When I embarked on the biggest task of my film making career in bringing Henry Williamson’s classic tale of an otter, “Tarka the Otter,” to the cinema screen one of the pleasant tasks I had to put in motion was to find a design for our letterhead logo. Charles Tunnicliffe, a Royal Academician, had carried out the artwork for the book of “Tarka the Otter” so it was quite natural that I should turn to him.
I wrote to him at his home in Anglesey asking if he could help and sometime later this exquisite pen and ink drawing arrived in the post.
There was a letter with it:
Dear Mr Cobham, Sorry I’m so late in replying I have been embroiled in an illustrating job and suddenly I remembered that I had a job to do for you. I enclose the result. As you see I have left the whole thing simple, with no half tone, and I think the drawing should reduce without trouble. As for price can you help me on this? I have no experience in pricing such a job so must leave such matters in your hands. I hope the drawing is suitable.
Yours sincerely C.F.Tunnicliffe.
The success of Tarka was a stepping stone to many interesting and varied projects in television. One of them was an adaptation Rowena Farre’s wonderful story “Seal Morning.” My first assistant director was a charming man, Mike Richardson. We continued to work together for many years and he became a great friend.
Time passes quickly so it was a surprise to talk to Mike Richardson’s wife, Sylvie, who was asking a favour of me. When she was a schoolgirl she had learnt a poem by heart and had recited it to John Betjeman when he paid a visit to her school. He’d patted her on the head and congratulated her. The poem was called “The Buzzards” and she was desperate to know who wrote it. Could I, please, find that out for her. So I googled “Buzzard poet” and this is is what appeared:
“Thomas Tranströmer, Sweden’s most celebrated living poet, was on Thursday announced as the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. Sometimes described as the Buzzard poet, the 80 year old is the author of 15 stark, metaphysical collections, marked by an intense engagement with nature.”
No, it wasn’t him. So I asked Sylvie if she could remember the first line. She’d do better than that, she said, she copy out the whole poem for me.
While I waited for her reply I remembered that that I had a small black and white drawing of a pair of Buzzards circling in the sky by, you guessed it, Charles Tunnicliffe. Here it is.
A few days later the poem arrived beautifully written out by hand.
“When evening came and the warm glow grew deeper
And every tree that bordered the green meadows And in the yellow cornfields every reaper
And every corn-shock stood above their shadows Flung eastward from their feet in longer measure,
Serenely far there swam in the sunny height
A buzzard and his mate who took their pleasure
Swirling and poising idly in golden light.
On great pied motionless moth-wings borne along,
So effortless and so strong.
Cutting each other’s paths, together they glided,
Then wheeled asunder till they soared divided
Two valley’s width (as though it were delight
To part like this, being sure they could unite
So swiftly in their empty, free dominion),
Curved headlong downward, towered up the sunny steep,
Then, with a sudden lift of the one great pinion,
Swung proudly to a curve and from its height
Took half a mile of sunlight in one long sweep.
And we, so small on the swift immense hillside,
Stood tranced, until our souls arose uplifted
On those far-sweeping, wide
Strong curves of flight, – swayed up and hugely drifted,
Were washed, made strong and beautiful in the tide
Of sun-bathed air. But far beneath, beholden
Through shining deeps of air, the fields were golden
And rosy burned the heather where cornfields ended.
And still those buzzards wheeled, while light
Out of the vales and to surging slopes ascended,
Till the loftiest-flaming summit died to blue.”