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In Search of England seems to contain many voices - but they all come from Roy Hattersley. You can hear the voice of the Labour politician, the dog lover, the Yorkshireman, the hill walker, Sheffield Wednesday fan and the lover of English countryside. At different times each voice comes to the fore - and on many occasions they blend to form a single one.

From the middle 1960's until the present day Hattersley has commented on (and participated in) the changing face of England. As early as 1965 he identified that "something has to be done" about the manufacture of steel in England and he was able to identify the key problem with Liverpool in 1990 - "this city needs more jobs". The 25 years between those two comments must have been difficult for Hattersley, for he could see the issues, but not execute the solutions.

The book is arranged in a number of sections - each of which has a single theme. Churches, sport, animals and heavy industry are all examined. Such themes have defined much English behaviour over the years, and this arrangement seem to work much better than a strictly chronological approach.

I do not believe you can enter politics without a high degree of self confidence, and at times this shows through - as when John Betjeman is dismissed as a "mediocre poet", but what comes though most strongly in these works is a sense of conviction that not only can things be done better, but that many things are also worth protecting. So you have both a sense of desire for change and love of tradition. He still enjoys the now much reduced gatherings of miners in the North East of England, but knows that the economy has turned away from these areas.

There is a small but interesting game you can play while reading this book - guessing where they were published. The tone and content of the articles for the Guardian being (not surprisingly) different from those written for the Daily Mail, Articles for the Listener being longer and so on. The number of Daily Mail articles surprised me, but maybe the author or the newspaper have changed opinions of each other! It is also interesting to see how many times the word "England" is used in the final paragraphs of Daily Mail articles, a feature that does not appear elsewhere.

In some ways this book's title and introduction summon two ghosts from the past. The title summons H.V Morton's "In Search of ........." books, while the introduction makes a clear link to J.B. Priestley's "English Journey". The current book has a similar aim to these; to paint a broad brush-stroke picture of England by looking at the small detail to be found in everyday life. While the two older books are historically very interesting, Hattersley book is clearly the most relevant today, and deserves to be placed alongside these two "classic" works.

Change would seem to be afoot in the UK again, and this excellent book gives a clear picture of the impacts and issues that similar change produced in the recent past.

Highly recommended.
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on 17 May 2017
A wonderful evocative book for anyone who loves the English countryside.
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"The tombs of cross-legged crusaders, the memorials to long-forgotten squires and the shoe-scraped tablets that cover what time has left of last remains remind the visitor of more than the history of England. They bear witness to the centuries of worship and belief. On the top deck of a bus or in the second row of stalls skepticism is ridiculously easy. In church it is only possible for those who are prepared to tell the ghosts that they all got it wrong." - Roy Hattersley on England's churches

In 1927, Henry Morton described his clockwise auto tour around England in In Search of England. Perhaps newspaper columnist and ex-Labour MP Roy Hattersley read this book and borrowed the title for his own, a collection of short essays on the essence of England written over the period of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s for various publications including The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Times, The Listener, and The Spectator.

Morton's prose occasionally approached the sublime, as when he wrote of his overnight in Shrewsbury:

"When I drew back the (hotel) bedroom's curtains, the moonlight printed itself green on the floor. It ran over the bed and lay slantwise upon a grim wardrobe that stood in the shadow of the ancient oak-beamed room. A proper Puckish night, with the green wash over hill and field, a night for elfin horns and mushroom rings and strange scurryings in thicket and copse. Somewhere near, a dog, unable to sleep and not knowing why - poor little lost wolf - whimpered restlessly."

Hattersley's prose tends to be more prosaic, but is no less perceptive as he reflects on those institutions, buildings, social mores, local celebrations, geography, sports, and cultural underpinnings that make England quintessentially English. His range of topics is as wide as an umbrella for two on a rainy London day and includes everything from Shakespeare, cathedrals, ruined abbeys, Peak walking, the College of Arms, dogs, the Tower of London's warders, badger watching, the disappearing steel industry, Trooping the Colour, the seaside, bell casting, the Chelsea Flower Show, cricket, and much more.

A Yank, even one who loves England as much as I have come to do on over a dozen holiday visits, may find some of Hattersley's IN SEARCH OF ENGLAND positively incomprehensible, e.g. those sections dedicated to cricket. And referencing the game in an on-line encyclopedia helped almost not at all; I guess one has to be there. That said, however, the book is a must read for any foreign Anglophile as well as perhaps any contemporary Englishman.

Were he to gaze upon Hattersley's England of 2011, Morton would find much that is unrecognizable. In some ways, eighty-four years have exacted a price. Even in the thirty-five years since my first (1975) and most recent (2010) visits, there have been enormous changes, some of which I've noticed along with Roy. When driving through Consett in the mid-1970s before the regime of the Iron Lady, I was in awe of the steel mill through which the A-road ran. Retracing that same route in 1983, that fiery monument to British Steel had been completely obliterated; the ground was flat. I could scarcely describe the changes to a friend in the passenger seat; it was a stunning visual transformation. Nevertheless, in whatever guise, the England of today still inspires in me, when back "home" in California, nostalgia for that green and pleasant land which echoes Morton's longing (and Hattersley's also, surely, though he doesn't say so to the same effect):

"... there rose up in my mind the picture of a village street at dusk with a smell of wood smoke lying in the still air and, here and there, little red blinds shining in the dusk under the thatch. I remembered how the church bells ring at home, and how, at that time of year, the sun leaves a dull red bar low down in the west, and against it the elms grow blacker minute by minute. Then the bats start to flicker like little bits of burnt paper and you hear the slow jingle of a team coming home from the fields ... When you think like this, sitting alone in a foreign country, you know all there is to learn about heartache."
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on 3 February 2012
Roy Hattersley has written some good books, but this is not one of them. What it does not tell you is that it is just reprints of his column in the Guardian and many go back to 1980 or earlier. So disappointed was I with this book that I left it at the hotel we were staying at as could not be bothered to bring it home.
I was expecting something like an English version of Bill Bryson written in Roy's excellent fashion. But a disjointed collection of old newspaper stories. No!
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on 23 June 2013
Roy Hattersley is a writer as well as a politician - indeed still writing but retired from politics. Over many years he had a column - moved between several periodicals - the length of time and the high standing of the periodicals proving that his work was widely read and appreciated. The book is divided into themes and the range of subjects is wide, always interesting and often giving a new view of a familiar place or person. This is no narrow party political production but the thoughts of a man who really looked about him as he travelled round the country.
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on 1 October 2013
Exceedingly readable........nice little cameos - read some, in no order, - come back to it. An interesting and enjoyable book. Well written ; it puts a different perspective ( in my humble view ! ) of Mr Hattersley.
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on 24 May 2015
Eclectic collection of anecdotes about England, her oddities and her people. Love it. Of course it was written by a Yorkshireman.....
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on 21 September 2015
A good book for dipping in and out of. Am looking forward to picking it up again!
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on 17 May 2016
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on 18 February 2014
I bought this as a present for my father. While the content by Hattersley was all right, the jacket cover was terrible. It was made of the cheapest quality paper material that would tear easily. Were I shopping in a bookshop, I would have put it straight down, not wanting to insult my father with such a cheap looking book.
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