Sunday, 5 October 2014

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old English story teller called Michael Morpurgo

Michael is 71 years old today and the stage version of his 1982 story, 'War Horse', is still running after seven years and now at the New London Theatre. With its technical virtuosity, the audience suspend their disbelief at both the beasts and the storyline : a recruited First World War soldier eventually reunited on the battle line with his horse from home in England :

What you possibly didn't know about Michael, that :

* was born in 1943, during the Second World War, the son of an actors, mother and father : Kippe Cammaerts and Tony Van Bridge (right), but was brought up after 1946 in the house of his stepfather, Jack Morpurgo and didn't find out about his biological father until 1962 when he was 19, when, sitting with the family watching a tv production of 'Great Expectations' which featured him as Magwitch appearing from behind a gravestone, his mother exclaimed "My God, that's your father !"

* went to a primary school in London, followed by a boarding school in Sussex overlooking Ashdown Forest where his proficiency in singing saw him made 'head chorister' and prepared him for King's School Canterbury with its choral connection to the Cathedral and where he didn't do well academically, but left school at 18 with added 'self-confidence'.

* after attending the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, enrolled at King's College, London University to study English and French, graduated with a third class degree and worked as a teacher in a primary school in Kent, where he discovered his talent for storytelling and later said  : "I could see there was magic in it for them and realised there was magic in it for me."

* married Clare, eldest daughter of Sir Allen Lane, founder of 'Penguin Books' and when he died, with her, put her inheritance to good use in 1974 by setting up the charity, 'Farms for City Children' and opened the first at Nethercott, deep in Devon river country to give kids from inner cities a week's experience of life in the countryside with farmyard work and since then, has seen about 85,000 take part and added two more farms to the scheme.

* began his writing career with the publication of 'It Never Rained : Five Stories' in 1974 and has continued to write continuously with over 300 works in over a thousand publications through to 'All I said Was', this year and seen films made of his stories : 'Friend or Foe' in 1981, 'Why the Whales Came' in 1989,  followed by 'My Fiend Walter'. 'Purple Penguins' and 'Out of Ashes' adapted for tv around the turn of the century.

* used his unhappy experience at boarding school to provide grist to his novel, 'The Butterfly Lion' in 1996, with the unhappy protagonist being far from home and fed up with his 'diet of Latin and stew and rugby and detentions and cross country runs... and Basher Beaumont who terrorised and tormented me so that I lived every waking moment of my life in dread of him.'

* spoke about 'War Horse' when he was the subject of the BBC radio programme, 'Desert Island Discs' and was heard by the mother of stage director, Tom Morris who knew he was determined to do something on stage with lifesize animal puppets and passed on the idea to him and paved the way to his adaption of the story at the National Theatre in 2007.

* in 2011 explained the genesis of his 1982 novel 'War Horse' : in his hometown of Iddesleigh, where the name 'Topthorn' came from and how a boy named Billy who came in a school party from Birmingham to his 'Farm for Inner City Children', inspired him :

* visited film director Steven Spielburg on the set of his 2011 version of 'War Horse' and offered advice for the part of the story about pastoral England which was critical to the story and gave him a copy of James Revilious' 'Devon Agricultural Life before the First World War' and said : "It had to be dirty and the boots had to be heavy and the work had to be hard and the lives had to be short" and found that "he wanted to make it an idyllic English landscape which Americans would recognise."

* from 2003-05 held the title of 'Children's Laureate', but has said that that he didn't consciously write 'for' children, but his works were thought of as children's books because most were 'about children' and "I was a teacher. I know children really well. They really interest me. I don't like them all, but their take on the world,  their spontaneity, their seeing things for the first time, their coping, their dealing with adults and with the world about them, finding their feet in the world, really fascinate me."

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