Laurie Lee

Laurie Lee (1914-1997)

If you can travel, like Laurie Lee, with a tent, a change of clothes, a blanket and a violin or, like some modern travellers, with only a day pack, you will indeed be free.

"Nobody but nobody can write like Laurie Lee". Born in Gloucestershire in 1914, Lee grew up in the smal village of Slad in a world that had not changes for hundreds of years. His was the last generation to experience this way of life and we are so very lucky to have in Lee a writer who has an almost unique gift of being able to paint those times in our imagination.

Lee is probably best-known for his autobiographical trilogy CIDER WITH ROSIE (1959) which describes his upbringing in the country, AS I WALKED OUT ONE MIDSUMMER MORNING (1969) which takes you with him to London and then across Spain, and A MOMENT OF WAR (1991) - a colder work that describes his experiences of the Spanish Civil war.

"Here we lived and fed in a family fug, not minding the little space, trod on each other like birds in a hole, elbowed our ways without spite, all talking at once or silent at once, or crying against each other, but never I think feeling overcrowded, being as separate as notes in a scale." (from Cider with Rose)
In the Gloucestershire countryside, life had followed its traditional course for centuries. Families were often large, they lived in overcrowded cottages; there were no modern conveniences and it was accepted as a normal pattern of life and death that many children died young. Lee was educated at the village school in Slad, which in later years he bought and lived in, and at Stroud Central School.

In his teens Lee had already began to write poetry having met two sisters who encouraged him - both in his writing and in more passionate ways!

At just twenty, Lee left his family in Slad for London, and worked for a year as a builder's labourer. He then sailed to Europe and spent four years travelling in Spain and the eastern Mediterranean.

In 1950 he married the beautiful Catherine Francesca Polge from Povence and they had one daughter.

With A ROSE FOR WINTER (1955) Lee started his autobiographical production. It recounts Lee's trip to Spain fifteen years after his original visit, finding a country ravaged by war, but where people still enjoyed bullfights and he could earn his living by playing his violin.

CIDER WITH ROSIE with Rosie (1959) is a series of sketches on his childhood in the Gloucestershire village Slad. Among the many events in his early life, he recounts how he learns to play the violin, when his sister Frances dies, and he has his first early, tentative sexual experiences at the age of 10-11 with Jo, and later with Rosie Burdock, with whom he drinks cider under a hay wagon, and is never the same again. Rosie's identity was kept secret for 25 years, but is now revealed as Rose Buckland, Lee's cousin by marriage.

In an interview the Lee said of Cider "It is not so much about me as about the world that I observed from my earliest years. It was a world that I wanted to record because it was such a miracle visitation to me. I wanted to communicate what I had seen, so that others could see it." (Laurie Lee in The New York Times, February 24, 1985)

Cider With Rosie has sold more than six million copies and remains a pure delight. Do read it if you haven't

'It's cider,' she said. 'You ain't to drink it though. Not much of it, any rate.' Huge and squat, the jar lay on the grass like an unexploded bomb. We lifted it up, unscrewed the stopper, and smelt the whiff of fermented apples. I held the jar to my mouth and rolled my eyes sideways, like a beast at a water-hole. 'Go on,' said Rosie. I took a deep breath ... Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie's burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again ... Cider with Rosie, 1959

AS I WALKED OUT ONE MIDSOMERS MORNING tells of Lee's first trip to Spain in 1936 and his walk across the country from Vigo to Granada. The work is supremely descriptive and you cannot fail to be transported to the sights, sounds and smells of a Spain now left behind.

TWO WOMEN (1983) was a story of Lee's courtship of his wife Cathy, and the birth and growth of their daughter Jessy.

A MOMENT OF WAR told of Lee's walk over the Pyrenees into Spain to fight in the International Brigades in 1937. Before joining the colorful company of volunteers from Russia, France, the United States, England, and other countries, he was arrested as a spy and imprisoned for some time. Although there have been claims over the accuracy of the book, like all true art it paints a picuure from the imagination of the artist.

Laurie Lee died on May 14, 1997 in his beloved Slad. I have been there, seen his final home and the house where he grew up. I never met him but only because I missed his book signing by 10 minutes because of traffic. I just wish I had left 15 minutes earlier but then life is full of such minor yet terrible regrets.

For further information: Cider With Laurie: Laurie Lee Remembered by Barbara Hooper (2000); Laurie Lee: The Well-Loved Stranger by Valerie Grove (1999); Contemporary Popular Writers, ed. by David Mote (1997); The Reader's Companion to Twentieth Century Writers, ed. by Peter Parker (1995); Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee by Jon Andrews and Timothy Clark (1991); Brodie's Notes on Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie by Kenneth Hardacre (1986). There are a few recordings of Lee reading from his books in his amazing Gloucestershire accent, but they are not easy to get hold of now.

Selected Works

  • THE DEAD VILLAGE (translation) by Avigdor Dagan, 1943

  • LAND AT WAR, 1945

  • CYPRUS IS AN ISLAND, 1946 (screenplay)


  • A TALE IN A TEACUP, 1947 (screenplay)

  • WE MADE A FILM IN CYPRUS, 1947 (with R. Keene)

  • PEASANT'S PRIEST, 1948 (play)


  • ed.: NEW POEMS 1954, 1954 (with C. Hassall, R. Warner)



  • CIDER WITH ROSIE, 1959 (as The Edge of Day in 1960 in the U.S.) 1971 Cider with Rosie, dir. by Claude Whatman (one of the BBC's first all-film dramas); television film 1998 (UK), dir. by Charles Beeson, starring Juliet Stevenson, Joe Roberts, Dashiell Reece, David Troughton - a film that managed to completely miss the magic of the book and seemed to be the work of accountants. A great shame.

  • POEMS, 1960 recording: LAURIE LEE READING HIS OWN POEMS, 1960 (with Christopher Logue)



  • AS I WALKED OUT ONE MIDSUMMER MORNING, 1969. Also the subject of a TV film. But given the descriptive power of the book, why does one need a film? A brave attempt with a good cast but poorly photographed with no atmosphere.

  • PERGAMON POETS 10, 1970 (with C. Causley. ed. by E. Owen)

  • I CAN'T STAY LONG, 1976


  • TWO WOMEN, 1983


  • Serendipity of the Alphabet