Laurie Lee walks out for the last time

Matthew Brace
Wednesday 14 May 1997 23:02 BST

In a quiet corner of Gloucestershire, in the valley he loved and wrote about with such warmth, the author Laurie Lee died yesterday. He was 82 and had been ill for some time.

A friend, David Tarratt, the publican of Lee's favourite pub, the Woolpack Inn in the village of Slad, said a "blanket of sadness" had descended with his death.

"The village will never be the same without him. He was such an entertaining man who always had time for visitors who came to see him from all over the world," he said.

He died in his Little Court cottage behind the pub overlooking the village with his wife and daughter by his side.

Despite his extensive travels in Europe, Slad Valley was Lee's beloved landscape. He was brought up there by his mother and three older half-sisters and attended the Slad Village School. He immortalised the valley in his first autobiography, Cider With Rosie and two years ago he joined a successful campaign to save the valley, renamed Laurie Lee's Valley, from residential development.

Rosie's real identity was kept secret for many years until a local woman, Rose Buckland (now an 82-year-old great-grandmother) revealed it was her. Mrs Buckland said yesterday she would miss her childhood companion with whom she spent halcyon days exploring the valley. "They were absolutely marvellous days. I can still see Laurie walking through the valley," she said.

"We were not sweethearts or anything. Things were different then. I suppose all novels exaggerate. Laurie was a marvellous author and I had great times with him.

"We used to go haymaking and I remember there was cider which the farmers made and took with them in stone jars. I cannot remember drinking any although it is possible I had a sip out of childhood curiosity. "

Other friends paid tribute to him last night. The novelist Jilly Cooper, who was a close friend and lives nearby in the Cotswolds, said she grew up on a diet of his prose.

"We were all brought up on his writing. If you came here you would see that everything he wrote is connected to here - it was a marvellous marriage between a beautiful place and a wonderful writer," she said.

Lee stood out as one of the great writers of this century whose work conjured up a world of earthy warmth and beauty. Cider With Rosie almost immediately became a classic, along with As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.

He also represented an era of brilliance and idealism that sprang from the Thirties - fighting in the Spanish Civil War, writing verse plays for radio and a contemporary of literary figures such as Stephen Spender, George Orwell and Cecil Day-Lewis.

Jack Jones, the former union leader, who was another volunteer in Spain, said Lee's death had saddened him greatly. "It is a sad loss to those who supported the Spanish republic because he was a good defender of the republic. I salute his memory."

Obituary, page 18

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