Biography


Percy Howard Newby was born on June 25th, 1918, at Crowborough, East Sussex, England, in a nursery that had once been Conan Doyle's house. His father was a baker, but without a stable income, and the family was without much money. When he was two, Newby's parents divorced. They fought over him, and on some occasions even snatched him away from the other. As a result of this, Newby moved around a great deal in his childhood, mainly in the Midlands and South Wales areas of Britain.

At one point his family rented a cottage in the now famous Arlington Row, though at that time the houses were very primitive and uncomfortable. Newby later expressed amazement that they had become a tourist attraction.

From 1931-6 (aged 13-18), Newby attended Hanley Castle Grammar School (now Hanley Castle High School) in Worcestershire, and from 1936-8 he trained as a teacher in St Paul's College, Cheltenham. He would have liked to have gone to university instead, but could not afford it.

After teaching for a short period, Newby joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1939, aged 23, after the Second World War broke out. He moved to France as a private with the British Expeditionary Force in October, and there served as a corporal stretcher-bearer. His unit was then amongst the last to be evacuated from France in 1940.

From early 1941 he visited Egypt for the first time, as part of the army's Middle East Force. From 1942 he was released from the army to teach English Literature at Fouad 1st University in Cairo (now Cairo University), staying at this post until 1946. During that time he wrote his first novel, A Journey to the Interior.

He married Joan Thompson in 1945, a baker's daughter from Wendover, England, who soon joined him in Egypt. He wrote about the long hair she had when they first met in his short story The Baker's Daughter. Later on they were to have two daughters, and, eventually, five grandchildren.

In 1947 Newby and his wife returned to England to write, producing Agents and Witnesses in 1947, and freelance journalism for The Listener.

In 1949 Newby joined the B.B.C. as a talks producer, after Geoffrey Grigson recommended him on the strength of one of his books. At the B.B.C., Newby created literary-based broadcasting for the Third Programme (which later became Radio Three), before becoming controller of that station in 1958, and then Managing Director of BBC Radio in 1975. He retired from the B.B.C. in 1978, having been awarded a C.B.E. for his work, in order to focus on his writing.

However, he wrote the majority of his books whilst he was working at the B.B.C.; as he said, "you have to be part of the world you write about. I'm the sort of writer who has to have a job which gives my writing resonance."

Many more books were written in retirement, though, and some, like Feelings Have Changed, drew on his past experiences at the B.B.C.

Towards the end of his life, Newby's step-mother, who he was devoted to, died. Afterwards he rediscovered his maternal mother: the experiences of growing old, and reuniting with lost family, were detailed in his last book, Something about Women.

He died in 1997, and his ashes are buried in Garsington Church, Oxfordshire.