P Martin was born in Scarborough in 1880, the son and grandson of Methodist
ministers. He himself entered the ministry in 1902. Although he had doubts
about religion, he never once doubted his calling to be a parson. As a
young man he was sent out as a missionary to Natal. He was a tough outdoor
type who thought nothing of taking off his clothes, tying them to his
head and swimming across a flooded river in order to get to a service.
He later served as an Army chaplain in the First World War in Palestine.
Soon after the last war, he went into semi-retirement in the village of
Timberscombe in Somerset. He continued to serve the small chapel there
until his death in 1966, aged 86, as a result of catching influenza whilst
going out in cold weather to give pots of honey to the villagers. There
is a plaque in memory
of him in the village.
He had no great ambition to have his Uncle books published. To begin with
they were not books, just stories which he used to tell his children in
his deep Yorkshire voice, chuckling unashamedly at his own jokes. It was
only when his children were grown up that he was persuaded to write them
down, and it was his daughter who became determined that they should reach
a wider audience and started submitting them to publishers. The books
with their anarchic spirit were ahead of their time and it took twenty
years before they finally appeared in print.
Intriguingly one publisher rejected the books on the grounds that they
were amoral and said Uncle was "a fascist" whereas The Listener
reviewing the first book said "Uncle is a savage attack on a capitalist
society." His daughter thinks of Uncle, the rich benefactor of all
his neighbours, as the fantasy of a poor man, her father, who spent most
of his life in slums longing but unable to alleviate the poverty by which
he was surrounded. Whatever his motives, the author himself was unconscious
of them. "Lots of it came to me in dreams," he said. "I
would come downstairs in the morning and remember what I had been dreaming
about - and there was another chapter."
The author seems not to have been greatly affected by publication. "When
your work is your calling," he said, "you don't worry much about
anything else." Even so, he was obviously delighted by the visits
of local reporters and the BBC and, in particular, the children who came
to see him.
In all six "Uncle" books were published in the series, the last
in 1973 seven years after his death:
UNCLE CLEANS UP (1965)
UNCLE AND THE DETECTIVE (1966)
UNCLE AND THE TREACLE TROUBLE (1967)
UNCLE AND CLAUDIUS THE CAMEL (1970)
UNCLE AND THE BATTLE FOR BADGERTOWN (1973)
information about J.P.Martin can be found in the introduction to the Heinemann
edition of the book written by his grandson James Currey. This can be
can also read an interview with James Currey here
and read the transcript of a radio interview with J.P.Martin here.