Although he always maintained the story was written for all children everywhere, Mystery at Witchend was set against the backdrop of the Shropshire hill country where his own family were staying during part of the Second World War. As he completed writing each chapter, he sent a copy to Shropshire where it was read to his own children. When the book was finally published in October 1943, he dedicated the story ‘For Two Rs And Two Js’ – his four children: Robin, Rosemary, Jennifer and Jeremy.
A few months later, in February 1944, Mystery at Witchend was republished. The quick sell-out of the first edition may in part have been due to the story being serialized on BBC Children’s Hour. The second impression was printed in the same format but on slightly thinner paper. It is a copy of this book (sadly without its dust wrapper) that has just been auctioned for charity. But how did it come to be signed by the 2Rs and 2Js?
In February 1994, exactly fifty years after the book was first published, Mark O’Hanlon was approached by Robin Saville and asked to team up with Richard Walker to create a Malcolm Saville Society. Mark took on responsibility for all the administrative tasks and then embarked on a ‘Grand Tour’ to meet members of Malcolm Saville’s family. It was during these first encounters, meetings that were the start of long friendships with the Saville family, that he asked each of the Saville ‘children’ to sign two books: one was a first edition and the second was this early reprint of Mystery at Witchend.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Malcolm Saville Society, Mark kindly donated the 1944 reprint of Mystery at Witchend so it could be auctioned for charity through eBay. The idea behind the auction was to help raise funds for a children’s charity – the Children’s Society – to help give something to some of today’s children who may be untouched by the friendly ethos and family values expressed so consistently throughout Malcolm Saville’s stories.
The auction closed on Saturday evening and raised £215 from the sale of the book. A big thank-you to everyone who took part in the bidding!
Malcolm Saville Society co-founder, Mark O’Hanlon, was interviewed about Malcolm Saville on BBC Radio Shropshire this morning, 14th May at 10:15 as part of the Jim Hawkins in the Morning (pictured) show. The live interview lasted about 10 minutes. If you live outside the local area or were not able to listen to the live broadcast, for the next seven days you can always ‘Listen Again’ online through the BBC website at: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p018799k.
Malcolm Saville Society co-founder, Mark O’Hanlon, who will celebrate his 40th birthday next month, explains the ethos behind the fund-raising:
“When I look back over the last forty years, in particular as a co-founder of the Malcolm Saville Society, the work of children’s author Malcolm Saville has undoubtedly been a huge influence in my life. But today, my interest goes beyond the books themselves. For me, it is no longer about the fictional stories: it is about the real people, the real places and, most importantly, the real friendships that I have been lucky enough to develop as a result of sharing an interest in Malcolm Saville’s work.
“To mark the occasion of my 40th birthday, I would like to involve as many friends, family and Malcolm Saville enthusiasts as possible in joining me to help raise funds for a children’s charity – to help give something to some of today’s children who may be untouched by the friendly ethos and family values expressed so consistently throughout Malcolm Saville’s stories. So, how is this going to work?”
Update (April 2014): Special thanks to everyone who took part in the ‘Mark is Forty’ campaign – together we raised £1,941.63 (plus an additional £249.50 in Gift Aid). Thanks for your support!
A short while ago, the BBC Countryfile team made contact with Mark O’Hanlon and he has just been on location with them, filming a feature on Malcolm Saville. It will be set on the Long Mynd and include interviews by Julia Bradbury, with Mark O’Hanlon and also Malcolm Saville’s eldest daughter, Rosemary Dowler. There will be a full write-up in a future edition of Acksherley! magazine, produced by the Malcolm Saville Society.
The programme is due to be broadcast on Sunday 22 July.
Read a preview of the programme today at: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lbflk
Update: The programme is available to ‘watch again’ until 29th July at: BBC iPlayer
Stable Cottage at Cwm Head, in the heart of Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine country, is an ideal base for you to explore Shropshire.
If you are looking for a holiday with a difference this year, why not come to Shropshire? The old stables at Cwm Head House have been converted to provide some luxury self-catering holiday accommodation. You may recall that it was to Cwm Head House that Malcolm Saville and his wife came on their first visit to Shropshire in 1936. It was here too, that his wife and three younger children evacuated for a year in November 1941 and where the family subsequently came to stay on holiday nearly every year from 1955 to 1975.
During their stay at the house in 1941-2 the children kept a pony called Sally, believed to have been an inspiration in name (but not in temperament!), to the fictional pony kept by Petronella Sterling in the Lone Pine adventures. Unfortunately, the pony escaped one night and, despite an extensive search, was never seen by the family again. Seventy years later, the building that was used to store her tack, has now been converted to create Stable Cottage, a luxury holiday cottage, right in the heart of Lone Pine Shropshire. Full details, photos and booking availability can be viewed at: www.malcolmsaville.com/cwmhead.