The Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

This England - - Contents - Stephen Gar­nett

Al­though I don’t sup­pose the news sto­ries that hit the head­lines in 1968 were, as a whole, sub­stan­tially worse than those of any other year, I have to say that look­ing at the events of half a cen­tury ago one would be hard put to find 12 months that were more dispir­it­ing or which pre­sented such a bleak out­look. Be­gin­ning with the world at large, the United States of Amer­ica was in­volved in the Viet­nam War, with daily re­ports of mil­i­tary set­backs against the Com­mu­nist Viet Cong forces, the loss of life of young GIS, and vi­o­lent protests at home call­ing for Amer­i­can with­drawal prov­ing a con­stant drain on morale. It was also in 1968 that two fig­ures who rep­re­sented hope for the fu­ture in the United States were as­sas­si­nated: in April the lead­ing civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King, and in June, five years after his brother had suf­fered the same fate, pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen­a­tor Robert Kennedy.

Else­where, at a time when peo­ple on both sides of the Iron Cur­tain lived with the con­stant pos­si­bil­ity of nu­clear at­tack, the tem­per­a­ture of the Cold War sud­denly went even chill­ier as thou­sands of Soviet troops and tanks in­vaded Cze­choslo­vakia and ruth­lessly froze the so-called “Prague Spring”. Natural dis­as­ters in­cluded earth­quakes in the Philip­pines and Si­cily which, al­though they re­sulted in sev­eral hun­dred deaths, were over­shad­owed by one of the great­est hu­man­i­tar­ian tragedies in his­tory: a famine in Bi­afra, caused by the Nige­rian Civil War.

Al­though there were not, mer­ci­fully, any tragedies or dis­as­ters on such a scale in the United King­dom in 1968 (where Harold Wil­son was in his fourth year as Prime Min­is­ter at the head of a Labour Gov­ern­ment), a num­ber of events sent out wor­ry­ing sig­nals for those men and women who were con­cerned that the tra­di­tional val­ues, way of life and civil sta­bil­ity that had al­ways been ac­cepted in our so­ci­ety with­out ques­tion were be­ing un­der­mined in Six­ties Bri­tain. Among the de­vel­op­ments that might have caused them alarm were: clashes be­tween de­mon­stra­tors and the po­lice in Lon­don­derry (an event that would be looked back upon as the be­gin­ning of “The Trou­bles”); a warn­ing by Con­ser­va­tive MP Enoch Pow­ell about mass im­mi­gra­tion into Bri­tain that be­came known as his “Rivers of Blood” speech; the in­tro­duc­tion of five and ten pence coins in prepa­ra­tion for the dec­i­mal­i­sa­tion of our cur­rency; the abo­li­tion of theatre cen­sor­ship and the per­for­mance of rock mu­si­cal Hair in Lon­don’s West End; news that an 11-year-old girl from New­cas­tle upon Tyne had been sen­tenced to life in de­ten­tion for the man­slaugh­ter of two lit­tle boys.

Such were some of the items that made the news ex­actly 50 years ago. There were more op­ti­mistic and up­lift­ing sto­ries, of course: the “I’m Back­ing Bri­tain” cam­paign in sup­port of the coun­try’s busi­nesses, the tri­umphant return of solo yachts­man Alec Rose from a 354-day round-the-world voy­age, Manch­ester United’s 4-1 de­feat of Ben­fica in the Euro­pean Cup Fi­nal at Wem­b­ley which made them the first English foot­ball club to lift the tro­phy…even the de­buts on BBC Tele­vi­sion of two se­ries that over the next few years be­came long-run­ning, much-loved favourites — Gar­den­ers’ World with Percy Thrower and Dad’s Army (Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn etc.). And if any­one wanted fur­ther di­ver­sion from the sto­ries of doom and gloom, if they looked be­yond the rows of daily pa­pers on sale the next time they were in their newsagents, they would see, among the racks dis­play­ing mag­a­zines, a bright, at­trac­tivelook­ing quar­terly pub­li­ca­tion that made its first ap­pear­ance on the shelves in the spring of that year. It was called This Eng­land and I am de­lighted that this year, the mag­a­zine that was launched with the slo­gan “As re­fresh­ing as a pot of tea” is cel­e­brat­ing its 50th birth­day!

Half a cen­tury later, those news head­lines are still shout­ing about wars, acts of ter­ror­ism, crime, dis­as­ters and scan­dals in­volv­ing peo­ple in the pub­lic eye, but I hope that This Eng­land which, like the world around it has un­der­gone a few changes since 1968, con­tin­ues to pro­vide an in­for­ma­tive, up­lift­ing and whole­some al­ter­na­tive and re­mains true to the prin­ci­ples and val­ues of its founder and long-time ed­i­tor.

It was sev­eral months pre­vi­ously, dur­ing a long and bor­ing ser­mon at his lo­cal church in Grimsby, Lin­colnshire, that mag­a­zine ed­i­tor and pub­lisher Roy Faiers, a reg­u­lar wor­ship­per with his wife Dorothy, found him­self try­ing to re­mem­ber some lines from Shake­speare. As the sun­light fil­tered weakly through the stained-glass win­dows, the words he was seek­ing, from John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II, grad­u­ally rip­pled into his mind: This royal throne of kings, this scep­tred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-par­adise, This fortress built by Na­ture for her­self Against in­fec­tion and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this lit­tle world, This pre­cious stone set in the sil­ver sea, Which serves it in the of­fice of a wall, Or as a moat de­fen­sive to a house, Against the envy of less hap­pier lands, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Eng­land… The fi­nal line flashed like a sun­burst through the coloured glass, an in­spi­ra­tional mo­ment that he couldn’t wait to share with his close friends and col­leagues. So it was, on Mon­day morn­ing, in their small of­fice above Bar­clays Bank in Vic­to­ria Street, Grimsby — then the world’s lead­ing fish­ing port — that artist Colin Carr and jour­nal­ist Peter Chap­man learned of Roy Faiers’ am­bi­tious plan to launch This Eng­land. The aim of the mag­a­zine would be, in Roy’s own words: “To raise the proud ban­ner of Eng­land aloft and rekin­dle the tra­dional prin­ci­ples of English good­ness, de­cency and com­mon sense in this un­cer­tain world.”

Al­though dur­ing the pre­vi­ous few years Roy Faiers had suc­cess­fully es­tab­lished six county mag­a­zines cel­e­brat­ing the his­tory, cul­ture, cus­toms and peo­ple of Lin­colnshire, Devon, Nor­folk, Suf­folk, Som­er­set and the Cotswolds, the prospect of ap­ply­ing the same tem­plate to a na­tional pub­li­ca­tion was cer­tainly chal­leng­ing. How­ever, as Peter Chap­man later wrote, “Roy Faiers’ dreams quickly be­come re­al­ity”, and after a lot of hard work the team were able to cel­e­brate the ar­rival of their “baby” — cover price six shillings, with, in a dark-green frame, a colour pho­to­graph of the vil­lage church at Bur­ring­ton in Som­er­set fly­ing the Cross of St. Ge­orge. They toasted the pub­li­ca­tion of the first edi­tion not with cham­pagne but with the much more English tea and cakes!

In that first edi­tion, Roy Faiers, a for­mer news­pa­per re­porter for the lo­cal evening pa­per and a free­lance jour­nal­ist for the na­tional press, ra­dio and tele­vi­sion who had launched his first mag­a­zine, Lin­colnshire Life, in 1961, set out his “man­i­festo” for This Eng­land in more de­tail: “We shall not be slick or sen­sa­tional. There will be no world scoop ar­ti­cles, no glam­our pic­tures, no fierce con­tro­ver­sies. In­stead we set out de­lib­er­ately to pro­duce a whole­some, straight­for­ward and gen­tle mag­a­zine that loves its own dear land, and the peo­ple who have sprung from its soil. In­stead of pol­i­tics we shall bring you the po­etry of the English coun­try­side in words and pic­tures. In­stead of big­otry we shall por­tray the beauty of our towns and vil­lages. In­stead of prej­u­dice there will be pride in the an­cient tra­di­tions, the sur­viv­ing crafts, the le­gends, the life, the splen­dour and peace of this Eng­land.”

Ar­ti­cles in the Spring 1968 is­sue in­cluded “Sun­set of the Mills”, “In Search of Sun­di­als”, “A Page from Pick­wick”, “Where have all the ec­centrics gone?”, “The Fol­lies of Eng­land”, a cel­e­bra­tion of “Af­ter­noon Tea”, a “County Cameo” (Northum­ber­land), the story of Percy Shaw the man who in­vented cat’s eyes and the first in a se­ries about English mar­ket towns (Cirences­ter). The mag­a­zine also opened with the now-fa­mil­iar il­lus­trated in­tro­duc­tory poem (those lines from Shake­speare, of course) and fea­tured many ex­am­ples of Colin Carr’s art­work which, dur­ing the half­cen­tury that fol­lowed, be­came greatly loved by our read­ers.

Let­ters prais­ing the mag­a­zine poured in, with a num­ber of fa­mous peo­ple adding their sup­port. These in­cluded en­cour­ag­ing com­ments from ac­tresses Dame Sy­bil Thorndike and Dame Anna Nea­gle, Sir Charles Ten­nyson the grand­son of the Vic­to­rian poet, and Prime Min­is­ter Harold Wil­son. One ob­server who wasn’t so im­pressed was “At­ti­cus” of the Sun­day Times, say­ing that This Eng­land was “devoted to pa­tri­otic self­ind­ul­gence” and ask­ing the ques­tion: “Is there re­ally a mar­ket for the good old days?”

A key event in se­cur­ing the sur­vival of This Eng­land took place dur­ing the au­tumn of 1969 when Roy Faiers and his team em­barked on a sales tour across the United States of Amer­ica on board the iconic Fly­ing Scots­man. Ar­ti­cles about by­gone modes of trans­port, par­tic­u­larly steam trains, have al­ways proved pop­u­lar on the pages of the mag­a­zine so it was ap­pro­pri­ate that the jour­ney on the great­est lo­co­mo­tive of them all should have proved such a great suc­cess, with a large num­ber of an­glophiles climb­ing aboard to join the This Eng­land ad­ven­ture as new sub­scribers. The boost in sales, bol­stered by some top-notch con­trib­u­tors that in­cluded his­to­rian Sir Arthur Bryant, nov­el­ist R. F. Delder­field and coun­try poet J. H. B. Peel meant that re­lo­ca­tion to a more cen­tral po­si­tion in Eng­land soon be­came pos­si­ble: to Chip­ping Nor­ton in Ox­ford­shire in 1970 and two years later to Chel­tenham on the edge of the Cotswolds where we re­main to­day.

I joined This Eng­land in 1982, by which time a num­ber of reg­u­lar fea­tures that would be­come fa­mil­iar favourites had been es­tab­lished: “Mi­nor Mas­ter­pieces of English Art”, “From an English Coun­try Gar­den”, “Cathe­dral ‘Towns’ of Eng­land”, “Char­ac­ters from the Classics” (by Ron­ald Em­ble­ton), “English County Reg­i­ments”, “English Heroes”, “Cor­nu­copia”, “This Earth” and, of course, on the back cover which she made her own for many years, Pa­tience Strong’s poem. I re­mem­ber with pride writ­ing ar­ti­cles for, and tak­ing part in, the var­i­ous cam­paigns: “Don’t Let Europe Rule Bri­tan­nia”, “Save Our Shires”, sup­port for the so-called “Met­ric Mar­tyrs” etc. More re­cently we have pro­moted the idea of an English na­tional an­them for purely English oc­ca­sions, en­cour­aged the coun­try­wide cel­e­bra­tion of St. Ge­orge’s Day, pe­ti­tioned (suc­cess­fully) for a knight­hood for Ken Dodd and are cur­rently gath­er­ing sup­port for a new Fes­ti­val of Bri­tain to co­in­cide with the United King­dom leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

Sadly, Roy Faiers passed away in 2016 but all of us at This Eng­land are com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing his le­gacy and are ex­cited at the prospect of em­bark­ing on the next 50 years. I hope that you will con­tinue to en­joy This Eng­land, to con­trib­ute to its pages with com­ments and sug­ges­tions and to spread the word about the mag­a­zine to your friends and rel­a­tives: even after 50 years there are still proud English­men and women at home and abroad who do not know of its ex­is­tence! We have many fea­tures planned for the fu­ture, be­gin­ning in this is­sue when we are launch­ing a se­ries en­ti­tled “English News” (com­bined with “English Hu­mour”) which will take the place of the long-run­ning “Nel­son’s Col­umn” and al­low us to high­light, for a change, a few light-hearted, op­ti­mistic and up­lift­ing sto­ries from around Eng­land. I hope that you like it and find it a re­fresh­ing ad­di­tion to the mag­a­zine. As part of our cel­e­bra­tions we have pro­duced a spe­cial 50th an­niver­sary pub­li­ca­tion (see page 29) and pub­lished some memories and ob­ser­va­tions from long-time con­trib­u­tors and loyal read­ers (see page 22).

All that re­mains is for me to thank you all for your sup­port and to set off on the next stage of our ad­ven­ture. It prom­ises to be an ex­cit­ing jour­ney, so please come with us!

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