‘The Group’, 31 Kimberley Road

The Group

November 1952, and a particularly strange advert appears in Varsity:

Shortly after this, in November, Peter [Redgrove] read an advertisement in the student newspaper, Varsity: ‘Undergraduates interested in private poetry readings contact “Gerrard”, 31, Kimberley Road’. Whoever Gerrard was, the advert had been placed by a group of English students at Downing College: Tony Davis, Neil Morris and Philip Hobsbaum.

(Neil Roberts, A Lucid Dreamer: The Life of Peter Redgrove)

It’s frequently claimed that ‘The Group’ was the UK’s first poetry workshop group, and I think there’s some truth in this. There had been plenty of other regular meetings of poets, in Cambridge and elsewhere, which involved discussion of previously-circulated poems; but the Group meetings introduced (? – I’d be interested in accounts of earlier candidates) the idea of approaching the poems as fellow writers rather than as readers or critics. (Of course these roles can’t really be separated; it’s a question of how much emphasis you place on each role.)

Everywhere Hobsbaum went – London, Belfast, Sheffield – he founded a new iteration of ‘the Group’, each called ‘the Group’; there is no record, as far as I know, of whether each had its own ‘Gerrard’. ‘Gerald’, John le Carré’s codename for the mole in the upper echelons of British Intelligence, first appears in 1974 (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy); 1952, the year Hobsbaum placed his advert, was also the year in which le Carré returned to England and began spying for MI5 at Oxford. It was also the year that Kim Philby, the model for le Carré‘s Gerald, resigned from the MI5 and came under suspicion of being ‘the third man’.

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