The Sound of Words

Richard Davenport-Hines describes the background to his choices in Picture Perfect, an anthology of poetry and prose published by Anthony Eyre. Article published in the Literary Review, November 2023.

The most satisfying room I know is in a Gloucestershire farmhouse. It is neither large nor imposing, but it has quiet perfection. Over the course of thirty years, at auctions and gallery openings, in shops in country towns and markets in London, my friend Ursula has bought paintings and objects that appeal to her. They are not rare or costly, but they chime with one another in finely attuned harmony.

I have been thinking a lot of Ursula’s sitting room, and of the Frick museum in New York, and of Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness. Each of them is the sure and coherent expression of an individual’s unhampered choices. Subjective taste in the hang of pictures or the planting of gardens always seems to me more rewarding than a didactic, conscientiously even-handed, impersonally curated display. It’s no different with another type of collector and arranger, the literary anthologist – something very much on my mind at the moment as I put the finishing touches to my own anthology.


Clare Bucknell’s The Treasuries: Poetry Anthologies and the Making of British Culture, which I reviewed for this magazine in February, reminded me why I prefer anthologies that, like Jarman’s garden, make a personal testament. Auden’s A Certain World (1970), for example, is a bewitching autobiography of taste and feeling. By contrast, Al Alvarez’s hectoring collection The New Poetry (1962), with its Freudian authoritarianism, battering masculinity and personal opacity, has always offended me.

A generation ago, anthologies which served as mere boosterish coteriecollections were easily identifiable by a common factor: they tended to include the pallidly Audenish versifying of James Fenton. Auden, as Bucknell shows, was the most prolific anthologist among 20th-century poets. The best definition of poetry, he thought, is ‘memorable speech’. Remembrance is secured through ‘the audible spoken word and cadence, to which in all its power of suggestion and incantation we must surrender, as we do when talking to an intimate friend’.

These opinions come from the preface to The Poet’s Tongue (1935), the sprightly polyvocal anthology that Auden co-edited with John Garrett, headmaster of Raynes Park County School. Their book celebrates the spoken word with reams of folk songs, dialect, nursery rhymes, sea shanties, ballads, carols, doggerel from broadsheets, choral verses and so forth. It is a collection for recitation, and especially for speaking aloud from memory, although it does not include the jolly rhyme about Garrett’s school that I sing when motoring on the A3:

Have you heard of the wonderful school
They’ve built on the Kingston by-pass?
They say it’s no place for a fool,
But it helps if you’ve got a nice arse.

Best are the writers who listen to the sound of their words and induce their readers to listen too, halting the heedless speeding traffic on the A3s of life. The act of memorising makes one pause. Many of the most attractive anthologies contain poems fit for recitative memorising: Lord Wavell’s Other Men’s Flowers (1944), Francis Meynell’s By Heart (1965) and, best of all, Josephine Hart’s Catching Life by the Throat (2006). Both Wavell and Meynell began reciting poetry in childhood. As a small boy, Wavell was paid threepence a time for declaiming Macaulay’s ‘Horatius’. He then found an uncle who was willing to pay him sixpence for refraining. At a similar age, Meynell, who was morbidly shy, was besought to recite Gray’s ‘Elegy’. He would only do this if he could hide from sight under the dining-room table while doing so. Hart described herself as ‘a word child’. She was schooled in Ireland, ‘where life was language before it was anything else’. She felt, as I do, that every phase of her life would have been ‘less comprehensible, less bearable, and infinitely less enjoyable’ without poetry.

Larkin likened the art of poetry to the art of photography. I tried to make my sons into ‘word children’ by reading them poems that are pictorial. One of my happiest moments was reading aloud The Waste Land to them when they were aged six and four. The marvel, the thrill, the alertness, the delighted incomprehension on their faces as they heard Eliot’s rich, incongruous words remain an ineradicable joy after more than thirty years.


During 2022, when I was compiling my anthology, I took as my models Ursula’s room and the shingle shore at Garden Prospect Cottage. As best I could, I tried to emulate Hart, creating a collection with a single sensibility, and words of poetry and prose that sound enriching when read aloud. I cherished in my mind the image that had entranced my sons: the moon that shone bright on Mrs Porter and her daughter as they washed their feet in soda water.

For years, my friend Charity Charity, who took her forename as her post-divorce surname and brand, circulated a Christmas pamphlet containing the plums of her year’s reading. At Christmas 2021, six months after her death from a brief, devastating illness, her son circulated a last set of extracts. It was this gift, together with the memory of Charity’s phenomenal accuracy in the recitation of poetry and prose, and of her love of strength and sensuality in words and images, that persuaded me to compile the anthology in her memory.

The spirit of my anthology is contained in a remark of I A Richards: ‘A decline in our sensitiveness and discrimination with words must be followed soon by a decline in the quality of our living also.’ How good it is to see the word ‘discrimination’ used in a positive sense rather than by grievance-mongering campaigners. The anthology, as Charity would have wished, celebrates the life-enhancing and discriminate use of words. Everything in it, whether poetry, prose, maxim or deathbed gasp, gains in its meaning by being read aloud. My imagination is pictorial. I remember rooms and landscapes more keenly than emotions. For that reason, the book is entitled Picture Perfect.

Although there are few words by me in it, it is the most personal of the two dozen books with my name on the spine. It is a book for discriminating ‘word children’ and I hope it reminds people that it is as important to listen aloud as it is to read.

ISBN 9781912945443
200pp, £25

The Lives of Others

An Unanchored Heart by Rory Knight Bruce

AN UNANCHORED HEART by Rory Knight Bruce
Reviewed by Juanita Coulson for The Lady

Origin stories fascinate me: especially those we tell ourselves about ourselves. In this compelling memoir the journalist and one-time Horse & Hound hunting correspondent Rory Knight Bruce looks back on his childhood in rural Devon, his time at boarding school and student days, his travels in Greece and working life in London.

Alongside a labyrinth of pithy anecdotes, keenly observed characters and timely mots justes runs the thread of the search for self-knowledge. That thread always leads back to early childhood, when he is abandoned by his mother, who wafts away in a taxi to a glamorous London life. Sporadically present at bejewelled arm’s length, she never shows an ounce of maternal feeling.

An absentee mother and distant father with a cruel streak – this vacuum of affection is revisited often, and leaves an indelible mark. The unanchored heart of the title could refer just as much to his errant mother’s as to the writer’s own.

Like many children from well-connected but broken families Knight Bruce becomes a professional guest, staying with friends for holidays and weekends, honing the social skills that will serve him well in later life. He charms his way into most situations: jobs in advertising and journalism, where he crosses the great divide between sales and editorial at The Spectator; grand parties to which he is uninvited and, of course, women’s beds and hearts. The elder statesman of field sports journalism turns out to have also been a notorious womaniser.

Seduction is at the heart of his memoir, as he wins readers over with a delicious mix of contrasts: disarming honesty and artfully constructed anecdote; vulnerability and archness; refinement and manual labour.

‘All memory, however, is unfair, the kiss of a coward’, he writes towards the end of the book. Reliable or not, Knight Bruce is irresistible, from vivid accounts of his bond with his dogs to the dying days of Fleet Street. As the Italian phrase goes: si non è vero, è ben trovato (even if it’s not true, it’s a good fabrication). This is an entertaining glimpse into the life of a dwindling species: the cultivated gentleman-rogue.

Juanita Coulson

The Lady, 3 March – 6 April 2023

A Rabelaisian gallimaufry of hilarity and hedonism

Celia Lyttelton’s review of An Unanchored Heart for Perspective Magazine

Rory Knight Bruce’s memoir is a Rabelaisian gallimaufry of hilarity and hedonism, plus a lot of hard grafting, hard times (very hard), and exceedingly good times too. It’s a life lived to excess, fuelled by steely determination and enough booze to sink a frigate. Some passages made me roar with laughter. Like John Clare and Housman, in prose, his descriptions of places, travels and observations of nature are vivid and poetic; his lyrical Lindisfarne poem ends one of the chapters.

The author loves animals as much as his vast circle of friends. As soon as he could walk, he was riding cows on his father’s Devonshire farm. Later he became a polymath, student politician, magazine publisher, fishmonger, dole receiver, ad salesman at the Spectator and the Evening Standard and writer. This is his third book.

His childhood was frugal and solitary, and his ex-POW father would sit drinking whisky while watching porn – he’d escaped the Nazis by doing the “Long Walk” down to the toe of Italy. At the village school (a two-mile walk) Knight Bruce was “Rory the tiger”; winters were a “clod of desolation” and they were sometimes cut off for weeks by snow. Father and son lived in noble poverty: a portrait of Charles II could be a Lely, but has never been authenticated because “I would have to sell it”. Rory was an early developer and his au pair crept into bed with him aged ten after taking him to a Paris suburb where her family ate horse meat and haricots. There is much shagging throughout, though he’s discreet about his legion of lovers.

His mother, “the Bolter”, left him aged one. She was a TV quiz show hostess, wrapped in furs, with a fleet of fancy cars and husbands, including a Russian prince. She whisked him away to prep school and then Stowe, after which Rory went to Edinburgh University for a seven-year bender of bars and balls, writing and acting in his own play, editing the NewEdinburgh Review and being honorary secretary of the NUS on £50 a week.

When Rory’s father died, the “wailing Finn” who’d been his carer for 25 years refused to move out; the farm was a poisoned chalice, and half of it went to the “glugger”. 94 bottles were discovered hidden under the beds. Rory made minimal repairs to the Georgian farmhouse, replacing missing slate roof-tiles with old LPs.

Rory reached the apogee of his chequered career as editor of the Standard’s Londoner’s Diary for seven years. Sections of the book are littered with name dropping, indigestible, as if the author has swallowed the Tatler Bystander pages. “Was my life no more than an imitation of Fielding’s Tom Jones?” the author ponders in the last pages; it would be a spoiler to reveal whether the ending is happy or not.

Really Quite Naughty

Ettie Neil-Gallacher’s review of An Unanchored Heart by Rory Knight Bruce:

With the advent of the Christ Child’s birth upon us, it hardly seems appropriate to be recommending these memoirs so wholeheartedly. Great swathes are really quite naughty; we have a frank account of sex in a Parisian porn shop as well as details of anger-fuelled shenanigans in rustic Greece.

But it would be priggish to fail to extol the joys of this book, as the reflections of this contributor to The Field are such a rompingly absorbing read, by turns funny, touching, moving and, yes, shocking in almost equal measure.

Knight Bruce’s memoirs start and finish in Devon, where he moved when his father died and where certain personal ghosts seem to persist. For all his years of studying and campaigning in Edinburgh, and learning and plying his trade in the Fleet Street of old, he has retained his profound love of the countryside. This book is rich in anecdotes from every stage and act, and his bracing honesty ensures there is no pretension or artifice. Knight Bruce has indeed played many parts.

Ettie Neil-Gallacher

The Field, November 2022

One Man’s Road to Salvation

Salvation by Antony Hornyold

Don’t be put off by the title of local author Antony Homyold’s first novel, Salvation (published by Anthony Eyre). It is not a religious tale, although it does have a strong Catholic thread running through it. The book tells the story of Ralph Sebright, who, as a 12-year-old boy in 1940, is traumatized when the ship on which he is being evacuated to Canada is torpedoed and he finds himself in a crowded lifeboat for seven days. He survived, but many hundreds did not, a fact that is to haunt him for the rest of his life.

The rest of the book follows Ralph’s life as he is first sent to Jerusalem on National Service as part of the British peace-keeping force caught between fanatical Jewish settlers, who had been promised their ancient land under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and the native Palestinian Arab inhabitants. Ralph is wounded in one incident and invalided home before attending Cambridge University where he is drawn to fellow student Mary.

But in this short book of just over 100 pages there is no time to explore any characters in depth and Ralph soon has to choose between developing his relationship with Mary and accepting an exciting posting to Beirut. He decides to return to the Middle East where he renews his friendship with Major Mac, his company commander in Jerusalem. One day he receives a letter from Mary saying that she is going to marry a colleague they both knew at Cambridge. Ralph is devastated, remembering that at their last dinner before he left for Beirut he felt she had expected him to say something and he had missed the opportunity to commit himself.

As time passes, Ralph, now fluent in Arabic, receives several overseas postings and is promoted to Head of the Foreign Office’s Middle Eastern Section. But he feels that something is missing and, after talking to a Catholic priest and later to his old friend Major Mac, he decides to take early retirement and become a priest. Almost 60 when he is ordained, he becomes a parish priest in West London; at the same time he becomes a chaplain to a prison where he gets to know an imam, who also holds services at the prison and introduces him to the Quran, in particular the verses that forbid violence against civilians.

One afternoon he boards a bus for Victoria Station and happens to sit behind a young man speaking Arabic on his mobile. The man sounds agitated and Ralph notices he has a knapsack and is looking at a sheet of Arabic text. Instinct tells him it is a prayer sheet and the man is a jihadist. Acting intuitively, Ralph recites aloud in Arabic one of the verses the Iman has given him and hears the man gasp. Two stops before Victoria the man gets off the bus. It is almost a year after the 7/7 bus bombing. The book ends with Ralph, now over 80, drawn back to Palestine where he has an uncanny encounter with the granddaughter of the woman who treated his wounds in 1947.

Antony Hornyold has written a moving and at times poignant account of the conflicts in the life of his main protagonist and in the Middle East, succinctly outlining tensions that continue to this day.

Malcolm Fare

Lady of Spain: A Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria

Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria

Country Life

This book plunges you into the dark, confusing mindset of a 16th-century Europe divided between two antagonistic belief systems. Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I were the first British women to rule as crowned monarchs in their own right, overseeing the brutal execution of hundreds of their own subjects for professing the rival faith. The principal difference between the Catholic and Protestant persecutions was slight: during Elizabeth’s reign, Catholic martyrs were hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn crossroads; during Mary’s reign, leading Protestant martyrs were burnt at the stake at Smithfield’s meat market. The actions of the Queens’ various councillors and spy-masters remain fascinatingly opaque, although both fake conspiracies and real plots informed the final chill decisions of state. Which is why this life of an obscure Spanish duchess brings such unexpected enchantment.

Jane Dormer, who was English through and through, was one of those rare souls who rose above the murderous passions of her age. She clearly married her bluff Spanish soldier husband for love; their wedding was held in secret, after the death of Mary had removed any political advantage from the match. However, she had the good manners to take her formal leave of Elizabeth as she left England.

Sir John Hawkins in 1581, aged 44. (National Maritime Museum.) Jane Dormer helped him escape the clutches of the Inquisition.

Jane clearly listened to some mad plots in her long life, but was wise enough to never put anything down in writing. She concerned herself with getting hostages returned, releasing prisoners of war and delicately chiding monarchs into paying promised pensions. She was invariably more successful in getting things done as a genuine Catholic exile trusted by the King of Spain than any of England’s official ambassadors, but even with them she found something in common, if only how to liven up her Spanish kitchen with English cheese and butter, imported with the aid of a bureaucrat working for the Spanish Inquisition.

Simon Courtauld is the perfect narrator, intimate with both the landscapes of Spain and the dense tapestry of English dynastic politics.

The English lady exiled in Spain out of love

Duchess of Feria

The Daily Telegraph

A slow train used to take all day from Madrid to reach the little town of Zafra in Extremadura. The indefatigable hispanophile Simon Courtauld told me about it 30 years ago or more, enthusing about the Plaza Grande and the Plaza Chica, not then marred by loud music from bars.

A 17th c. view of Zafra by Israël Silvestre

Zafra has a curious connection with England because Jane Dormer, a lady in waiting to Queen Mary Tudor, married a Spaniard in the entourage of the Queen’s king-consort Philip. She left England in a ship stuffed with relations, retainers and horses in 1559, never to return. But she lived until 1612, the last 40 of her 74 years as a widow administering huge estates and negotiating the tangle of exiled Catholic politics.

Her steward Henry Clifford wrote a life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, but it is vague on dates and gives no explanations. Now Simon Courtauld has delved away to produce a proper biography, Lady of Spain.

Clifford didn’t exaggerate her standing, for Courtauld reproduces a letter from Queen Elizabeth, half in her own hand, remonstrating at her absence from England but calling herself her “friend and sovereign”.

The Duchess even wrote to James VI before he came to the English throne, telling him to become a Catholic, following it up with another friendly letter as though she had not committed lese-majesty.

Almost a monarch on her estates, she dealt with the machinations of spies, zealots, popes and kings. An English ambassador brought her cheese, on the grounds that they both hated Spanish food, though a recipe book she left showed a liking for bizcochos (sponge fingers) and marmolet of quinces.

I’d thought she’d presided over events mostly at Zafra, but Courtauld cites a secondary source saying she kept to her Madrid house. Her husband planned the Renaissance transformation of Zafra castle as a miniature Escorial, work on which he had inspected with Philip II. The rebuilding was finished by her son.

Her body returned to Zafra at Candlemas 1612, the patronal day of the parish church. There it narrowly escaped a body-snatching plot by the nuns of the convent of Santa Marina, which she had built next to the castle. They reasoned their founder deserved to be buried in their chapel. Only a lock on the coffin and the insistence of the Abbess of Santa Clara, her destined burial place, that it be opened to prove she lay within, ensured that the plot was thwarted.

Courtauld is sympathetic to the woman, but sees the world from a very different angle. He quotes J A Froude (1818-94), whose History of England ends with the defeat of the Armada and Catholicism, declaring that Philip II had a “heart to which an iceberg was warm”, as a man ” to whom love was an unmeaning word”. That’s not my picture of Philip, walking affectionately in the bright private galleries of the Escorial with his children.

No matter. The author fills every page with the people whom Jane Dormer knew, or might have. You need a genealogist’s brain to keep them all in play. The great problem is that the Duchess left tantalisingly little trace. Where there are letters there may be no reply. But there are vivid scenes, such as her visits to the sick in old age, leaving money done up in paper under their pillows.

Courtauld concludes: “Neither Sir Francis Walsingham nor Lord Burley was ever able to pin anything significant on her.” That may be because, while favouring Mary Queen of Scots, she plotted no treason. Or it might be that those spymasters preferred to monitor her contacts. In a kaleidoscopic world of double agents, Jane Dormer had made her choice and let events blow round her.

The reign in Spain

Jane Dormer in the habit of a nun

The Oldie

Every summer, the English in their millions jet off to Spain, swelling the hundreds of thousands already living out their retirement in the Spanish sun.

In the 16th century, a visit to Spain was a rather less enticing prospect for residents of England, even before the two countries went to war. It wasn’t just the absence of air-conditioning and the stomach-churning passage across the Bay of Biscay. There was also the danger that your beach reading might not get past the bloodhounds of the Inquisition, who nosed through the luggage of new arrivals for unsound texts.

It isn’t surprising that few English men and women at this time voluntarily went to Spain. Those who had no choice in the matter – merchants, sailors, diplomats – made haste to depart at the earliest opportunity (Henry VIII’s ambassador to the Spanish court, Sir Thomas Wyatt, even composed a poem celebrating his recall to England). Yet, for one small group, Spain presented a haven: Catholics unwilling to conform to England’s new Protestant order.

Foremost among these was Jane Dormer, wife of the Duke of Feria, the Spanish grandee who left England shortly after Elizabeth I’s accession to the throne and died in Madrid a full half-century later.

Simon Courtauld’s short new life of Jane not only memorialises this largely forgotten figure, but also casts a sidelight on the motley collection of traditionalists, zealots and chancers who abandoned England for the Spain of Philip II.

Dormer was born into a Catholic gentry family from Buckinghamshire. Then as now, the expectation was that she would marry a suitable Englishman of similar breeding. But a more exotic destiny awaited her. Through family connections, she entered the household of Mary Tudor as lady-in-waiting.

Shortly after becoming queen, her mistress married Prince Philip of Spain (later Philip II). Jane caught the eye of his confidant, the Count of Feria, a blunt yet dutiful aristocrat 15 years her senior.

Gomez Suárez de Figueroa y Córdoba, 5th Count and 1st Duke of Feria

Courtauld considers it to have been a love match: Jane, a contemporary wrote, was ‘of shuche lively hewe that who so fedes his eyes on her may sone her bewte vue’, and Feria was duly smitten.

Yet, while the marriage brought Feria no financial gain, Jane did possess one crucial asset: information. Philip was absent from England for most of his four-year marriage to Mary and depended on Feria, whom he left behind for periods at Mary’s court, to supply him with intelligence about his wife. Few were better placed to procure it than Jane.

Jane and Feria (who was raised to the rank of duke in 1567) married shortly after Mary’s death in November 1558, before the possibility of a Catholic wedding was ruled out. Feria remained briefly in England as Philip’s ambassador to Elizabeth I, but his irascible, plain-speaking style ill suited him for such a role and he was soon replaced. With Jane in tow, he returned to Spain via Flanders and France, where the newly-weds were sumptuously entertained by Mary Stuart and her husband Francis II.

They were accompanied by two dozen attendants and a train of refugee monks, for whom there seemed no future in England. En route, Jane gave birth to their first son.

The book’s most novel parts deal with Jane’s years in Spain, where she lived between her husband’s estate in Extremadura and Philip II’s court in Madrid. At first, she struggled with the weather and the food – she requested consignments of herring, salmon and Shropshire cheese from England – but within a few decades she was producing recipes for Spanish cakes and biscuits.

She became an important figure at Philip II’s court, where the king treated her as an oracle on the inscrutable English queen and she in turn acted as spokeswoman for England’s increasingly downtrodden Catholics.

Although the 16th century is commonly regarded as an era of polarisation, Courtauld shows how Jane was able to a degree to straddle divisions of religion and politics. She remained a pious Catholic throughout her life and provided succour to Catholic exiles in Spain, yet also served as unofficial consul general for English Protestant visitors to the country. She involved herself in intrigues against Elizabeth I, but never formally renounced her allegiance to the queen.

Occasionally, Courtauld exaggerates Jane’s influence. She was never, for instance, a serious candidate to become Philip’s Governor of Flanders after the death in 1571 of her husband (who had been due to take up that office), however noisily the Catholic exiles championed her cause. Dynamic Jane may have been, but in the i6th century women not of the blood royal were still required to operate in the shadows.

Yet, overall, this is a balanced, colourful and revealing biography of a pioneer of Anglo-Spanish living.

“A darline of lively hewe” – Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria

Lady of Spain cover

The Field

Few modern writers know and understand the historical complexities of Spain as well as Simon Courtauld. His Footprints in Spain is a must for anyone wanting a detailed insight into Spanish culture, Catholicism, countryside and the corrida.

Now he brings Spain to the court of Mary Tudor with a biography of Buckinghamshire landed beauty Jane Dormer, who married the leery Duke of Feria, twice her youthful age. “She was a darline of lively hewe,” court poet Richard Edwards recorded.

Here are stories of influential Protestants against Catholics, intrigue, diplomatic missions, even an abortive attempt by a ‘dishonourable adventurer’ called Stukley for the Spanish to invade Ireland. Throughout her life in Spain, Jane Feria championed Catholicism. ‘Her saintly reputation drew many to her deathbed.’ Not so a recent Duke of Feria, imprisoned, so Courtauld tells us in one of many fascinating and amusing asides, ‘for kidnapping and corrupting a young girl’.

Working with illustrators: Roland Pym

Biddesden House, from Biddesden Cookery (1987)

Mount Orleans Press has brought out three titles illustrated by Roland Pym. Biddesden Cookery is a reprint of the original by Mirabel Guinness, first published in 1987.  The two other titles are On a Bat’s Back, A Poetry Anthology for Children, edited by Mirabel Guinness and The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope. Both were illustrated in the late 1980s. The commissions for the drawings were made following the publication of Biddesden Cookery; as the demands of jobbing printing at The Letter Press overrode the financial risks of publishing the two projects were sadly put in a drawer; but not forgotten.

            Motif for The Rape of the Lock

I was lucky to meet Roland Pym. Staying at Biddesden for weekends in the late 1970s one gradually became aware of him. Gradually because he was quiet-spoken, not exactly shy but certainly a bit reticent. As a good friend of Bryan Guinness (Lord Moyne) he was often there. And wherever Roland was in his long life (1910-2006) evidence of his presence could be found in the work he left behind, such was his prolific output and obvious enjoyment in it. His obituary in the Daily Telegraph recorded a wartime experience in the desert: ‘When his unit briefly took Rommel’s headquarters Pym did a mural of Kentish oast houses, and wondered what the field marshal made of it when he retook the position shortly afterwards.’ That was typical of him, both in his enthusiasm for painting and the slightly quizzical amusement as to what the German’s reaction might be. At Biddesden he painted three trompe l’oeil windows and a number of pictures. More important were the many illustrations in the Visitors’ Books;  beautiful, fanciful and spontaneous, toying with themes and stories which wove their way through the life of the large Guinness family.

One of the trompe l’oeil windows at Biddesden

Roland Pym’s career after the Second World War focussed on theatre design, murals and book illustration. He designed opera sets for Lohengrin at Covent Garden and Eugene Onegin in Paris, painted murals for Lord’s pavilion and the Queen’s Retiring Room at Westminster Abbey. However in the biographical ‘blurb’ he provided for the book jacket of Biddesden Cookery the commission he chose to highlight was the State Saloon at Woburn. Alan Powers, in his obituary for Pym in the Independent, recorded that on his first meeting the Duke of Bedford Pym confessed his greatest ambition was to paint the Saloon. He was promptly commissioned.

Roland’s book illustration began before the War. By 1987 he had illustrated 30 books, eight by Bryan Guinness. Although he was then 77 it was by no means the end of his career: after Biddesden Cookery he illustrated two short stories by Rosaleen Mulji which I printed at The Letter Press, The Tale of a Little Horse-Radish (1989) and The Captain’s Wife (1990).

Johnny & Jemima, the 1991 reprint of the 1936 original, and the back cover of The Pursuit of Love (Folio Society, 1991)

In the 1990s he went on to do some very good work for the Folio Society illustrating Nancy Mitford novels and culminating, in his 87th year, with Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1996). The style of these last books was very developed, a long way from the early style of Johnny and Jemima written by Bryan Guinness some 60 years before; I reprinted this at The Letter Press in 1991.

Canto I, The Rape of the Lock

The mock-heroic tone, the water sparkling sunlight and the light frivolity of The Rape of the Lock were I thought ideally suited to Roland’s style; in any case, he gladly accepted the commission and produced full page colour illustrations for each of the cantos, as well as many little motifs for decorating the pages. At the same time Mirabel Helme commissioned the drawings for On a Bat’s Back, a project which was very much a sequel to Biddesden Cookery and drawn in a very similar style.

One of the drawings for A Bat’s Back

As ever Roland was very professional and prompt in completing his work. I remember going to see him with Mirabel at his home Foxwold to discuss the drawings. Happily these will now, finally, be published: slightly less promptly than they took to be drawn, but better late than never.

Biddesden Cookery
Mirabel Guinness, illustrated by Roland Pym
ISBN 978-1-912945-03-0
June 2019

On a Bat’s Back, A Poetry Anthology for Children
Edited by Mirabel Guinness, illustrated by Roland Pym
ISBN 978-1-912945-02-3
June 2019

The Rape of the Lock
Alexander Pope, illustrated by Roland Pym
ISBN 978-1-912945-12-2
September 2019