LAURIE Lee is as inescapably linked to the Cotswolds – and specifically to the dramatic valleys around his home village of Slad – as Thomas Hardy is to Dorset or the Bronte sisters to Yorkshire.
And we got a real understanding of the profound connection between the great poet and writer and his home place at Yeovil Literary Festival, when film maker David Parker talked about his meetings with Lauree Lee, and showed a documentary film he made in 1994.
This was Lee the poet, the boy who grew up in extreme poverty, left home at 19, fought in the Spanish Civil War, famously wrote Cider With Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, travelled extensively, but returned to Slad, where he lived until his death in 1997.
Lee did not want to be filmed – he had consistently refused to be filmed for television, and David Parker, who had his own company, Available Light, was warned that he was not likely to persuade the writer to cooperate.
But they met, talked, walked around Slad, had a drink in the (now famous) Woolpack Inn. Eventually, Lee not only talked happily for audio recordings but allowed himself to be filmed, and the result is utterly fascinating, full of little visual insights (his vanity – lovely crumpled cream suit, artily draped scarf, well coiffed thick head of white hair), the natural poetry of his speech, the wry irresistible wit, the deep understanding of the seasons and most of all, the unbreakable connection to the land and the place.
The film, which David Parker hopes will be available next year along with a book of the conversations and recordings, follows Lee around Slad, as he recalls people and the rural year, growing up in a simpler, more innocent (but not idyllic) time, reads from his poems, and, poignantly, visits the grave of his fellow Cotswold poet, the less well-known Frank Mansell, who lived at and played cricket for Sheepscombe. Mansell’s best known collection is Cotswold Ballads and many of his poems have been set to music by Chris Wood and other folk artists.
• Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Cider With Rosie – expect many Laurie Lee events! FC