I idly picked this book up to browse, after reading Elspeth Huxley's "The Flame Trees of Thika" and "The Mottled Lizard", as I know she is incapable of writing a dull sentence. I was then oblivious to all else until I had read the whole book. Peter Scott, being the son of a world famous explorer, had a hard act to follow, and his inclinations were probably guided by his father writing to his mother "try and make the boy interested in natural history". But he excelled in so many areas and his interests were wide-ranging. He fought a brave and exciting war, trusted and looked up to by the men under his command. He confesses that he shot and slaughtered thousands of game birds before turning to conservation. He could have been an olympic ice skater....but turned his energies to art, becoming a painter which he used to support himself while establishing his much visited wildfowl and wetland trusts. Eager to try everything and travel everywhere, he was an avid and curious deep sea diver. He seems to have met everyone and certainly at the end he was a figure everyone wanted to meet. I found the photographs in my edition very useful and interesting to "put a face to a name". Twice married, it is hard to believe he packed so much into his varied and admirable life.
on 11 October 2013
I purchased this book for one reason. Though I had no prior interest of any substance in Sir Peter Scott, I was inspired by Elspeth Huxley's biography of his father Robert Falcon Scott, which made me think that maybe, this might prove to be an equally enjoyable read. And I was certainly not disappointed.
Whilst I knew of Peter Scott, from his TV appearances in the 1960s and 70s, and of Slimbridge, and I knew something of his childhood, from my readings of his mother Kathleen (see especially 'A Great Task of Happiness by Louisa Young), I had not previously realised what a substantial figure he was in so many spheres. Having lost his father when he was a infant, his childhood ebbed and flowed, with little sign of what was to come. His hobby, painting, became his major source of personal income and his early fascination with wild-fowling turned on its head to inspire his lifelong pioneering of the cause of conservation. His wartime exploits were breathtaking, and he achieved international success in his hobbies of sailing and gliding. So a young man, who feared that he would only be known as the son of a famous figure, became a figure of great substance in his own right, becoming a Companion of Honour and earning a DFC with bar, a CBE and a knighthood, establishing the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and being a prime mover in developing the World Wildlife Fund. And by all accounts, he did this without any sense of his own self importance and constantly underplayed his achievements. One can but speculate that he inherited so much from his famous father and his talented mother.
What I especially liked was the way Elspeth Huxley crafted this outstanding biography. It became clear that she left no stone unturned in the research which underpins the book. Of particular interest are the letters and personal papers. Yet she is not overwhelmed by the research. She is selective, and that selection serves mainly to tease out what made the man - full of interest and revelation. And her writing style is charming, full of delightful turn of phrase - never dull. What a gift. The first part of the book tackles Scott's life chronologically, but the latter part, whilst maintaining the chronology, is also thematic - reflecting the complexity of the interwoven threads of Scott's life and interests.
Amidst all this, Huxley gives us insights into Scott's family life - his two marriages and especially his second marriage to Phillipa, his talented children and his grandchildren. Yet she does this in a non-intrusive way - giving us delightful glimpses - underlying the undoubted strengths of the family ties - but not being overly invasive. If there were skeletons in the cupboard, she does not reveal them, and why should I want to know of them anyway?
Different styles of writing appeal to different people. This was my style of book. And I loved it.