Birthday: September 24, 1890
Quotes By A.P. Herbert
Died At Age: 81
Sun Sign: Libra
Born in: Ashtead, Surrey
Famous as: Humorist, Novelist, Playwright & Law Reform Activist
father: Patrick Herbert,
mother: Beatrice Herbert
children: Jocelyn Herbert
Died on: November 11, 1971
place of death: London
education: Winchester College, New College, Oxford
Alan Patrick Herbert was an English humorist, novelist, law reform activist who served as an independent Member of Parliament for Oxford University. He is well-known for his strong lobbying for amending the country’s divorce laws. He even wrote and published a book ‘The Holy Deadlock’ an openly propagandist novel, to criticize the anomalies of the country’s divorce laws. Starting from a young age, he made many contributions to the humorous magazine ‘Punch’ when he was still a student. As an author he wrote many comic operas, musicals, and children’s books, like ‘Riverside Knights’, ‘Bless the Bride’, ‘Big Ben’, etc. all of which were highly successful. He authored more than 50 books in his lifetime. He had a fascination for sundials and sundial technology, which led him to write and publish a book in 1967, ‘Sundials Old and New; or Fun with the Sun’, where he described the different kinds of sundials, and how he designed and built a number of different models of them, including some that could not just tell the local time, but even tell your position on the earth. He was made a Companion of Honor in 1970, one of England’s highest honors, given for outstanding achievement.
Childhood & Early Life
Alan Patrick Herbert was born in Ashtead, Surrey, on 24 September 1890. His father’s name was Patrick Herbert, and his mother’s name was Beatrice. He lost his mother to tuberculosis before he even started attending preparatory school. He had two younger brothers as well, both of whom were killed in battle—one in 1914 and the other in 1941.
He attended Winchester College, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, England. There he won the King’s Medal for English Verse, and the King’s Medal for English Speech, both of which were awarded by the then Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. He was also active in both the debate society and the Shakespeare society of the school.
He then went to New College in Oxford. He started contributing to ‘Punch’ from August 1910. Three months later, he made his first public speech at the Oxford Union. His works also started appearing in other publications like ‘The Observer’, ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ as well as ‘Vanity Fair.’
He finished his studies in Oxford in 1914. Meanwhile he also became friends with several notable personalities like Duff Cooper, Harold Macmillan, Philip Guedalla, etc. Then he decided to join as a volunteer at Oxford House for a year. He spent his time doing odd jobs like sweeping floors and running errands.
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During the First World War, A.P. Herbert enlisted as an ordinary seaman in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. By 1915, he became a sub-lieutenant, working at Gallipoli. However, the next year, he had an injury, and he began writing his first book ‘The Secret Battle’ when he was on medical leave. He finished it in a few weeks.
A few years later, in 1924, he was invited by the editor of the ‘Punch’, Owen Seaman, to join their staff, which Herbert happily accepted. On behalf of ‘Punch’, he attended the Third Imperial Press Conference, in Melbourne, where his first speech was made in front of such a large audience.
He became an independent Member of Parliament for Oxford University in 1935, with the help of his friend Frank Pakenham. During his time at the Parliament, he drafted several bills including the Matrimonial Causes Bill (which supported liberalisation of divorce laws), Bookmakers Bill, and Public Refreshment Bill. Using his satire, he lobbied for reform of a number of laws that he felt to be outdated.
He published ‘Uncommon Law’ in 1935, which is regarded as one of his best works. It was first published in the ‘Punch’ as ‘Misleading Cases’. The book, which was an anthology of fictitious law reports, was meant to criticize some of the absurd aspects of the law.
During the Second World War, he enrolled himself again, in the River Emergency Service, taking part in Air Raid and Casualty Retrieval.
*‘Uncommon Law’ published in 1935, was probably his most well-known work. First published as ‘Misleading Cases’ in the magazine ‘Punch’, the book contained some satirical stories which were in the form of ‘law reports’, or ‘judgments’. They were meant to criticize the flaws in the judicial system of the country. Its protagonist Albert Haddock, (who was supposed to represent Albert’s point of view) took many a people to court to fight for his civil liberties.
Over his lifetime, A.P. Herbert published five different collections of this book titled as ‘Misleading Cases in the Common Law’, ‘More Misleading Cases’, ‘Still More Misleading Cases’, ‘Codd’s Last Case’ and ‘Bardott M.P.’ Eventually all the cases were assembled into two volumes, and published as ‘Uncommon Law’ in 1935 and ‘More Uncommon Law’ in 1982. Other than this, Herbert also forwarded stray legal cases as humorous essays in his collections like ‘General Cargo.’
Herbert saw these cases as tools to help him in his work, i.e. reforming the British laws like laws related to copyright, divorce, defamation, liquor licensing etc. Ironically, because of their realistic nature, on several occasions, the cases were mistakenly reported by newspapers both in Britain and elsewhere as factual. All his works carried sharp legal as well as political points that helped him in his personal crusades against what he regarded as outdated laws.
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Awards & Achievements
A.P. Herbert won his first awards at a young age from the then Prime Minister himself. He was awarded the King's Medal for English Verse and the King's Medal for English Speech by Herbert Asquith.
In 1945, when the Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Resignation Honors were announced, A.P. Herbert was honored with a knighthood.
One of England’s highest honors, i.e. being made a Companion of Honor was given to him in 1970.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Gwendolyn Harriet Quilter, who was the daughter of Harry Quilter, an art critic and a writer. They got engaged in 1914 and married in 1915. The couple had four children, Crystal, Lavender, Jocelyn and John.
He was extremely fond of the Thames River, and wrote ‘The Thames’ in 1966, where he described in detail the machinery of the river.
A.P. Herbert passed away on 11 November 1971. His memorial service, which was held on 6 December, was overflowing with people, reflecting the respect and admiration of the people he had earned through his books and reform works.
His grandson Toby Perkins is currently a Member of Parliament from the Labor Party, since the 2010 general elections.
This writer cum politician was the first person who protested against the House of Commons for selling unlicensed alcohol.
In his first-ever speech in the House, Herbert was bold enough to announce his plan to introduce the Matrimonial Causes Bill, as a way to reform divorce.
The lyrics of the famous British patriotic song ‘Song of Liberty’ was penned by this writer.
Ahead of the EU Referendum in 2016, his grandson Toby Perkins had campaigned for the UK to remain a member of the European Union.