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Thu 24 Apr 2014 11:30 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 17 June 2013

John McCarthy explores the fascinating life of British author Derek Tangye and reveals a remarkable and enigmatic portrait of this influential writer.

From his home in the West Country popular writer Derek Tangye penned a score of books collectively known as 'The Minack Chronicles'.

The stories illustrate the anomalous lives Derek and his wife Jeannie led when, in the 1950's, they abandoned their sophisticated metropolitan lifestyle to live in isolation working a cliff top daffodil farm with their beloved animals in the farthest reaches of Cornwall.

As McCarthy travels to the area surrounding Minack, the main inspiration for Tangye' work, he explores the world of a writer whose literary triumphs mask a mysterious and complex life. His descriptions in the books of the 'glorious anthem' of a cat's purr and the 'sweet moment when a long-awaited harvest awakes' provide an atmospheric backdrop to the captivating discoveries and secrets of his life.

Derek Tangye was educated at Harrow and subsequently worked as a journalist. During the war he was a member of MI5 and throughout his days at Minack was a neighbour of novelist John Le Carre.

Tangye died in 1996 and a few years later a national newspaper ran a story suggesting dubious activities during his secret service days.

An audio project produced for Tangye’s centenary and notes for a final book allow a useful insight into his life and work and provide interesting theories into the couple’s motivation to discard glamour to live in a neglected cottage.

Speaking with the Tangye's inner circle, his followers and experts in spy history, McCarthy attempts to uncover some of the mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding the author.

After recent renewed interest in the anthologies he will discuss the impact and merits of the Minack Chronicles and review their contribution to literature.

Readings by David Kay, Chris Chambers from Another Way Theatre, and Stephen Garner.

Written and Produced in Salford by Stephen Garner

  • John McCarthy with violinist Sue Aston at The Minack Theatre

    John McCarthy with violinist Sue Aston at The Minack Theatre

    Violinist Sue Aston discusses her appreciation of Tangye's work and plays her composition "The Homecoming" at The Minack Theatre. Some of her other recordings are featured in the programme.

    More about Sue Aston
  • Music featured in this programme

    Sue Aston – The Homecoming
    Sue Aston – The Final Homecoming
    Victor Sylvester – Stompin’ at the Savoy
    Danny Kaye – Confidentially
    Sergei Rachmaninov - Symphony No. 2 in E Minor
    Sue Aston – Elly’s Theme
    Sue Aston – Crystal Waters
    Sue Aston – The Homecoming (special live recording)

  • A Gull On The Roof

    A Gull On The Roof

    Published 1961

    To view a full range of Tangye titles click here
  • Linda Hartley from the Derek Tangye Fansite provides her thoughts and inspirations.

    When BBC Radio 4 asked me to take part in A Cornish Gardener I was over the moon, having long known and admired Derek Tangye.

    It all began in 1991. I had been having a difficult time in a highly pressurised job and went to the library to look for something to read as light relief. In the library I found Lama, and was enthralled with it. I didn’t know it was the fifth book in the Chronicles series by an author called Derek Tangye, but it described a life I had dreamed of. To be by the sea, in a rural environment, with a variety of animals ~ particularly cats, which I have always loved - was my idea of heaven.

    I didn’t know then whether Lama was truth or fiction, but I found two more books and discovered with great excitement that Minack was a real place. From then on I was addicted.

    I read and re-read all the books and desperately wanted to see Minack for myself. But when I read Jeannie I was devastated to learn that Jeannie had died. Jeannie was the spirit of Minack. How could I go there now? Derek made it clear in his books that he didn’t always welcome visitors, and without his beloved Jeannie, to arrive would be an intrusion. I wrote him a letter telling him of my desperate wish to visit Minack, but never sent the letter. I was too scared.

    I found my way there at last in June 1992. Turning into Lamorna Cove. I felt as if I had left the world I knew behind. I stayed at the hotel, and from there made my way up Well Lane and followed the ‘Donkeys’ Walk’ towards Carn Barges. From here I had the same view that Derek and Jeannie had seen more than fifty years previously, when Jeannie had seen the cottage nestling in a grove of trees and cried, ‘There it is!’ I walked down the Winding Lane, a mile long, dusty and with high Cornish hedges either side, and found a small hand painted sign that said, ‘Dorminack Only’. My heart fluttered! Down I walked, wild flowers either side of me, a sky so richly blue; dappled shade providing a relief from the sun’s heat; celadine, campion, daisies underfoot, daffodils still flowering - and the sea as a backdrop. It was everything I had dreamed of. There before me was the cottage, just as Derek had written about it, with the Confusion Room and Donkey Stables to my left and Cherry Tree further along. His Volvo (which I later purchased at the auction) with digestive biscuits by the box load in the back. My knees were like jelly. My stomach was fluttering and my heart was pounding. This was it. I was about to come face to face with an author. I had never done this before and was wondering what had given me the courage. ‘Take Risks!’ Derek had written – and so I did. ‘Hello!’ Derek shouted when I tapped at the door. ‘Come in! Have a glass of wine!’ ‘I had entered the World of Minack.

    It led to warm friendship. I had many visits after that first one, popping down to see Derek several times a year. Sometimes he would be busy writing and I would go away and come back after sitting on Ambrose Rock or wandering the small wood. Sometimes there would be other visitors and he would ask me to take them round Minack and Oliver Land while he was working, then join him to chat about everything from his life at Minack to the welfare benefit system, immigration and the building of new roads and motorways, the economy of the country, and so on.

    On one occasion the editor of Aberdeen’s Press and Journal was there, and he introduced Derek’s books to the Scottish audience. A young couple arrived who later became Trustees of Derek’s estate, and I was added to the list of Associate Trustees. I still feel honoured to be one of a number of others who will do anything to protect Oliver Land from any threat to destroy the small oasis that he and Jeannie had created for the wildlife.

    Derek was a magnanimous, thought-provoking man who could sometimes be a little irritated but was always honest if you stood your ground. A man who thought a great deal about the way of the world, was wise beyond his years and somehow could sense in people whether they were truly genuine or merely seeking an autograph. A man who, some four years after his death was accused of being a spy. This newspaper story was created out of hearsay, with tenuous links to hints and rumour. Why would a man who had written books about the commonwealth and its future with such liberal views carve out a hard existence on the tops of a Cornish cliff, with little money? Surely spies get paid something for their endeavours? I cannot believe the accusations. If any of it were true, I can only surmise that Derek was being used by a third party in blackmail situation. Does it change my mind about what I think of him? An emphatic NO!

    He made a life out of nothing, wrote some beautiful books about that life, created a haven for wildlife- The Derek and Jeannie Tangye Minack Chronicles Nature Reserve known affectionately as Oliver Land and left us richer for his work in more ways than one. He changed people’s lives and still changes them today: his books as permanent reminder of a way of life that helps remind us how to cherish and value the aspects of our lives that truly matter.

    I have spent nearly the last decade running websites and forums to celebrate Derek’s life and writing, so that others may share them too. I am thrilled that his work is now being re-published, and am happy to maintain Facebook pages dedicated to his memory. But the most lasting effect of his risk-taking philosophy is still very much with me. I took a risk and moved to a remote Scottish Island with my husband. We have a 58-acre farm that we treat as a big nature reserve, somewhere for our cats and animals to be safe. It’s very much like Minack. There is a winding lane and lighthouses blink to us from various mainland coastal points. We can see Northern Ireland and the Belfast Lock, the Rhinns Peninsular in Southern Scotland and Mull of Kintyre - the former home of Paul McCartney. Huge cruise liners pass by, sailing down the Firth of Clyde. Today the sun shines and everything is glorious, but we face the realities of winter as did Derek and Jeannie.

    It has been a long journey that started as a dream, sparked off by a book called Lama and an author called Derek Tangye. Finally he is being remembered once again and I have helped in some small way to keep that memory alive through the websites and Facebook pages. The books being republished in February 2014 is a fabulous 21st anniversary for me, both as a reader and an Associate Trustee. I would like to use this as an opportunity to say Thank you Derek for what you have brought to many, for the life changes you have helped many to make and what you are still achieving today.

    Linda Hartley


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