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Episode 40: Adrian Bell: Back to the Land

The farmer-cum-writer Adrian Bell is best-known for his rural trilogy of Suffolk farming life, CorduroySilver Ley and The Cherry Tree. To explore Bell’s life and writing the Slightly Foxed editors are joined by Richard Hawking, chairman of the Adrian Bell Society, author of At the Field’s Edge: Adrian Bell and the English Countryside and editor of A Countryman’s Winter Notebooka selection of Bell’s newspaper columns.

We follow Bell from middle-class London to a farming apprenticeship in Suffolk, where his inability to do the most basic physical tasks taught him a new respect. A farmer, he discovered, held in his head thousands of facts about animals, crops and fodder, while his eye for a pig was ‘as subtle as an artist’s’. As Bell grappled with life on the land, the locals considered him to be a recuperating invalid or an incompetent idiot but in time he grew into a bona fide countryman, one who criticized Thomas Hardy’s portrayal of the ploughman as ‘only a man harrowing clods’ and who managed to set up his own small farm, Silver Ley.

From the pride of the wagon maker, the repeal of the corn act in the 1920s and the heartbreak of farmers going bankrupt to his bohemian mother making butter, his friend John Nash illustrating Men and the Fields and Second World War soldiers packing Corduroy in their kit bags, we learn that Bell is the perfect writer to reconnect people with the land, one whose work still feels relevant today. As his close friend Ronald Blythe noted, Bell was ‘in love with words’, a love that led to his position as the founder of The Times cryptic crossword.

And in our usual round-up of recommended reading we enter Walter de la Mare’s dreams, explore Shackleton’s Antarctica and visit Catherine Fox’s fictional Lindchester, the setting for her glorious twenty-first-century Trollopian tales.

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Show Notes

Please find links to books, articles, and further reading listed below. The digits in brackets following each listing refer to the minute and second they are mentioned. (Episode duration: 42 minutes; 18 seconds)

Books Mentioned

We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles listed below. Please get in touch with Jess in the Slightly Foxed office for more information.

– Flora Thompson, Lark Rise, Slightly Foxed Edition No. 58 (0:55)

– Flora Thompson, Over to Candleford & Candleford Green, Slightly Foxed Edition No. 59 will be published on 1 June and is available to order now.

– Richard Hawking, At the Field’s Edge: Adrian Bell and the English Countryside (2:28)

– Adrian Bell, A Countryman’s Winter Notebook. A Slightly Foxed special release with an introduction by Richard Hawking and specially commissioned illustrations by Suffolk artist Beth Knight (2:30)

– Adrian Bell, Men and the Fields (4:23)

– Adrian Bell, Corduroy, Plain Foxed Edition (4:54)

– Adrian Bell, Silver Ley is currently out of print

– Adrian Bell, The Cherry Tree, Slightly Foxed Edition No. 38 (6:46)

– Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War (7:08)

– Ann Gander, Adrian Bell: Voice of the Countryside is out of print (16:56)

– Walter Rose, The Village Carpenter is out of print (18:20)

– Adrian Bell, The Open Air: An Anthology of English Country Life is out of print (18:53)

– Adrian Bell, My Own Master is out of print (22:52)

– Adrian Bell, Sunrise to Sunset is out of print (23:27)

– Adrian Bell, The Flower and the Wheel is out of print (26:26)

– James Rebanks, English Pastoral (30:06)

– Catherine Fox, Acts and Omissions (33:06)

– Walter de la Mare, Behold, This Dreamer! (34:52)

– William Grill, Shackleton’s Journey and Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue (36:21)

Related Slightly Foxed Articles

Winter Noon, extract from Adrian Bell, A Countryman’s Winter Notebook

Another Country, Christian Tyler on Adrian Bell, Corduroy, Issue 22

From the Farmhouse Window, Melissa Harrison on Adrian Bell, Silver Ley, Issue 46

Ploughing On, Hazel Wood on Adrian Bell, The Cherry Tree, Issue 54

How long had I been standing here under the old cherry tree?, extract from Adrian Bell, The Cherry Tree

Other Links

The Adrian Bell Society (2:25)

www.ruralmuseums.org.uk (30:57)

Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E Major by Bach

The Slightly Foxed Podcast is hosted by Philippa Lamb and produced by Podcastable

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

  1. Catherine Nicholls says:

    Thank you Hazel Wood for your recommendation of Acts and Omissions which kept close company with me through the worst of the weekend storms.

  2. Malika Garny-Belabed says:

    Dear Slightly Foxed Team

    THANK YOU for the beauty of your website and the quarterly magazine. It’s a real pleasure to read and discover authors, admire the unique editions and fine drawings. Also, I appreciate all your attention, your delicate packaging.

    It’s heart-warming to know that somewhere there are some persons who have so much enthusiasm and humanity to share their passion, and contribute to preserving the memory of these talented authors and beautiful land.

    Warm regards
    Malika G-B.

  3. Bill Boyle says:

    Hi, I only recently discovered your podcast, so many great books and reviews. I love it, thank you.

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