RAYNER HEPPENSTALL (1911-1981) Novelist, Poet, Critic, BBC Producer and Crime Historian
Rayner was born in Lockwood, Huddersfield in 1911 and christened John Rayner Heppenstall. His middle name was his motherís maiden name and when he was older he preferred to be known just as Rayner Heppenstall. He attended a local primary school in Lockwood and had just nicely moved to Huddersfield College on a scholarship when his father Edgar got a job as manager of the Coop drapery department in Guisborough, North Yorkshire. The family lived in Guisborough for a couple of years during which time Rayner attended Guisborough Grammar School. They came back to live in Lockwood in 1925 and Rayner finished off his secondary education at Huddersfield College. He went to Leeds University to study Modern Languages in 1929, living at home and travelling by train every day, except for a semester spent at Strasbourg University. Rayner was an accomplished musician and won the original music prize for a choral setting of a Swinburne poem in 1931 at the Mrs Sunderland competition in Huddersfield. He graduated BA in 1932 and stayed on the following year to do a Diploma of Education.
Two terms in a secondary school in Dagenham showed him he was not really cut out for teaching and so at the end of 1934 he moved into London to start a career as a freelance writer and critic. His friends during this period included the writers Michael Innes, George Orwell and Dylan Thomas, the critic Myddleton Murray and the sculptor Eric Gill. He met his future wife Margaret Edwards at a literary gathering in 1936 and they married in her hometown of Newport, Monmouthshire in 1937. Most of his published poetry was written during this period (Patina, First Poems, Sebastian, Blind Menís Flowers are Green, Poems 1933-45). His first novel The Blaze of Noon appeared in 1939 but was not a great success perhaps because its publication coincided with of the outbreak of war. Much later, in 1967, this book won him the Arts Council Prize for a novel deemed not to have received appropriate acclaim when first published.
During WW2 he was called up for army service in 1940 and spent the next five years in Yorkshire and Northern Ireland, firstly in the Royal Artillery and then in the Royal Army Pay Corps. After leaving the army in 1945 he joined the BBC as a features writer and drama producer, working mainly for the Third Programme (now known as Radio 3) and he remained with them for the next 22 years. During this time he and Margaret lived with their son and daughter in Hampstead and then Notting Hill Gate. Whilst at the BBC he wrote and published novels (Saturnine, The Lesser Infortune,The Greater Infortune, The Woodshed, The Connecting Door), memoirs (Four Absentees, The Intellectual Part) and criticism (Leon Bloy, The Fourfold Tradition, Raymond Roussel)
Rayner became a freelance writer again in 1967 and remained so for the rest of his life, moving with his wife in 1974 to live in Deal, Kent. He translated from the French Rousselís Impressions of Africa, Balzacís A Harlot High and Low, and Floriotís When Justice Falters. He wrote three more novels (The Shearers, Two Moons, The Pier), a further volume of memoirs (Portrait of the Artist as a Professional Man) and developed an interest in criminal history (A Little Pattern of French Crime, French Crime in the Romantic age, Bluebeard and After, The Sex War and Others, Reflections on the Newgate Calendar, Tales from the Newgate Calendar). He suffered a stroke whilst at his typewriter in May 1981 and died in Deal Hospital six days later.
For many years before his death he had kept a journal. These writings were edited by Jonathon Goodman and published as The Master Eccentric in 1986. Rayner Heppenstallís manuscripts are stored in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.
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