The Medlar News Blog

Medlar has been publishing fishing books since 1994 and we are proud to have produced works by many of the finest angling writers. In our Blog we’ll give you an insight into the new books we’re working on, provide the occasional extract from our Books of the Week, author news, book reviews and loads of angling snippets (from how to fish to fishing history, fishing tackle, great angling literature and much more).

The Delightful 'BB'

Denys James Watkins-Pitchford
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The summer fisherman, from Be Quiet and Go A'Angling.

'BB' - The Life and Times of an Angling Artist . . .

Andrew Herd

Extract from Angling Giants

One question we are frequently asked by customers at Medlar is 'Who was 'BB'?' So - here goes - a brief account of his life and times, which appeared in Andrew Herd's Angling Giants (currently being updated). We hope it fills in a few gaps.

Denys James Watkins-Pitchford, was born in 1905 in Lamport, Northamptonshire and brought up in comfortably Edwardian circumstances with his two brothers by their mother, Edith Elizabeth Wilson, and his father Walter, who was a vicar. Denys, thought to be ‘delicate’ as a child, was educated privately, which in his case really meant that, because he never went to school, being taught instead at home by a governess, his father and a local schoolmaster. His parents were musical, but emotionally distant and neither of them shared his love of the outdoors and so, constantly troubled by childhood illness, Denys lived in a small, almost hermetically sealed world which cast its eyes longingly back to another age; this had a profound effect on his character and his writing. His twin brother Roger, on the other hand, had a very different experience of life and was sent to boarding school, emigrating to Canada when he was in his early twenties.

Denys spent much of his spare time exploring the surrounding countryside, where he developed a tremendous love of nature as well as a passion for shooting and fishing. His parents were very class-conscious which, combined with the way he was educated, meant that he had little contact with other children and was taught to fish by local men like Job Perkins. Given his upbringing, it isn’t surprising that Denys was socially awkward and he simultaneously valued and feared solitude; a contradiction which he spent a lifetime trying to resolve and accounted for his reserved character.

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Hoppy fishing, from The Whopper.

At fifteen, having failed to excel at anything in particular during his studies, Denys started a course at Northampton Art College, which came as a shock given his natural shyness, but although the course was very traditional, he developed an interest in scraperboard illustration while he was there and managed to win a scholarship to Paris. In 1926, he went to the Royal College of Art, where he finally managed to get to grips with the world beyond the comforting fields of his home, although he still longed to return and he painted and drew birds and animals constantly in his spare time.

When he left the College in 1928, Watkins-Pitchford found himself at something of a loss about what to do, but after spending an entire summer fishing and shooting, he decided to become a schoolteacher. After weathering the General Strike, the grapevine brought him news of an assistant arts mastership at Rugby School, for which he successfully applied. Although teaching was hardly a vocation as far as Denys was concerned, it was an environment he understood and, when it boiled down to it, he was often more comfortable in the company of the boys than he was with adults, not that he would have volunteered for it. He stayed at Rugby for seventeen years, only leaving after the war’s end.
Watkins-Pitchford started writing not long after he took up his post at the school, particularly for the Shooting Times - by then he had a fair amount of experience of goose shooting, in addition to his growing skill as a coarse fisherman. Then, in 1938, he had two manuscripts accepted (The Sportsman’s Bedside Book and Wild Lone, The Story of a Pytchley Fox) and he began to appreciate that there might be a way to lead the life he had always dreamed about; so he set about writing with a will. He married Cecily Mary Adnitt in 1939, by whom he had a son, Robin and a daughter, Angela; sadly his son died aged only seven and his wife predeceased him by sixteen years.
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Fish circle, from Be Quiet and Go A'Angling.

In 1942, Watkins-Pitchford won the Carnegie medal for
Little Grey Men and a light began to glimmer at the end of the tunnel; although he struggled to make ends meet until the end of the Sixties, an impressive stream of titles followed, at the rate of nearly one a year for the next three decades. He wrote all his books under the pseudonym ‘BB’, which was taken from a shotgun load used to bring down geese, and illustrated most of them using scraperboard, which prior to his use of the method had rarely been used outside advertising. He also contributed regular pieces to The Field and Country Life, becoming an icon of British sporting writing in the process, although this was only truly the case by the Eighties, by which time he was writing much less and was having regular haemodialysis.

The angling book for which 'BB' is most famous is
Confessions of a Carp Fisher, published in 1950 and which became a classic, partly for the quality of the writing, but also because it was the first book to identify carp fishers as a clan. When he wrote it, the record stood at twenty-six pounds; barely a year later, BB found himself sitting beside the carp lake at Woldale, in the company of his friends Richard Walker and Maurice Ingham, discussing why carp fishing wasn’t more popular. From this conversation, the Carp Catchers’ Club evolved. 'BB’s involvement was ironic in a way, given that he fished for much the same reason that he shot - it was just a good excuse to be out enjoying the countryside. From that conversation, today’s specimen carp fishing movement is descended and yet many of the people involved are unaware of the role 'BB' played. He died in Sudborough, on the 8th September, 1990.

Medlar publish three other 'BB' angling classics -
Be Quiet and Go A-Angling, Wood Pool (A Carp Water) and The Whopper.

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