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My Uncle Silas
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The Author, H.E. Bates [imagemap with 5 links]

The Author, H.E. Bates

H.E. Bates

Described by Graham Greene as Britain's successor to Chekhov, H.E. Bates was a prolific and popular writer whose work ranges from the hit 1950s comic novel The Darling Buds of May to government-commissioned war fiction such as Fair Stood The Wind for France.

Herbert Ernest Bates, called H.E. both personally and professionally, was born in Rushden, Northamptonshire, in 1905. He knew at the age of 12 that he wanted to be a writer.

When he joined the Royal Air Force during the war, he was given the job of writing short stories about Air Force life. They became famous under the pen name of "Flying Officer X" but everybody knew the author was really Squadron Leader Bates. Before publishing his first novel (at 20) he had been a journalist, a clerk, and on the dole. Bates's novels and short stories have been translated into 16 languages.

Many of his stories are set in the rural Midlands of England, and the idyllic way of life he portrayed there included happy portraits of country characters and their simple ways. My Uncle Silas is one of his earliest creations. The character, whom Bates described succinctly as "a rural reprobate," first appeared in a series of short stories during the '20s and '30s. They were published as a collection in 1939. As Bates writes in his preface,

Certainly there was no strain of the Puritan in my Uncle Silas, who got gloriously and regularly drunk, loved food and the ladies and good company, was not afraid to wear a huge and flamboyant buttonhole, told lies, got the better of his fellow-men whenever the chance offered itself, used a scythe like an angel, was a wonderful gardener, took the local lord's pheasants, and yet succeeded in remaining an honest, genuine and lovable character.

Uncle Silas is not entirely a work of fiction. He was based upon a real-life relative. Joseph Betts, the husband of Bates's maternal grandmother's sister, was born in the 1840s and lived well into the 20th century. Bates describes him as a fearsome man who had had an unconventional life but was no less respected by his family.

Bates's son Richard, executive producer of My Uncle Silas, recalls, "He was very, very fond of Joe Betts, who was a great, abundant character. This certainly inspired his creation of Silas, who he was equally fond of. H.E. took great pride in the stories; they were very close to his heart. You can tell this because technically they are excellent. They are all very short, but they say just as much as his more ambitious works. He resisted the temptation to broaden the adventures of Silas, realizing that the attraction was that they were short, sweet vignettes. They incited a great deal of public reaction in their day; you could describe them, in fact, as his most popular stories."

There is a subtle nod to the heritage of the original stories in the new series. Bates never gave a name to Silas's long suffering housekeeper, whose relationship with her employer could be something more than just servant and master. In the series she has the name of Betts.

"We really hadn't intended her to be called that, but when the scripts came together we felt it was a name that worked for the character, so it stayed," explains Richard.

"It was essential that the writers were absolutely faithful to the spirit of the stories whilst managing to expand the text to fit the format required," he continues. "Many of the stories are about single thoughts and emotions set off by a simple event. This needed some development to make good television. Thankfully, we had writers with a great sense of humor and an understanding of the character, and it's worked out very well."

The character that has been created by Albert Finney is far less ferocious than the original, and certainly far less than Joe Betts.

"I think H.E. would be absolutely delighted with our adaptation," says Richard. "Even though Silas was a terrible storyteller and in that sense a liar, he was also a very honest man. Albert embodies the wickedness of the character as well as the geniality, and that is a difficult balance to achieve."

By H.E. Bates
Achilles and Diana
An Aspidystra in Babylon
The Beauty of the Dead
The Black Boxer
The Blossoming World
A Breath of French Air
Charlotte's Row
Colonel Julian
The Country Heart
Country Life The Country of White Clover
A Crown of Wild Myrtle
The Cruise of the Breadwinner
Cut and Come Again
The Daffodil Sky
The Darling Buds of May
The Day of the Tortoise
Day's End and Other Stories
Dear Life
Death of a Huntsman
Distant Horns of Summer
Down the River
The Duet
Elephant's Nest in a Rhubarb Tree and Other Stories
The Fabulous Mrs V
The Face of England
Fair Stood the Wind for France
The Feast of July
Flying Bombs over England
The Flying Goat
A Fountain of Flowers
The Four Beauties
Go, Lovely Rose and Other Stories
The Golden Oriole
A House of Women
In the Heart of the Country
The Jacaranda Tree
A Little of What You Fancy
A Love of Flowers
Love for Lydia
The Modern Short Story
A Moment in Time
A Month by the Lake and Other Stories
My Uncle Silas
The Nature of Love
Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
Oh! to Be in England
The Poacher
The Purple Plain
The Ripening World
The Scarlet Sword
The Seekers
Seven Tales and Alexander
The Sleepless Moon
The Song of the Wren
Stories of Flying Officer 'X'
Sugar for the Horse
Through the Woods
The Triple Echo
The Two Sisters
Vanished World
When the Green Woods Laugh
The White Admiral
The Wild Cherry Tree
The Woman Who Had Imagination
World in Ripeness

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