H. E. Bates

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Herbert Ernest Bates, CBE (16 May 1905 –29 January 1974), better known as H. E. Bates, was an English writer and author. His best-known works include Love for Lydia, The Darling Buds of May, and My Uncle Silas.

Early life

H. E. Bates was born on 16 May 1905 in Rushden, Northamptonshire, and educated at Kettering Grammar School. After leaving school, he worked as a reporter and a warehouse clerk.

Many of his stories depict life in the rural Midlands of England, particularly his native Northamptonshire. Bates was partial to taking long walks around the Northamptonshire countryside and this often provided the inspiration for his stories. Bates was a great lover of the countryside and this was exemplified in two volumes of essays entitled Through the Woods and Down the River. Both have been reprinted numerous times.


He discarded his first novel, written when he was in his late teens, but his second, and the first one to be published, The Two Sisters, was inspired by one of his midnight walks, which took him to the small village of Farndish. There, late at night, he saw a light burning in a cottage window and it was this that triggered the story.[1] At this time he was working briefly for the local newspaper in Wellingborough, a job which he hated, and then later at a local shoe-making warehouse, where he had time to write; in fact the whole of this first novel was written there. This was sent to, and rejected by, eight or nine publishers [2] until Jonathan Cape accepted it on the advice of its highly respected Reader, Edward Garnett. He was then twenty years old.

More novels, collections of short stories, essays, and articles followed, but did not pay well.

World War II short stories

During World War II he was commissioned into the RAF solely to write short stories. The Air Ministry realised that the populace was less concerned with facts and figures about the war than it was with reading about those who were fighting it. The stories were originally published in the News Chronicle under the pseudonym of “Flying Officer X”. Later they were published in book form as The Greatest People in the World and Other Stories and How Sleep the Brave and Other Stories. His first financial success was Fair Stood the Wind for France. Following a posting to the Far East, this was followed by two novels about Burma, The Purple Plain in 1947 and The Jacaranda Tree, and one set in India, The Scarlet Sword.

He was also commissioned by the Air Ministry to write Flying Bombs, but because of various disagreements within Government, it was shelved and publication was banned for 30 years. It was eventually discovered by Bob Ogley and published in 1994. Another commission which has still to be published is Night Fighters.

Post-war work

Other novels followed after the war; in fact he averaged one novel and a collection of short stories a year, a prodigious feat. These included The Feast of July and Love for Lydia.

His most popular creation, however, was the Larkin family in The Darling Buds of May. Pop Larkin and his family were inspired by a colourful character seen in a local shop in Kent by Bates and his family when on holiday. The man (probably Wiltshire trader William Dell, also on holiday[3][4]) turned up to the shop with a huge wad of rubber-banded bank notes and proceeded to spoil his trailer load of children with Easter eggs and ice creams. The television adaptation, produced after his death by his son Richard and based on these stories, was a tremendous success. It is also the source of the American movie The Mating Game with Tony Randall and Debbie Reynolds (1959). The My Uncle Silas stories were also made into a UK TV series 2000-2003.

Many other stories were adapted to TV and others to films, the most renowned being The Purple Plain in 1954 which starred Gregory Peck, and The Triple Echo. Bates himself worked on other film scripts.

Personal life

In 1931, he married Madge Cox, his sweetheart from the next road in his native Rushden. They moved to the village of Little Chart in Kent and bought an old granary and this together with an acre of garden they converted into a home. Bates was a keen and knowledgeable gardener and wrote many books on flowers. The Granary remained their home for the whole of their married life. After Bates' death Madge moved to a bungalow, which had originally been a cow byre, next to the Granary. She died in 2004 at the age of 95. They raised two sons and two daughters. Their younger son, Jonathan, was nominated for an Academy Award for his sound work on the 1982 film Gandhi.[5]

Honours and death

Bates died on 29 January 1974. A prolific and successful author in his own lifetime, his greatest success was however posthumous, with the television adaptations of his stories The Darling Buds of May and its sequels, as well as adaptations of My Uncle Silas, A Moment in Time, Fair Stood the Wind for France and Love for Lydia.

In his home town of Rushden, H. E. Bates has a road named after him to the west of the town leading to the local leisure centre.



  • The Two Sisters (1926)
  • Catherine Foster (1929)
  • Charlotte's Row (1931)
  • The Fallow Land (1932)
  • A German Idyll (1932)
  • The Poacher (1935)
  • The Duet (1935)
  • A House of Women (1936)
  • Spella Ho (1938)
  • How Sleep the Brave (1943) as Flying Officer X
  • Fair Stood the Wind for France (1944)
  • The Cruise of the Breadwinner (1946)
  • The Purple Plain (1947)
  • The Jacaranda Tree (1949)
  • The Scarlet Sword (1950)
  • The Grass God (1951)
  • Love for Lydia (1952)
  • The Nature of Love (1953)
  • The Feast of July (1954)
  • The Sleepless Moon (1956)
  • Death of a Huntsman (1957)
  • A Crown of Wild Myrtle (1962)
  • A Moment in Time (1964)
  • The Distant Horns of Summer (1967)
  • The Triple Echo (1970)

Pop Larkin series

  • The Darling Buds of May (1958)
  • A Breath of French Air (1959)
  • When the Green Woods Laugh (1960)
  • Oh! To be in England (1963)
  • A Little of What You Fancy (1970)

Short stories

  • The Spring Song and In View of the Fact That (1927)
  • Day's End and Other Stories (1928)
  • Seven Tales and Alexander (1929)
  • The Tree (1930)
  • The Hessian Prisoner (1930)
  • Charlotte Esmond (1930) Republished as Mrs Esmond's Life (1931)
  • A Threshing Day for Esther (1931)
  • Sally Go Round the Moon (1932)
  • The Black Boxer (1932)
  • The Story Without an End (1932)
  • The House with the Apricot (1933)
  • Time (1933)
  • The Lily (1933)
  • The Woman who had Imagination (1934)
  • Cut and Come Again (1935)
  • Something Short and Sweet (1936)
  • The Ox (1939)
  • The Flying Goat (1939)
  • I Am Not Myself (1939)
  • The Beauty of the Dead(1940)
  • The Greatest People in the World (1942) as Flying Officer X
  • Bride Comes to Evensford (1943)
  • Dear Life (1949)
  • Colonel Julien (1951)
  • The Daffodil Sky (1955)
  • Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal (1961)
  • The Day of the Tortoise (1961)
  • The Watercress Girl (1959)
  • The Fabulous Mrs V (1964)
  • The Four Beauties (1968)
  • The Song of the Wren (1972)
  • The Yellow Meads of Asphodel (1976)

Short Story Collections

  • Thirty Tales (1934)
  • Country Tales (1938)
  • The Bride Comes to Evensford and Other Tales (1949)
  • An Aspidistra in Babylon (1960)
  • The Golden Oriole (1962)
  • Seven by Five (1963)
  • The Wedding Party (1965)
  • The Wild Cherry Tree (1968)
  • The Good Corn and other Stories (1974)
  • Love in a Wych Elm and Other Stories (2009)

Uncle Silas series


  • The Last Bread (1926) (one act play[6])
  • The Day of Glory (1945)

Essays and non-fiction

  • Flowers and Faces (1935)
  • Through the Woods (1936)
  • Down the River (1937)
  • The Seasons & The Gardener (1940)
  • In the Heart of the Country (1942)
  • O More Than Happy Countryman (1943)
  • War Pictures by British Artists (1943)
  • Country Life (1943)
  • There's Freedom in the Air (1944)
  • Flying Bombs over England (1945) Also published as "The Battle of the Flying Bomb."
  • The Tinkers of Elstow (1946)
  • The Country Heart (1949)
  • Fawley Achievement (1951)
  • The Country of White Clover (1952)
  • Edward Garnett (1950)
  • A Love of Flowers (1971)
  • A Fountain of Flowers (1974)


  • The Modern Short Story (1942)

Books for children

  • The Seekers (1926)
  • Achilles the Donkey (1962)
  • Achilles and Diana (1963)
  • Achilles and the Twins (1964)
  • The White Admiral (1968)


  • The Vanished World (1969)
  • The Blossoming World (1971)
  • The World in Ripeness (1972)

References to H. E. Bates


  1. Vannatta, Dennis, 1983, H.E. Bates, Boston, Twayne Publishers, ISBN 0-8057-6844-0
  2. Baldwin, Dean, 1987, H.E. Bates, Selinsgrove, Susquehanna University Press, ISBN 0-941664-24-4
  3. "The family that inspired hit TV series The Darling Buds of May". Evening Standard. UK: This is London. 18 October 2006. Archived from the original on 2014-02-20. Retrieved 18 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Our family holiday went down in TV history". The Guardian. London. 26 August 2006. Archived from the original on 2014-09-25. Retrieved 18 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Monks, Mick (3 December 2008). "Obituary: Jonathan Bates". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Eads ID A2".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links