . Altogether there were 26 by Eileen Marsh, 14 by Dorothy Carter, 9 by Elizabeth Rogers, 8 by Guy Dempster (bloodthirsty boys' war stuff) , 6 by Martin Kent, 6 by D.E. Marsh, and smaller numbers for the rest. She also wrote adult novels, and Sunday School prizes for Lutterworth, using Eileen Heming, Dorothy Marsh, James Cahill, Rupert Jardine, Jane Rogers and Mary St. Helier. This was quite a varied output for girls, boys and adults. She specialised in writing about flying and war adventure, and set them in England, Canada, Africa, USA and even up the Himalayas. She herself could not fly (though she had flying contacts and had a few flying lessons after writing several books; and had never visited many of these places: she wrote at home bringing up five children. Her husband also wrote, but was interrupted by the war. He used her pseudonyms from time to time after her death.

Eileen Marsh wrote her life story as fiction, in A Woman's Life where she describes a woman and husband writers who were advised to write aeroplane stories as the modern thing. Her routine was three hours writings while the children were in school, or 5000 words per day. The first books, under the signature D.E. Marsh were for boys, her Eileen Marsh signature starting with her girl flier books, of which Jonquil is the easiest to find. She states her payment per book as £50. In all, she wrote 120 books between 1935 and 1948, under 16 names, for girls, boys and adults.

ODE notes (p.229 fn29) that Dorothy Carter had no books after 1948. In fact The Cruise of the Golden Dawn was published by Latimer House in 1949, just posthumously. North for Treasure came in 1961, published by Lutterworth about the Canadian gold rush. Five genuine Dorothy Carters had been with Lutterworth, the rest with Collins (the first, Flying Dawn, was with A&C Black in 1935. An open question is whether the 1961 title was wholly written by husband Jack, or is a reworking of an unfinished manuscript. A number of pre-war titles were set in Canada, but I have not found any trace in copyright libraries of an earlier version of North of Treasure. Also set in Canada, Ted of the Mounties used the name Eileen Heming (1955) - again was this Jack, or is it a reprint of and earlier genuine title? Eric Bates gives their authorship to Jack; I am open to the possibility that they were written in Canada in the 1930s - Elizabeth Rogers' On Wings and Skis, set  in Canada, was in 1939.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

World War 2 Children's Fiction

It has been a long term aim for me to write a book about children's fiction written in or around the second world war, so to find someone else has done this is actually a relief. Owen Dudley Edwards, of Edinburgh University, has written British Children's Fiction in the Second World War, published by Edinburgh University Press. At 744 pages, it is a thorough job. It strikes me that this task could only be achieved by someone with long term access to a copyright library, since the books and comics are both difficult to find and if available very expensive. I have in excess of 500, or about a quarter of the works referred to. This means that I can make sense of his argument, which is dense with many allusions to a wide range of works: I wonder whether his flow would be so clear to someone without this depth of knowledge. The existence of this book will doubtless save me money. I shall draw on my own knowledge of the works from this period to comment, expand and expound. Despite the size of the tome, sometimes a wealth of interest is hidden behind a sentence and a footnote, such as footnote 31 of the first chapter, about stories of refugees from mainland Europe early in the war, and particularly Jewish refugees. There are gaps, some of which I will fill. For example, David Severn, first book 1942 (Rick Afire!). The index gives no mention, except to say that Sir Stanley Unwin was 'Severn's father' (p.17) which is not stated on page 17. I will watch out for him (an account of the cricket match in Waggon for Five (1944) is discussed on p. 470, indexed under Unwin). Another gap is Peter Dawlish (James Lennox Kerr). They just happen to be two writers I am interested in.

The chapter design is thematic:
1. Issues in children's fiction up to 1940, focussing on a George Orwell/Frank Richards row.
2. Rations and Quislings.
3. Evacuees and Gurus
4. Women and Fathers.
5. Officials and Genteelmen
6. God's Things and Others
7. Identity, Authority and Imagination.
8. Gender.
9. Class.
10. Race

This is an investigative history work, which happens to focus on children's literature. The author has set himself an enormous task, and generally has done a very good job. This blog will return to review details of his argument from time to time.
Postscript. Adding this after reading three quarters of the book. It is brilliant, insightful, very dense. We agree on so many things. There are gaps, but only because an exhaustive account of these years is quite impossible.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

RAF Defford

The National Trust is renovating the surviving buildings at RAF Defford near Pershore, Worcestershire in association with the pleasure gardens at Croom Park. The old Sick Quarters now house the dining area and exhibitions. Work is going on to restore other nearby buildings. A short walk takes you to a redundant but well kept church, and gardens with the ultimate water feature, a scale model of the river Severn.

The Capability Brown parklands was developed into RAF Defford early in the second world war and was known chiefly for its testing of Radar apparatus developed by TRE (Telecommunications Research Establishment) in Malvern. This included Airborne Interception, on-plane devices that plotted the whereabouts of enemy aircraft, early warning radar, ground-plotting radar (H2S)to identify bombing targets for more accuracy, and so on. The Pathfinder squadron was developed here (Air Vice Marshall Bennett) so that high flying planes with H2S could pinpoint factories and mark them with coloured flares. This reduced the numbers of H2S equipment that might be shot down and copied by the enemy. The core of many of these devices, the magnetron oscillator, was after the war developed into microwave cookers. Much of the big radar equipment formed the basis of the Jodrell Bank observatory, and Sir Bernard Lovell, who worked with TRE, has always been a close friend of RAF Defford.

Description by Robin Brooks in Herefordshire and Worcestershire Airfields in the Second World War.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Carol Forrest and the Girl Guides

Guiding was a favorite topic in stories for girls as it promoted independence, a can-do philosophy, and active citizenship.
Was Carol Forrest = Catherine Christian?
Owen Dudley Edwards, 715, index states that Carol Forrest was a pseudonym for Catherine Christian, formerly Mamie Muhlenkamp [I am seeking confirmation of this] editor of The Guide (but no evidence offered). The copyright libraries do not make the connection. Neither does Google connect the two names, nor with "Mamie Muhlenkamp". Nevertheless, my mind is open but far from convinced. See Catherine Christian, The Big Test: The Story of the Girl Guides in the World War, 1947: The Guides Association. CC, born in 1901 was copiously writing guide stories before and during the war under her own name and used the pseudonym Patience Gilmour for a sequence of four books around 1935.
The Marigolds Make Good (Blackie, 1937 - blurb) The Marigolds belong to a school, which has grown slack, and the new Head decrees that, school work coming first, the Marigolds must soon disband. Meantime fired with sudden enthusiasm, they carry on, more or less unofficially. In doing their first good deed they come in contact with a very understanding elderly friend and later with her granddaughter Andrea. Very soon follows a foolish excursion that misses being a tragedy only through Andrea's unexpected command of the gipsy language. Andrea, however, pays for her recklessness by a serious illness. The star turn of the Marigolds, however, comes when with much labour, and Andrea's capable assistance, they secure the happiness of old Ellie. This convincing bit of work earns the verdict, The Marigolds have made good.

Diana Takes a Chance (Blackie, 1940 - blurb) DIANA TREMAINE, living with her widowed mother at their lovely home, Grey Ladies, is a spoiled young person. She has everything she wants, and takes it for granted. Then circumstances change; the old house has to be sold; her mother marries again and goes with her husband to Australia, leaving Diana for the time being in charge of a small half-brother and sister. Diana finds herself in a poor part of London, fortunately with Keziah, devoted to her step-father's family, to help her to bear a heavy load of responsibility. She is a Ranger, but has never taken Guiding seriously; now in London, she meets Sally, another Ranger, a girl uneducated but full of the right spirit, and Sally's example does its share to bring out the best that is in Diana. Other friends play their part, not least, in his rather eccentric way, young David Rhys, doome to be a lawyer against his will. Life in London is not by any means as grim as Diana expected, and when at length the day comes for her to go with the youngsters to Australia, she leaves London and her varied circle there with regret.


ODE features A House for Simon (1942). It is a strange book, but nevertheless rewarding. The hapless children of an artistic but incompetent father escape wartime Europe in the nick of time, arrive in London during the blitz and an actual air raid, find their guardian has gone to America, go to Dorking to find that that person has left and the house commandeered. So they set out to fend for themselves and fit out a derelict house. In the end their father returns to England but neglects to tell them since they seem to be getting on so well. As a story of survival during the war it is breathtaking, a story of endeavour, courage and determination. Many children were having to cope without fathers, and some without parents. Being passed from pillar to post was a common experience. For most child readers, what happened to them was not worse than what happened to these children: their coping could inspire others.

Two Rebels and a Pilgrim, 1941 is also a curious story, about guides fed up with guiding. Protestors, rebels. The story takes them through a range of experiences which re-enervate them and give them backbone, self-belief and ownership.

Caravan School (1946), opens up a radical discussion of the purpose and nature of education, shortly after the 1944 Education Act. Education should be practical, based on craftsmanship rather than knowledge/information/regurgitation. There is a beautiful description of the building of a farm cart, made to last generations, but declared to be a declining art. Also, the craft of furniture making and similar are extolled. The children learn not in school but by roaming in a caravan with a radical relation, and end up in a new type of school which follows the enthusiams and craft skills, enthusing pupils by bringing in the best role models. The details are a bit stilted - they travel in the caravan with their aunt who has not admitted who she is, so the deception has to be sorted out at the end. This is shown as the device to get children thinking outside the box, and not just being dependent on adults.

The Quest of the Curlews (1947, Newnes) features a team within the guides ("The Curlews") getting involved with a disabled girl, Honor, as they try to regain access to a local wood to practise woodcraft after a hostile new owner moves in. Midge, a nervous girl, comes out of herself and prevents a dangerous accident, becoming a hero. Sonia, a little girl coming up from the brownies, was traumatised by being buried alive by a bomb which also killed her sister. She comes to terms with her fears a little. That brings us to the secret of Honor's disability, her back broken when, after rescuing Sonia from the bombed house, returned to fetch her sister only to have the house collapse around her. The book makes the very strong point that even if paralysed, people can do a great deal and should not be written off. The curlew patrol finally feature in a film showing the range of things guides did during the war as examples of community involvement and service.
Other books:
Two Rebels and a Pilgrim, 1941
The House of Simon, 1942
The Patteran Patrol, 1944
Fortune's Coin, 1945 (Lutterworth)
Caravan School 1946.