Friday 11 February 2011

The Greatest Living Englishman?

Today is the 96th birthday of a man with a good claim to be the greatest living Englishman - Patrick Leigh Fermor. He not only wrote at least two of the 20th century's greatest travel books - A Time Of Gifts and Between The Woods And The Water, which, long after the event, chronicled his walk across pre-war Europe - but he also had an extremely good war, so good that his exploits on Crete were turned into a film, Ill Met By Moonlight (starring Dirk Bogarde as PLF! What were they thinking of?). He wrote much else of course, of which I've read with great enjoyment the two Greek volumes Mani and Roumeli, and his account of a monastic retreat, A Time To Keep Silence - but A Time Of Gifts and Between The Woods And The Water contain enough between them for a lifetime's rereading, so densely packed with erudition and allusion (and comedy and adventure) is PLF's sweeping account of that lost world of pre-war central Europe. He is still living most of the year in his house in an olive grove on the Mani peninsula, and still active. In 2007, in a nod to 'progress', he took to using a typewriter, having previously written all those wonderful books in longhand. Here's hoping he makes his century.


  1. This is the first I'd heard of these works, but they sound fantastic, and I have just ordered my copies. Many thanks for sharing the word!

  2. With you all the way Nige. PLF has always been in my pantheon. I'm pleased to say that I have met him on three occasions, the last being six months ago and, though he is now pretty frail, he doesn't disappoint in the flesh.

  3. Recently had the two books on the walk across Europe delivered to me here in Arizona: I had read them as a boy in Trinidad and Tobago. A thrilling reunion.

    Incidentally a book of your occasional pieces would be a boon.