Category Archives: Biography

Dewar McCormack interviews HV Morton

Antique silver microphone in orange light uid 1172391

In HVM Society Snippets – No.192, distributed in September last year (and now available on the blog) the featured article, from the 1974 Cape Town Weekend Magazine, made mention of HV Morton being the subject of a series of half-hour television interviews by one of the South African Broadcasting Company’s star broadcasters, Dewar McCormack.

And that is the subject of today’s post – an interview by Dewar McCormack of HV Morton. At least that’s my best guess – there is a slight element of mystery surrounding the interview.

The original cassette tape was sent to me by the author of Morton’s official biography, “In Search of HV Morton“, Michael Bartholomew, after an appeal I made a while back for audio-files featuring HVM. I am more grateful to Michael than I can say for his generosity in sending me the tape, I know he went to some considerable trouble to find it after it had temporarily disappeared, as these things do!

In Search of HVMIn Search of HV Morton” by Michael Bartholomew

The original recording from which the tape was made was in the BBC archives and the tape was labelled: Interview with D McCormack, BBC, June 75. After a deal of googling I failed to find a likely candidate of that name working for the BBC in 1975 who might have interviewed Morton. It must be – particularly given we know HVM was the subject of media interest in South Africa at the time – the interviewer is Dewar McCormack and the original interview was done by the SABC, possibly sold for distribution to the home market by the BBC, and then happened to end up (happily for us) in the archives. If anyone knows anything to the contrary I would be delighted to hear from them.

Being a computer whizz-kid (not!) it took me a mere twelve months or so to finally work out how to convert the audio recording to digital form and edit out some of the lengthy gaps in it. Once I’d done that it was a simple matter to transcribe it and make it available to all. It is a short piece and begins, quite unusually, with Morton himself speaking and with no introduction or context. It is clearly a fragment from a longer piece so inevitably leaves one wondering where the rest is and how it could be got hold of. One of these days when I have a bit more time I will trot along to the BBC archives myself and try to find it:

Interview with D McCormack, BBC, June 75. Length – 2 min 49 seconds, file size 2,642 KB

Morton: I was a rather lonely little boy (I was an only son) and (laughs) I was always wandering off alone and exploring things and discovering things. My sister reminded me once that I was in the habit of stopping when we were out on walks and saying “Stop! On this very same place, if you dug down, down, down, down, down, down; you might come to a Roman.” I’ve always been interested and always been curious and I’ve always been fascinated by history.

Before I write a book, I make a long list of all the people who are likely to appear in it – men and women – and I then make a chart of their lives and these charts are quite big, sometimes five foot square and I like to be able to say “oh, yes, Julius Caesar was born at that particular moment”. Then I look along the chart and see who else was alive at that moment, who else was just about to die, who else was just about to be born, and it gives one a great sense of history.

McCormac: I suppose every writer encounters his share of difficulties, his own particular ‘ration’ of problems. What’s the most difficult aspect of your writing?

Morton: Well, the wind and the weather, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by weather conditions. From going to see remote places on the southern coast of Turkey, for example, and an island which I’ve never yet seen, called Crete, where wind and gale conspired to keep the place a secret from me.

McCormac: What is the genesis, so to speak, of this present book?

Morton: My book “In Search of England” was published… well, jolly nearly fifty years ago (laughs) and it’s gone on in various languages all over the world and it occurred to Methuen that they would like to make a selection from it and produce it in the most modern way which they have done, I think very attractively.

McCormac: This embraces just the England book, nothing more?

Morton: Yes, but it’s going on to the others – to Scotland and Ireland. And I think I ought to say that since these books were written nearly fifty years ago they have never been out of print!

HV Morton's England smallKeen Mortonites may have guessed the subject of the interview is the publication, by Eyre Methuen, of “HV Morton’s England” on 5 June 1975. This is a delightful, large-format volume edited by Patricia Haward with many photographic illustrations in colour and black and white, which comprises extracts from “In Search of England”, “The Call of England” and “I Saw Two Englands”.

It is readily available second hand and makes an excellent introduction to Morton’s works as well as bringing some of the places he described in the 1920’s to life and showing how they have changed (or in some cases stayed the same) over the years.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

(This post was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.199)

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HV Morton on the television

In this bulletin we take a look at a particularly personal piece of Mortoniana.

The newspaper clipping below was sent to me by founder-member and Morton biographer Kenneth Fields. Kenneth informs me it was originally sent by HVM to his sister Piddie in 1974 and later passed on to Kenneth by Jo Walters, Morton’s niece. Kenneth points out that Morton’s age is corrected in his own hand – even at the age of 82 (or 83) this was a journalist who wanted to get the facts correct!

HVM on the radio

By way of background, it seems South Africa had no television until 1976 and this article was an account of the preparations by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for their television network. They proudly declare they have (by 1974, when the article was written) accumulated 50 hours of programmes ready to be broadcast.

The person who was to interview Morton was Dewar McCormack, head of the English service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in Cape Town. He was described by Pamela Coleman (who ran the SABC equivalent of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with him as her boss) as a good-looking man in a craggy, Robert Mitchum sort of way, a part-Irish South African who had travelled around and done a stint broadcasting in New Zealand. An old-fashioned, professional broadcaster, he was friendly but stern and didn’t approve of ‘larking about’!

The print of the scan is quite small so I have transcribed the relevant section:

The Cape Times Weekend Magazine, Saturday, July 20, 1974

SHOW SCENE

Television: a taste of things to come
by Ian Forsyth

He’s an old man now, 83 [HVM has corrected this to 82 in his own hand! Ed.]. And he sits in his study, inevitably book-lined, remembering – for SABC television. As a television personality, Robin Knox-Granger, manager of the SABC television service, thinks he’s “just tremendous”.

This television personality of South Africa’s pre-television era is Author-journalist H.V. Morton who lives at Somerset West. And some time after January 1976 South Africans will see six programmes in which Morton talks of things that fascinate him and memories he has of a lifetime of writing and reporting.

He is interviewed for the English television service by Dewar McCormack at half hour stretches.

It’s very, very seldom, if ever that you get someone who can just sit and talk and be interviewed in this way,” Knox-Grant told me in Grahamstown this week. “Once, perhaps twice only, we have had to stop the cameras, and this was only for technical reasons – for cut-ins, where you have to move to something which he has been talking about and will show you. He comes across superbly. You can just sit and watch him without any kind of interruption.”

Knox-Grant and a television team travel from Johannesberg to Somerset West for their filming sessions, which almost never exceed the allotted 30 minutes of time for which the programmes are scheduled. And it is only a small facet of the work now being done by the television service,  which now has about 50 hours of viewing material available for English and Afrikaans viewers – about 25 hours for each language…

Many thanks go to Kenneth for providing us with this delightful insight into HVM’s later years.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.192 on 26 September 2015

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Collie Knox Remembers H.V. Morton

by Kenneth Fields

Perhaps the most important milestone in HV Morton’s writing career was his period at the Daily Express during the early twenties. His colourful articles on the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb had put his name on the front page of the newspaper for the first time, and this quickly established him as a star journalist. Fortunately we have a number of fascinating personal observations of him at this period from the writings of his colleagues.

The following is taken from “It Might Have Been You” (Chapman and Hall, 1938), the autobiography of Collie Knox (1897 – 1977). Collie Knox had joined the staff in the news room at the Express in 1926 in a junior position, after a short but eventful military career. He recalls that ‘In those days the offices in the Express looked out on Shoe Lane, a dingy little street from which came sounds of hammering most of the waking hours.

shoe lane

… Often when I was in a tussle with some refractory copy and Wilkins was demanding how much longer I’d be, such gods as H.V. Morton and Hannen Swaffer descended from their thrones and entered the news room. With longing eyes I gazed at them. For here indeed were names with which to conjure. They were in receipt of more money per week than I earned in a year….. Would I ever be like them? Would anyone ever nudge his – or indeed her – neighbour and whisper, “That’s Collie Knox, you know”? My copy was forgotten and I followed these men with envious eyes as they stood surveying the room. Lords of all they surveyed.

‘Harry Morton is a wonderful writer. He has the gift of description tremendously developed. He will attend a national ceremony with every other newspaper star writer, and will notice that a shy little woman in black with a medal ribbon pinned on her breast is sobbing in a corner. While the other writers will concentrate on the obvious highlights, the pomp and splendour, Harry Morton will hang his story on the little woman in black. Instantly she will stand out as the central figure and she will live before the reader.

‘I remember once Morton was sent to write the experiences of a man who had climbed to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. When I read his description the next day in the paper I literally felt giddy… so vivid is his power of writing.

‘His books sell in millions, and he is unequalled in his own field. He remains the same quiet, charming man. Unspoiled. I knew that Baxter had a few tussles with H.V. If he did not think that a story was worthy of his time or his talent, he would refuse to go out on it. Baxter once said that he would rather deal with a temperamental prima donna than with H.V. when he was in that mood. But Baxter was eminently capable of dealing with any prima donna. He could wheedle a cork out of a bottle.

After six years at the Daily Express Collie Knox moved to the Daily Mail where he established himself as a popular columnist, musical lyricist and a patriotic writer during the Second World War. In his anthology, “For Ever England” (Cassell –1943), he includes an extract from the postscript of HVM’s “I Saw Two Englands” (Methuen -1942) which he named The Vigil Splendid. This outstanding example of HVM’s descriptive writing vividly explains what it was like to live in England during the Battle of Britain.

With best wishes,

This article was originally distributed on 21 November 2015 as HVM Society Snippets – No.194

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