Writer’s fame lost on Leamington

Dennis Enright
Dennis Enright

It is disappointing that one of England’s foremost 20th century literary figures, who was born in Leamington, is almost unknown in the town.

That is the view of Alan Griffin of Leamington History Group about the poet and novelist Dennis Enright.

In his book Leamington Lives Remembered, Alan writes: Dennis John Enright was born at his grandfather’s house at 20 Camberwell Terrace on March 11 1920.

He came from a working class background; his father George, known as Mick, was an Irish postman. The family moved to rooms at 6 Church Terrace in Leamington and Dennis attended Clapham Terrace School from where he passed the scholarship exam and gained a place at Leamington College. At about the same time the family moved into a council house at 20 Prospect Road.

In later life Dennis recalled how his Physics master at the college, Mr Evans, went to the head with a request that his young charge give up Physics in favour of English. Dennis was later awarded a Cambridge scholarship and in 1938 he took up a place at Downing College to read English.

After the Second World War he graduated and took up a teaching post in the University of Alexandria where he met and married his French wife Madeleine. After a brief spell at Birmingham University, he became a visiting professor at Konan in Japan.

Other assignments took him to Berlin, Bangkok and Singapore. He offended the Lee Kuan Yew government when his inaugural lecture was inaccurately reported in the Straits Times and he was denounced as a ‘mendicant professor’ in what became widely reported as the ‘Enright Affair’. Fortunately the students’ union backed him (he was a much-loved professor in all the places he taught).

After nine years in Singapore, he returned to England and became editor of the magazine Encounter and an honorary professor at Warwick University.

Dennis Enright published more than 20 books of poetry and might well have become Poet Laureate when Coventry-born Philip Larkin turned the job down in 1984. He wrote three children’s books, four novels, an autobiography, several anthologies and many volumes of critical essays. He was made an OBE in 1991.

He died in London in 2002, aged 82. The Guardian described him as ‘the unsung hero of post war British poetry’.

In 1932 he had published a collection of verse entitled The Terrible Shears which drew on his childhood experiences in Leamington in the 1920s, which some regarded as his finest work.

Leamington Lives Remembered by Alan Griffin, published by Feldon Books, £6.95.