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Michael Morpurgo

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Michael Morpurgo

Morpurgo in 2009
Morpurgo in 2009
BornMichael Andrew Bridge
(1943-10-05) 5 October 1943 (age 80)
St Albans, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
  • Author
  • poet
  • playwright
Alma materKing's College London
Notable worksWar Horse, Why the Whales Came, Private Peaceful
(m. 1963)
ParentsTony Van Bridge (father)
Kippe Cammaerts (mother)

Sir Michael Andrew Bridge Morpurgo OBE FRSL FKC DL ( Bridge; 5 October 1943)[1] is an English book author, poet, playwright, and librettist who is known best for children's novels such as War Horse (1982). His work is noted for its "magical storytelling",[2] for recurring themes such as the triumph of an outsider or survival, for characters' relationships with nature, and for vivid settings such as the Cornish coast or the trenches of the First World War. Morpurgo was the third Children's Laureate, from 2003 to 2005,[3] and is President of BookTrust, a children's reading charity.[4]

Early life[edit]

Morpurgo was born in 1943 in St Albans, Hertfordshire, as Michael Andrew Bridge, the second child of actor Tony Van Bridge and actress Kippe Cammaerts (daughter of the writer and poet Émile Cammaerts).[5] Both RADA graduates, his parents had met when they were acting in the same repertory company in 1938.[6] His father came from a working-class family, while his mother's family included actors, an opera singer, writers, and poets.[6] They were married in 1941 while Van Bridge, having been called up in 1939 and by then stationed in Scotland, was on leave from the army.[6] Morpurgo's brother Pieter was born in 1942. When Morpurgo was born the following year, his father was stationed in Baghdad.[1] While Van Bridge was away at war, Kippe Cammaerts met Jack Morpurgo (subsequently professor of American Literature at the University of Leeds[7]). When Van Bridge returned to England in 1946, Cammaerts obtained a divorce from him and married Jack Morpurgo in 1947. Although they were not formally adopted, Morpurgo and his brother took on their step-father's name.[8][9] Morpurgo's older brother, Pieter Morpurgo,[1] later became a BBC television producer and director.[10] He has two younger half-siblings, Mark and Kay Morpurgo.[9] Their mother was frail, having suffered a breakdown when she was 19, and grieved the loss of her brother Pieter, who was killed in the war in 1941, for the rest of her life.[6]

Morpurgo and his brother were evacuated to Northumberland when they were very young.[1] After they returned to London, the family lived in Philbeach Gardens, Earl's Court, where the children played on nearby bombsites.[11][12] Morpurgo went to primary school at St Matthias, Earl's Court. The family later moved to Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex, where Morpurgo would live during the school holidays,[13] having been sent to a boarding school in Sussex when he was seven years old. The school was very strict and the boys were beaten frequently. During this period Morpurgo developed a stutter.[14] His unhappy experiences at boarding school would later inform his novel The Butterfly Lion.[8] After six years at The Abbey School in Ashurst Wood,[1] Morpurgo then went to the King's School, an independent school in Canterbury, Kent, where he felt less homesick than at his previous school.

Morpurgo did not learn who his biological father was until he was 19 years old.[15] After the divorce from Michael's mother, Van Bridge had emigrated to Canada and was never talked about. Morpurgo never saw an image of his father until, while watching the 1962 CBC version of Great Expectations on TV with his mother, she recognised Van Bridge in the role of Magwitch and said to Michael "That's your father!"[16] They met in person nine years later.[16]

Morpurgo's stepfather was not encouraging to his sons and was disappointed that they were not meeting his expectations for them of going into academia like him, calling Michael "a bear with very little brain."[14][17] His stepfather decided he should join the army and Morpurgo attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[15] He quickly realised that a soldier's life was not for him and left after nine months.[18] He said late that reading the poems of the First World War poets when he was a young soldier were "part of the reason I left the army and became a teacher and then a writer of many books about war in which a longing for peace and reconciliation is always evident."[19]

Morpurgo later went to study at King's College London, reading English, French, and Philosophy,[20] and graduated with a third class degree.[21] He then joined the teaching profession[15] with a job at Wickhambreaux Primary School in Canterbury, Kent.[22] He also, in 1968, briefly taught at St. Faith's School in Cambridge.[23]


From teaching to writing novels[edit]

It was not until he was teaching in Kent that Morpurgo discovered his vocation in life, of which he later said "I could see there was magic in it for them, and realized there was magic in it for me."[24]

Morpurgo's writing career was inspired by Ted Hughes' Poetry in the Making, Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose and Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.[2] Hughes and another poet, Seán Rafferty, were influential in his career, with Hughes becoming a friend, mentor and neighbour. Morpurgo credits Hughes and Rafferty with giving him the confidence to write War Horse, his most successful work to date.[25]


Morpurgo is the author of dozens of books, including the notable titles:


Gentle Giant was presented as an opera by composer Stephen McNeff and librettist Mike Kenny at the Royal Opera House in 2006. Film versions have been made of Friend or Foe (1981), Private Peaceful (2012) and When the Whales Came (1989), the latter also being adapted to a stage play. My Friend Walter (1988) 'Purple Penguins' (2000) and Out of the Ashes (2001) have been adapted for television.

Composer Stephen Barlow created a musical adaptation of Rainbow Bear, narrated by his wife Joanna Lumley. This was subsequently presented as a ballet by the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain in August 2010.[63]

War Horse has been adapted as a radio broadcast and as a stage play by Nick Stafford, premiering at the National Theatre, London, on 17 October 2007. The horses were played by life-sized horse puppets designed and built by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. It won two Olivier Awards in 2007.[64] Initially intended to run for 16 weeks, due to popular demand the show transferred to the New London Theatre in the West End on 28 March 2009.[65] It closed in the West End after eight years, having been seen by 2.7 million people in London and seven million worldwide at the time.[66] It was the most successful production of the National Theatre ever.[14]

On 15 March 2011, the show premiered on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.[67] The play's Broadway production won five Tony Awards, including Best Play. It went on several UK tours and was also staged in Australia, Canada, China, Germany, and The Netherlands.[68][69] It was seen by seven million people outside the UK.

In 2011, War Horse was adapted by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis as a British film directed by Steven Spielberg.[70] The film was nominated numerous awards, including six Academy Awards and five BAFTA Awards.[71]

Waiting for Anya was adapted as a film of the same title released in 2020.[72]

Reception and influence[edit]

Morpurgo has thirty books on the HarperCollins list and has sold more than 35 million books worldwide.[73]

Reading Matters website calls Morpurgo's 1999 Kensuke's Kingdom "A quietly told story, but plenty of drama and emotion."[74]

The Guardian described Private Peaceful, Morpurgo's 2003 novel for older children, as a "humanising and humane work".[75]

Children's Laureate[edit]

Morpurgo and Ted Hughes, then Poet Laureate, originated the idea of the Children's Laureate role,[76] and Morpurgo later became the third person to fill the two-year position, from 2003 to 2005.[3][77]

Literary awards and prizes[edit]


Personal life[edit]

In 1963, aged 19, Morpurgo married Clare Lane, eldest daughter of Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books.[80][81] They had met the previous year on holiday in Corfu through Morpurgo's stepfather, who was an editor at Penguin at the time.[82] Lane was pregnant with their first child and Morpurgo has referred to it as a shotgun wedding.[81] Their three children are all named after Shakespearian characters.[14]

His mother died in London in 1993.[83]

Morpurgo was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in 2017 and received radiotherapy.[84] He has since recovered.[14]

Farms for City Children[edit]

In 1976, Morpurgo and his wife Clare established the charity Farms for City Children,[85] with the primary aim of providing children from inner city areas with experience of the countryside.[86] The programme involves the children spending a week at a countryside farm, during which they take part in purposeful farmyard work.[87][17] The charity's first president was the couple's close friend and neighbour, Ted Hughes.[25]

About 85,000 children have taken part in the scheme since it was set up, and the charity now has three farms in Wales, Devon, and Gloucestershire. Morpurgo has referred to the charity as his greatest achievement in life.[88]

Political views[edit]

In a January 2014 article, Morpurgo stated "as we begin to mark the century of the first world war, we should honour those who died, most certainly, and gratefully too, but we should never glorify. Come each November over the next four years, let the red poppy and the white poppy be worn together to honour those who died, to keep our faith with them, to make of this world a place where freedom and peace can reign together."[89]

In August 2014, Morpurgo was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue.[90]

Prior to the 2015 general election, Morpurgo endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas.[91]

In 2016, he condemned government plans to extend grammar schools as divisive and "quite deeply stupid".[92]

In the run-up to the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, Morpurgo expressed his support for the European Union in an interview with the BBC,[93] and reinforced this with a ten-minute BBC Radio 4 A Point of View interview on 5 August 2018.

Honors and appointments[edit]

Morpurgo and his wife Clare were each appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1999 Birthday Honours for services to young people. He was advanced to Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2006 Birthday Honours for services to literature and was made a Knight Bachelor in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to literature and charity.[94][95][96][97]

In 2012, Morpurgo was made an Honorary Graduate of the University of Sussex.[98]

Morpurgo was awarded an honorary doctorate at Bishop Grosseteste University on 17 July 2013.[99] He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) by Newcastle University on 12 July 2017.[100]

Morpurgo was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Devon on 10 April 2015.[101]

Morpurgo is also President of BookTrust, the UK's largest children's reading charity.[4]

On 9 November 2023 Morpurgo was awarded an honorary doctorate at University of Plymouth,[102] after writing almost all of his 150 books in the county of Devon.

Radio and television broadcasts[edit]


  • Carey, Joanna (1999). Interview with Michael Morpurgo. ISBN 978-0-7497-3866-2
  • Fergusson, Maggie (2012). Michael Morpurgo: War Child to War Horse. ISBN 9780007387267.
  • Fox, Geoff (2004). Dear Mr Morpingo: Inside the World of Michael Morpurgo. ISBN 978-1-84046-607-2
  • McCarthy, Shaun (2005). Michael Morpurgo. ISBN 978-0-431-17995-7


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Further reading[edit]

  • Morpurgo, Michael et al. La Revue Des Livres Pour Enfants Number 250, December 2009: "Michael Morpurgo" pp 79–124. (in French)
  • Franks, Alan (22 September 2007). "Courses for horses". The Times. Retrieved 23 September 2007.

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by Children's Laureate of the United Kingdom
Succeeded by