40: Adrian Bell: Back to the Land

The farmer-cum-writer Adrian Bell is best-known for his rural trilogy of Suffolk farming life, Corduroy, Silver 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 Notebook, a 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. (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.

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