When we are cast­aways

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

LIKE many of us, I’ve won­dered what book I would take to my desert is­land. Cur­rently, my choice is a com­pen­dium of Win­nie the Pooh sto­ries.

I love the char­ac­ters, most based on stuffed toys owned by Christo­pher Robin, the son of the au­thor A. A. Milne (1882– 1956) (Coun­try Life, Oc­to­ber 12, 2016). Milne has man­aged to in­clude recog­nis­able hu­man traits in these an­i­mals to the ex­tent we call real peo­ple after them. I know a Tig­ger, who’s so full of en­thu­si­asm and en­ergy that I’m rather sur­prised he’s not run­ning the world. He’s ac­tu­ally known as Tig­ger to his col­leagues, who watch him war­ily.

And, yes, I know a fe­male Eey­ore. You ap­proach her with what you think is a spiff­ing idea and she’ll look at you for a long while with a down­turned mouth be­fore pro­duc­ing her catch­phrase: ‘The prob­lem with that is…’ It’s no help that she’s of­ten right.

Pooh is more en­dear­ing, a bear of very lit­tle brain. We’ve met those, too. He was named after a Cana­dian black bear called Win­nipeg, but the draw­ings of Pooh by E. H. Shep­ard (1879–1976) were based on his own son’s bear, Growler, who was later chewed up by Shep­ard’s neigh­bour’s dog and is no more. Shep­ard, who also il­lus­trated The Wind in the Wil­lows, was awarded the Mil­i­tary Cross at Pass­chen­daele, where ‘his courage and cool­ness were con­spic­u­ous’.

Draw­ings by Shep­ard of Pooh made £1.2 mil­lion at auc­tion in 2008 and mer­chan­dis­ing of the fa­mous bear raised $6 bil­lion (£4.6 bil­lion) in 2005. This was only beaten by Mickey Mouse, but I know which of the two I’d rather snug­gle up to in bed. Christo­pher Robin’s real toys— Piglet, Eey­ore, Kanga, Roo and Tig­ger—are, shame­fully, kept in a New York mu­seum, which 750,000 vis­i­tors a year visit to keep the faith. They should, of course, be in Eng­land.

But what of the au­thor, A.A. Milne? What do we know about his life? Pre­cious lit­tle, apart from his name. He was Alan Alexan­der and the son of a man who ran a Lon­don school. One of the teach­ers who trained him was H. G. Wells—a good start for any au­thor. Sur­pris­ingly, Milne read maths at Trin­ity be­fore be­com­ing as­sis­tant ed­i­tor on Punch. At the same time, he played cricket with Co­nan Doyle and J. M. Bar­rie—sher­lock Holmes and Peter Pan be­ing al­most as iconic as Pooh—but I would have nei­ther au­thor on my desert is­land.

Milne was in­jured at the Somme be­fore be­ing di­verted into in­tel­li­gence, where he wrote pro­pa­ganda (it’s hard to think of Pooh and pro­pa­ganda from the same pen). In the Sec­ond World War, he was in the Home Guard in a kind of Capt Main­war­ing role. Although, like any writer, he had hopes of im­mor­tal­ity, he can’t have ex­pected it to be Pooh that granted his wish.

While I’m on the sub­ject of for­got­ten au­thors, how about the writer of Al­bert and the Lion, which is re­cited ev­ery time Hew and his brothers get to­gether. Most of us know Stan­ley Hol­loway’s mono­logue in a fruity Lan­cashire ac­cent, but who’s heard of its writer, Mar­riott Edgar (1880–1951)?

Edgar had an il­le­git­i­mate step­brother, who was none other than Edgar Wal­lace. Al­bert’s lion was also called Wal­lace, although there’s no proof of a con­nec­tion. In­stead, Wal­lace was ap­par­ently named after the first African lion (1812–38) bred in Bri­tain.

Mar­riott was a pro­lific scriptwriter and, at one point, the BBC ran a se­ries called Mar­riott’s Mono­logues. These were read by Thora Hird, Les Daw­son, Roy Hudd and Roy Cas­tle, among oth­ers, as well as Hol­loway. Per­haps they should be re­vived, along with Mar­riott’s fame?

In fact, let’s dig out our for­got­ten writ­ers from the ar­chives. I bet we could think of more.

‘Milne played cricket with Co­nan Doyle and Bar­rie

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