Beginnings and a little more
A “son of the manse” (Baptist not Presbyterian), born in the middle of the second world war, my parents were from South Wales. This background prepared me for a life of low living and high thinking as a British humanities academic. My first consciousness of the world began in the old Victorian industrial north of England, in Bradford in Yorkshire where the dwindling members of my father’s congregation used powerful hearing aids because they had been deafened by the noise of the old woollen mills with many machines driven from a single shaft. In the great snow of 1947, we wore our outside clothes indoors and my father carried me to school on his shoulders. The next place was the Old Basford slum area of Nottingham, perhaps with its shades of D.H. Lawrence.
After that, by a kind of North and South flip, was the North Wiltshire market town of Chippenham, just touching the edge of the South Cotswolds, and with the famous spa town of Bath within easy cycling distance. I have retained a love of the Wiltshire landscape, the small farmland of North West Wiltshire with its unbroken history of outstanding domestic architecture, and of South Wiltshire with its downland and trout-stream valleys, its tucked away villages, not to mention the megalithic sites, ever since. One grew up with a strong sense of ancient and modern history. Late primary, junior, and grammar school education all took place in Chippenham, a town which now serves London commuters but was then a sleepy market town with its incongruous American Art Deco Westinghouse brake and signals factory serving Brunel’s old Great Western Railway, dominating employment.
Yet Chippenham retained centuries-old connections with the countryside where the cattle were still driven down the town’s high street to the market at its centre. There wasn’t much to do except read and take one’s ‘ Observer’ guides into the fields and woodlands. In terms of education my happiest memory is of two teachers of music, Kenneth Broune at the grammar school who inspired a life-time love of classical music, and John Tomlins who used to give me organ lessons at the parish church of St Mary’s, the old wool church, and the older of the two Anglican churches in the town. Apart from that, all life revolved around a small-town Baptist congregation. My junior school, Ivy Lane, was exceptionally good, but it was decades later that I discovered that it had been taught in by Robin Tanner, one of the greatest English twentieth-century etchers.
On leaving school it was the religious background which doubtless prompted me to join up with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in just the second year of its existence. I was posted, at the age of eighteen, to what was then called the Mid-West of Nigeria. With a place secured to read English at King’s College, London, I went and taught English, History and an awful lot of Latin at the Isoko James Welch Grammar School at Emevor (it still exists) some forty miles from the city of Warri, in the last year of the British Empire in Nigeria. The political contradictions of such a moment I still think are just outweighed by the astonishing nature of the experience itself. It confirmed my vocation as a teacher, opened my eyes to a radically different culture and made links and friends at a visceral level with a people, themselves in profound cultural revolution.
The rest of the career is more conventional. Three degrees at King’s College, the inspiring teaching of Eric Mottram, the English Poetry Revival with its links to American modernist poets many of whom I met. I have given many tapes of poets I recorded in the subsequent decades to Warwick University. The University has digitalized a number of the tapes amd they are housed in the Clive Bush Audio Archivein the library, now available online. From 1966 onwards I helped pioneer American Literature, American Studies, and Film Studies at the new University of Warwick, finally returning to King’s College in 1992, becoming chair of the English department, then retiring early to write my last monograph,The Century’s Midnight. Much of my research life has been conducted in the wonderful libraries of Yale University.
One other strand needs noting. In a busy life I have managed to continue to play the piano to a reasonable amateur level. My teachers have included William Westney (whose book “The Perfect Wrong Note” every pianist should read) Diana Richardson, Ray Alston, and currently Clare Clements.