Malcolm Saville Literary Conference

The first literary conference on the life and works of Malcolm Saville took place on Friday 21st April at the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton – venue for the 2017 AGM Society weekend. Chaired by Frank Sheppard and organised by David Shields, the day began with the first of 8 presentations on various aspects of Saville’s books.

Penny Cooper began with an entertaining and personal reflection on her home county of Shropshire, much beloved by Saville himself of course: “They Changed Trains at Shrewsbury: a Celebration of Malcolm Saville”.

Phil Bannister followed this with an erudite discussion entitled “Shap and Beyond”, on the Cumbrian setting of “Strangers at Snowfell” ; this included some comparisons between Saville and the life and work of Geoffrey Trease, whose historical children’s books often featured that setting.

George Jasieniecki gave us a very original insight into the childhood and schooldays of the young “Len” Saville and his early life in Richmond – an area of the author’s life that most of us had little previous knowledge of.

After a delicious buffet lunch provided by the hotel, we eagerly resumed our seats for Pat Tubby’s talk on “What Shropshire Means to Me”, which described his journey of discovery with Saville and with Shropshire and Rye.

Alan Stone presented another original piece of research, this time into Saville as an environmentalist; he explored with us the literary evidence for Saville’s love of nature, birds and the landscape.

Perhaps the highlight of the day came next, with a short film of an interview with Rosemary Dowler, conducted by David in 2017; all of us present were moved by her eloquent and charming recollections of her father and her childhood. As an extra treat we saw a short clip of Saville himself being filmed in his garden as part of the 1976 BBC Songs of Praise in Rye – the first time most of us had ever heard him speak.

Wesley and Pam then presented their research based on a paper by Stephen Bigger; “the Bishops and Birds”, again looking at the birds and nature motifs in the books, as well as the treasures and friendships.

Finally David gave us a rare film clip of the 1951 festival of Britain Pleasure Gardens – the scene at the climax of “The Buckinghams at Ravensywke”; as that area of London has totally changed (save for the Royal Festival Hall) - a fascinating glimpse into a different era.

In conclusion, our first literary conference was a definite success and one which many of us hope will be repeated again very soon!

Julie Hall

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