From September 28 to October 1, Berkhamsted played host to the Graham Greene Festival, a celebration of the famous writer who called the town home for the first 18 years of his life.
The festival involves films, tours, interviews with authors, actors, and filmmakers, and talks about Graham Greene’s books and career. People attend from all over the world to share their love for the writer and his works.
Graham is regarded as one of the leading novelists of the 20th century and is best known for works such as Brighton Rock, The End of the Affair and The Quiet American.
Canadian poet and Professor Richard Greene has no relation to the writer, but is a devoted reader. He teaches at the University of Toronto with a specialism in 20th century British literature, and makes a pilgrimage to Berkhamsted for the festival every year. Richard edited Graham’s letters and has recently published a biography of him titled Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene.
He said: “I first came [to the festival] about 20 years ago as I discovered that it was a great help with my research, and I made many friends whom I look forward to seeing each year. It’s one of the highlights of my year.
“I have become very attached to Berkhamsted. My first friend there was David Pearce, who had been an English master at Berkhamsted School. He was the first director of the festival and I find it a challenge to live up to the standard he set. He passed away a few years ago, but his wife Liz is still there.”
Graham Greene was born on October 2, 1904, in St John’s House, a boarding house at Berkhamsted School where his father was housemaster. He was the fourth of six children, born into a large, influential family.
The surrounding landscape, especially Berkhamsted Common, influenced his imagination and is often represented in his novels and autobiographies.
He writes vividly about Berkhamsted in his memoir A Sort of Life and in his spy thriller The Human Factor.
In 1910, Graham’s father became headmaster of Berkhamsted School. Graham also attended the school as a boarder. Bullied and profoundly depressed, he made several attempts to take his own life.
After graduating from Oxford University with a history degree, Graham began a career in journalism, first at The Nottingham Journal and then at The Times as a sub-editor.
Graham published his first novel in 1929 and in his life wrote more than 25 novels, often influenced by Catholicism, to which he converted upon meeting his future wife.
Graham is perhaps best known for his 1938 novel Brighton Rock, a murder thriller set in the coastal city of Brighton. This is not, however, Richard’s personal favourite.
As he explains: “My favourite of Graham Greene’s novels is The Power and the Glory, about an alcoholic priest on the run in Mexico during a persecution, but I am crazy about his other books, for example, The Quiet American which is set in Vietnam, and Our Man in Havana which, as my deceased mother used to say, would make a cat laugh.
“I am drawn to Graham Greene because he has such an acute sense of what it is to be alive and struggling. He is a very compassionate writer with an eye for human contradiction. His books are also page-turners.”