1 June 2020 Susannah

To Serve Them All My Days

To Serve Them All My Days

I’ve decided in the past week that I suffered from a deprived adolescence. Why, oh why did my teenage reading not include R.F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days? Clearly my mother never read it, or she’d have given it to me, but I cannot remember it being in the school library or even seeing any friends reading it. And when the TV series (which won several awards) aired in the early 1980s, I can’t remember even hearing of it (perhaps it did not screen in NZ?). It was adapted by that veteran, Andrew Davies, and must have been one of his first adaptations. But I’m making up for lost time now.

I LOVED reading this book and will be forever grateful to the friend who lent me her copy! It’s a moving, funny, heartfelt novel, that not only gives a delightful picture of the life of a schoolmaster, but is also an excellent slice of history about England between the wars. It’s set in a glorious part of England – Exmoor. One reviewer called the book “an autumnal comforter” and as I read it during autumn, I can attest to the comfort it gave me in this stressful Covid time.

R.F. Delderfield (1912 – 1972) was an English novelist and playwright. The R.F. stands for Ronald Frederick. His father was a meatworker at Smithfield Market, and then started a newspaper. Delderfield was a prolific writer, and I was intrigued to discover that the very first Carry On film was based on one of his plays.

So now I have the delightful prospect ahead of me of A Horseman Riding By, Give Us This Day and God is an Englishman as I prove that it’s never too late to make up for a deprived adolescence.

Have you read R.F. Delderfield’s books? Which one should I read next? Let me know in a comment.

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Header image credit- To Serve Them All My Days, BBC TV Miniseries 1980, https://www.ebay.com.au/p/211760324
Body image credit- R.F. Delderfield, https://www.goodreads.com/photo/author/3108215.R_F_Delderfield

Comments (20)

  1. Andrea

    I Love this book, it is my all time favourite and I have read and reread it over years and still find something new in it each time I read it. I cannot explain it but it comforts me and just fills my soul. I must have it with me in times of great stress in my life; in 2020 I was diagnosed with breast cancer right in the middle of the pandemic and took this book to hospital with me for my surgery (it was the first thing I packed) and for my recovery in the days that followed. I know the story off by heart and how it’s all going to unfold yet I still find my heart in my mouth at key points; Beth setting off in the car with the twins, the fire in the dorm, The Stoic’s cruelty, I could go on and on. I also have the tv adaptation; I wish it were longer and teased out more of the events, perhaps a screen writer could do an updated tv version, we need quality tv! Now I’m two years cancer free and am thinking that in 2023 it’s time to reread it again, I never grow tired of it. You’re asking about the next Delderfield you should read; The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War. Two books to read together and deal with WWII and you won’t be disappointed. Also Cheap Day Return, Come Home Charlie and Face Them and also Diana. Seek all his books out, you can find most of them on BookDepository, seriously you won’t be disappointed.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It sounds like To Serve Them All My Days fills the place in your life that Jane Austen has in mine – books to reread, treasure, that help get you through stressful times and always bring you joy. I just don’t know how I went so long without discovering them. Thanks for the further reading suggestions too. I might look and see if I can get some of them as audio books.
      That’s great news that you are two years cancer free – keep up the good work!

  2. JohnCNZ

    To that list you could add the two “Avenue” novels: “The Dreaming Suburb” and “The Avenue Goes To War”, which examine the lives of four families living in a typical London suburban road. The first book covers much the same time period as “Days”, while the second takes the story into the early post-war era. They came out in the late 1950s. RFD hadn’t quite hit his straps then as a novelist, and it shows, but I think you’d enjoy them.

    Shortly before, he’d also written “The Adventures Of Ben Gunn”, an entertaining prequel to Treasure Island.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for the recommendation. I have read the Ben Gunn book, because I adore Treasure Island, but have not read the Avenue ones, so will add them to my list.

  3. Heather Grant

    I read the books many years ago and watched the TV Series here in Sydney. You have inspired me to reread them… I will wait until the Libraries open and then look for them.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have been loving watching the TV series. It is available on Youtube.

  4. Judy

    I really loved reading the book many years ago and did not miss an episode when it was on TV. Must look it out again, thank you for the reminder.

  5. Carol Noble

    I read this book many years ago. It is beautiful. Also loved the tv series. It inspired me to get all the other books out of the library. I envy you reading them for the first time. During the lockdown I have been re-reading Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet which was made into a tv series The Jewel in the Crown.
    Thanks for your newsletters.


    • Susannah Fullerton

      I read the Raj series when The Jewel in the Crown was first on TV – loved books and series, and also enjoyed the film of ‘Staying On’.
      I guess one of the few advantages of lockdown is that people are doing more reading.
      Stay well and safe.

  6. Susannah Fullerton

    I also missed out on the Abbey Girls and a good friend who adored them all keeps telling me what I missed. But I think it might be too late for those now. I loved Angela Brazil’s boarding school books.

  7. Helen Tomlinson

    I loved this book, too, Susannah. I read it more than thirty years ago when I was in my twenties. I loved the television series which was faithful to the book and not the disappointment that so many book-to-screen adaptations can be. I know how you feel about missing out on books when you were younger. I was an avid reader of British girls’ horsey books and boarding-school books such as the Dimsie Maitland series. I only discovered the existence of the Abbey school books by Elsie J. Oxenham and, from reading about Abbey fans, I feel I missed out at a time when I would have surely loved them. I suspect it might be too late to start now.

    • Andrea

      Never too late to read something you think you might love or will enjoy. I used to have all the Abbey books and was a huge fan of school stories. Years ago I found Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings books at a church fete, got them for 10c each and ended up having to find and collect all of them. They are hilarious, Jennings and Darbyshire and their crazy madcap adventures at Linley Court a boys School. I still have them I also have complete sets of Malory Towers and St Clare’s bought when I was a girl and loved and still occasionally read or at least skimmed over these days. Others to seek out if you like the school story are What Katy did at School by Susan M Coolidge, anything Noel Streatfield (White Boots, Ballet Shoes, When the Siren Wailed etc), The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, anything by Miss Read is a joy as are the Antonia White books Frost in May (Books 1&2) Don’t forget The Getting of Wisdom, Henry Handel Richardson too!
      Others to look out for though not necessary dealing with school per se are Ruth Park’s Harp in the South, Poor Man’s Orange and Mumma books (a trilogy) Monica Dickens is also marvellous as is Peggy Woodford’s Please Don’t Go (so sad and introduced me to the music of Jacques Brel) and Beverley Cleary’s stories about Ramona and her sister Beezus and her lovely book Fifteen. Finally one to love is the haunting Rumer Godden treasure Miss Happiness and Miss Flower about a little girl coming to live with her cousins, being different and finding happiness through two little Japanese dolls. Happy Reading!

      • Susannah Fullerton

        What a great list of childhood favourites. I have read and love many of them – Noel Streetfield, Susan Coolidge, Rumer Godden – but you have mentioned some I don’t know at all. I’ll look out for them for myself and also for my three granddaughters.
        I agree it is never too late to go back to beloved books from childhood – I often reread the Anne books, the Billabong books, the Katy books, Little Women etc.

  8. Alexandra Young

    Hi Susannah,
    Once again thank you for the newsletters and the literary guides.
    I loved the last one about Rudyard Kipling, remember my dad reading me Just so Stories, but was fascinated to read about Rudyard Kiplings life. So interesting.
    You have chosen one of my favourite authors again, R.F Delderfield, I loved “To Serve them all my Days” and “A Horseman Riding By”
    How wonderful are those books and the television series an absolute feast.
    I will love rewatching “To serve them all my days” again. Wonderful choice of actors for those characters.

    Thank you again.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am watching To Serve Them all my Days and just loving it. Can’t understand how I missed out on this author.

  9. Carolyn Cossgrove

    I hired this TV series from the library a few years ago and still occasionally hum the theme song!

    • Catherine

      I remember watching this drama 30 odd years ago. I watched the series recently again but I appreciated it so much more for example, the different characters, some you could warm to and not quite so much of others. . Not only am I a great fan of John Duttine’s acting who played his character so well, but it brings home the loss of pupils owing to the war.

      • Susannah Fullerton

        I so loved both book and TV series. They were both sad – all that loss of young lives, and of course at the end you know it is all going to happen again with WWII. And I agree that John Duttine acted the part wonderfully.

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