Greene was born and educated in Berkhamsted, wrote about it and set one of his novels there
2nd October 1904
3rd April 1991
Graham Greene was one of six children of a housemaster at Berkhamsted School. One of Graham’s brothers, Hugh, achieved fame as the innovative director-general of the BBC, and another, Raymond, was an eminent surgeon. At first Graham lived in a school boarding house, but later moved to the original Tudor school building when his father became headmaster. Among his contemporaries at school were two other major literary figures, Claude Cockburn and Peter Quennell.
Greene went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where his writing began. He became a journalist and reviewer and he wrote some verse and plays; then he moved on to work on film scripts (he wrote the original screenplay of the Third Man). But it was as a novelist that he achieved his international reputation as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, perhaps the finest of his generation. He became a Roman Catholic at the age of 22, and his novels often deal with moral issues in a political context, although he disliked being called a Catholic writer. One of his novels, The Human Factor, was partly set in Berkhamsted, and this stayed on the New York Times best sellers list for six months. It was later made into a film by Otto Preminger, and featured scenes shot locally.
Greene travelled widely, often in dangerous places, and during the Second World War he worked for the secret service. He spent much of the latter part of his life living and writing in Antibes in the South of France, but he often returned to England, and re-visited Berkhamsted. When the old town hall there was threatened with demolition, he supported the efforts to preserve it. His autobiography A Sort of Life begins: ‘If I had known it, the whole future must have lain all the time along those Berkhamsted streets.’
Greene was made a Companion of Honour and awarded the Order of Merit for contribution to literature.
Greene wrote two volumes of autobiography - A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape.
His authorised biography The Life of Graham Greene in three large volumes by Norman Sherry is still in print.
A sound recording Graham Greene: The Spoken Word in the form of a CD with booklet was launched in October 2007 by the British Library.
The Graham Greene Birthplace Trust has more information on its website www.grahamgreenebt.org
Greene’s birthplace in Chesham Road is still there in part of what is now known as Berkhamsted Collegiate School, as is the Tudor school house in Castle Street where he spent his later schooldays (and in it the green baize door that he wrote about, separating his home from the old schoolroom, has been preserved). Both buildings are marked with blue plaques. Permission has to be obtained to visit these.
His portrait hangs in Berkhamsted Town Hall. The Graham Greene Birthplace Trust has produced a trail through Berkhamsted, highlighting places associated with him and his work. A leaflet for this is obtainable from Berkhamsted Civic Centre on the High Street.
There is an annual Graham Greene Festival of lectures and events held in Berkhamsted, organised by the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, to which a wide range of scholars and enthusiasts are attracted from around the world. See www.grahamgreenebt.org for more information.
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