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RF Delderfield

Ronald Frederick Delderfield was a popular English novelist and dramatist, many of whose works have been adapted for television and are still widely read.  Born in London in 1912, Delderfield moved with his family to South Devon in 1923, when his father, William James Delderfield, became editor of the Exmouth Chronicle.  Ronald attended West Buckland School (1926-1928), before completing a business course at Fulford's Business College in Exeter.  In 1929 he joined the staff of the Exmouth Chronicle, and later assumed its editorship from his father.  His brother, Eric, was also a successful author, with many publications on West Country themes to his name.  Ronald's first play, Spark in Judea, was produced in London in 1936 and this marked the beginning of a prolific and successful writing career.  Following service in the RAF during World War II, he resumed his literary career, while also running an antiques business near Budleigh Salterton.  The latter business was, he said: "so that I keep in touch with ordinary types of people - my public."

Ronald continued writing plays until 1956, when he decided to disengage from the theatre and pursue a career as a novelist.  His first novel, Seven Men of Gascony, was published in 1949.  The first novel of his new career, The Adventures of Ben Gunn (1956), was a prequel to Treasure Island, and this was followed by popular historical sagas, largely on Napoleonic themes, and family sagas, mainly set in the war and inter-war years in his native South London and his adopted Devon.  These include God Is an Englishman (1970), Theirs Was the Kingdom (1971), and Give Us This Day (1973), a trilogy.  The novels are concerned with the portrayal 'ordinary, decent folk', striving to 'get on' and become a success, whilst remaining true to themselves and their values.  These values include patriotism, decency, integrity, thrift, industriousness, success gained through service and hard work.  The novels, now described as 'old fashioned', celebrate English history, humanity, and liberalism while demonstrating little patience with entrenched class differences and snobbery.  Delderfield has been criticised for his conventional views of women's social roles, as he himself pointed out in his 1972 autobiography, For My Own Amusement.

His national reputation was secured after his death by the televisation of two of his best known novels, A Horseman Riding By (published in 1966 and televised in 1978) and To Serve Them All My Days (published in 1972 and televised in 1980).  These were set on the edge of Exmoor and the latter was based on Delderfield's schooldays at West Buckland, which became the 'Bamfylde School' of the novel.  That novel examines the changes in private education and the development of the Labour political movement between the world wars.  The school emerges as a symbol of many things: continuity, tradition, Englishness, etc.  It was established as a school for farmer's boys, and tries to retain a tradition of liberal education and character building.  Delderfield later became a governor of West Buckland School and compiled a book entitled Tales out of School: An Anthology of West Buckland Reminiscences 1895-1963.  In his autobiography Bird's Eye View (1954), he described looking back on the school with 'genuine pleasure'.  His own journey as a school boy to West Buckland, by train from Exeter via Dulverton, is undertaken on the opening pages by the shell-shocked school master, David Powlett-Jones.  Delderfield has Powlett-Jones take his degree through the University College of the South West, which later became the University of Exeter.  Several of his novels involve young men like Powlett-Jones, who return from war.  In the A Horseman Riding By trilogy, Paul Craddock, also an ex-soldier, becomes a rural landlord in the early 20th century.  The books delve deeply into social history of North Devon from the Edwardian era through to the early 1960's.

Fifteen of Delderfield's plays and novels have become films or TV series.  His novel The Bull Boys was inspiration behind the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant.  He died of cancer at his home in Sidmouth in 1972, aged 60.