H. E. Bates

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

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

Early lifeEdit

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.

Many of his stories describes life in the rural Midlands of England, particularly his native Northamptonshire. Bates was partial to taking long walks around the Northamptonshire countryside and this often provided the inspiration for his stories. Bates was a great lover of the countryside and this was exemplified in two volumes of essays entitled Through the Woods and Down the River. Both have been reprinted numerous times.


He discarded his first novel, written when he was in his late teenage, 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 storiesEdit

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 Flying Bombs, 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. Another commission which has still to be published is Night Fighters.

Post-war workEdit

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)[3][4] 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 Angela Snow (a parody of Iris Murdoch) and the Brigadier who was modelled on the father of John Bayley, Murdoch's husband.[5]

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 2000–2003. 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.

Personal lifeEdit

In 1931, he married Madge Cox, his acquaintance from the next road 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 raised two sons and two daughters. Their younger son Jonathan was nominated for an Academy Award for his sound work on the 1982 movie Gandhi.[6]

Honours and deathEdit

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.

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. BatesEdit

  • Bates's novel Love for Lydia served as an inspiration for Welsh singer/songwriter Donna Lewis's smash hit "I Love You Always Forever".[8]
  • 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 England 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 family that inspired hit TV series The Darling Buds of May". Evening Standard. UK: This is London. 18 October 2006. Archived from the original on 20 February 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ "The Man From Nowhere". The Guardian. London. 3 February 2007. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  6. ^ Monks, Mick (3 December 2008). "Obituary: Jonathan Bates". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  7. ^ "Eads ID A2".
  8. ^ 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 linksEdit