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Kent: Darling Buds of May by HE Bates 60th anniversary - a perfick celebration


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Author HE Bates captured Kent in all its perfick, rural glory. As as The Darling Buds of May marks its 60th anniversary we step into the world of Ma and Pa Larkin...

The raucous and loveable Larkins summed up a Kentish dream of long summer days, fun and fabulous family life, all set in rolling Kent countryside.

It may be 60 years since author HE Bates published his book, The Darling Buds of May, but their appeal has endured, with his novels featuring Ma and Pa Larkin and their rural family life selling almost a million copies in paperback to date.

Pam Ferris and Sir David Jason in The Darling Buds of May series. Picture: ITV
Pam Ferris and Sir David Jason in The Darling Buds of May series. Picture: ITV

Also made famous by the early 90s TV series which featured David Jason, Kent's Pam Ferris and Catherine Zeta Jones which was filmed in Pluckley, Bates' series included four other books of the Larkins' lives - A Breath of French Air, When The Green Woods Laugh, A Little of What You Fancy and Oh! To Be in England.

HE Bates started out as a journalist before publishing his first book, The Two Sisters, at 20. In the next 15 years he acquired a reputation for his stories about English country life. He and his wife Madge moved to Little Chart and bought an old granary and an acre of garden.

To mark the 60th anniversary of his series being first published, Penguin, with artist, Becky Bettesworth, have re-released the books, featuring new artwork of vibrant and evocative colours for their covers. Becky drew inspiration from classic railway posters of the 1930s for the new covers with a modern twist on the stories of past times.

Catherine Zeta Jones in The Darling Buds of May series. Picture: ITV
Catherine Zeta Jones in The Darling Buds of May series. Picture: ITV

Bates' granddaughter, Victoria Wicks - who played Sally Smedley in Drop the Dead Donkey and Harriet Lawes in Skins - said: "We called HE Pops. He was known as HE, but that was what we called him. When I look back I think the time we spent at my grandparents' was the happiest time of my life. It was all very relaxed and their garden was lovely. It was a very happy period in their lives too. I was born a year after the first book was published but I know it made him very happy to write and I'm told you could hear him laughing from his studio as he sat and wrote."

"He loved his characters. I think the books are popular because as he himself said they live exactly as we would like to live if we weren't so inhibited. They are always happy and they have the countryside around them. It is a lovely picture. It is real life but supposed to be fun. It was everything you dream of."

THE STORIES

The Darling Buds of May: The Larkins return home from an outing one May evening to discover a visitor: Cedric Charlton, Her Majesty’s inspector of taxes. Mr Charlton is visiting to find out why junk dealer Pop hasn’t paid his taxes... but before long the family have introduced the uncomplaining inspector to the delights of country living.

A Breath of French Air: It’s the end of a rainy English August and the Larkins decide to abondon the English countryside for a sunny spot across the channel. But France proves less than welcoming - the tea’s weak, the furniture breakable and when the hotel manager learns that Ma and Pop are unmarried the trouble really begins.

HE Bates The Darling Buds of May
HE Bates The Darling Buds of May

When The Green Woods Laugh: Pop Larkin manages to sell a nearby crumbling country home to city dwellers Mr and Mrs Jerebohm for a pretty bundle of notes. Now he can build his daughter the pool she’s long been nagging him for. But the Jerebohm’s aren’t quite so accepting of country ways.

Oh! To Be in England: With the delivery of a letter announcing the imminent arrival of Madame DuPont, Ma and Pop start planning little Oscar’s and Blenheim’s christenings. In fact, once Mr Candy – who will be officiating – learns that Ma and Pop have neglected to baptise any of the Larkin brood the entire family seems set for a dunking!

A Little of What You Fancy: After a mild heart attack – caused by a little self indulgence – Pop Larkin finds himself off the booze, good food and the good life generally, much to his own and everyone else’s horror and upset.

The four re-released books for the anniversary are published by Penguin, and cost £8.99 in paperback.

Artist Becky Bettesworth who has designed new covers for the HE Bates Collection Picture: Mark Frost
Artist Becky Bettesworth who has designed new covers for the HE Bates Collection Picture: Mark Frost
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