Memory Lane: Roy’s Fuller life

Roy Fuller
Roy Fuller
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BLACKPOOL is rarely, if ever, noted for its influence on the literary or cultural life of this country, and yet, amid the distinctive output of former Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, Roy Fuller – born a century ago last Saturday – the resort comes very much into its own.

Reader Kenneth Shenton, who has been researching Fuller’s life, says: “One of the finest poets of his time, a novelist of major importance, here was a man whose multi-talented career – literary, cultural and professional – remains both distinguished and exemplary.

“While his varied background and interests often perplexed the critics, he was perhaps best summed up by his great friend and fellow writer, Kingsley Amis, as the sharpest eye and the quietest voice of all our poets.

“Roy Broadbent Fuller was born in Failsworth, 100 years ago, on February 11, 1912.

“His mother was the daughter of the one-time Mayor of Oldham, while his father’s identity remained a closely-guarded secret.

“To avoid the social stigma of the time, his mother moved to Blackpool taking rooms at the Metropole Hotel.

“Roy and his younger brother John became boarders at the High School in Alexandra Road, South Shore.

“Two elegant houses, numbers 17 and 19, accommodated boarders, while at the rear were classrooms, a playground and a caretaker’s cottage.

“Headmaster was Arthur Percival Anderson, while helping him look after the school’s 80 or so pupils was wife Frida, his sister and four full time teachers.

“Fellow pupils included Anderson’s son, Ronald, Graham Miller, Eric Ashton, Bob Heyes, Norman Lees and Burt Briggs.

“With little chance of going to university, Fuller became an articled clerk with the well-known local firm of solicitors, T and F Wylie Kay, in Queen Street.

“Qualifying in 1934, four years later he moved south, joining the Woolwich Building Society, remaining with them for 50 years. Eventually becoming a director, he also edited a definitive volume on Building Society Law.

“In 1936, he married local girl, Kathleen Smith, then working at The Gazette as secretary to chairman and editor-in-chief, Harold Grime.

“Their only son, John, was born the following year.

“Evacuated here with his mother during the Second World War, like his father before him, he has also enjoyed great success within the literary world.”

Kenneth says: “The crowning glory of Fuller’s literary career came in 1968 with his election as Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford.

“Two years later, alongside a CBE, came the Queen’s Gold Award for Poetry. The Duff Cooper Memorial Prize soon followed.

“At the heart of his extensive output are five colourful and affectionate volumes of autobiography in which the resort regularly takes centre stage.

“In The Ruined Boys of 1959, the High School becomes Seafolde House and Anderson is Mr Pemberton, something of an unscrupulous hypocrite, as well as a financial bungler!

“Equally thinly disguised within Souvenirs was well-known former local bank manager and theatrical enthusiast, Burt Briggs.

“Some years later, he gained his revenge by getting the author to make a significant donation to his beloved Grand Theatre.

“A final volume, the intriguingly-titled Spanner and Pen, takes its lead from a poem by Norman Cameron and outlines the successful double life led by the author: literature on the one hand and public affairs on the other.

“It was published just prior to his death, aged 79, in September, 1991,” says Kenneth.