The Anniversary of HV Morton’s Death

(Previously issued as HVM Society Snippets – No.282)


HV Morton and his wife, Mary, on his 80th birthday

Today, the 17th June, is the aniversary of HV Morton’s death in 1979 at his home in South Africa.

A number of obituaries appeared at the time but this one, from the Canberra Times of Saturday 30th June 1979 is one of the most touching, at once praising him for his extensive writing and his influence on others while at the same time acknowledging the sad fact that even at that time Morton was becoming ‘unfashionable’ in his home country.

Well, we know better – no one ever accused me of being fashionable!

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

(Many thanks to the excellent Trove archive)

§

How many remember H.V. Morton?

LONG before there were sky trains and cheap fares, generations of people on the other side of the world did their travelling in Britain through the eyes of one man, H. V. Morton.

Henry Vollam Morton, author and journalist, did his job so well there was scarcely a book club or book shelf from Wagga to Waimate 40 years ago without well-thumbed copies of his travel books.

Old-time Australian journalists accumulated vast stores of knowledge of the geography and history of the British Isles from Morton’s writing.

When someone would remark on their encyclopaedic knowledge of London they would say, ‘I’ve never seen the place, but I’ve been hooked on it for 50 years from Morton’s books’.

Morton’s first book ‘The Heart of London’ was a collection of newspaper stories he wrote for the Daily Express on his return to Fleet Street from service with the Warwickshire Yeomanry in World War I.

His books on London were a taste of the success that was to come when he moved into a broader field with his first book of a series on the British Isles – ‘In Search of England’.

In the hard-up 1930s he had an unheard-of advance of £10,000 (equivalent to at least $A190,000 in today’s values) to write ‘In the Steps of the Master’, which sold something over 150,000 copies and put him into a top royalty rate of 33 per cent.

No one has figures on his total book sales for two publishers, but it must be millions. He wrote 35 books for Methuen’s.

After World War II Morton bought a fruit farm in Somerset West, in the Cape Province of South Africa, and lived there for the rest of his life.

It was strange to reflect, when his death, at the age of 86, was barely noticed in the British Press this week that if his passing had occurred 40 years ago, before the travel boom he helped to create, it would have been front-page news throughout the English-speaking world.

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