Adam Henson: Rosie-tinted recollections

PUBLISHED: 17:01 18 August 2014 | UPDATED: 17:01 18 August 2014

Cider With Rosie

Cider With Rosie

© Thousand Word Media

Discovering the Henson connection with the late, great Laurie Lee

Is Laurie Lee the most famous and celebrated Cotswold writer of all time? I suppose it depends on your taste and point of view, but it’s just the sort of question that could spark a long and passionate debate in any saloon bar from Willersley to Wotton-under-Edge. Laurie himself would have loved a never-ending country pub discussion like that, as he sat nursing a pint in the snug of his beloved Woolpack Inn at Slad. The life and work of the author of Cider with Rosie is being remembered with a host of events to mark the centenary of his birth. There have been exhibitions, walks, talks and even a commemorative cricket match between teams from Sheepscombe and Slad. After a short break this month, the celebrations continue in the autumn with poetry readings, a new exhibition in Stroud and performances at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. But the lasting legacy of the centenary is the creation of the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way; a five-mile trail which links four Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserves where some of Laurie’s poetry has been inscribed on special visitor posts. The Way was only launched a few weeks ago but already it’s attracting walkers, book-worms and nature-lovers from all over the world.

From the late 1960s onwards, there can’t be many British schoolchildren who didn’t come across Cider with Rosie as part of their O-level literature studies. Laurie has always been one of my favourite authors, and I’ve loved the Slad Valley for as long as I can remember. But until a few weeks ago, I didn’t realise there was a Henson connection with the great man.

Back in 1977 my dad, Joe, appeared on a Radio 4 discussion programme with Laurie. Now this is something which has never cropped up in conversation at family gatherings and I didn’t know anything about it until a recording was unearthed recently. The afternoon chat show was broadcast live, so Joe and Laurie both travelled from Gloucestershire to the BBC network studios at Whiteladies Road in Bristol; the same place where we produce Countryfile all these years later. The presenter was a huge figure in the world of broadcasting at the time, but he’s been almost forgotten in the decades since. Jack De Manio was one of the first presenters of the Today programme in the 1950s and was the first radio broadcaster to interview the young Prince Charles in the 1960s. But I suppose he was best-known for being unable to read the time correctly on-air. It was such a trade mark that his talk show was cheekily called Jack De Manio Precisely.

My dad talked enthusiastically about the work of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the creation of the Cotswold Farm Park. He described it brilliantly as “a shop window” for the breeds and the efforts to conserve them. He went on to discuss rare and ancient breeds like Soay sheep, Tamworth pigs and Gloucester cattle.

Then it was Laurie Lee’s turn to be gently quizzed by Jack. He had journeyed to the city from the Cotswolds to mark the sale of a million copies of Cider with Rosie and to publicise the paperback edition of his book I Can’t Stay Long. He enthralled everyone with his tales of pottering about in his garden, the distinctive beech trees on the escarpment and the delightful Cotswold dry stone walls. He also admitted that, although he travelled far and wide as a young man, he could never leave Gloucestershire again. It’s almost 40 years since that programme was broadcast, but listening back to dad and Laurie chatting away makes you realise that livestock and literature aren’t as diverse as you might think. They can both inspire, bring people together and be at the heart of what it means to be a Cotswolder.

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This article by Adam Henson is from the August 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more from Adam Henson, follow him on Twitter: @AdamHenson

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