[Christopher Fry: the schoolboy diaries of his elder brother Charles Leslie Harris.] Four years of diaries, 1916-1919, covering his time at Bedford School.

[Christopher Fry [born Arthur Hammond Harris] (1907-2005), playwright] his brother Charles Leslie Harris (b.1902) [Bedford School]
Publication details: 
1916 to 1919, each a ‘Charles Letts School-Boy’s Diary’. At front of diaries for 1916 and 1917 he writes: ‘C L. Harris / 120 Gladstone St / Bedford’.
SKU: 23912

See Fry’s entry by Michael Billington in the Dictonary of National Biography. His brother survives as a rather shadowy figure: he was certainly alive in 1978, when Fry referred to him in the account of his family background ‘Can You Find Me / A Family History’ (OUP). In that volume Fry describes his ‘brother Leslie’ as a baby ‘growing sturdily’, noting that ‘though he was later called by his first name Charles, he was Leslie for many years to come’. The four years of diary entries that are present here are short and factual and rather uneventful, but they have a double interest: at once casting light on the family background of one of England’s finest twentieth-century playwrights, and giving a picture of the development of an average English middle-class schoolboy around the period of the First World War, as he rises to position of ‘Head of School’ at Bedford. The four volumes are in fair condition, aged and worn, with the 1916 diary sprung from its covers at the gutter of the rear endpapers. The four volumes are uniform in embossed brown cloth, (described by the publisher as ‘Art Linen’), each with back loop for pencil. Each volume provides space for four days’ entries per page, with numerous preliminary printed pages with the customary useful information, including endpapers and other matter reflective of the conflict, with maps of the Europe theatre, illustrations of medals and of a ‘soldier-’ and ‘sailor-boy hero of the Great War’, the last volume carrying a ‘Message from Admiral Sir John Jellicoe to the Readers of “The Schoolboys’ Diary’. In the first three volumes Harris writes in pencil, filling in the diary assiduously from 1 January 1916. In the final volume, by May of 1919, the entries become intermittent, and on 15 August 1919, they cease entirely. In additional to the daily record, Harris also provides details of ‘Pocket Money’, personal information (including ‘Size in Hats’) and memoranda (dates of significant events, such as ‘Promoted to Lance-Corporal in the O.T.C.’, ‘Received 1st XV colours’ and, on 24 July 1919, ‘Made HEAD OF SCHOOL.’). Loosely inserted are a few postal order counterfoils and Chatham bus tickets. The entries begin in 1916 with Harris on his school holidays, doing errands for his widowed mother and reading to her, and entertaining his brother ‘Arthur’ (i.e. Christopher Fry), for example by taking him on walks (to town for a haircut) and helping him with his stamp collection. The monotony of school begins (repeated entries in early volumes start with ‘School as usual’) and the entries reflect the rounds of sport (he is captain of the ‘Wasps’ cricket team in 1916), cadet corps, bible classes, exams, trips to London (2 January 1919: ‘Went over St Dunstans in morning with Jack / Uncle Walter took Jack, girl, Madeleine & myself up to the “Old Vic” to see Shakespear’s “Macbeth” 2.0-5.0. Jolly fine performance though a bit tragic / Left & returned by train took 1 hr each way.’), his health (recurring toothache, mumps, etc), the weather, involvement (for the war effort?) in agriculture (11 September 1918: ‘Another dismal day all by myself. Have quite made up my mind to chuck farming if this goes on, especially as when I was happily walking home at 4.30, I ran into more work & had to load wheat till 7.9.’). By 1918 the entries begin to loosen up a little. On 19 March for example: ‘Rotten, wet beastly, muddy, miserable day, with a boil on my chin about the size of an egg & a Corps Inspection 2.30 by Lieut Col Pilkington on top of that. The rest may speak for itself. Also EII beat WII by 1/4 length.’ And on 10 September; ‘G [his friend Gerald, often referred to] & I shocked barley all the morning & then ditched until 5.30. Shocking barley is qute a decent job.’ The signing of the armistice, 11 November 1918, is greeted with ‘Flags all over the town, bells, etc. Bands in afternoon; town packed.’ And on the following day ‘Whole Holiday for Armistice / Thanksgiving Service in Hall instead of Prayers.’ Final entry, 14 August 1919: ‘Went over St Mary Redcliffe Church in morn. More wonderful even than the Cathedral. Employed myself immensely. Went on to Downs by myself in even to hear band.’