Howard Spring

Howard Spring

Howard Spring, the son of a gardener from Ireland, was born in Cardiff in 1889. The family were extremely poor and the nine children and their parents lived in a small, two bedroomed house. The situation was made even worse when Howard's father died when he was still at school and his mother was forced to take in washing to earn some money.

When he was twelve years old Spring left school and found work as a errand boy at a butcher's shop that involved carrying heavy joints to customers' houses. Later he obtained a post as an office-boy at an accountants in Cardiff Docks.

Spring then found work as a messenger boy at the South Wales Daily News. He taught himself shorthand and attended night school to improve his education. Spring eventually joined the reporting staff of the newspaper. In 1911 began work for the Yorkshire Observer in Bradford.

Spring moved to the Manchester Guardian in 1915 and stayed for over fifteen years. He reported on the First World War and during the conflict worked for the Intelligence Department in France.

In 1930 Spring joined the Evening Standard and replaced J. B. Priestley as the newspaper's chief book reviewer. He also wrote several best-selling novels including Shabby Tiger (1934), My Son, My Son (1938), Fame is the Spur (1940), Dunkerleys (1946), The Houses in Between (1951), A Sunset Touch (1953), These Lovers Fled Away (1955), Time and the Hour (1957), All The Day Long (1959) and I Met A Lady (1961).

Spring also wrote two volumes of autobiography, Heaven Lies About Us (1939), In The Meantime (1942) and And Another Thing (1946). Howard Spring died on 3rd May 1965.

Primary Sources

(1) Howard Spring, Heaven Lies About Us (1939)

The most popular game in the school yard bore the strange name of Bumberino. Sides were chosen, and about six boys made a team. A boy, tucking his head well down, would grasp a waterspout. The next would grasp this bending boy round the waist, the third would grasp the second, and so on, till the whole team made a line of bent backs and had the appearance of a strange and rather tall caterpillar. Then No. 1 of the opposing team, taking a run of ten yards, would make a leapfrog jump, landing as far as possible along the line of backs. No. a would follow, and soon the whole team was astride its opponents, and as each leap was made, the Jeaper would yell: "Bumberino!" bodies below them, doing all they could to bring about their fall. But the horses - as the leapt-on team was called - would yell "Strong horses. Strong horses!" as long as they could stay upright and gasp a word; and when at last they crashed - and sooner or later crash they must - the riders shouted "Weak horses! Weak horses!" and took their turn to be leapt upon. A strange game, which I have never seen played elsewhere.'

(2) Howard Spring wrote about his work at the South Wales Daily News in his autobiography, Heaven Lies About Us (1939)

From nine in the morning till five or six at night my job was to take over the telephone news reports from district correspondents for the evening paper. Then forthwith I switched over to the status of reporter for the morning paper, which meant working all through the evening. From seven to eight I might have a class to attend in those old University buildings; then on I would go to pick up a bit of news somewhere. The tail-end of another class could be reached when that was done. Back then to the office to write my report. Then home to supper and homework; and on again in the morning at nine.

(3) Howard Spring, In The Meantime (1942)

I left the South Wales News because someone brought along to me one day a copy of the Daily News which contained an advertisement for a reporter. "Why don't you have a shot at this?" I was asked. I mumbled and demurred; but I was prevailed upon to apply for the job; and I got it.

The job was in Bradford, on the Yorkshire Observer. After nine years service, the South Wales News was paying me thirty shillings a week, and it was a week, for there was not only the South Wales News to report for, but also its evening companion, the Echo. I have since worked for more than one morning paper and for an evening paper. That was the only place I have had experience of where prosperous employers demanded that one reporting staff should serve two papers. We had to fight hard for any sort of time off; and to the end my annual holiday was one week. However, we had the satisfaction of seeing our employers roll up to the office from their seaside suburb in carriages and pairs, and that gave to our days a dignity they might otherwise have lacked.

The thirty shillings I had been receiving from the South Wales News was increased by the Yorkshire Observer to fifty shillings, and this made life seem to me very good. This was advancement; this was prosperity; this was the way a man got on in his profession.

(4) Howard Spring worked in the Intelligence Department at General Headquarters in France during the First World War.

I never saw the statue of Haig that they put up in Montreuil-sur-Mer, that sweet township of the Pas de Calais where G.H.Q,. was situated behind its ramparts on the hill above the green swiftly flowing Canche, but I often saw the field marshal ride out through the octroi barrier, one with his horse like a centaur, a posse of lancers behind him, with their pennons undulant and wickering in the winter air, towards his chateau outside the town.

Suchlike fugitive pictures streaming through the backward-looking reminiscent mind are all that I shall here recapture: Aldershot in the late lovely autumn of that year, with route-marches through days whose air was winy, over the heaths and through the bracken and silver birches of Hampshire; the departure through a winter night to Havre; our sojourn there, at the canvas camp on the hill overlooking Harfleur in bitter winter weather; Rouen, with every niche and cornice of the beautiful church of St Ouen inlaid with snow; and so, by and by, to St Omer, where G.H.Q,. then was.

I was employed by the (a) department of Intelligence, which was then commanded by Brigadier-General John Charteris, a robust and bustling, loud-shouting, very human person. Our work was clerkly and mechanical, tedious and deadly boring: typing and filing all day long. Never was the King's uniform worn by less heroic persons.

There was something endearing about that grey old town in the plain: a plain criss-crossed with little canals that wound their way through market gardens; and every garden had its heavy clumsy punt for the bringing of stuff to market. We hired these punts - for the French lent nothing: each item of service had its price.

So we forked out our francs for the punts on our times off, and meandered through the grey fenny country, finding here

and there an island pub where hot red wine and bread and fried potatoes made the sort of repast that seems in retrospect to have been admirable. Then back to our typewriters; to the everlasting "Summary of Intelligence" and the filing of that vast conglomeration of reports that poured in daily: from spies, from newspapers, from air observation, from prisoners' stories.

All through this time, I was doing what I had been doing as a newspaper reporter: I was a detached observer of a life in which I had no essential participation. Dullness without danger; an occasional heightening of excitement at second hand. In a regular routine fashion, all of us clerks were "mentioned in despatches" and awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, just as the junior officers were awarded the M.C. and the seniors the D.S.O. It was routine. If it fooled anybody, I don't think it fooled us - neither the M.S.M.s nor the D.S.O.s. I have always thought that if medals are to be awarded for the sort of work we did - whether to the junior clerks, who are the privates and corporals, or to the departmental managers, who are colonels and brigadier-generals - they should not be the same decorations as those awarded for service in the field. The only time my own life was near danger was on November 11th, 1918, when some

Scottish troops blazed off a feu de joie, and a bullet passed in at one wall and out at another of a small canvas hut which I lived in.

(5) Howard Spring wrote about writing in an unpublished article in 1961.

I have just finished writing a novel. How other novelists feel at such a moment I don't know; but to me it is always a moment compounded of relief and despair, with despair having the better of the tussle. There is relief that the job is, somehow, done; a job that takes, in my case, about eighteen months in the doing; and, at that, eighteen months of keeping office hours. I find people constantly inquisitive about the way in which novelists work, and the question most often asked is: "Do you have to wait for inspiration?" There seems to be an idea abroad that one mooches aimlessly around until this thing called inspiration swoops suddenly down out of the air, seizes willy-nilly upon a writer, shanghais him to a desk, and leaves him there palpitating with immortal matter which then proceeds to flow happily from his

pen on to the paper.

I suppose the truth lies somewhere between the angel of inspiration and the mechanics of a job that "comes easy, laike". All I know is that I've heard Inspiration talked about a great deal by young men in Fleet Street bars who are "going to" write novels, and never by men who earn their bread by writing. If there be such a thing as Inspiration, it is, I suspect, something which condescends occasionally to visit those who undertake the daily gruelling job of saturating themselves in the technique of their calling. The promised land may now and then be glimpsed, but first you have to climb the hill, and that's a matter of day by day slogging.

One of the joys of finishing a novel is that this day by day routine may for a time be set aside. My own practice is to spend eighteen months on a book and then take six months' holiday. But during the eighteen months I must work five days a week as regularly as any clerk. One of the other two days is given to a weekly article for Country Life, and the other to walking in the country. To keep five days for the novel in hand requires resolution.