100th Anniversary of the birth of Laurie Lee

imageEnglish poet, novelist, and screenwriter,Laurence Edward Alan “Laurie” Lee, MBE was born 26 June 1914 Having been born in Stroud, Lee moved with his family to the village of Slad i1917 and went to Marling School, Gloucestershire, At twelve, Laurie went to the CentalBoys’ School in Stroud and left at fifteen to become an errand boy at a Chartered Accountantsin Stroud. In 1931 he first found the Whiteway Colony, two miles from Slad, a colony founded by Leo Tolstoyan Anarchists. It gave him his first smattering of politicization and was where he met the composer Benjamin Frankel and the ‘Cleo’ who appears in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. In 1933 he met Sophia Rogers, an “exotically pretty girl with dark curly hair” who had moved to Slad from Buenos Aires, an influence on Lee who said later in life that he only went to Spain because “a girl in Slad from Buenos Aires taught me a few words of Spanish.” At twenty he worked as an office clerk and a builder’s labourer, and lived in London for a year before leaving for Vigo, northwest Spain, in the summer of 1935. From there he travelled across Spain as far as Almuñecar on the coast of Andalusia. Walking more often than not, he eked out a living by playing his violin.

After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 Lee was picked up by a British destroyer from Gibraltar, collecting marooned British subjects on the southern Spanish coast. He started to study for an art degree but returned to Spain in 1937 as an International Brigade volunteer. However his service in the Brigade was cut short by his epilepsy. These experiences were recounted in A Moment of War (1991), an austere memoir of his time as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. During this period, he also made documentary films for the GPO Film Unit (1939–40) and the Crown Film Unit (1941–43). From 1944 to 1946 and worked as the Publications Editor for the Ministry of Information. Lee’s first love was always poetry, though he was only moderately successful as a poet, Lee’s first poem appeared in The Sunday Referee in 1934. Another poem was published in Cyril Connolly’s Horizon in 1940 and his first volume of poems, The Sun My Monument, was launched in 1944. This was followed by The Bloom of Candles (1947) and My Many-coated Man (1955). Several poems written in the early 1940s reflect the atmosphere of the war, but also capture the beauty of the English countryside.

However Lee’s most famous work was an autobiographical trilogy which consisted of Cider with Rosie (1959) which captured images of village life from a bygone era of innocence and simplicity , As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969), which deals with his leaving home for London and his first visit to Spain in 1935 and A Moment of War (1991). Which deals with his return to Spain in December 1937 to join the Republican International Brigades. Other works include A Rose for Winter, about a trip he made to Andalusia fifteen years after the Civil War; Two Women (1983), a story of Lee’s courtship and marriage with Kathy, daughter of Helen Garman; The Firstborn (1964), about the birth and childhood of their daughter Jessye; and I Can’t Stay Long (1975), a collection of occasional writing. Lee also wrote travel books, essays, a radio play, and short stories. Laurie Lee sadly passed away 3 May 1997 but his classic novels continue to be popular and remain required reading in many schools. They have also been adapted for screen, television and radio many times

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