Posted by: Sarah | January 6, 2006

Tenuous Connections with Famous Poets

Before tucking into Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories, I re-read the preface to his previous collection of essays, reviews and diary extracts, Writing Home. As I’m sure you know, Alan Bennett came from a working-class family and did so well at school that he went up to Oxford to read Medieval History. In this introduction he tells a typically droll story that shows the gulf, never quite overcome, between his background and his aspirations.

I was born and brought up in Leeds, where my father was a butcher As a boy I sometimes went out on the bike delivering orders to customers, one of whom was a Mrs Fletcher. Mrs Fletcher had a daughter, Valerie, who went away to school then to London, where she got a job in a publishing firm. She did well in the firm, becoming assistant to one of the directors, whom, though he was much older than she was, she eventually married. The firm was Faber and Faber and the director was T S Eliot. So there was a time when I thought my only connection with the literary world would be that I had once delivered meat to T S Eliot’s mother-in-law.

The story goes on to tell of his mother being introduced to Eliot by Mrs Fletcher and how Alan later had to explain to her who he was (great poet, won the Nobel Prize etc), but ‘without much success, The Waste Land not figuring very largely in Mam’s scheme of things.’

Well, it doesn’t figure very largely in mine either, but the anecdote put me in mind of my own similarly tenuous links with a Famous Poet, namely Ted Hughes.

One of my professors at Newcastle University was Barbara Strang, a leading light in Linguistic Studies, and Prof. Strang’s husband was Colin Strang, a philosophy professor whose previous wife — I’m getting there — had had an affair with Ted Hughes. Unlike Alan Bennett’s Mam, however, I never was fortunate enough to meet my Great Poet via such a connection. Understandable, under the circumstances, I suppose.

Professor Strang (C), by the by, was a notable eccentric on campus (and probably off it as well — is this de rigueur for philosophers, one wonders?) He regularly appeared in the lecture hall with his trousers at half mast, revealing stripy pyjama bottoms flopping round his ankles. No wonder Patsy strayed. I bet Ted Hughes remembered to take his jim-jams off before he got dressed.

But there is another possible, though still tenuous, connection (well, I can dream, can’t I?): Ted Hughes’ mother’s maiden name was Farrar, which is also my maiden name, and like her I come from South Yorkshire stock from at least the 17th century. A good old Yorkshire name, and not so common in that spelling.


  1. Not sure if I dare talk/comment any more. Your connections are too august 🙂 Obviously, South Yorkshire folk are of a poetic turn of mind.

  2. LOL. I don’t understand most of Ted Hughes’s poetry that I’ve read, though there are a few poems of his that I love. So it obviously ain’t in the genes (if there are any in common).

  3. Less of the Yorkshire!
    I’m from Lancashire and claim the name as part of our heritage. The originals of my lot were just over the border in Colne: so could Ted really be a Lancastrian (Oh, how he would spinn in the grave)?
    There was a Farrer inn keeper in Brunley (Burnly to you) back in the 14th Century I do believe.
    The Wakefield mystry plays being housed in Townly Hall, Burnly make me dream of a Farrar author of that lot.
    And of course Ted got his poetry from the Farrar genes: Although I am not so sure about the female line.

  4. Oh dear. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for starting the next round in the Wars of the Roses!

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