LitFest: William Golding's daughter talks about his 'Marlborough book' - The Pyramid - in its fiftieth anniversary year

Written by Tony Millett on .

Judy Carver in Kingsbury Street - which was Miss Dawlish's house?Judy Carver in Kingsbury Street - which was Miss Dawlish's house?William Golding's daughter, Judy Carver was born in Marlborough: "I've had", she told, "a huge affection for Marlborough all my life."   The company that looks after her father's works and legacy, of which she and her brother are directors, has been supporting the town's LitFest from its early days.


William Golding won the Booker prize and was a Nobel laureate.  He is best known for Lord of the Flies about young boys marooned on an island and throwing off society's restraints.  It has twice been made into a film.  

The first - in 1963 - was directed by Peter Brook in black and white, the second was released - in colour - in 1990 and criticised for departing too far from the book.  Now there are reports that an all-female version is to be made - and that has been seen as departing totally from the original.  Judy Carver says simply: "I am not in a position to comment about these rumours."

She has written that her father regretted selling the film rights to Lord of the Flies for £1,000 in 1955 - that is still only about £25,000 at today's prices.  But his wife pointed out that at the time they had been pleased to have the money.

The original cover for The PyramidThe original cover for The PyramidThe cover for the new editionThe cover for the new editionJudy carver was at Marlborough LitFest to talk, with Nicola Presley, about her father's legacy.  It is also the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Golding's book The Pyramid which can be seen as a somewhat jaundiced view of a town like Marlborough in the 1920s and 1950s.   Or was it simply his view of Marlborough?

Judy Carver's affection for Marlborough was not shared by her father:  "My father's feelings on the town were mixed - partly because his parents were not happy living in the town.  And partly because it was his home and he left it behind."

In the book the town is called Stillbourne - even with its extra u and e, not a very flattering name.  Judy Carver explains that he did cover his tracks a bit: "To amuse himself he switched things round. The College moves to the east of the town.  And the motorway - when it comes - is to the south of the town.  But he could not possibly have denied that it was based on Marlborough."

She relates that once when walking down Kingsbury Street with her father, he stopped outside the house where a Miss Eleanor Salisbury had lived and  said: "Hi Bounce."  The Pyramid's piano teacher, Miss Dawlish was based on Miss Salisbury and Miss Dawlish was nicknamed 'Bounce' because of her 'elastic step':  "It was almost as though he was telling me his book was based on Marlborough."

Marlborough with its Mop Fairs and Golding's Stillbourne with its Great Fair show how little things have changed:  "Stillbourne Great Fair was on, that annual event which brought what small business the town had, to an exasperated stop. The fair was so old-Saxon, perhaps - that only a special Act of Parliament could have abolished it."   We've heard that over the years and will probably hear it again this month!

In the introduction to the new edition of The Pyramid, Pebelope Lively writes of its 'deceptive simplicity': "You read to find out what is going to happen, and discover that a great deal more has been told than you were expecting." 


Marlborough should not take too much exception to the name Stillbourne.  Judy Carver tells me that in an unpublished novel he used the same name for Salisbury.

She says there are two main parts to her father's legacy:  "One is his startling originality.  That became possible because he was very anxious about people's reactions - then suddenly he became very self confident."

Among the many strands of this originality his daughter cites:  writing about children who become tragic figures, exploring the consciousness of children and the capacity of children for evil:  "He had originality and was successful with it - his originality's not quite as recognised as I would like it to be."

Secondly: "He never lost the determination to deal with big issues and confront them - asking the questions, if not always finding answers."

Apart from the Lord of the Flies films, Golding's To the Ends of the Earth trilogy about sailing to Australia was made into a television series for the BBC.  Did she like it?  "I did very, very much.  They got it tremendously right - it was really well done and the casting was brilliant."  It starred Benedict Cumberbatch right at the start of his career: "We were very lucky to get him."

She still follows the career of Victoria Hamilton who played Miss Granham (yes, named after Granham Hill.)   Miss Granham's character was based on Judy Carver's grandmother.   And the man she marries, Mr Prettiman (played by Sam Neill) was based on her grandfather. 

Judy Carver urged me to read two of her father's novels I had never got to.  First Darkness Visible: "It's a heavy read - but it's wonderful.  It came out of a very difficult period in my father's life.  It is a fascinating book and the opening pages are some of the best writing he did."

Secondly, the posthumously published novel The Double Tongue: "A lovely book - almost my favourite."  

We get back to Marlborough - in a way: would the writer of The Inheritors - a story about the last days of Neanderthal man - be pleased that the Marlborough Mound has been proved to be as old as Silbury Hill?  "He would have been thrilled about recent archaeological discoveries."

The Inheritors ends with a Neanderthal baby being handed on to modern humans:  "He'd be pleased they've discovered a strain of Neanderthal DNA in homo sapiens - as with so much, he was right about that."  

You can see the array of covers for new editions of William Golding's books here - and they are on sale at The Whitehorse Bookshop.

FOOTNOTE: As I stood on the corner at the foot of Kingsbury Street with Judy Carver for the photograph, with traffic whizzing by, she told me that her grandfather had seen someone knocked down just there - in 1910.