The great­est story my grand­fa­ther ever told

Richard Adams said it was ‘just about rab­bits’ but there is more to ‘Water­ship Down’. By Mi­randa John­son

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - CHRISTMAS TELEVISION -

My grand­fa­ther, Richard Adams, com­monly listed as his hob­bies English lit­er­a­ture, mu­sic, chess, beer and shove-ha’penny, bird-song, folk-song and coun­try walk­ing. One he did not list, sto­ry­telling, was among his most won­der­ful. It also be­came his most fa­mous. While driv­ing to Strat­ford-up­onAvon to see per­for­mances of Shake­speare plays, he made up tales of rab­bits to de­light my mother and my aunt.

Like any par­ent now, he sought merely to dis­tract them on a long car jour­ney. But the sto­ries proved pow­er­ful. They be­came Water­ship Down, pub­lished in 1972, the tale of Hazel, Fiver, Big­wig and other rab­bits search­ing for a new home. Both those who know it, and those who don’t, will be de­lighted by a new, two-part BBC and Net­flix adap­ta­tion to be shown on tele­vi­sion this Christ­mas.

As a boy, grow­ing up near New­bury in the Twen­ties, my grand­fa­ther adored chil­dren’s books. Robert Louis Steven­son was among his favourite authors and Doc­tor Dolit­tle among his favourite char­ac­ters. (Later in life he jok­ingly at­trib­uted his in­volve­ment in cam­paigns for an­i­mal rights to his love for Doc­tor Dolit­tle and his crea­tures.) Both his par­ents took the time to read to him, and he read in turn to his daugh­ters. My great­grand­fa­ther, a doc­tor, also in­spired his youngest child to no­tice and ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of the coun­try­side around their home. My grand­fa­ther de­tailed as much in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, The Day Gone By, which was pub­lished in 1990:

He later at­tended Hor­ris Hill, which he de­scribed as “a school for young gentle­men” which taught “the vi­tal im­por­tance of truth, hon­esty and cor­rect be­hav­iour”. My grand­fa­ther did not al­ways be­have en­tirely cor­rectly, how­ever. He de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a sto­ry­teller, en­ter­tain­ing other boys in his dor­mi­tory even when they were all sup­posed to be asleep. He oc­ca­sion­ally took a beat­ing for it.

In a let­ter to his mother writ­ten in July 1929 he com­plains about all the “swot­ting” the pupils are sup­posed to do for a forth­com­ing Bible exam, and then uses much of the space un­der­neath his sig­na­ture to draw her a pic­ture of a some­what square-legged ele­phant. An­i­mals al­ways fas­ci­nated him.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing school – he at­tended Brad­field Col­lege in his teenage years – my grand­fa­ther went to Worces­ter Col­lege, Ox­ford to read his­tory. But his stud­ies came to a halt af­ter the out­break of the Sec­ond World War. He re­ported for duty on July 13 1940 and what he saw dur­ing ser­vice in Sierra Leone, South Africa, Pales­tine, France, Den­mark and Sin­ga­pore stayed with him. Those who served by his side re­mained in Ju­lia Don­ald­son’s mis­chievous dragon Zog (pic­tured) is tasked with catch­ing a princess in this charm­ing an­i­ma­tion nar­rated by Lenny Henry. Prue Leith and Paul Hol­ly­wood watch as eight for­mer Bake Off con­tes­tants bid to be fes­tive star baker. his mind, in­spir­ing the cre­ation of cer­tain char­ac­ters in Water­ship Down decades later. One friend, Paddy Ka­vanagh, died de­fend­ing the Ooster­beek perime­ter as part of Op­er­a­tion Mar­ket Gar­den dur­ing Septem­ber 1944. He held back so oth­ers could es­cape.

His sac­ri­fice ex­plains why Big­wig stands alone to

de­fend a tun­nel in Six cou­ples – in­clud­ing Car­o­line Flack and Ann Wid­de­combe – re­turn to the ball­room to dance for the crown of Christ­mas Cham­pi­ons 2018. the rab­bits’ new war­ren. And the grim regime at Efrafa, a ri­val war­ren, came from my grand­fa­ther’s per­cep­tion of Nazi cru­elty in the pe­riod.

Af­ter the war, upon com­ple­tion of his de­gree, my grand­fa­ther de­cided to be­come a civil ser­vant. His love of the coun­try­side in­flu­enced his pri­or­i­ties as he moved from meet­ing to meet­ing, Based on David Wal­liams’s book, this touch­ing com­edy fol­lows Tom’s mag­i­cal es­capades with five chil­dren he meets in hospi­tal, and stars Wal­liams as Tom’s in­ter­fer­ing, evil

BBC One, Christ­mas Day, 4.50pm Chan­nel 4, Christ­mas Day, 8pm; New Year’s Eve, 7.40pm BBC One, Christ­mas Day, 5.30pm BBC One, Box­ing Day, 7.30pm

How do an­i­mals cope with snow? Watch through hid­den cam­eras across the world’s most beau­ti­ful win­ter won­der­lands, with David Ten­nant nar­rat­ing.

BBC One, Dec 30, 7pm

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