RF Delderfield: a genius

PUBLISHED: 11:59 01 April 2008 | UPDATED: 21:40 15 June 2010

HIS round, kindly face and smiling eyes grace the cover of the first ever biography written about him. Ron Delderfield, once hailed by critics as the new Dickens", was a prolific novelist and dramatist, but quintessentially an Englishman.

HIS round, kindly face and smiling eyes grace the cover of the first ever biography written about him. Ron Delderfield, once hailed by critics as "the new Dickens", was a prolific novelist and dramatist, but quintessentially an Englishman.His literary works have launched or furthered the careers of Sean Connery, Nigel Havers and Patsy Kensit, to name but a few, but his craft was honed on a weekly newspaper in East Devon.Writer and Delderfield fan Marion Lindsey-Noble has left no stone unturned in her quest to record not just his works but his life, too.From family memories to quirky tales about Delderfield's unstinting generosity, she has managed to achieve a 'first'. Thirty-six years after his death, she can be credited with being the first person to properly record Delderfield's legacy in RF Delderfield, Butterfly Moments.As film cameras roll for Carry On London, few would suspect that the author of such classics as A Horseman Riding By and To Serve Them All My Days wrote the script for the first ever Carry On film.Marion has given up 10 years of her life to painstakingly research every era of Delderfield's career, from his school days, to years as a reporter and subsequently editor of the Exmouth Chronicle, to his full-time career as a writer of best-selling sagas.German-born Marion says she was captivated by Delderfield's work from the moment her husband introduced her to it."I wanted to read Delderfield's biography, but there wasn't one," she says."His stories are so enduring because he was somebody people loved; he liked being with people. He was forever stopping in the street, talking to people. He was very tolerant and generous."Marion believes Delderfield's biggest selling point was that he wrote stories that described England as it used to be."Like the Westcountry still is, in parts," she said."He loved the beauty of nature and he was very patriotic. He loved being an Englishman."Researching Delder-field's life started with advertisements in RAF magazines and then local newspapers.The experience of staying in an RAF boarding house inspired Delderfield to write one of the longest-running war-time comedies, Worm's Eye View. He is said to have penned the play in just a few minutes during a journey on a crowded bus.After attracting a good number of responses, Marion checked into a hotel in Exmouth and threw a dinner party for all those who'd come forward.Among the guests were the late Geoffrey Woodhead and his wife, Carol, of Honiton.The antique dealer had a close association with the Delderfields, helping Ron's wife, May, with hints and tips when she ran her own antique shop in Newton Poppleford.Later, Mr Woodhead was put in charge of the Delderfields' adopted son, Paul, who had an antique bookshop elsewhere in East Devon.By the 1960s, Delderfield was probably the most popular holiday fiction author in Britain but, after taking four years to write A Horseman Riding By, he described himself as "punch drunk on that book". He told his publisher, Robin Dennison, if nothing came of the work he would have to return to journalism. He indicated he was making enquiries to find regular work.The book was a success and further triumphs were to follow.His Swann Saga saw him celebrated as 'a great'.Life Magazine wrote: "He is building an imposing artistic social history that promises to join those of his great forebears in the long, noble line of the English novel."Before the third volume of the saga was published, Ron Delderfield died at his home in Manor Road, Sidmouth. He was 60 and had been battling lung cancer.The vicar of Sidmouth went on to describe Delderfield as "a genius".Actor Walter Hudd may have helped him to greatness when he advised him: "Write about what you are... Use your work as a reporter to observe everything with the eyes of a writer, making mental notes of even the most unimportant-looking news item, and consider everyone you come in contact with worthy of at least one good story. It will sharpen your memory and develop your skill of mental photography."Marion's biography goes beyond Delderfield as a writer, it charts the highs and lows of his personal life, including family tragedies.Despite his success, Delderfield was never a very rich man. He was what he always aspired to be - simply a good writer and, importantly, an Englishman.RF Delderfield, Butterfly Moments is published by Cashmere Publishing and is on sale at Tourist Information Centres in Honiton and Ottery St Mary, The Curious Otter bookshop in Ottery St Mary and from Amazon and Waterstone's (ISBN 978 0 9557932 0 2).

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