Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

PETE SMITH, the Henley man who helped organise Live Aid in 1985, spoke at the club’s evening meeting

PETE SMITH, the Henley man who helped organise Live Aid in 1985, spoke at the club’s evening meeting at Badgemore Park Golf Club on Wednesday last week.

He was talking about his campaign to seek recognition in the town for the writer George Orwell, who was brought up in Henley from the age of one.

Two of his school poems were published by the Henley Standard.

Like many young people, Orwell left the area at age 18 when he went to Burma to join the Indian Imperial Police.

He wrote the celebrated political novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as a series of acclaimed stories and essays on social injustice and his experiences in Burma and the Spanish Civil war.

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair whose family returned from India in 1904 and rented a number of houses in Vicarage Road and Western Road as well as in Shiplake.

His father Richard Blair was secretary of Henley Golf Club.

Mr Smith reminded the audience that Orwell’s book Coming Up For Air, a prototype for the later political treatises, was based on his memories of an idyllic Edwardian childhood spent near the River Thames in Henley.

He also recalled some anecdotes from Orwell’s youth that presaged the life and career he later achieved.

The writer’s work continues to influence popular and political culture and the term “Orwellian” has entered the language to mean authority taken to extremes.

The genesis of the television programmes such as Big Brother and Room 101 came from Orwell’s literary work.

Mr Smith talked of his attempts to persuade local authorities and organisations to link Orwell to Henley.

Although he was born in India, the author’s formative childhood memories were forged in this town.

There has been talk of a museum, a blue plaque or a brown tourist sign but to date no idea has resulted in a lasting memorial.

Mr Smith said he was hopeful of a successful outcome in the near future.

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