Henry Reed was born in Birmingham, England in February of 1914. He was the son of a master bricklayer and earned both his BA and MA from the University of Birmingham. While there he spent time with the writers W. H. Auden and Walter Allen. After graduation, he began work as a journalist and teacher but was called up by the army in 1941.
World War II
Henry Reed served as a naval intelligence officer throughout World War II. The majority of his time was spent as a Japanese translator. He was given this position due to his known proficiency with languages. The writer had learned French and Italian in university and then later taught himself Greek. From personal records, it is known that the Japanese proved to be more of a challenge. It was a language he was happy to forget after the war.
In 1946 he published the critical study The Novel Since 1939. This was the same year that he published his only volume of poetry, A Map of Verona. This collection included his most well-known piece, ‘Naming of Parts’ as well as the collection of three poems titled, Lessons of War. These three pieces were some of Reed’s most popular. They were composed as parodies of Reed’s own experience of basic training. Lessons of War was originally published in New Statesman and Nation in 1942 before being included in A Map of Verona. The series was later made into a radio program broadcast on the BBC in February 1966.
During this time period, he also contributed a great deal of material to BBC radio. Reed was known for his dramas and radio plays. These works eventually came to be collected in The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for the Radio, released in 1971, as well as in Hilda Tablet and Others. The latter publication included the Hilda Tablet series of plays which were some of his most popular. They were made up the increasingly interesting story of Hilda Tablet, the surprise star of the narrative.
Since his death, Reed has developed a reputation for the wit and satire present in his works. The large majority of his works are held at the University of Birmingham library. In 1991 a collection of Reed’s poems was published, titled Collected Poems. Henry Reed died in December of 1986.