Feast of stories testifies to a wealth of local knowledge
Cornish Connections, by Jim Hosking
Review by Douglas Williams
MOST people in their time play many parts and Jim Hosking is no exception.
In farming, tourism and rural history this Cornish Bard, aptly named Ystorer Trevow – historian of villages – has made his mark with a remarkable series of illustrated books that will take their place in the libraries of Penwith and around the world for generations.
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His enthusiasm is indisputable, he often writes with first-hand knowledge of the characters and their situations, and has researched assiduously for his ten books in the 'Hosking Saga' over the past 40 years.
With his latest, and perhaps his final and most entertaining contribution, the author, who will be 86 this spring, gathers together his wealth of local knowledge and binds the memories and reminiscences in 35 chapters by bringing them up to the 21st century.
He includes some of the foremost personalities, from Olympic gold medallist Helen Glover to engineering genius William Freeman Saunders, journalist campaigner Claud Morris, spy George Blake, squire Camborne Haweis Paynter, German diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop – rumour has it he had ambitions to live on St Michael's Mount and rule Cornwall after they had won the war – and painter-personality extraordinaire Alfred Munnings: and these are just a few of them.
He travels through his own memory land of farming families and events, from the celebrated and now historic St Buryan Races of 1890-1931 to wartime memories of Penzance and district with 'Churchill's Secret Army' and the recent filming in West Cornwall of Summer In February, hopefully soon to be on show.
Of Helen, he says: "She's a star and the genuine article" as he traces her career with its climax in the victory row and the second triumph back home among her enthusiastic fans.
He brings in the international flavour with tales of holidays in Hollywood and the Med, the earthquake in New Zealand, of Goonhilly, the airship Graf Zeppelin and of course that epic bombshell, filmed at St Buryan – including Jim's own cattle from Tower Farm – Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman.
It is as richly packed as a fitty Cornish pasty – but we shouldn't give all the joy and flavour away by analysing all the ingredients with their pics, scoops, titbits, gossip and sauce. Taste it and see.
He tells the off-screen story of the day Hoffman and co-star Susan George were in a crash at St Erth on the way from a St Ives hotel. A lorry pushed their Jaguar into the path of another car but "amazingly they were not seriously hurt and later that morning were back on the set. If they had been injured the film, which cost $3 million to produce, would have been lost – Dustin and Susan were in most of the scenes."
The 'love triangle' of Munnings, who had a studio at Lamorna Mill and went on to be President of the Royal Academy, comes under the author's gaze, as does Ribbentrop's colleague Reinhard Spitzy "and a Cornish girl" – a fascinating tale.
"My book has been four years in the making," he commented, "and is linked with our Cornwall in so many and various ways – and not just the famous.
"I have put more work into this book than in any other."
It succeeds in abundance for this former St Buryan farmer and now Penzance resident, but far from living in leisurely retirement.
He dedicates the 132-page book to daughter Veronica and said the stories were derived from his remarkable global network of friendships, supported by his long memory and careful research.
He provides a mosaic of delightful glimpses of Cornish people at home and abroad "and new information about people whose names are well-known far beyond the county".
Jim Hosking remarked that when he published his last book five years ago he told his family that if he were to produce another "it would be for them, a record of some of the amazing people, events and places I had been blessed to meet, befriend and experience throughout my life".
As the new book grew "it began to take on a life of its own". So it gathered momentum with depth, breadth, variety and revelation. "Maybe next time I'll put together 'a little something' for the family," he quipped.
Cornish Connections by Jim Hosking is printed by Headland Printers of Penzance and published by him at 9 Tredarvah Drive, Penzance TR18 4SU. It is available at many local shops at £9 (and from the author at £10 with, postage and packing: call 01736 364867).