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20th Century Notts: 1942-1944

John Baird
Thu 28 Jun, 2018

The war years see Cecil Roberts go to Washington and John Gielgud to Nottingham, while Edmund Ward leaves home.

1942

One Small Candle by Cecil Roberts (1942)

During the war Cecil Roberts worked for Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador in Washington, and he gave speeches on behalf of the British Government, whilst still managing to have several books published. His 1942 novel, One Small Candle, is about a gifted and lucky young playwright with a strong desire to travel. The protagonist leaves an idyllic Henley-on Thames to live, love and see the world after a generous offer arrives from Hollywood. It was described by The New York Times as ‘a book that keeps you entertained and never throws you out of balance’.

At the age of twenty-seven Roberts had been England’s youngest daily newspaper editor. This was at the Nottingham Journal on Parliament Street.

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John Gielgud appeared as Macbeth at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal as part of a 1942 tour of the play. Gielgud had volunteered for active service at the start of the war but was told that, at thirty-five, he was not required at that time. The government then decided that professional actors would be better used performing for the troops and general public than on active duty. Critics said that Gielgud was not up to playing the Scottish general whilst the actor himself conceded that he could not achieve the “ruthless energetic quality” required of the role.

During this tour of Macbeth the costume and set designer committed suicide, and a further three actors died - and they say the play’s cursed.

1943

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple (1943)

This the story of three sisters, the different marital choices they make and how those choices impact on them; all set in an era when women stuck in a bad marriage had little or no option of reprieve. Whipple’s writing has aged well; her characters well-drawn and recognisable. They Were Sisters is an authentic account of domestic middle-class life with a menacing undertone that holds attention.

Moral failure or spiritual failure or whatever you call it, makes such a vicious circle... It seems as if when we love people and they fall short, we retaliate by falling shorter ourselves. (from They Were Sisters)

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Alma Reville co-wrote the 1943 psychological thriller Shadow of a Doubt, a screenplay described by the New York Times as ‘a graphic and affectionate outline of a small-town American family’. Reville was born in Nottingham in 1899, a few hours after her future husband and collaborator Alfred Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone. It was in 1925, on a stormy boat journey back from Munich, that lovesick Hitchcock proposed to seasick Reville. She later said, ‘It was the first time I had ever seen him in a state of disorder, and the last time too. His hair had been blown about by the wind and his clothes had been soaked with ocean spray.’

1944

SAS Operation Galia by Rob Hann (2009)

In SAS Operation Galia Nottingham author Rob Hann describes his father’s experiences as a paratrooper dropped behind the lines in Italy, two days after the Christmas of 1944 during the harshest of winters. Drawing on post-op reports and memoirs, this Impress Prize winning book is a fictionalised account of the operation, one of the hardest fought and most successful operations of the Second World War. Well researched and richly illustrated, Hann's personal narrative brings to life the co-ordinated attempts of the SAS and local partisans to engage and evade the enemy.

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A sixteen-year-old Edmund Ward left home in 1944. Ward’s mother had died when he was six leading to an unhappy domestic life which he was glad to escape. A talented and prize-winning schoolboy, Ward was denied the chance of a job at the Nottingham Post because they only paid 15 shillings a week. Instead he was obliged to take a book-keepers role at Boots – his father’s employers – for double the wage. He hated the work and took time off to read every book in his local library, a feat achieved by his twentieth birthday. Nottingham born Ward later moved to Sweden. He wrote seven novels including Summer in Retreat, The Gravy Train and The Private Tightrope, and his screenplays created some of the most popular television dramas of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

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