survivor video    

Videocassette cover

HWS, 1998


The background


The film


Press notices


Photographs by Anne James, taken during filming



One of a series of cultural programmes in the BBC1 series Sunday Night

Produced and directed by Patrick Garland; cameraman Tony Imi

Shown at 9.50 p.m., Sunday, 8 May 1966

Length: 50 minutes


VHS videocassette, HWS, 1998, under licence from the BBC











HW's long association with the BBC began on 16 December 1935 with his first radio broadcast, entitled ‘Recipe for Country Life’, being made from BBC Bristol. The surviving transcripts of this and his many subsequent radio broadcasts have been collected in two HWS publications:


Spring Days in Devon and other Broadcasts, ed. John Gregory, HWS, 1992; e-book 2013

Pen and Plough: Further Broadcasts, ed. John Gregory, HWS, 1993; e-book 2013


See also John Gregory’s ‘Henry Williamson and the BBC’ (HWSJ 29, March 1994), which, using BBC archival material, reveals the sometimes difficult relationship between the two parties.


HW took part too in a considerable number of television programmes, mainly interviews, including an important one with Kenneth Allsop which was broadcast on 7 January 1968. He was on the panel of an Any Questions programme in November 1965.  Several programmes regarding his writing and some more personal programmes were made for the West Region service.


A cinema film of Tarka the Otter was made by Rank, directed by David Cobham (for details see the entry for Tarka the Otter).  Although HW wrote the original film treatment (later discarded), he was not concerned personally in the film itself.


The Great War: HW was interviewed for the major 26-part series The Great War, made under the auspices of The Imperial War Museum for BBC television in 1964 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the war. This groundbreaking series was later issued as a videocassette boxed set, and then on DVD. In March 2014 the BBC made available on iPlayer thirteen full-length interviews that had been originally recorded for the series; only brief excerpts were used at the time, and the complete interviews have never before been broadcast. Interviewees included Norman Macmillan (infantryman turned fighter pilot, and author of Into the Blue and Offensive Patrol); Charles Carrington (who, writing as Charles Edmonds, published A Subaltern’s War); and Cecil Lewis (author of the classic memoir of the air war, Sagittarius Rising). Click on the link for HW's interview, which lasts for almost half-an-hour.






HW made three major films for BBC television: The Survivor, broadcast in 1966; No Man’s Land, broadcast in 1968; and The Vanishing Hedgerows, broadcast in 1971.



The background:


The Radio Times advertised the BBC's new Sunday Night series in its issue for 7 April 1966; the first programme was Ustinov Ad Lib, with the actor and raconteur Peter Ustinov.



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Patrick Garland (1935‒2013) was a very well-known and respected producer and director of stage and television, and Artistic Director of the Chichester Festival Theatre from 1981‒85 and 1990‒94. HW first met him when Garland was making a film for BBC TV programme Monitor, a prestigious interview programme fronted by Huw Wheldon, in Ilfracombe.


HW diary entry, 25 January 1965: Patrick Garland BBC 'Monitor' comes to Devon this week.


There is no further information, but one has to presume that HW featured in this programme, as they evidently filmed him, as shown by the diary entry below:


11 February: 10.30.AM – Television people.

Card posted to Patrick Garland, MONITOR [at London address]


23 February: [HW in London] Ring Patrick Garland, Lime Grove Studio, W12. Monitor.


26 February: 1 pm. Patrick Garland. Floral Foyer. Ritz Hotel.


29 March: Lunch with Patrick Garland. BBC TV Centre.


18 May: BBC TV Monitor 9.25 pm


There is unfortunately no record of when the idea of The Survivor was first proposed and discussed with HW, and there is a gap of severeal months until the next mention of Garland, when there has evidently been a small misunderstanding:


8 November: Patrick Garland, for BBC TV, arrived for a week's work together: but he omitted to tell me this: I imagined one day only, he departs tomorrow when I must revise 170,000 words of No. 13 – The Man Who Went Outside [the working title for A Solitary War].


I would note here that HW's workload was quite tremendous at this time – one might say 'as always', but the intense and complicated work on the Chronicle novels, on top of his extreme emotional disturbances over his complicated female friendships, plus the various articles and letters he was almost continuously writing made it more extreme than usual. Also HW travelled a great deal: he was constantly on the move, no doubt finding life alone very difficult. Further, towards the end of November 1965 he took part in the well-known and popular series Any Questions.


26 November: BBC Exeter. 'Any Questions'.

Meet 5 pm. To join 3 MPs – Quinton Hogg, Shirley Williams, Jeremy Thorpe,

Freddie Grisewood Q-Master.


29 November: To meet Patrick Garland & camera team in Barnstaple. 50 miles in car for BBC.


4 December: Dec. 4-18th, for SUNDAY NIGHT BBC TV filming on HW


6 December: Patrick Garland and BBC TV camera crew at 4 Capstone Place [his Ilfracombe cottage].


HW rushed up to London for the weekend of 11/12 December (to meet up with his current female 'companion'; the relationship was not an easy one).


13 December: Filming with BBC TV.


Filming continued every day of that week until Friday, when again HW left for London, where he arrived too late to meet the current young lady as had been planned and so went on to Aylesford Priory to see Father Brocard Sewell, taking with him the young poet Frances Horowitz, to whom he was also attracted.


There is no further mention of the film until its actual showing on 8 May 1966, when he made a rather sad little entry in his diary:


My BBC T.V. programme 'The Survivor'.

Saw it with Christine at Ilfracombe. She came over on Sat. to garden in Field, and left in her little lorry for Stuckeridge at 11p.m. this night. [Christine was HW's second wife: they married in 1949 and were now separated.]






In 2000 Patrick Garland, who lived nearby, gave me (Anne Williamson) a selection of the photographs taken during the filming of the programme, with permission to use them. His note enclosing them stated: 'Good memories come flooding back.' One set of the photographs has ‘Anne James’ on the reverse and it is presumed that she was the photographer. Anne James was herself a respected producer and director who worked at the BBC between 1945 and 1983.


These photographs are reproduced on the separate page: Photographs by Anne James, taken during filming.






The film:


survivor RT advert HW1


survivor RT advert HW2


survivor RT advert HW3



The Survivor, filmed in black and white (the BBC’s colour service was not launched until 1 July 1967), was the first major national TV programme devoted to HW, and has never been reshown. It takes the form of an informal portrait, with Patrick Garland acting as an unobtrusive, impartial but sympathetic questioner, companion and commentator. HW is here aged 70, a survivor of the trenches, with The Phoenix Generation just published, and talks about his life and books in a number of settings: the story of his tame otter and the writing of the Tarka the Otter, in his Writing Hut at the Field; at Beam Weir with the river in spate, and voice raised above the roar of the water (‘Am I talking like Fife Robertson?’); his first visit to Georgeham before the Great War; striding through the Burrows; talking about A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight; listening to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde outside the Studio, during which a jet aeroplane, probably a Hawker Hunter from RAF Chivenor, thunders overhead just as if on cue; his visit to Germany in 1935; driving through Landcross past the small church where he and Loetitia were married; looking through old photographs (commenting on two showing his very young – and bare – children, ‘My eldest boy, we couldn’t afford clothes!’, and on the next, ‘Another son, still couldn’t afford clothes!’); teasingly offering to read from T. E. Lawrence’s letters to him, reconsidering, and then relenting to read one; and finally reading from one of the war novels of the Chronicle. HW is shown in many moods: mischievous and humorous at times, emotional and pensive at others.


Garland perceptively comments during the film:


Never part of a literary fad or fashion, Henry has always stuck to what he calls his particular beam . . .  In spite of appearances to the contrary Henry is not and never has been the most harmonious of men. He is a natural subject for controversy and people continue to argue about him and his work, varying from those who consider only his animal books to others who speak of him as one of the most undervalued writers of our time.


It needs to be pointed out that one or two of the comments made by HW and Patrick Garland in the film are just not true (though the latter is blameless): for example, in voiceover Garland, in innocence, repeats HW’s calumny – first publicly stated in his Genius of Friendship – that the content of his last letter to T. E. Lawrence contained the suggestion that TEL should meet Hitler. This is not so. That TEL would have been the only man able to stop Hitler going to war is a myth that HW thought up after Lawrence’s death; and, once imagined, he believed it to be true. Neither did HW actually meet Hitler briefly at the 1935 Nuremberg Rally as he claims, though he did see him at a distance. HW was, unfortunately, himself often the source of much that was later held against him.


The film generated considerable interest in the press, as is shown in the notices below.






Press notices:


Note that the cameraman's last name has been mispelled in three notices as Ami. Correctly, his name is Tony Imi (1937–2010), called by the Telegraph in its obituary notice 'one of the British film industry’s leading cinematographers, amassing more than 100 film and television credits during a career spanning 50 years'.


The notices in the Observer and the Scottish Daily Express state, inaccurately, that HW was interned for a fortnight in 1939. In actual fact he was detained for three nights over a weekend in a police cell in Wells-next-the-Sea in June 1940 under Defence Regulation 18b, as the Chief Constable was away and couldn't order his release until the Monday morning.


Southern Evening Echo, 3 May 1966:


survivor rev a Southern Evening Echo


Birmingham Evening Mail, 4 May 1966:


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Lincolnshire Echo, 5 May 1966:


survivor rev c Lincolnshire Echo


Western Times, 6 May 1966:


survivor rev d Western Times


Western Morning News, 6 May 1966:


survivor rev d1 WMN


(Note that the complete correspondence between HW and TEL was published in T. E. Lawrence: Correspondence with Henry Williamson: Letters Vol. IX, limited edition, edited by J. Wilson, with Prologue, Epilogue and running Notes by Anne Williamson.)


Manchester Evening News, 7 May 1966:


survivor rev e Manchester Evening News


Evening Herald, 7 May 1966:


survivor rev f Evening Herald


Bookseller, 7 May 1966:


survivor rev g Bookseller


Observer, 8 May 1966:


survivor rev h Observer


Cumberland Evening Star, 7 May 1966:


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Sun, 9 May 1966:


survivor rev j Sun


Daily Express, 9 May 1966:


survivor rev k Daily Express


Guardian, 9 May 1966:


survivor rev l Guardian


Daily Telegraph, 9 May 1966:


survivor rev m Daily Telegraph


The Times, 9 May 1966:


survivor rev n Times


Scottish Daily Express, 9 May 1966:


survivor rev o Scots Daily Express







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