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Bookmarking the Past


I’m delighted to have the Star Letter in the latest issue of Writing Magazine (June 2016), because it was inspired by one of my favourite pursuits and I enjoyed the research that followed this particular find. As a regular browser in libraries and second hand bookshops, I’ve come across all kinds of weird and wonderful things being used as bookmarks. The odd five pound note is a welcome discovery; a withered slice of bacon not so much. Not many have intrigued me as much as an airmail letter penned almost fifty years ago by a poet and playwright few may have heard of these days.

The hardest thing was to decipher his writing, particularly his surname, but all went well as soon as I’d achieved that. Men by the name of Robert Brady are certainly not in short supply on the Internet, but I only found one Robert K Brady to fit the bill. Head of the British Council in Colombo, Ceylon (the present day Sri Lanka) in the 1960s, Robert KILIAN Brady had already seen his poetry published by the Fortune Press, whose other writers included Philip Larkin and Dylan Thomas.

As he was stationed in Malta throughout World War Two, it is hardly surprising that death is a recurring theme in R.K.Brady’s poetry. The following extract from a piece written in St Paul’s Bay in 1940 has stuck in my mind.

The long white finger

Of searchlights points the way where danger lies;

And still they linger –

The sea, the foe, the skies!

Also to his credit is a 1948 collection entitled Pulp in Bosnia, which went into three editions.

There is no mention of his poetry in the friendly letter written to a Miss Elizabeth White of Belsize Park  in 1967. He does tell her, however, that he has written a play about Mary Queen of Scots and that it has gone down well with local amateur groups. I was able to discover that Mary Stewart went into five editions.

If anyone connected with R.K.Brady or Miss White happens to come across this posting and gets in touch with me, I’ll be more than happy to forward this sample of what may have been a regular correspondence. Had it contained anything potentially embarrassing, I should not, of course have exploited it. A prolific writer of letters myself before the arrival of email, I do wonder how many of my own may be out there to discover! If any do turn up, I can only hope that the finders will be equally discreet. Which of us hasn’t penned letters we later regret, whether out of anger or passion, sometimes both?

1 May, 2016 - There is one comment on this story

  1. Since writing this post, I’ve been delighted to receive an email from someone who knew Robert Brady in Colombo and still remembers him with great affection.

    Maggie Cobbett -

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