Leslie George Halward, Author (1905 - 1976)
Villagers can remember listening before World War Two and later to radio plays and stories by Leslie Halward, born in 1905 in Selly Oak, but eventually living at The Heriots in Clevelode. Leaving school at the age of 15 Leslie Halward had worked as a toolmaker, labourer and plasterer, but he began to write stories for magazines in the 1930s, and later for the BBC. In an article on October 13th 1950 about his eighth play for the BBC, the Malvern Gazette described him as “well-known to radio listeners for his human domestic and back-street comedies”. His ashes are buried in Guarlford churchyard.
His book entitled “Let Me Tell You” published by Michael Joseph Ltd in 1938 is an autobiography and has many specific references to the Guarlford area and Leslie Halward’s career:-
Chapter One begins, “My wife and I had been living in a sixteenth-century cottage at Guarlford, near Malvern, exactly a year, when one afternoon I went to bed with severe pains in my belly. A doctor was called in. He did not know what was the matter with me, and it was not until I had endured five days and four nights of intense discomfort that I was informed that I had appendicitis and would have to undergo an operation.” (Page 7)
Leslie was treated in Malvern Hospital in Lansdowne Crescent and stayed for some time. “Every morning, if it was fine, our beds were pushed out on to the balcony and we lay facing the hills and watching couples playing tennis on the courts below.” (Page 19)
Leslie Halward was born in 1905 as his autobiography describes “over a pork butcher’s shop in what was then known as High Street, Selly Oak, Birmingham”. (Page 23). His father died when Leslie was two years old, and his mother and aunt kept the business going. The book describes Leslie’s childhood and education and then moves on to his time as an apprentice die-sinker and toolmaker. He trained as a boxer in his spare time for a while and then became very interested in the gramophone “Listening to records became almost my only pleasure, almost my only interest, in life.” (Page 121)
This delight in music stayed with him as he moved later to Guarlford : “I have not bought a new record for a long time because I cannot afford to do so, but sometimes in the quiet evenings here my wife and I listen to old favourites played on the gramophone that my mother bought fourteen years ago and it seems to me now, as it did in the days of my apprenticeship, that whatever little luxury I had to go without in order to buy a good record it was always worth it.” (Page 122)
Leslie was very happy living in Guarlford with his wife, Gwen. They met when Leslie was almost twenty years old and Gwen sixteen, when Leslie was playing the drums in a band known as “The Selly Pine Jazz trio”. Gwen was a friend of Leslie’s younger sister and helped to take the entrance money for the dances. “She was short, plump, had a mass of uncontrollably curly hair and turned her feet out when she walked.” (Page 139) They “walked out” for some time and finally became engaged in 1929. It was a very long engagement as the couple did not marry until 1936.
Leslie finished his apprenticeship and started his work as a toolmaker but soon “for no reason at all that I can think of…I suddenly wanted to write.” (Page 161) The next pages describe how he began to write and learn his craft. Pages 199 onwards describe how his first piece was published in “Everyman” in 1929. Chapter 16 ends with the following wish: “One day not far distant I should be an author; Gwen would be an author’s wife; and we should live in a cottage in the country.” (Page 201)
For some time Leslie worked in the building trade as a plasterer, which did include times of unemployment. All the time he was observing and trying out different styles. He finally decided, “Very well, then, I would give up imitating other people. I would write in my own language about my own people.” (Page 226) This can be seen in his book “Tea On Sunday”. The introduction to “Tea On Sunday” is written by Edward J. O’Brien and refers to a group of writers emerging in the Midlands. He describes Leslie Halward as “not only the most gifted potentially of all these writers, but actually the man whose short-story achievement is so far the most substantial.” Gwen supported Leslie totally in all his efforts; for his twenty-eighth birthday she bought him a typewriter and learned to use it herself. She told him,“ ‘When we are married……I can type some of your manuscripts for you.’ I almost cried. Since we have been married she has been too constantly otherwise occupied even to think about typing my manuscripts. She feels that she has failed me in this respect. Failed me! Good God! She spends about fourteen hours a day attending to my wants and personal comfort. Even so, she finds time to think out an occasional idea for a story and suggest it to me.” (Pages 238 – 239)
In April 1935 Leslie heard that “Methuen’s were very interested in my collection of short stories” and he and Gwen paid a visit to London so that Leslie could be interviewed by E.V.Rieu, the then managing director – charmingly, Leslie wrote at the last minute to check how to pronounce ‘Rieu’ (as in ‘see you’, it seems). Pages 252 to 266 describe how the collection of short stories “To Tea On Sunday” was finally published in 1936.
Leslie and Gwen now decided to get married at last and started looking for a home. Chapter 21 tells of how they found out about the cottage in Clevelode, which is described thus: “The reply I received really thrilled me. The cottage was the middle one of three, I was told, made out of what was once a large half-timbered black and white sixteenth-century house. A rough plan of the place was enclosed. Downstairs, it seemed, there were a small hall, large living-room (but not nearly as large, I decided, as the drawer of the plan would have me believe), a smaller room (which I could use as a study), a scullery, and an indoor coal-house. Water was obtained from the pump which stood a yard or so from the back door. There were two bedrooms, corresponding in size to the rooms beneath them, and another tiny windowless room suitable for storing lumber. There was enough garden at the front to grow all the flowers, and at the back all the vegetables, that we should need. The rent was a few shillings a week, and the owner, another lady, desiring a respectable as well as a permanent tenant, would like two or three references.” (Page 28)
Evidently the Halward family already knew the area, as Leslie’s brother had rented part of a Clevelode orchard on the bank of the river for their tent on several occasions – “less than a mile” from the cottage. Leslie and his brother went to inspect the cottage and this is his description of Mrs. Nash, their landlady: “As we walked down the path there came to the door a black-haired, rosy-cheeked, motherly-looking little woman, rubbing her hands together and smiling so kindly a welcome that we could do no other than smile back.” (Page 284)
“What a grand room it looked, even with only a few odd bits of furniture about, rolls of wall-paper, cement and plaster on the bare brick floor! Sixteen feet square the room measured. (A country cottage, mind you, for which we were asked to pay a few shillings a week rent!) The fire-place was built in an inglenook eight feet long, five feet six inches high and three feet deep. Parallel to this a massive black beam ran across the ceiling and at right angles to it two smaller ones stretched to the opposite wall. We looked through the window. In the immediate foreground was a somewhat derelict farm-yard, beyond that a wood, and beyond that again the Malvern Hills were clearly visible. What a room to live in!” (Page 284)
Leslie and Gwen Halward were married on June 29th 1936 and moved to their new home, which they named ‘O Providence’ after the novel by John Hampson, Leslie’s best man and fellow member of the Birmingham Group (of writers).
The autobiography ends: “Well, here we are, the author and the author’s wife, living in our cottage in the country. I am a real author, as I used to dream I should be, in the sense that I do nothing but write……… And what a grand life it is, too! ....... We lead a quiet life here. Gwen is fully occupied with the housework, for she does everything herself. Once in a while by way of a treat we go to a cinema in Worcester or Malvern. From time to time I visit the little pub nearby, where an oil-lamp hangs from the low beamed ceiling, and drink a pint or two of beer drawn straight from the wood, perhaps play darts with the farm-hands, labourers, and road-menders who frequent the place. I know them all and they are friendly towards me, call me by my Christian name. During my recent illness the whole countryside seemed concerned. Two or three people even offered to lend us money, and we had only been living among them for a year! Kindly, generous, warm-hearted people." (Pages 287 & 288)
The book ends "Yes, we have got what we have so long waited for – each other and our cottage in the country. And
let me tell you, we are very happy.”