Rogers, Byron

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Rogers, Byron

PERSONAL:

Born in Carmarthen, Wales; married; children: a daughter. Education: Attended Oxford University.

CAREER:

Journalist and author. Speech writer for the Prince of Wales, 1978-83.

WRITINGS:

An Audience with an Elephant: And Other Encounters on the Eccentric Side (collected articles), Aurum Press (London, England), 2001.

The Green Lane to Nowhere: The Life of an English Village (nonfiction), Aurum Press (London, England), 2002.

The Last Englishman: The Life of J.L. Carr (biography), Aurum Press (London, England), 2002.

The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail: Travels in Wales, with Snapshots (nonfiction), Aurum Press (London, England), 2004.

The Last Human Cannonball: And Other Small Journeys in Search of Great Men (essays), Aurum (London, England), 2004.

The Lost Children (nonfiction), Gregynog Press (Powys, Wales), 2005.

The Man Who Went into the West: The Life of R.S. Thomas (biography), Aurum (London, England), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Punch, Guardian, and Saga; former author of "Village Voice" column for the London Sunday.

SIDELIGHTS:

Described as "England's version of Garrison Keillor" by Joseph L. Carlson in the Library Journal, Byron Rogers is a Welshman who has made a career of writing about the eccentric and unusual personalities of Great Britain. A former regular columnist for the London Sunday, he has published collections of his articles, as well as biographies and essay collections, that capture worthwhile moments, places, and people from a past that Rogers fears risks being forgotten. As several critics have observed, Rogers's style of journalism is a rarity these days: "When features journalism was less dominated by celebrity arse-licking, one tended to see more of Byron Rogers's articles in the papers," commented Andrew Martin in the New Statesman. "Writing with delicious drollery, he specialises in English and Welsh eccentrics, whether alive or dead."

After decades working as a journalist—and as a part-time speech writer for England's Prince Charles, a job he lost when he began publishing letters of advice to them in newspapers—Rogers began to publish books when he reached middle age. His debut, An Audience with an Elephant: And Other Encounters on the Eccentric Side, is a collection of previous newspaper articles on a wide range of topics. He restricts himself, however, to the region "between Northampton, where I live, and Carmarthen, where I was brought up," as he was quoted as saying in a Quadrant article by George Thomas. Several interviews are included, ranging from talks with British royalty to an interview with the country's last professional hangman. Also included are articles celebrating local history and people. Spectator contributor Justin Marozzi especially appreciated the chapter on people Rogers labels "heroes," including the story of an octogenarian triathlete who "keeps his teeth in the saddlebag." Marozzi described the book as "a light-hearted romp."

The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail: Travels in Wales, with Snapshots also includes some off-the-wall topics. The Holy Grail of the title refers to the Nanteos Cup, which is believed to be the cup of Christ by many people in Wales and is the subject of one of the essays in this collection. Other essays inform readers of such interesting subjects as coracles, an ancient type of boat used in Wales since the time of the Romans and now nearly forgotten; the unexpected discovery of Dylan Thomas's cufflinks; rock musician Kurt Cobain; a witch hunt against Satanic "paedohiles" in the town of Pembroke; and the tale of Ira Jones, a heroic World War I pilot from the town of Meidrim. Warning that the distinctly Welsh flavor of the essays might not appeal to some American readers, Library Journal contributor Rita Simmons asserted that the "essays are well written, sometimes poignant, and often witty." "The only journalist I ever knew who wrote pieces remotely like the ones in this book was John Gale of the Observer," Paul Ferris wrote in a complimentary Spectator review.

The Rogers collection The Last Human Cannonball: And Other Small Journeys in Search of Great Men contains profiles on "a bizarre crew of rascals, madmen, crooks and off-the-cuff heroes," according to Spectator writer Lloyd Evans, who declared it a "masterful collection of journalism." Subjects include a man who swam up the Amazon River, a movie extra who endured hours on a crucifix in the movie Spartacus, and a "penetrating study of [actor] Burt Lancaster." "The collection abounds with such poignant and intimate portraits. This is an exquisite work by one of the quiet maestros of the English language," Evans concluded.

Just as Rogers represents a disappearing school of journalism, the writer laments the disappearance of the historic way of life in rural Great Britain. His The Green Lane to Nowhere: The Life of an English Village is an encomium to quaint villages and communities that are now valued more as charming tourist attractions than actual places where people can live and work. Such villages have been taken over by city commuters, who live in the small towns only to drive to cities for their day jobs. Rogers, however, points out that this gradual change is not a modern-day phenomenon but can be traced back to the 1850s, as the Industrial Revolution began to take effect on a way of life. Nor does the author romanticize the life of a farming community, which he portrays as a hard world in which to make a living. The result of this mix of nostalgia with a realistic viewpoint, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer, is "an extremely palatable mix of historical fact, local color, and the necessary pinch of gravitas." Jane Gardam, writing for the Spectator, declared The Green Lane to Nowhere a "thoroughly alive book."

Rogers has received wide praise for his biographies The Last Englishman: The Life of J.L. Carr and The Man Who Went into the West: The Life of R.S. Thomas. In keeping with Rogers's predilections for the unusual, both subjects were men known for their eccentricities. Carr was a school headmaster who later pursued a career as an award-winning novelist and publisher, while Thomas was an extremely shy Anglican priest who assiduously avoided his congregation while writing accomplished religious poetry. In a review of The Last Englishman, Library Journal contributor Denise J. Stancovics found it to be "well researched, though chatty and occasionally flippant." In another Spectator review, Gardam claimed: "As reminiscences of Carr, and for lovers of his books, this biography perhaps couldn't be bettered." Of The Man Who Went West, George Thomas stated approvingly in the Quadrant that Rogers "has been able to craft a rounded, sympathetic portrait of this eccentric man." Andrew Motion, reviewing the biography in the Guardian, observed: "Had Rogers stuck with a more strictly chronological approach to these years of self-deepening, the lack of incident in Thomas's life might have made for dry reading. As it is, his eclectic method means the story stays fresh, while at the same time keeping its sense of quest." While warning that Rogers is occasionally "flippant" and too easygoing in his approach to his subject, Motion concluded that the result of the author's efforts is a biography that "is engagingly high-spirited and daring."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Guardian (London, England), June 21, 2003, Nicholas Lezard, review of The Last Englishman: The Life of J.L. Carr; July 8, 2006, Andrew Motion, review of The Man Who Went into the West: The Life of R.S. Thomas.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2003, review of The Green Lane to Nowhere: The Life of an English Village, p. 131; January 15, 2004, review of The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail: Travels in Wales, with Snapshots, p. 75.

Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Janet Ross, review of An Audience with an Elephant and Other Encounters on the Eccentric Side, p. 119; February 1, 2004, Denise J. Stankovics, review of The Last Englishman, p. 87; March 15, 2004, Rita Simmons, review of The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail, p. 97; June 1, 2005, Joseph L. Carlson, review of The Last Human Cannonball: And Other Small Journeys in Search of Great Men, p. 159.

New Statesman, November 5, 2001, Andrew Martin, review of An Audience with an Elephant andOther Encounters on the Eccentric Side, p. 54; May 12, 2003, Andrew Martin, review of The Last Englishman, p. 50.

Quadrant, November, 2006, George Thomas, "Thank God for Eccentrics," reviews of The Man Who Went into the West and The Last Englishman, p. 91.

Spectator, November 10, 2001, Justin Marozzi, review of An Audience with an Elephant and Other Encounters on the Eccentric Side, p. 78; December 7, 2002, Jane Gardam, "Found and Lost," review of The Green Lane to Nowhere, p. 41; May 31, 2003, Jane Gardam, "Leading Us All a Dance," review of The Last Englishman, p. 33; December 6, 2003, Paul Ferris, "The Wonderful World of Wales," review of The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail, p. 46; December 11, 2004, Lloyd Evans, "Stars and Bit Players," review of The Last Human Cannonball, p. 41.

Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2002, Ben Downing, review of An Audience with an Elephant and Other Encounters on the Eccentric Side, p. W10.

ONLINE

Rootsweb.com,http://www.rootsweb.com/ (April 16, 2007), Muriel Wells, review of The Green Lane to Nowhere.

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Rogers, Byron

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