Ronald Blythe discusses the village of Akenfield ; part 1
BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 00:38:46
Ninety five miles outside of London, Ronald Blythe has interviewed residents of the village of Akenfield for his next book, "Akenfield: A Portrait of an English Village." Blythe said what surprised him most of all was that newspapers and TV didn't have much effect on this little village. Blythe also learned that the village people would take part in political conversations with one another but they'd never let on as to which political party they were apart of.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Another one of the London conversations, this time with the writer Ronald Blythe, who's working on a rather unusual project, part of a series, discovering the area in which he has lived all his life, about 100 miles out of London, the area of Suffolk. He's doing a book using the tape recorder talking to many people whom he's known for many years, and making what is to him astonishing discoveries and ultimately about himself, too. At this moment he's somewhere in the middle of his project. Perhaps we could open with Mr. Blythe reading some of the -- how shall I put it? Fragments of the transcripts of some of his conversations and he's reading one now, an old man is talking to him. Mr. Blythe is reading.
Ronald Blythe I started digging graves when I was 12 years old, and before I left school I began by helping an old man, and by the time I was 13 I could do the job as well as I can now. I dug graves before my voice broke. Then people would look down into the hole and see a child. The work didn't upset me. I took it in my stride. Right from little boy. If mother was alive, she'd be able to tell you. I used to bury guinea pigs, rabbits, all sorts of things. I had about 50 rabbits and when one died, I would make a coffin for it, get my choir surplice from the vestry and read the burial service over it. So burying has been in my blood from a child. I never wanted to do anything else. Graves are my vocation. I've been at the church official-like since 1918. I was the legal sexton when I was 13, and I buried damn near the whole of the old village, every one of them. I remember the first grave I dug. It was for a man named Haymon. I've got all my burials done since the day I started. Men, women and children.
Studs Terkel Ronald Blythe reading what seems to be the insights, a very fascinating character, a fascinating man living in a community, a grave digger. Mr. Blythe is a young British writer who's written fiction, short stories, anthologized literature of World War Two, Jane Addams. Is now working on this remarkable project, the thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the visions of people, the non-celebrated people of all communities just as Jan Myrdal's "Report from a Chinese Village" in a sense reflects one community somewhere in the world, "Division Street: America" another, Jose Yglesias' work in Cuba another; a young German writer, Jager [sic - Jurgen] Neven-DuMont, a West German town, Sir Ronald Blythe, an English town, report from an English village. We hear about this grave digger whom you read and whose, whose whole life seems to be entwined with his work, his whole psyche. You yourself, this village that you, that you you're writing about, working with your tape recorder, is one that you know?
Ronald Blythe Yes, I know it very well indeed. I've seen it most of my life and yet I haven't seen it. I suppose that's the whole point of the matter. One lives in a place, one says hello to people, knows them by name, but doesn't really sort of get to any depth with them possibly out of his English politeness, I suppose. You don't ask any questions, you accept them for what they are. It's not until you have talked with them for a book like this that you begin to really understand them, I think. I think they've been the victims of a double agricultural revolution, a great Depression. Men over 50 can remember sort of starving in the '30s, but their sons have got cars and they're comfortable and they're better educated. The whole thing is completely changed. And then you've got the older people, I mean really old men, 70, who inherited a kind of farming tradition which is almost medieval. They were born into a land mostly of horses. It was the great horse country. Every farm had these great Suffolk punches, they were called. These horsemen had mysterious skills and in the village now you get a large proportion of men whose skills are no longer wanted. These are very frustrated and unhappy bewildered sort of men. They worked most of their lives for almost no money at all. And now not even their skills are required because of the factory farming.
Studs Terkel The village itself you describe is about, oh, roughly about a hundred miles away from London.
Ronald Blythe Yes, it's about 95 miles away from London. Yes. It's built I suppose half of it is medieval still. Those are the great timber-framed houses. I live in one similar to this. My house is about five hundred years old.
Studs Terkel Now this village that you are investigating, inquiring about, is one that you know very well. The people know you and your family quite well,
Ronald Blythe Yes, they know us very well indeed. Yes. The thing about village life of course or I suppose in every country particularly in England, you can't actually live in a village in any sense of complete withdrawal. People often think they can go to the country sort of just to be alone, but actually you're less lonely in the country in England than you are in a town. You actually enter a community. You needn't speak to everybody, but they'll all know what you're doing, who you are, and if you've lived there of course they'll know your family and background and sort of everything about you really. This can be a little difficult if you're so well-known to them to really talk to them intimately about -- so sorry -- about lives.
Studs Terkel This is what I'm curious about, you, Ronald Blythe, are not a stranger to the people of this community. In fact, your family known. Now this is the village 100 miles out of London, we're now talking about the last half of the 20th century. And you were describing so vividly before the kinds of people who are in the sense groping and lost. What are your experience been? You, you found your own discoveries of a village that you've known all your life. You've made discoveries now since you've begun this project,
Ronald Blythe I think one of the most extraordinary things I've noticed is how little the village generally is influenced by the new, had mass media of communications, by television, by newspapers and things like this. They for instance there's been in England ever since Pope John an enormous amount of journalism about religion, about the getting together of the churches and things like this. This hardly seems to touch the village people in any way. Their morals, I mean but their conventional kind of behavior in marriage and things like this again seems to be very little touched by all that journalism about the new permissive society and things like this.
Studs Terkel But isn't this, isn't this
Ronald Blythe The boys seem to be very discreet and ordinary. You don't -- very rarely hear about anything very extraordinary happening. Of course villages are also very secretive societies.
Studs Terkel Do they have television?
Ronald Blythe They have television. The young people don't watch television as much as the middle-aged people. They're fond of all the kind of -- they watch the news mostly, the young people, but the middle-aged people like the kind of serial programs
Studs Terkel How would you explain this this village 100 miles, 95 out of London being untouched? This is -- in view of mass media, in view of TV.
Ronald Blythe They have an extraordinary tradition which amazed me, the importance of work. They all work very hard. They don't seem to mind, the young people who boast about working 60 hours a week. They don't seem to want to rush away from their work tremendously, they don't seem to be anxious to get away a great deal. A number of young, very young in their early 20s, men I've spoken to, who run single-handed pig farms and things work as many as 70 hours a week and can never leave home for a whole night, because of the feeding and things like this, but they don't seem to see it as any kind of deprivation. And I think it is that they're so involved in doing all the time that they belong to dozens of societies. I made a note of them. I think in this village of 400 people, they belong to as many as 60 different societies of different kinds. Everything from gardening societies to silversmithing evening classes to amateur flying to motorbike clubs, fishing, natural history societies, art groups and things like this, they're immensely involved all the time, they're always doing things. They don't seem to be much connected with the movements that you get in towns to do with banning the bomb or politics. They're very vague about politics. The older people are very secretive about politics, because they were persecuted up until about 1940-45 for their political opinions.
Studs Terkel They were? In what
Ronald Blythe By the upper classes mostly. People who employed them wouldn't -- they would sack a man who had left-wing views or belonged to the Labor Party.
Studs Terkel So that the fear still hangs on.
Ronald Blythe The fear is very much present and I had a great difficulty. It's much harder really to talk to them about politics than it is about sex, and I will often have to sort of -- finally I had to go to the head of the Agricultural Workers Union who was in Ipswich, the branch person, to help me choose some people who could actually talk about being political forces in Suffolk village life, and he introduced me to one or two people, and it was really almost like talking to people in a kind of Iron Curtain country. They're very extraordinary, because it doesn't exist today. I mean, anyone does what they like, you see.
Ronald Blythe It's the most extraordinary thing. It's a very Tory place. The politics are there are very ill-defined. They haven't got in the mining areas in Wales, for instance, I mean it's -- they all go to their political clubs and talk about it every night. But here the publican told me you could be behind the bar the whole evening, and you could hear them talking about politics, but you'd never find out which party they belong to.
Studs Terkel Oh, really? So the talk is quite ambiguous.
Ronald Blythe It's very ambiguous near [more past masters?] at this kind of elusive -- yes, they're very subtle people indeed, yes.
Studs Terkel As protective covering. Well, this is a fascinating community you're writing about. As we ask you, do you feel that this community that you know so well but you're discovering, rediscovering now, do you feel this is representative of many such in England?
Ronald Blythe It's representative of East Anglia. The English are strictly divided between the Celts and the non-Celts, really. The Celtish element that's Cornwall and Wales and the west coast of Scotland is the imaginative element, these were the, supposed to be the part of the population which was driven west when the Romans and the raiders came in. These people often produce the poets and the singers and all that kind of thing
Ronald Blythe sinners. And singers.
Studs Terkel Oh,
Ronald Blythe Yes.
Studs Terkel Poets
Ronald Blythe Sinners, too. They're, but the -- the people we're concerned with, on this side, they're -- are all the strong, hardy, not very talkative people on the whole. A tough lot in their way.
Studs Terkel Yet what seems to be a recurring theme here is that they are active, they are not spectators so much as
Ronald Blythe No, no, they're extremely active. They're the most unwatching kind of people, this in a way I think is a weakness in them. They don't observe a great deal. They're doing all the time. You can point out something which is right in their midst which you've seen for ages and they'll look at it with a kind of wonder, they haven't quite seen it. It's very interesting.
Studs Terkel The young, you spoke of the young who are there, are -- in -- we hear in many communities, small communities, the rural young leave, go to the big city. Is this a
Ronald Blythe Yes, well there's been a drifting, there's been a great drift off the land. There's a drift away from agricultural work of 5 percent last year and they're very worried about this. But then the farmer's employing far fewer people, and the only people they really want are really rather intelligent young men. And once upon a time, only the sort of rather weak-minded simple folk were left behind in the villages to work these farms and on this level. But they don't want those people anymore. And so they really want these boys who had some proper training to use this expensive modern machinery and the newer kind of fertilizing methods
Studs Terkel So the machinery, the farm machinery then plays the role. Here's where technology comes into play
Ronald Blythe Yes. The tragedy so far as I see from interviewing the boys at the Agricultural Training Colleges is that the pay is so poor. Most of the boys love the work, and I talked to a young man the other day who was leaving to go into the police force. And although he loves being on his farm, he's 19, he's just become engaged, [his girl says?] [unintelligible]. The top farming wage in England at the moment is ten pounds twelve shillings. This is -- in any factory, he'd get 14 pounds, and in many factories and on building sites here you get 20 pounds a week. Although these boys work remarkably hard and are often in charge of valuable stock, and they're trying -- the union is trying to get it up to 14 pounds a week. But is this more than anything else which is driving them away from the land now. Once upon a time it was boredom because there were not amenities in the village to amuse them, but now they've all got cars, so they all go to the city, the city, I mean there's a big city, Ipswich, 100,000 people or more. Only 9 miles away, so they can go there you see to get entertainment in their cars. They don't feel locked up in
Studs Terkel So then Ipswich, about 100,000 then, is the center for social activity.
Ronald Blythe Yes.
Studs Terkel And they each have, and the young people have automobiles.
Ronald Blythe They have automobiles. They don't like Ipswich as much as all the little, little towns all the way around. Is it that they like going to dances, little, very small towns, the little market towns, they're charming, lots of them all the way around. Ipswich to them is a place to go to see things like wrestling or they love going to the cinema still, the boys. This is I thought it was something finished but this is a great treat, they're very great cinema goers.
Studs Terkel Well, how do you explain -- I know that you've been going about -- oh, first of all yourself. What was the first reaction to you? They know you, you are very familiar to them, first reaction when you went -- you used the tape recorder, didn't you?
Ronald Blythe Well, most of the people I've interviewed I don't know myself so well. I didn't -- I got introductions to them, I didn't sort of just go up to people in the road and say, "Can I have a talk with you?" I first of all analyzed all the people who lived in the village: how many farmers, how many pig farmers and chicken farmers, clergy, doctors, school mistresses, children and young people, and then I got a representative portion of all these people and got introductions to them and I told them frankly what I was doing, and I really got them on the go by asking me to -- asking them to describe their work to me. They obviously, most of them never been asked to talk about their work before and to put it into words. But after they got going, they were very interesting indeed. And then they would tell you all sorts of thing. They'd tell you a little bit of gossip, gossip. But generally speaking, they don't gossip to me. The older people extremely free. They have a kind of complete independence of people, and they will talk very sort of almost rashly about everything except about a few things which are of great importance to them and you begin to realize what these things are by a complete lack of reference to them. And sometimes I felt myself that I could hardly bear to sort of draw their attention to these aspects of their lives.
Studs Terkel What were some of these things?
Ronald Blythe I think a lot of the people over 50 some of the hardships they'd had, some of the indignities, indignities they suffered at the hands of their employers mostly. You have to also appreciate the fact that the employers were suffering too, but the people couldn't quite understand these were the farmers who were having -- this was, the farming Depression in England lasted between 1880 and 1939 when the war came, and we
Studs Terkel So a 60-year Depression.
Ronald Blythe It was fantastic. It began almost in a biblical way, with six years of rains of such fantastic and unusual strength that they sort of washed out the harvests. This coincided with our British Empire's first grain imports from Canada and the States and destroyed the market, and the village people in Norfolk and Suffolk almost starving. And the land which is some of the best land in England which now costs about 300 pounds an acre, couldn't be used at all and was used rather as the people do in Scotland still, for shooting over, so the great houses, shooting boxes are set up in this area by people like the Duke of Hamilton and the village people used as servants and as gamekeepers and all their farming skills weren't needed anymore. The fields are left to rot and just used for hunting. But this trickled on vaguely until the Second World War, when the [new?] need to grow as much as we could because of the U-boat scare and things like this, so it put farming on its feet and then immediately after the war, of course, we got this great boom with the new fertilizers and machinery and now of course it's the most flourishing field.
Studs Terkel What was the life, and I suppose as these elderly people, those who are 50 talking about this, here was something going on for 60 years almost
Studs Terkel All they knew was
Ronald Blythe That's all they knew. They lived in extreme hardship. The children, children often started work. The people who are still living in the village as children started work at the age of eight. As rook-scaring boys or as maids, with the girls, and some of them still can't read and write. They know a lot of wonderful things about farming which are of no use anymore, and so they feel a bit sort of cut off in this way, but they also know lots of old stories and folklore and things all to do with life, which again is completely been taken over by sort of mass entertainments which people don't need to tell stories anymore. The great center of the village was the pub in those days. A lot of drunkenness, a great deal of
Studs Terkel A lot of drunkenness, you say?
Ronald Blythe Yes. In the countryside. But not now. You very rarely see it.
Ronald Blythe It's because there's so much else to do. The young people hardly drink at all. They drink soft drinks if they do drink. They don't take drugs. It's much more sophisticated -- it's much more to do with towns. Between 16 and 18 every boy has to have a motorbike, and that's his kind of God. After that they have a little car and a girl. They're very fond of going to see things like wrestling at the stadiums at Felixstowe, and most of them like shooting. They're a great sort of people for going around with a gun.
Studs Terkel So it's active. It's an active physical life.
Ronald Blythe Oh, very active, yes.
Studs Terkel Active even in wrestling to watch?
Ronald Blythe Yes.
Studs Terkel Shooting.
Ronald Blythe They play a lot of football and
Studs Terkel Football.
Ronald Blythe Yes.
Studs Terkel The older people watch television.
Ronald Blythe The older people watch television a good deal. They're also all enormous gardeners. There's a kind of cult. It's absolutely madness. I've got a great deal about this kind of thing which I've analyzed rather, but it's a great pride. Not to do your garden is a sort of like abandoning your children. I mean, sort of, it's unheard of. This goes to all the classes. All the gardens are most beautifully kept up.
Studs Terkel What were the ac-- so I suppose in many case they've never been asked these questions before, let alone into a microphone.
Ronald Blythe No, they haven't. Not a bit. No.
Studs Terkel What were the reactions of the people?
Ronald Blythe I asked the questions indirectly on the whole. I actually conversation as I -- so I have a great deal of material which I can't use later on sort of thing, but it's the only way to get it. A straight question doesn't necessarily get a straight answer. For one thing, they are not used to sort of putting all these things into words, you see, this is the whole thing. So I really have long talks with them, and I often suppress the fact that I know a lot of, shall we say, about natural history or about these farming methods or about all sort of things, and the fact that I would like them to tell me about it, but I actually know certain things, but sometimes I'll tell them interesting facts which they haven't understood about their lives. For instance, most of them have very little knowledge about the famine. This great agricultural disaster which made their lives what they are now, you see, or what they were. They can't understand why the young people today are going, are getting all this money when they had 12 shillings a week and when they were starving. They can't relate it to the conditions. But now and again, you'll get a person, I got the most terrific, marvelous person who was one of the early organizers of the [aggregate?] cultural trades workers union, and also was at Gallipoli in the First World War. A man of 70 now, some of whose children are at the university, his grandchildren at the university. But he can hardly read and write. He was the most tremendous man, almost like somebody out of Hardy. I mean, I've got a thing from him which was tremendous. He spoke freely in the most tremendous way, told me everything about his whole life, all his little jobs at the beginning, about the cruelties practiced, and described a scene without any hesitancy at all. But most people, perhaps because they've never moved away, there are 19 families in this village who were there in the early 18th century. I traced them in the parish register, and they're probably earlier than that, you see. So you can see how little they've moved.
Studs Terkel So this is the opposite of the nomadic and the transient society. Here's a complete
Ronald Blythe There's been a drifting, but there's a group which stays all the time. In the middle of the famine, the young men ran away from the villages and got jobs on the railway. This is about 1900, this was in the great thing when the railways were steadier kind of work, but they were very miserable about this. They always longed to get home again. And I got one of these men to tell me how he used to work at Liverpool Street Station in London and think of Suffolk and finally walked all the way home
Studs Terkel So it's these -- when you ask them about their personal work and personal lives, they become, they open up. But when it's a general question, or rather the conversation they're in, but when the converse hit a general matter of the history of the community or of issues of labor and management, then there isn't much.
Ronald Blythe There's not much. They either can't, I think personally very few of them read anything. I was astonished by this, that they hardly read anything it all. I'll go to for instance a blacksmith's. There's a famous book in England called "The Wheelwright Shop". It's almost a classic of its kind, written in 1920. It's not hard to read, but the blacksmith had never heard of this book. Similarly with the farmers, you'll tell them about something which is very interesting, or even the schoolteacher, which is an extraordinary, this is the most splendid book here called "An Experiment in Education", about a wonderful woman called Sybil Marshall who opened a village school and did wonders with quite ordinary children. They haven't read this book. They didn't seem to read very much at all. And they're very impressed by people who've read
Studs Terkel Do the young people read?
Ronald Blythe No. Very little. They read an occasional kind of thriller or something, but on the whole they
Studs Terkel But their knowledge is of mechanical things.
Ronald Blythe They have enormous practical knowledge and of mechanical things, and of farming methods. They're very strong physically. They're quiet. They've got all, everybody's got absolutely tremendously good manners. It's a tremendous great thing. It's a very courteous society. If you're going into any of the houses, you're treated with
Studs Terkel The amenities are all observed. The amenities are observed. The younger then, a lot of them affected by what is called the Youth Revolution in other parts of the world, and
Ronald Blythe They seem quite unaffected by it. They wear certain of the modern clothes. The boys all wear jeans for farming and pullovers and things like that, but you'd -- but you don't see them in the extreme clothes. There's only one boy in the village who dresses up as a Mod, because all the English boys now have become dandies really in the towns, and it's quite a an attractive thing and it does not to be condemned at all as a kind of expression. But in the villages they are still very inhibited about what people think of them, and so they don't like to look exceptional in any way.
Studs Terkel On a theme of, when you talk to people, when the conversation goes in its work, also family life. You mentioned sex, is that subject ever come up or is that -- a wall?
Ronald Blythe I've got -- I occasionally will talk about their private lives and things like this. But on the whole this comes as a kind of natural thing not to talk about. I might say to a young man sort of about "Well, have you got a girlfriend yet?" and then he'll say something. Or two of them I once had to go and they had a kind of private conversation laughing between themselves when I had [barely?] worked out that one of the boys really was quite a boy with the girls, but it's no good trying to -- I get a certain, because I'm a novelist, I can sum up a good deal of them and there's one boy who's got a great reputation for sort of being quite a lover boy around the place. But generally speaking you don't get anywhere near this at all.
Studs Terkel The role of woman, woman and man, woman, is she -- is there a status of woman that is different perhaps?
Ronald Blythe The women? Yes. The women are great helpers. The men don't write. The women do all the writing in the house.
Ronald Blythe The women write the Christmas cards and write the letters and anything necessary like this. They -- they belong to the Women's Institute. They are fantastically good cooks usually. They have a fetish of cleanliness as women do most places nowadays. They're very charming indeed. (Beep)
Studs Terkel [Are they?] question Ronald Blythe, just chatting here with Ronald Blythe, who is working on part of a really very remarkable series indeed, and his is a report from an English village, one that he knows so well. Mr. Blythe has been a novelist, short story writer, anthologist, but this is his first venture with a tape recorder discovering his own people, indeed his own village. These women who are good housekeepers and all, the question of their social life with their men, their husbands. Do they accompany the men outside to the pubs, for example?
Ronald Blythe Well, the traditional thing is for the women to go to the pubs on Sunday night with their men. Nearly all English pubs these days have become very polite places. The country pubs have stopped being the usual little [and a beer?] houses they used to be and are very comfortable. They've got fitted carpets and central heating and it's the thing usually for the man to take his wife out on a Sunday night. But Saturday night isn't usually an all-male night or for girls. And it is the big night for going to the pubs. Everybody really goes to the pub on a Saturday night and they're packed, whereas they might be sort of half-empty most of the week. The village women do a lot of things on their own in their own groups really, they're on various committees. They wield a lot of power through the Women's Institutes, which are one of the most powerful institutions in this country. They can get almost anything done if the Women's Institute in the village said something's got to be done, like a road crossing or, it has to be done, that's the end of that. Incredibly powerful in this way, yes.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible].
Ronald Blythe The women seem to be quite unaffected in a way by sort of extravagance. You don't see them -- they seem to be always what they call tidy, which is their kind of way of describing things.
Studs Terkel What is, before we go further, what is the economic level of their -- various classes economically involved, what's the general economic state?
Ronald Blythe Do you mean how much a week?
Studs Terkel Yeah, are they, are they getting along? Today. What's their
Ronald Blythe Yes.
Studs Terkel What's -- how many are affluent, how many get along?
Ronald Blythe Most of them in the village are better off than they've ever been before. They don't have a great deal of money, but they've been used to living very simply, and so -- and they're not tempted by so many things as people have in towns, the thing they're tempted by most of all are cars, and most of them have acquired these by now, but their houses are usually very simple, and they don't seem to crave a lot of the modern fixtures. They have electricity, but lots of them haven't still got that even, they have oil lamps. The women might even shop on the village bus, not take the car. Their children are beautifully kept, the village children are very beautiful. They've never been like it. You see photographs of the village children at the schools in the '30s, they look skinny little children, you know, but now they're absolutely marvelous with a newer kind of milk and food and their clean hair and good teeth
Studs Terkel And here's a life, apparently a self-sufficient life community. Yet there is this world outside. We are in the middle of the last half of the 20th century, and you spoke of their -- the manner of talking around and about the subject of politics, they won't express their politics. Are they aware of things happening out, war, race, these various aspects of turmoil in the world today?
Ronald Blythe In a way they're not, I don't think. This is perhaps a rather sweeping thing to say. I think that the greatest thing which the new communications have brought to village life in this area and perhaps in most English is tolerance. Once upon a time, not long ago, I mean just before the war, the unusual was persecuted. Life was very restricted. Therefore, [for a girl?] who had an illegitimate child, for instance, it would be remembered against her for her whole life. Would be gossiped about, her life would be made be difficult. Village gossip is perhaps the most killings thing. It's quite ruthless. It's -- everyone indulges in it. And for those who are weak they can be ruined or destroyed by it. But I think perhaps the healthiest best thing which has happened is the fact that, that the world has become so much broader for them with television, with going about in their cars and things like this, that they don't need this kind of gossip to such a degree, and the sort of rather sophisticated plays they see, they're educated towards a new kind of tolerance. This is what I think has happened in a way, which is the best thing which I've seen. They know a lot about each other, but they're less cruel than they used to be
Studs Terkel On that subject of cruelty, you spoke of the young interested in the mechanical devices, automobiles, motorbikes and all, they have attitude toward the military? To war?
Ronald Blythe War to the young is boring and silly and connected rather with kind of old-fashioned ideas, and they don't like things or other nonsense, and the middle-class middle-aged people particularly make a great deal of Armistice Day, when there's a procession in the village church and banners are laid on the altar and a wreath is laid on the wall memorial and things like this. And this is a great thing. But the young themselves, who can't remember the war? To them this is nothing and it must die away eventually. The older people try and perpetuate the British Legion. It's kind of a military thing and find it difficult to get the young people to join. If asked about the great issues of the day like Vietnam, or for instance like the color question, the young reflect popular liberal trends, but without very much thinking about it on the whole. To West Indian boys, I mean children, 14 or so, picked fruit during the fruit-picking season and got on very well with all the youngsters in the village and perfectly happily. But when I was in the village shop and these boys came to buy some biscuits, the village shopkeeper, who isn't a Suffolk man, who's about 60 years old, when they had gone out, he said "We don't want people like that here." But this would have been an incredible thing for the ordinary young people in the village who would've
Ronald Blythe Yes,
Studs Terkel You spoke of a -- it's a place where retired army officers sometimes go,
Ronald Blythe Yes. There's a great social [kudos?] in East Anglia, it's a snobbish place to a degree, and a lot of people buy up the old cottages and small houses and make them the retired people from the forces and things like that. Every village has its general, its old admiral. There's an admiral one side of me and a general the other, both quite nice men, but the people who come to drift come adrift most are the people who had big administrative duties in the old colonies, and they retire and their lives perhaps been spent with outdated manners anyway, in sort of some of the African countries, and they come back to the village scene and they feel quite lost, and there's a lot of criticism of them and I've got a very intelligent sort of view of them from one of their -- themselves really, who said he wouldn't meet them anymore because all they did was entertain each other in their own gardens all the time, little tea parties and drinks parties, because they couldn't really face up to the life outside the gardens. The gardens themselves become a little paradise. They have iron gates which are locked, and they're behind them the whole time.
Studs Terkel [So they've made the?] discovery about [unintelligible].
Ronald Blythe Yes,
Studs Terkel But one of the -- before we went on the air you're talking about after the young toward the military who would like to organize the community.
Ronald Blythe Everybody who comes to the village who -- they have this great feeling that they must do something for the village, so they think they must get a social club up for the young, or they must hang to a recreation ground or get subscriptions for this and that and the other. The village on the whole is indifferent to all these things, because -- or get up concerts, that's one of their great things. They don't want all these old-fashioned things anymore. The young people don't want recreation grounds, because they'd much prefer to go around the rough fields with a gun. They don't want to have swings and things like this. They don't really want -- the boys don't do much things like dancing. They might go to a village dance once a year or something like that, but they don't really want a kind of regular thing, they can do what they like. They're completely independent with their new money and their transport, so that they don't want all these things going up for them, therefore the people feel frustrated who want to do these things, there's a great sort of difficulty really.
Studs Terkel Ronald, of all the new insights
Ronald Blythe -- An element of patronage in this.
Studs Terkel Patronage and then, but resented by the young, not accepted by the young
Ronald Blythe Yes, the middle-aged people will resent. They don't want to feel they're patronizing, but this is the fact they do want to
Studs Terkel Now, the unspoke -- before I ask you perhaps to read some more fragments from some of some of the people you've met like the grave-digger, deep down you seem to sense in the unanswered, in the unspoken word the sense of deep humiliation that many elderly people have felt in the past at the hands of those who have employed them or used them one way or another. This is an undercurrent, isn't it, without being spoken, isn't it?
Ronald Blythe Yes, it is really, on the whole. Yes. They have lost their power [over?] other people in a way. And the farmers, they haven't the power they had over the individual men because the boys who are good on a farm can go to any farm they like and get a job. You see,
Studs Terkel So there is a new sense perhaps that there is something outside.
Ronald Blythe Yes.
Studs Terkel They are not in thralldom.
Ronald Blythe No.
Studs Terkel As the elders [may?].
Ronald Blythe In spite of all this, every village still I've found this rather to my surprise, they're very chauvinistic about their villages. They -- the people who belong to this particular village, Akenfield, have a tremendous sense of belonging to this individual village and not to the next village, and will run down the next village, or will be rather sort of go over to one of their functions, but sort of feel rather happy when they get back to, and they have a kind of guilt, too, when they leave the village, and they feel it's where they belong.
Studs Terkel Sort
Ronald Blythe That's right, yes.
Studs Terkel You started we talk -- you read a bit of the grave-digger, this man. How did you -- you took us there, he, this man, and as you read a piece of his talk, that you transcribed, those -- you sensed this poetry, do you not, in ordinary people?
Ronald Blythe Yes, there's -- they haven't got the eloquence of the western country people, the people in Cornwall and Wales, but most of them are very unused to speaking a great deal, and they don't read at all, so their minds aren't -- their talk isn't changed by journalism. Therefore they speak with a kind of freshness. They don't use a lot of the ordinary cliches of what you might call educated or semi-educated towns people, but that they have in their lives a profound feeling for the land itself, and a kind of strength inside themselves which is -- which you feel when you're talking
Studs Terkel I noticed that you turned to a page and there's a man you call, it's a pseudonym I take it, Fred Mitchell, 85, horseman, would you mind reading a piece of this?