Terence Tiller

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Terence Rogers Tiller (19 September 1916 – 24 December 1987) was an English poet and radio producer.

Early life, poet[edit]

Tiller was born in Truro, Cornwall and educated at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith.[1] He studied history at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a starred first-class BA degree in 1937 and won the Chancellor's Medal for English Verse.[2] He then lectured in medieval history at Cambridge from 1937 to 1939. But then, just before the war, he accepted an academic position in Cairo, where he remained stranded. For the next six years he taught English literature at what was then the King Fuad I University.[3] While there he became associated with the Personal Landscape group of poets that also included Keith Douglas, Lawrence Durrell, Robin Fedden and Bernard Spencer.[1] His enigmatic poems about wartime Egypt, showing the influence of Wilfred Owen, gained attention through the publication of his Poems in 1941, followed by The Inward Animal in 1943.[4] His most acclaimed poetry collection was Unarm, Eros (1947), containing poems of "strong formal pattern, heraldic imagery, and striking sensuousness"[5]


In 1946 he joined the BBC Features Department, where he was responsible for hundreds of plays and feature broadcasts on a wide range of subjects, but mainly on history, literature and mythology. His contemporaries in the department included the fellow poets Rayner Heppenstall, Louis MacNeice and W R Rodgers.[6][7] During this period, Tiller became a noted Fitzrovian.[8] He collaborated with the composer Elizabeth Poston on features such as The Shepherds' Play (1947), The Death of Adam (1949), Lilith (1950), and The Holy Child (1952). In 1955 he was producer of the first BBC radio adaptation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (which did not please the author). He adapted and modernized Chaucer's The Parlement of Foules in 1958.[9] In 1969 he completed the posthumous story After Ten Years by C. S. Lewis for broadcast,[10] and in 1973 he brought Mervyn Peake's The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb to the airwaves.[11] In 1979 Tiller dramatized Vladimir Nabokov's novel The Defence.[12]

In 1964 he moved to the Drama Department, from which he retired in 1976.[1] His work on the weekly chess programme on the Third Programme led to his book Chess Treasury of the Air.[13]


  • Poems (1941), Hogarth Press)
  • The Inward Animal (1943)
  • Unarm, Eros (1947),
  • Reading a Medal, and other poems (1957)
  • Notes for a Myth (1968, Chatto & Windus)
  • That Singing Mesh, and other poems (1979)
  • Collected Poems (Eyewear Publishing, 2016)[14]
As editor, translator
  • The Vision of Piers Plowman; translated from Middle English into Modern English verse
  • A translation of Dante
  • Chess Treasury of the Air (Penguin Handbooks; PH124; 1966), as editor
  • New Poems 1960, edited with Anthony Cronin and Jon Silkin
  • John Gower Confessio Amantis: 'The Lover's Shrift'; translated from Middle English into Modern English verse. (Penguin Classic, 1965)


  1. ^ a b c Obituary, The Times, 5 January 1988, p 14
  2. ^ 'University News', Times, 21 June 1937, p. 20.
  3. ^ Tiller, Terence (1966) Chess Treasury of the Air. Harmondsworth: Penguin; p. 1
  4. ^ Greening, John. 'Darkness of Past Love' in The Times Literary Supplement, 31 March, 2017
  5. ^ 'Terence Tiller, British Writer', in Encyclopaedia Britannica
  6. ^ E.S. Guralnick. 'Radio Drama: The Stage of the Mind', in Virginia Quarterly Review Vol. 61, No. 1, Winter 1985, p 84-5
  7. ^ G D Bridson. 'Broadcast Poetry in Britain', in Poetry, Vol 79 No 5, February 1952
  8. ^ Butler, Marilyn. 'Rise and Fall of Radio Features', in London Review of Books Vol 2 No 15, 7 August, 1980
  9. ^ Third Programmme, 8 June, 1958
  10. ^ BBC Radio 3, 9 March, 1969
  11. ^ BBC Radio 3, 9 August, 1973
  12. ^ BBC Radio 4, 22 January, 1979.
  13. ^ Tiller, Terence (1966) Chess Treasury of the Air. Harmondsworth: Penguin; p. 1
  14. ^ The Collected Poems of Terence Tiller