Edited by Bryan Holden, published by Roseworld Productions Numbered limited edition of 675. Price:£35.00
IMAGINE for a moment that you are a famous writer. How would you feel if someone published the contents of a diary that you had written, aged 17?
Denys Watkins-Pitchford, affectionately known as BB, is probably quite glad that he’s no longer with us (He died in 1990.) Finding his innermost thoughts turned into a book would probably have killed him off.
The trouble is, the demand for anything written by BB is insatiable. There is a society, with members worldwide, dedicated to the author and illustrator, and I’m quite sure that they will swallow up most of the copies of his teenage diary and sketchbook.
For the rest, reading his innermost thoughts may be a less than enlightening
experience. The year is 1922, so it’s not filled with the stuff that a 17-year-old lad might scribble today. (Would he even write it? Surely with today’s teenager, it would be full of LOL, BTW and NE1.) So there’s no sex, drugs, celebrity, teen angst, loud music and parental rebellion. The young BB is more interested in wildlife, bicycle maintenance, fishing, shooting and drawing.
This means much of the diary is quite dull. This is the January 6 entry. “This afternoon went and had a haircut at Atwood’s. Went to the Bardsleys for tea. Had some very nice cake. Looked at pictures and etchings. Miss Bardsley seems very nice. Had cold turkey for tea and I gorged myself,. Played word game.”
Or September 21. “Very nice day. Went in this morning. Father went to London. Made a frame this afternoon for antirrhinums. Poor old Podge (his brother Roger) went off by 5 train. Will Hedge took us down. Went shooting
tonight, no luck at all.”
And the year ends: “Last day of the old Year. Very cold damp day. Went to church this morning. Starting up another bad cold, it seems tonight, hoarse etc etc. The others went to church tonight. Read Les Miserables (Victor Hugo).”
It’s not going to make much of a film, even if you stretch the reference to Miss Bardsley, is it?
But there’s more to his diary than meets the
casual eye, and that’s where Holden, who probably knows as much about the author as anyone, comes into his own. Each month has a Holden commentary, noting the minutiae of BB’s passion for wildlife, his protected life, his shyness and his burgeoning artistic talent.
On the latter topic, the book reproduces the drawings that he added to the diary. It would take someone with a much sharper eye than mine to spot that this was the work of a man who would later become one of the most respected countryside illustrators. These are some way off the finished thing: the drawings of a 17-year-old with potential.
Did BB continue to keep a diary into his later years? The book doesn’t tell us. Now that would have made quite a read: his transition from boy to man in the author’s own words.
Still, BB lovers will be grateful that even this survived. Others may find his teenage diary as gripping as the back of a bus ticket.