Monday, April 19, 2010

Adrian Bell

Adrian Bell by Roger Thomas of Aucott & Thomas

Adrian Bell was the author of 24 books, although the majority of them are only available second hand, and some of them can be very difficult to track down. Or, in the case of his two slim volumes of poetry, virtually impossible.

Adrian is best known for the trilogy of books that he wrote about his experiences of farming in the the 1930's. Beginning with 'Corduroy' which describes his decision to take up farming, and his first years apprenticeship; and continuing through 'Silver Ley', in which he buys his first farm; and ending with 'The Cherry Tree', the three books are a superb commemoration of a vanished way of life, the final years of horse powered farming, before the second world war and the ubiquitous internal combustion engine killed it forever. The trilogy stayed in print for a very long time, but the best edition, in my opinion and by general consent, is that which Bodley Head issued in 1948, as these included colour and black & white illustrations by the East Anglian artist Harry Becker. Becker had died in 1928, and he and Adrian never met, but the author recognised a kindred spirit, and the words and pictures complement each other so well that it is difficult to believe that they were never originally intended to go together.
The three books of the trilogy are now, thankfully, back in print again (but without the Becker illustrations) as part of the Faber Finds series.

With a General Election impending Martin Bell (Adrian's son), who became well known as the BBC's war correspondent, and did the integrity of the House of Commons a (sadly short-lived) favour by seeing off the Hamiltons at the Tatton by election, has been showing a higher profile. He has recently been giving talks about his new book 'A very British revolution' which is about the recent MP's expenses scandal, and has also been in the news regarding the poor standard of television news reporting.

Rather less well publicised are the talks Martin has given concerning his father's 1939 book 'Men and the fields' which was originally published by Batsford, but has just received a long overdue reissue by Little Toller Publishing This book is one of Adrian's best efforts and is very well illustrated by colour lithographs and drawings contributed by John Nash, who was a neighbour and close friend of the author. The reissued edition, for which Martin has written a preface, includes the illustrations.

As a long time enthusiast of Mr. Bell, and a member of the literary society which exists to celebrate his splendid books, I hope that more of them will soon be made available again. Anyone wishing to find out more about this excellent author should look out for his autobiography 'My own master', which is quite expensive in the Faber edition but is sometimes available at a lower price in the Country Book Club edition. There is also a biography entitled 'Adrian Bell: Voice of the Countryside' written by Ann Gander and published in 2001 by Holm Oak Publishing.

Here's a complete list of his books- those marked* are all currently (April 2010) out of print. All the dustjackets illustrated are from
the first editions

Corduroy: Cobden Sanderson 1930
Silver Ley: Cobden Sanderson 1931
The Cherry Tree: Cobden Sanderson 1932
Folly Field: Cobden Sanderson 1933*
The Balcony: Cobden Sanderson 1934*
Seasons: Centaur Press 1934*
Poems: Centaur Press 1935 and Cobden Sanderson 1935 (Limited edition of 30 copies)*
The Open Air: Batsford 1936 (A.B. edits)*
By Road: Cobden Sanderson 1937*
The Shepherd's Farm: Cobden Sanderson 1939*
Men and the Fields: Batsford 1939
Apple Acre: Bodley Head 1944*
Sunrise to Sunset: Bodley Head 1944*
The Budding Morrow: Bodley Head 1946*
The Black Donkey: Blandford 1949*
The Flower and the Wheel: Bodley Head 1949*
The Path by the Window: Bodley Head 1952*
Music in the Morning: Bodley Head 1954*
A Young Man's Fancy: Bodley Head 1955*
A Suffolk Harvest: Bodley Head 1956*
The Mill House: Bodley Head 1958*
My Own Master: Faber 1961*
A Street in Suffolk: Faber 1964*
A Countryman's Notebook: Boydell 1975*
The Green Bond Boydell: 1976*
A Countrymans Notebook, centenary edition: Adrian Bell Society 2001*

Enquiries regarding membership of the Adrian Bell Society should be directed to the Chairman: John Ford, at Apple Acre, Church Lane, Claxton, Norfolk NR14 7HY, phone 01508 480665

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