Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)MS31
TitlePapers of Henry Reed
Extent4 boxes (comprising 11 volumes, 8 files and 269 items)
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DescriptionLiterary and personal papers of Henry Reed (1914-1986), poet, critic, playwright, radio dramatist, translator and journalist. Comprises manuscripts of published poems and plays; manuscripts of unpublished poems and translations; copies of published articles and reviews; and personal correspondence, largely written by Henry Reed and addressed to family members and close friends. Included in the collection is material related to some of his best known works including the play 'Moby Dick'; two biographical plays charting the life of the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, 'The Unblest' and 'The Monument'; and the seventh and last play in his Hilda Tablet radio series, 'Musique Discrete'. There is also some fragmented material in various stages of drafting which were neither completed nor published. The bulk of the collection consists of Reed's poetry and personal letters.

The papers offer details regarding the life and work of Reed from the 1930s until his death in 1986. Poems and letters written during the early 1940s provide a rich insight in Reed's views and attitudes towards the Second World War; and letters written during the 1940s to Reed's then partner, Michael Ramsbotham, provide examples of correspondence written at a time when homosexuality in Britain was illegal.

Material covers 1930 to 1987, with the exception of a CD listening copy of an audio recording. The listening copy was produced during 2016.
NotesTitle supplied from contents of the series.
ArrangementThe papers have been arranged into three series: literary works, correspondence, and miscellaneous items.
Access ConditionsAccess to all registered researchers.
Finding AidsA catalogue of this collection is available on the online archive catalogue. Click on the Finding Number to display the summary contents list of the catalogue and to view the full catalogue. A paper copy of this catalogue is also available for consultation at Special Collections.
Access StatusOpen
Administrative HistoryHenry Reed was born in Erdington, Birmingham on 22 February 1914, the son of Henry Reed and Mary Ann Ball. He was educated at King Edward's Grammar School, Aston and then at the University of Birmingham. Whilst at university, Reed became one of a circle of writers and artists which included W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Walter Allen. He graduated from the University of Birmingham with a first class honours degree in Language and Literature in 1934 and gained an MA in 1936 with an acclaimed thesis on Thomas Hardy. Reed initially became a freelance journalist and had only just taken up a teaching post, at King Edward VI Grammar School in Aston, when he was called up into the army in 1941. He was conscripted into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps but a combination of Reed's linguistic abilities and ill health (he suffered a serious bout of pneumonia) secured his transfer to Naval Intelligence in the Code and Cypher School at Bletchley during 1942. Here he spent the rest of the war. During the 1940s Reed was involved in a homosexual relationship with Michael Ramsbotham (1919-2016), a writer five years younger than himself. The couple parted in 1950 but appear to have remained on friendly terms after this. Like Reed, Ramsbotham had worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, as a Naval Liaison Officer working on Italian signals.

During the war years, Reed continued to write and publish verse, largely in 'The Listener' and 'New Writing', and his earliest poems included 'Chard Whitlow' (published in a 'New Statesman' competition in 1941) and 'Naming of Parts', a poem which was inspired by the war. He was also one of the New Statesman's fiction reviewers. Collections of his poetry were subsequently published under the titles 'A Map of Verona' (1946) and 'The Lessons of the War' (1970). After the war Reed worked for the BBC as a radio broadcaster and playwright. In 1946 he wrote his first work at the instigation of Edward Sackville-West: a radio dramatic version of 'Moby Dick' in prose and verse, based on Herman Melville's 1851 novel. This was produced with a cast which included Ralph Richardson, Cyril Cusack and Bernard Miles and was awarded the Premio della Radio Italiana. The text of this was published in 1947 and other collections of his radio plays were published in 1971 under the titles 'The Streets of Pompeii and other plays for radio' and 'Hilda Tablet and Others'. Arguably his most successful radio productions were the Hilda Tablet series of the 1950s.

Reed also published numerous translations of Italian and French novels and plays which included works of Giacomo Leopardi, Ugo Betti and Balzac. His translation work included: 'Honore de Balzac, Eugenie Grandet. A new translation by Henry Reed' (New York, 1964); 'Ugo Betti, [L'Aiuola bruciata] The Burnt Flower Bed. A play in three acts. Translated by Henry Reed' (London, 1957); 'Ugo Betti, [La Regina e gli insorti] The Queen and the Rebels. A play in two acts. Translated by Henry Reed' (London, 1957); 'Ugo Betti, [Il Paese delle vacanza] Summertime. An idyll in three acts. Translated by Henry Reed' (London, 1957); 'Ugo Betti, [Delitto all'Isola delle Capre] Crime on Goat Island. A play in three acts. Translated by Henry Reed' (London, 1960); 'Dino Buzzati, [Il Grande ritratto] Larger than Life. Translated by Henry Reed' (London, 1962); 'Paride Rombi, [Perdu] Perdu and his Father. Translated by Henry Reed' (London, 1954).

Reed's only literary criticism in book form was published as a British Council pamphlet under the title 'The Novel since 1939' in 1947 - see MS31/1/4/3. He also held various short term academic appointments at the University of Washington, Seattle in the 1960s: Visiting Professor of Poetry, 1964; Assistant Professor of English, 1965-66; and Visiting Professor of Poetry, 1967. He published little in later life and a biography of Thomas Hardy, which he began after the Second World War, was never finished.

After a long period of ill health, Henry Reed died on 8 December 1986.

Sources: papers of Henry Reed; Jon Stallworthy (ed), 'Henry Reed: Collected Poems', Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2007; Research Libraries Bulletin, Number 6, University of Birmingham, Autumn 1998; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website ( viewed 8 October 2010; Critical and biographical information presented on Henry Reed website ( viewed 19 October 2010
AcquisitionThis collection was purchased in two separate lots from Michael Ramsbotham [Henry Reed's former partner] and Jane Reed [Reed's niece] in 1992.
Archival NotePapers arranged and described by Mark Eccleston, September-October 2010.
Related MaterialFull catalogues of the following collections relating to Henry Reed are available for:

MS2: the papers of Walter Allen, a contemporary of Henry Reed during their time at the University of Birmingham in the 1930s;
MS31: papers of Henry Reed;
MS61: papers of, and collected by, John Phillips which relate to Henry Reed;
MS672: letters addressed to Ed and Sharon Leimbacher from Henry Reed;
MS902: a DVD listening and viewing copy of the reminiscences of Michael Ramsbotham, produced in June 2016;
MS969: papers of Alan Michell relating to Henry Reed.

A copy of Jon Stallworthy's book, 'Henry Reed: Collected Poems', Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2007 (shelfmark: r PR 6035.E3). A review of the collection can be found in the Special Collections department's publication 'Research Libraries Bulletin', Number 6, Autumn 1998.

The Shakespeare Institute library holds 'Hilda Tablet and others: four pieces for radio' by Henry Reed, London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1991 (shelfmark: PR 6035.E4).
Associated MaterialsBBC Written Archives Centre, Archon Code: 898 (business correspondence relating to his work for BBC radio, scripts for broadcast and recordings of plays)
Other isolated material relating to Henry Reed can be found on the University of Reading's Location Register:


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