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

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

Read "Naming of Parts."

Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed, ca. 1960



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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All posts for "Hardy"

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog


A Tale of Two Hardys

Thomas Hardy

Robert Gittings was an author and poet, and from 1940 to 1963, a script writer and producer at the BBC. His award-winning book, John Keats (1968), is considered the definitive biography. Following this, he then set his sights on Thomas Hardy. From Gitting's obituary in the Times (London), of February 21, 1992:

Gittings's next project was a life of Thomas Hardy, of whom no biography had by then appeared that could be described as even adequate. His edition of Emma Hardy's Some Recollections (1961), done in collaboration with another writer, had received very rough handling from the late Henry Reed and was subsequently revised. Reed, who had known the second Mrs Hardy well, had for long been expected to write the definitive biography. But illness prevented that happening. Gittings failed to obtain Reed's co-operation in his work. This was a loss, as Michael Millgate's later biography, written with the benefit of Reed's expertise, showed.

Gittings accomplished his task in two volumes: Young Thomas Hardy (1975) and The Older Hardy (1978). These were received with respect and (especially the first volume) with gratitude for bringing hitherto unknown facts to light.

The "rough handling" of Gitting's 1961 book, Some Recollections By Emma Hardy and Some Relevant Poems By Thomas Hardy, comes from "Veteris Vestigia Flammae" ("scars of an old flame"), Reed's review in the Listener on October 26, 1961. Reed, of course, had spent decades on his own biography of Hardy, and may have taken offense that he was not consulted. He makes insinuations as to an over-reliance on what he calls "gossip," and then proceeds to call into question the editors' reliability:

It is a little surprising to see the name of Miss Evelyn Hardy [no relation] associated with the presentation of these difficult pages; her past achievements in the way of transcription have not been of a kind to beget confidence. It is to be hoped that the presence of Mr. Robert Gittings has guaranteed the general accuracy of the text; he has not, of course, been able to hold completely in check Miss Hardy's passion for irrelevant annotation: perhaps he feels that this has sometimes a wild charm of its own. Mr. Gittings has himself edited a small anthology of poems, appended to the main text, which may be considered to have a definite or possible derivation from the Recollections themselves. There is naturally room for minor disagreement about some of his choices, but most of what he has to say is very illuminating; and all of it is worth the closest attention.
(p. 678)

Returning to Gitting's obituary, we note that Michael Millgate's 1982 life of Hardy, "written with the benefit of Reed's expertise" (as well as that of consummate bibliographer, Richard L. Purdy), would become the definitive Hardy biography. So how much, exactly, did Millgate benefit? Quite a bit, it turns out! Millgate inherited all of Reed's Hardy research and drafts. We can see, in the finding aids for the University of Toronto's Fisher Rare Book Library, a list of six boxes of notes, correspondence, and documents relating to Millgate's Hardy books. Among the items listed are:

Box 5, 17 folders (Howard Bliss/Henry Reed):
(Folder 1) Howard Bliss/Lew Feldman correspondence
(Folder 2) Howard Bliss: inscribed, presentation or signed
(Folder 3) Henry Reed: drafted sections of projected Hardy biography
(Folder 4) Reed: misc. biographical passages re: Hardy
(Folder 5) Reed: notes and drafts re: Hardy novels
(Folder 6) Reed: Notes on conversations with Hardyís widow, 'Important'
(Folder 7) Reed: reviews of Hardy items, article on Hardy
(Folder 8) Reed: scripts for Hardy programs
(Folders 9-10) Reed: unpublished thesis on T.H. biography
(Folder 11) Reed: misc. reviews and lectures Ms. Michael Millgate
(Folder 12) Reed: misc. biographical items (clippings)
(Folder 13) Reed: MM correspondence, re: his papers
(Folder 14) Correspondence: Reed/Purdy, 1949-1977
(Folder 15) MM/Reed, carbons, 1969-1981
(Folders 16-17) Reedís comments on MMís Hardy biography
Box 6, Henry Reed notebooks (5 holograph notebooks in box):
(1) 1912-1913, brief intro. by Henry Reed on THís poems, Poems of 1912-1913
(2) HR notes on Dorchester 1851 census...
(3) HRís outlines of a few chapters of projected biography...
(4) HRís extensive notes (some on loose sheets) on Hardy family history
(5) HR notes on the early novels...

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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.'

Japonica Makes a Hardy Cameo

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the new BBC production of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which aired last night on PBS Masterpiece. This adaptation stars the enchanting Gemma Arterton as Tess, and Hans Matheson as Alec D'Urberville.

I was seriously distracted, however, at the opening of Chapter 12, when the camera pans up from a bunch of Japonica in bloom, trained along a garden wall:

Screen shot

The shrub appears again, at the side of Mr. Clare (played by Kenneth Cranham) and son Angel (Eddie Redmayne), as they leave Emminster parsonage (I must be the only dude on the Internet taking screencaps which do not feature Gemma Arterton):

Screen shot

Fancy that, I thought. Henry Reed has taught me horticulture! The flower is definitely Chaenomeles, the Japanese Quince—probably Speciosa, or another ornamental variety—referred to commonly as Japonica. Filmed in early spring, March or April, at Hamswell House, South Gloucestershire.

You can catch up on the first half of Tess at PBS.org. The program concludes this Sunday evening, January 11th.

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1512. Reed, Henry. "The Case for Maigret." Reviews of Maigret Hesitates and The Man on the Bench in the Barn, by Georges Simenon. Sunday Times (London), 2 August 1970: 22.
Reed reviews two translations of George Simenon's fiction.

Reed's Hardy Thesis

Henry Reed graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1936 at the age of 22, with a Master of Arts degree. At the time, he was the university's youngest MA.

Reed's (147-page) thesis was on "The Early Life and Works of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1878" (library catalog), a copy of which now resides in the Thomas Hardy Collection of the Dorchester Reference Library, Dorset:

Dorchester Library

Dorchester's Hardy Collection contains 'nearly 1,000 theses for higher degrees in typescript or microform,' as well as critical articles from various literary journals.

It would seem likely that the University of Birmingham still has a copy of Reed's thesis, but if they do, they don't seem to have cataloged it.

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1511. William Phillips, and Philip Rahv, eds. New Partisan Reader: 1945-1953 London: Andre Deutsch, 1953. 164-171.
Collects Reed's poem, "The Door and the Window," published in the Partisan Review in 1947.

In Search of Lost Time

Well, Hardy boys and girls, as with most things in life, the solution to yesterday's mystery would have been easily reached, had I simply paid better attention in math class. Or trusted in the radio times tables published in The Times.

There is no great mystery: Henry Reed's radio tribute to Thomas Hardy was broadcast as advertised, on Sunday, February 20th, 1955, on the BBC Home Service, at 10:05 pm. Gibson's book had the date wrong, and I had mistakenly read "10.5" as 10:50, not 10:05. The Times, in their grand crusade for brevity and clarity, simply outsmarted me (not difficult to do, apparently). The program ran 47 minutes, until 10:52 pm. Here is the mention from The Listener's "Spoken Word" (.pdf) column for March 3rd, by Martin Armstrong:

The Spoken Word
(p. 399)

The clue to figuring this all out lies in that the seemingly ambiguous time references in The Listener. They're not ambiguous; they're rock solid. This Listener came out on Thursday, March 3rd, but covered broadcasting from Sunday, February 20th to Saturday, February 26th. Reed's 'broadcast on Hardy's poetry' falls in 'the previous week', even though it was broadcast only one day before "Thomas Hardy: a tribute from his friends."

Here is Armstrong's review of "The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: a study by Henry Reed," (.pdf) from The Listener of February 24th, 1955:

Thomas Hardy was a great English poet, but he wrote poetry as well as prose, or rather prose as well as poetry. On the previous evening Henry Reed gave an hour's discourse, with copious illustrations read by Mary O'Farrell, Michael Hordern and James McKechnie, on 'The Poetry of Thomas Hardy'. Listening to Mr. Reed I sometimes feel that I am back in the old classroom under the eye of one of the sterner and more intelligent of my schoolmasters and that if I were to venture a giggle or an independent view I would receive a disapproving glance. Nevertheless I enjoy myself and am the better for my lesson. Mr. Reed presented Hardy's poems in the light of his history, and this approach considerably enhanced one's appreciation of them. He suggested that a new edition of the poems is needed in which they run parallel with the biography—an admirable notion, it seems to me, but one that would involve a herculean job for its editor. The poems were excellently read by all three readers. Mary O'Farrell proved, if proof were necessary, that she is one of the two best women readers of poetry on the B.B.C.
(p. 355)

Reed once had hopes of writing a biography of Hardy, and worked on this book on and off from the mid-1930s until the 1950s, when he finally gave in and gave up. These two, short broadcasts were the only tangible result of his 20 years of devotion and labor, his life's work. I sometimes also feel I am under the stern and disapproving eye of Mr. Reed, though sometimes, when I solve some particularly confounding problem, I feel him give me a wink.

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1510. Birmingham Post, "The Merchant of Venice," 5 March 1937.
Photograph of Henry Reed with members of the Birmingham University Dramatic Society's (BUDS) production of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock played by Ian Alexander.

Hardy Boys Mystery

Hardy BoysI'm sitting on a million-dollar idea. It's going to be the next Harry Potter, let me tell you. It's a Hardy Boys book, except instead of featuring boring old Frank and Joe, it chronicles the adventures of Thomas Hardy and his younger brother Henry: Tom and Hal Hardy, teenage sleuths in Victorian Dorset. Or maybe their adventures take place just before the publication of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. That would be contemporary to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and then Henry could play Dr. Watson to Thomas' Holmes, I can't decide. The Mystery of the Madding Crowd. The Clue Under the Greenwood Tree. A million bucks, I'm telling you.

Maybe the Hardy boys could puzzle out this riddle: The Secret of the Two Radio Shows. In his chapter in British Radio Drama (John Drakakis, ed., 1981), "The Radio Plays of Henry Reed," Roger Savage mentions that in the 1950s, Reed presented "an anthology of recorded memories for the BBC called Thomas Hardy: A Radio Portrait by His Friends, observing that it is 'characteristic of a great deal of utterance on Hardy' that 'people prefer... to talk at length about themselves'" (p. 180). The Times' broadcast schedule for February 19th, 1955, lists two programs on Hardy that weekend (click for full size):

Radio schedule

Under "To-day" (February 19, 1955), for the Third Programme: "6.55, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: a study by Henry Reed." Then, for "To-morrow" (February 20), there is listed on the Home Service: "10.5, Thomas Hardy: A tribute from his friends." Which is the portrait mentioned by Savage? Either? Neither? The show following begins at 10.52, making the tribute only two minutes long. That can't be it.

Another clue comes from Michael Millgate, who sings Reed's praises in "The Hunter-Gatherers: Some Early Hardy Scholars and Collectors" (Thomas Hardy: Texts and Contexts, Phillip Mallett, ed., 2002). Millgate refers to "a remarkable broadcast of 1955, made while [Reed] was working for the BBC, into which he incorporated the spoken reminiscences of Gertrude Bugler, Dorothy Allhusen, Robert Graves, May O'Rourke, Walter de la Mare, and several others who had known Hardy in his lifetime..." (p. 193). Surely Savage and Millgate are talking about the same program?

(Incidentally, I was set off on this mad quest by this audio recording of Walter de la Mare talking about meeting Thomas Hardy [BBC4, RealPlayer required], from April, 1955.)

I popped into the library on the way home from work tonight, and looked up a book called Thomas Hardy: Interviews and Recollections (James Gibson, ed., 2002), which mentions a BBC broadcast of February 19th, 1955, this time referred to as "Hardy and His Friends." Four excerpts from this broadcast are included, from: St. John Ervine, the novelist and playwright; Major General Sir Harry Marriott Smith; Llewelyn Powys, the writer (a single quote); and from May O'Rourke, who was Hardy's secretary during the final years of his life. Millgate specifically mentions O'Rourke as participating in Reed's broadcast, so it would seem that the Times' "study" is the program in question, though Gibson gives no credit or notation. Perhaps the title has gotten confused and concatenated.

I'll have to pull the Listener volume for 1955, and see if anything was written about the Hardy programs. Somewhere around here, too, I think I have a printout of the seventy-odd Reed broadcasts which were listed in the BBC's Programme Catalogue (before it went dark). Stay tuned! More Hardy Boys adventures to follow.

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1509. Reed, Henry, "'Tatty': The Year's New Word," Birmingham Post, 13 October 1937.
Discusses the history and usage of the word 'tatty'.

Millgate Mention

Here's a taste of an article by Michael Millgate, famed Hardy biographer and Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto (Millgate, previously). The article is titled "Sources," and it deals with the responsibility of biographers to obtain evidence for their subjects which is 'as direct, as specific, and as authentic as possible,' and the problems they face attempting to do so. The article is from the June/September 2006 issue of English Studies in Canada (p. 55-62):

Most literary biographers... are by the nature of things less likely to encounter their subjects in the flesh than to find themselves dealing with families, friends, executors, lawyers, agents, servants, and so forth, and such relationships can present difficulties of their own. My former colleague Richard Purdy, Thomas Hardy's distinguished and (let me assure you) always dignified bibliographer, kept a secret on-the-spot record of his important conversations with Hardy's widow in the years immediately following Hardy's death but was deeply embarrassed, so he once told me, by the need to excuse himself for the frequent washroom visits that gave him his only opportunities to jot down whatever had just been said. The English poet and playwright Henry Reed spent several years working on an eventually abandoned biography of Hardy and later drew upon that experience in an aciduously amusing radio play called A Very Great Man Indeed, dedicated to the proposition that the friends of the deceased, though ostensibly helpful, may prove in practice to possess not just defective or selective memories but their own personal agendas, ranging all the way from simple self-promotion to active revenge.

Researchers early in the field often have access—for good or ill—to just such a roster of first-hand and even intimate witnesses, what might be called the usual suspects. As time passes, however, deaths occur, and as new researchers enter the field they typically resort to rounding up a series of second-tier players much less closely connected to the subject. Thomas Hardy's reputation, for one, has suffered a good deal from the publication of belated interviews with townsfolk whose memories yield up little more than ancient gossip and with former servants still incapable, forty and fifty years later, of forgiving a great man's small tips.

That one-sentence summary of A Very Great Man Indeed is great: interviewees with 'their own personal agendas, ranging all the way from simple-self-promotion to active revenge.'

Thomas Hardy was fond of collecting newspaper stories, and according to Millgate he kept cuttings of some of his own interviews, but he wrote "Faked" or "Mostly faked" on many of them.

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1508. Birmingham Post, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Birmingham Post.

Dear John Letter

Book cover

A heartbreaking turn of events appeared this evening, in Michael Millgate's Letters of Emma and Florence Hardy (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996). In a letter dated December 7, 1936, Florence Hardy (then aged 57) mentions 'A young man from one of the universities visiting me a few weeks ago said that all the stories one heard were amusing yet the time might come when the nation would be tired of a comic Royal Family.' Millgate notes this "young man" was none other than Henry Reed. In 1936, Reed had graduated with an MA from the University of Birmingham, and he was compiling material and interviewing contemporaries for his planned biography of Thomas Hardy.

Later, Millgate produces a letter to Reed from Florence Hardy:
To Henry Reed

max gate, | dorchester, | dorset.
25th Dec. (1936)

Dear Mr. Reed,

I have been thinking very long & seriously about the book we discussed when you were here, and the more I think about it the more impossible it seems. My own memory is not good & becomes worse & worse, & probably I have exaggerated in my own mind much that was told me, &, as for Miss [Katherine "Kate"] Hardy, she is an old lady in bad health, who has, during the last days lost her nearest surviving relative [cousin Polly Antell] & she will not see any stranger, nor will the doctor allow her her to do so. Moreover she would refuse to discuss any member of her family with anyone. It is possible that I built up a great deal on a few careless remarks from prejudiced persons. I should be very sorry to put into print more than is in my biography as there is not a scrap of documentary evidence to go upon.

Also, with regard to a stage version of 'The Dynasts'—I find that my husband left very special instructions about that, & any performance by amateurs, except the O.U.D.S [Oxford University Dramatic Society], is prohibited. I am sorry to be so negative on both these points, but I hope you will understand.

With seasonable wishes,
Yours sincerely,
Florence Hardy.
Reed's literary hopes and dreams were swept away in the span of two small paragraphs. According to Millgate's notes, the project Florence deems "impossible" was a biography of Thomas Hardy which Reed had suggested, to be based on his conversations with Florence and Hardy's cousin Kate. And apparently Reed was also hoping to adapt Hardy's epic verse-drama on the Napoleonic Wars, "The Dynasts," into a stage play, perhaps for the Highbury Little Theatre group, in Birmingham.

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1507. Daily Telegraph, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Telegraph.

Thomas Hardy TV

Reed's freelance career with the BBC was more or less over before the demise of the Third Programme in 1970, and he would produce only a handful of translations for broadcast in the following years. Part of the problem was his reluctance, or inability, to adapt to the new medium of television. He had a disastrous experience working with the director Ken Russell on a film about the composer Richard Strauss in 1969-70. This is widely regarded as Reed's only foray into television.

I found a surprising story today in Sean Day-Lewis's memoir of his father, C. Day-Lewis: An English Literary Life (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980), which proves Reed dared to delve into television at least one time, previously. In 1963, Reed had a run-in in Dorset with his friend and fellow poet Cecil Day-Lewis, when both men were working on rival Thomas Hardy projects for TV:

Earlier that summer Cecil had done his work as commentator on a short film about Thomas Hardy made by David Jones for the bbc Television arts programme Monitor. He had said some of his piece at the Upper Bockhampton cottage, near Dorchester, where Hardy was born in 1840. By chance, the poet Henry Reed, the source of so many of the jokes on which Cecil dined out, was at the same time making a Hardy programme for Southern Television. Between them they built this coincidence up into a hilarious anecdote which had the lane jammed with outside broadcasting units, a sea of crossed wires and cross technicians, and the two poets shouting infuriated insults to each other, Cecil ponitificating indoors, and Reed holding forth in the garden. Whatever the difficulties, the bbc film was completed and broadcast at the end of November (p. 254).

Can't you hear the two men pouring derision at each other, playing it up for the cameras and crew? "Day-Lewis, you hack! Are you going to spend all day in there?" "We'll be through when we're through, Reed! You has-been!" That's a lovely compliment about Day-Lewis retelling Reed's jokes, too.

And here's a bit of film-and-tv trivia for you: the actress Kika Markham played Tess in the BBC's film (click on "reveal extra detail"). I recognize her from her cameo as Sean Connery's wife in the 1981 movie, Outland.

1506. MacGregor-Hastie, Roy. "The Poet in His Workshop: No 4óThe Great Unclassified." Arena 48 (March 1958): 10-13 [12-13].
MacGregor-Hastie shows great respect for Reed in this series on the state of poetry (but little regard for the poets of the 'Thirties).


I think, given the chance to do it over again, I'd rename this blog The Ghost of Hardy's Cat. (Indirectly, via Peter Stothard.)

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1505. Orwell, George. "Young Writers." Review of New Writing and Daylight (Summer 1943), edited by John Lehmann. Spectator (30 July 1943): 110.
Orwell says of "The End of an Impulse," Reed's criticism of the Auden-Spender school of poetry, 'Henry Reed's essay contains some valuable remarks on the dangers of group literature.'

What Would Hardy Read?

'The aim of this project has been to reconstruct as fully as possible the contents of Thomas Hardyís library at Max Gate, his Dorchester home, at the time of his death in January 1928.'

"Thomas Hardyís Library at Max Gate: Catalogue of an Attempted Reconstruction," by Michael Millgate. I especially enjoyed the debacle of the bookplates. (Index.)

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1504. Ludwig, Jennifer. "Lessons of the War: Henry Reed." In vol. 2, Literature of War: Experiences, edited by Thomas Riggs. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2012. 359-361.
A relatively lengthy assessment of Reed's influences, position, and the impact resulting from his famous sequence of poems, Lessons of the War.

Stale Cakes, Small Sherries

Michael Millgate is a Hardy scholar. He may be the preeminent Hardy scholar, having written or edited innumerable biographies and collections. In several of these, he acknowledges assistance and contributions made by Henry Reed.

In 1936, Reed graduated from the University of Birmingham, having written his MA thesis on Thomas Hardy's early novels. Afterward, his plan was always to write a "Life of" Hardy. He called upon Hardy's widow, Florence, at their house in Dorset, Max Gate, and was given some access, at least, to letters and papers there.

Reed's goal was to create a biography based on recollections of those who had known Hardy, and to root out all the possible sources for his work. But this grand undertaking never came to fruition. Earning a living by reviewing books must have been difficult, and then there was the intervention of the Second World War. Finding success scripting radio plays for the BBC, Reed finally abandoned the biography sometime in the mid-1950s. The most he had to show for his labors was a 1955 Third Programme broadcast, "The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Study."

Millgate has contributed a chapter to Thomas Hardy: Text and Contexts (Mallett, 2002) called "The Hunter-Gatherers: Some Early Hardy Scholars and Collectors," which illuminates Reed's efforts and contributions to the field of Hardyana, and his correspondence with other scholars. This includes a reference to a letter from Howard Bliss to Richard L. Purdy, written in 1949, in which Bliss refers to Reed as Hardy's "Literary Biographer" (p. 199n).

That letter is in the Richard L. Purdy Collection of Thomas Hardy, at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which contains every kind of Reed goodies: corrected galleys, typescripts, and proofs. The Beinecke looks like a gorgeous building with almost futuristic facilites: wouldn't it be a hoot to ride the train up to Connecticut for a looksee? Simple as a twelve-hour train ride.

Millgate concludes his piece with some sage advice, based on personal experience no doubt, for any scholar or collector making inquiries toward or visiting some private literary collection:
‘Anyone contemplating such a visit, however, should certainly write well in advance and try to remember to send a prompt thank-you letter afterwards. Upon arrival, it's well to wipe your shoes on all available doormats, express admiration and/or gratitude for your host's weak coffee, stale cakes, small sherries, and aggressive pets, and suppress any early expression of your personal views on religion, politics, and social issues generally. It's also important to try and open precious volumes without breaking their spines, to avoid leaving sweaty finger-marks on the manuscripts of Hardy poems or Keats letters, to reserve one's more intrusive requests until some degree of personal rapport has been established, and to think twice or indeed several times before seeking to ingratiate oneself with elegant connoissers or the owners of stately homes by gifts of cheap wine.’
Wouldn't it be marvelous if one day, some brash, young scholar knocked on your door, dragged in their muddy feet, offered you a bottle of last year's Merlot and smeared their ink-stained fingers all over your precious database?

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1503. King, Francis. Yesterday Came Suddenly: An Autobiography. London: Constable, 1993. 79-80.
Mentions Henry Reed and Angus Wilson making fun of the Bletchley Park Writers' Circle.

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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