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Humphrey Carpenter

Humphrey Carpenter

Humphrey Carpenter (1946 – 2005) was born and educated in Oxford. He attended the Dragon School, before going to Keble College, where his father had been Warden for many years. He was well known as a writer and previously as a producer for the BBC. He published biographies of Tolkien, W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Ezra Pound, Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, C. S. Lewis, and the Inklings (which won the Somerset Maugham Award). In 1984 his major study The Oxford Companion to English Literature was published to great acclaim.

Humphrey wrote many children's books including the ever popular Mr Majeika series (published in Viking Kestrel and Puffin) and the TV adventures of Mr Majeika starring Stanley Baxter (based on the scripts by Jenny McDade). He wrote several plays for theatre and radio and founded the Mushy Pea Theatre Group, a children's drama group based in Oxford, which premiered Mr Majeika: The Musical (with music by Anthony Royse) in 1991 and Babes, a musical about the Hollywood child stars.

Humphrey Carpenter was also a talented musician, who founded the jazz band Vile Bodies. He played the tuba, the double bass, bass saxophone and keyboard.

Were your schooldays magical?
Well, I was at a school called the Dragon School, where exciting things often happened, and there were some very odd teachers.  I think you could call it magical.

Have you ever learned magic tricks?
I had a magic set when I was about eight or nine, but I was useless at tricks.  The nice thing about being a writer is that you can make magic happen without learning tricks.  Words are the only tricks you need. I can write: "He floated up to the ceiling, and a baby rabbit came out of his pocket, grew wings, and flew away."  And you will believe that it really happened!  That's magic, isn't it?

You've written lots of books for adults too – do you enjoy writing for children more?
It's completely different.  My books for adults are all about things that really happened -- I've tried writing stories (novels) for grownups, but I can't.  I find writing stories for children very very easy.  I don't know why that is.  Very few people can write really good stories for both grownups and children.

Mr Majieka has had lots of adventures - how do you keep thinking of new ones?
It's easy.  I usually start with Hamish Bigmore, and think of something naughty he can do.  Each book needs one big new idea, like Class Three getting trapped on the Internet.  And maybe one new character for each book.  But I think I could go on inventing Mr Majeika stories forever.

What is your favourite children's book?
I have lots of favourites, but one that people don't know is The Sword in the Stone, by T. H. White.  The character of the absent-minded wizard Merlin possibly helped me to invent Mr Majeika, and certainly there is a witch in it who went into the making of Wilhelmina Worlock

We've heard that you're very musical. What are your favourite instruments to play?
I play the double bass, the bass tuba, and the bass saxophone – all very big!

Did you ever want to become a teacher or is it more fun to write about them?
After university, I spent a year training as a teacher, but then I went into radio and television instead.  I've done a certain amount of teaching over the years, and I do enjoy it, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.  It's very hard work, especially these days, with lots of targets to meet and forms to fill in, and I think that even Mr Majeika would want to take early retirement!

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