I once met A.E. Coppard

icoppar001p1Found – a  handwritten  letter signed by E.V. Knox (‘Evoe’) to someone called Magniont asking for recollections of A.E. Coppard. This was almost certainly Dr Jean-Louis Magniont who translated Coppard into French. The letter is undated but mention of a recent BBC adaptation of Coppard’s stories dates it as 1969. ‘Evoe’ writes:

I will tell you all I can recollect about A.E. Coppard. But I fear that it is very little and perhaps not very helpful to you.

As you mentioned, I wrote a small episode, and he considerably longer one, for the Kidlington Pageant of 1931. Those were the days when pageants kept popping up everywhere. This one was arranged by Frank Evay, who lived at Shepton Manor where the pageant was held. He was a friend of mine and an eccentric. For instance, he collected tramps, gave them a meal and a the nights lodging in a barn and sent them on their way. He introduced me to A.E. Coppard whom he had first met, as he told me, when Coppard was collecting tickets at Oxford railway station.

I remember him as small, prosaic, and self-contained and perhaps determined not to be eccentric. Possibly that is an illusion of my own. I became at once a “fan.” Coppard, I think, was very little known at that time, for at a dinner of a literary club I told Desmond McCarthy, then perhaps our leading critic, that I thought that Coppard was our best English short story writer, and Desmond had not heard of him. He said however- ”Well we must try to read this Coppard of yours.”  Clearly he did.

The only other time however when I met Coppard personally was at a party given by the World Review which is now extinct. Coppard was greyer, more assured, but as quiet and unassuming as ever. I am not able to describe, as I expect you can, the effect of the charm or spell or whatever it is that he cast by vivid, unexpected detail in lighting up the scene, or taking the reader aside for a cosy chat about the people in the tale.

I could certainly have wished for a long conversation with him then or at any time but someone intervene and  the opportunity was lost.

It is possible Robert Graves, who  then had a cottage at Islip called ‘World’s End’ and close to Kidlington could tell you something about the man.

The BBC television attempted to reproduce three stories of Coppard’s not long ago, they lost the atmosphere altogether.

Mrs Desmond Fitzgerald of Poynders Gardens edits the World Review and would probably have some recollections.
Yours sincerely EV Knox

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