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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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The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.


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«  Bletchley Variations  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

22.10.2021


Bletchley Variations

Long day today: having visited not one, but two, local Barnes & Noble bookstores. Sitting here now, idly typing, I can feel a thin film of dried sweat tightening over my entire body, from head to toes.

I was up early, again. I don't know why my circadian cuckoo clock won't allow me to get some decent rest, weekends. Up early, doused myself with a shower, and took a couple of Tylenol Sinus to fight off the effects of the previous evening's bottle of wine. That nice little Australian Shiraz, [yellow tail]: the one with the 'roo on the bottle. Seven bucks; can't be beat.

After my first, unproductive visit to the (first) bookstore, I got stuck in a rain-induced traffic jam long enough to outlast the morning's 'pirin. This necessitated visiting the second bookstore, for a fistful of coffee. At which point I bought the book that I had lingered over at the first Barnes & Noble. Ridiculous? I know.

I bought a copy of Code Breakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park. I had looked it over once or twice before, and though it doesn't mention Reed specifically, it does have some nice bits on the Italian Naval Section and Japanese decrypts. (Actually, what I've read so far is dry, unspecific, full of jargon, and about as interesting as a phonebook in a foreign country.) It has a few photographs, a good map of the Milton Keynes estate as it was in its heyday, and decent glossary of terms and abbreviations.

The only hard fact I have ever found about Henry Reed's time at Bletchley Park is a mention in an interview with I. Jack Good and Donald Michie, from IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 17, no. 1 (Spring 1995), in which Good mentions he and Reed were in the same rooming house: '[Reed] complained about the food. He said we ought to get together and complain to Mrs. Buck, who was the landlady, about the food.'

That's a fantastic bit of detail that is severely lacking in most scholarly accounts. Complain to Mrs. Buck about the food!

The problem is, the whole Bletchley Park operation was so tippy-Top Secret, many documents were destroyed after the war; and those that weren't have only recently been released, if at all. So most of what's known about the day-to-day operations come from oral histories taken from the people who worked there (mostly former Wrens, it seems).

The Bletchley Park website's online store offers several tantalizing histories and memoirs that I'd give my left rotor for a peek at their indices:

The Road to Station X, by Sarah Baring,

Bletchley Park People, by Marion Hill,

My Road to Bletchley Park, by Doreen Luke, and

We Kept the Secret, by Gwendoline Page.

Conspicuously absent is the intriguing title Enigma Variations: A Memoir of Love and War (sometimes subtitled Love, War and Bletchley Park).

I've often wondered—given the time he spent among ciphers, cryptographers, and linguists—if there might be some code hidden away in Reed's poetry, some crossword puzzle jumble left to be discovered, some veiled reference to his experiences there. Most of the poems in A Map of Verona were written while Reed was at Bletchley, as well as his script for his radio adaptation of Moby Dick, but his wartime work seemed to be something he prefered to remain separate, and eventually altogether left behind.


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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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