H. E. Bates

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H.E. Bates
H.E. Bates.jpg
BornHerbert Ernest Bates
(1905-05-16)16 May 1905
Rushden, Northamptonshire, England
Died29 January 1974(1974-01-29) (aged 68)
Canterbury, Kent, England
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
GenreNovels, short stories
Notable worksLove for Lydia, The Darling Buds of May, My Uncle Silas, Fair Stood the Wind for France

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

Early life[edit]

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


Typically, Bates' best-known works describe, often in bucolic, romanticised terms, life in the English countryside, particularly the Midlands including his native Northamptonshire and the 'Garden of England', Kent, the setting for The Darling Buds of May. Bates was partial to taking long walks around the Northamptonshire countryside and this often provided the inspiration for his stories. His love for the countryside is exemplified in two volumes of essays, Through the Woods and Down the River. Both have been reprinted numerous times.

Bates discarded his first novel, written when he was in his late teenage years, but his second, and the first 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 respected Reader, Edward Garnett. Bates 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[edit]

During World War II, he was commissioned into the Royal Air Force solely to write short stories. The Air Ministry realised that it might create more favorable public sentiment by emphasizing stories about the people fighting the war, rather than facts. The stories were published originally in the News Chronicle with the pseudonym "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. After 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 The Battle of the Flying Bomb, but because of various disagreements within the government, it was cancelled, and then publication was banned for 30 years. It eventually was discovered by Bob Ogley and published during 1994 with the title Flying Bombs over England.[3] Another commission which has still to be published is Night Interception Battle[4] concerning the difficulty of tracking enemy aircraft at night.

Post-war work[edit]

Other novels followed after the war; he averaged about one novel and a collection of short stories a year, which was considered very productive at the time. These included The Feast of July and Love for Lydia. His most popular creation was the Larkin family in The Darling Buds of May. Pop Larkin and his family were inspired by a person 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)[5][6] had a huge wad of rubber-banded bank notes and proceeded to treat his trailer load of children with Easter eggs and ice creams. Other characters were modelled on friends and acquaintances of Bates, such as Iris Snow (a parody of Iris Murdoch)[7] and the Brigadier who was modelled on the father of John Bayley, Murdoch's husband.[7]

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. The My Uncle Silas stories were also made into a UK television series from 2000 to 2003. Many other stories were adapted to TV and others to movies, the most renowned being The Purple Plain in 1954 and The Triple Echo; Bates also worked on other movie scripts. In 2020 ITV commissioned a new television series of The Darling Buds of May, with the title The Larkins[8] starring Bradley Walsh, Joanna Scanlan, Sabrina Bartlett and Tok Stephen[8] The first episode aired in October 2021.[9]

Personal life[edit]

In 1931, he married Madge Cox, who lived two streets away from him in his native Rushden. They relocated 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 who wrote many books on flowers. The Granary remained their home for the whole of their married life.

They had two sons and two daughters: Ann, Judith, Richard and Jonathan. Jonathan Bates was nominated for an Academy Award for his sound work on the 1982 movie Gandhi.[10] Richard became a television producer,.[11] Bates's granddaughter, Victoria Wicks is an actor and script consultant.[12]

Death and honours[edit]

Bates died on 29 January 1974 in Canterbury, Kent, aged 68. A prolific and successful author, his greatest success was 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. His archive is held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.[13]

After Bates' death Madge relocated to a bungalow, which had originally been a cow byre, next to the Granary. She died in 2004 at the age of 95.


References to H.E. Bates[edit]

  • Bates's novel Love for Lydia served as an inspiration for Donna Lewis's 1996 smash hit "I Love You Always Forever".[15]
  • Literary study of his works: Dennis Vannatta, H.E. Bates (Twayne's English Authors Series). Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983. ISBN 0-8057-6844-0
  • Bates' idyllic depiction of rural Britain is referred to by the character 'I' in cult British comedy Withnail & I
  • His short story 'The Mill' featured as the extract in the first paper of the AQA English Language GCSE in 2019.


  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 Battle of the Flying Bomb." :: HE Bates". hebates.com.
  4. ^ ""The Night Interception Battle 1940-1941." :: HE Bates". hebates.com.
  5. ^ "The family that inspired hit TV series The Darling Buds of May". Evening Standard. UK. 18 October 2006. Archived from the original on 20 February 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Our family holiday went down in TV history". The Guardian. London. 26 August 2006. Archived from the original on 25 September 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  7. ^ a b "The Man From Nowhere". The Guardian. London. 3 February 2007. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  8. ^ a b "The Larkins Homepage :: HE Bates". hebates.com.
  9. ^ "Meet the cast and characters of The Larkins". Radio Times.
  10. ^ Monks, Mick (3 December 2008). "Obituary: Jonathan Bates". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Richard Bates". IMDb.
  12. ^ "Victoria Wicks". IMDb.
  13. ^ "H. E. (Herbert Ernest) Bates". norman.hrc.utexas.edu. Retrieved 26 August 2022.
  14. ^ "The Last Bread, A Play in One Act. | H.E. Bates Companion". hebatescompanion.com.
  15. ^ Crowe, Jerry. "Runner Up Donna Lewis' 'I Love You Always Forever' Is Stuck at No. 2 on Billboard Chart Behind A Certain Dance Song". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved 25 November 2016.

Eads, Peter, 1990, H.E.BATES, A Bibliographical Study, St. Paul's Bibliographies, Winchester, Hampshire, Omnigraphics, Detroit 1990 ISBN 0 906795 76 1

Eads, Peter, 2007, H.E.BATES, A Bibliographical Study, Oak Knoll Press & British Library, ISBN 978-1-58456-215-3 (Oak Knoll Press) ISBN 978-0-7123-5003-7 (The British Library)

Eads, Peter, 1990, Give Them Their Life, The Poetry of H.E. Bates, Evensford Productions Ltd, ISBN 0 9516754 0 0

Eads, Peter, 1995, The Life and Times of H.E.Bates, Northamptonshire County Council Libraries and Information Service, ISBN 0-905391-17-9

External links[edit]