"Uncle' at the BBC - J.P.Martin interviewed on the radio


Announcer: He's 85 and he lives at Timberscombe in Somerset. His daughter is a playwright and some time ago she persuaded him to write down some of the stories that he told which his grandchildren so enjoyed.
The stories are about an elephant called 'Uncle' - a rather eccentric elephant at that. One who's got a degree and wears a purple dressing gown. The first 'Uncle' book has now been published.
Derek Cooper went to see Mister Martin and asked him about the basic idea behind 'Uncle'.

J.P.: It is simply a struggle between good and evil in a sense. Uncle represents a certain amount of good and Hateman his big opponent
represents complete selfishness and grasping and aggression you see. Uncle is never aggressive unless he is actually attacked, you see, then he is very fierce and terrible. But until then he leaves people alone. Hateman spends his life in constantly getting things from people for nothing if he can.

DC: Well this has been published as a children's book but I myself enjoyed reading it very much. I couldn't put it down and other adults have told me this. How do you see it?

J.P. It has the effect on me of soothing the mind when I am wearied out with Church work and other matters. For some reason it has the effect of easing the mental tension and I think that's very widely felt
by people. Not long since I lent a copy to an aged minister over eighty who suffered from sleeplessness and great mental exhaustion and he went to bed and could not sleep and he said “I picked up that volume of 'Uncle' you lent me” and he said “I couldn't put it down and I read it till l3.30 in the morning” and then he said “I fell into a dreamless sleep.”

DC: Your 85 years old - why has it been so long before this book was published?

J.P: I can't realise - unless it's the workings of providence that kept it until a time for which I think it's particularly suitable. I think the conditions are very analogous to those of today - just now with the constant struggle between rich and people trying to be rich you see and a bit envious of them and so on.

DC: Well there have been a lot of clearly enthusiastic reviews of your book - in fact one writer went so far as to describe it as a potential 'classic'. What do you think of…

J.P. (Laughing) Well of course I can't answer that. I say the book is natural, written in natural language - suitable for children and I hope pretty good English because of my constant study of the authorised version - which is perfect English. I read that more than any other book and you could hardly do that without giving something like good English. I think that's true.

DC: When you retired 14 years ago you went to live in a small village in Somerset. What do the people who live in your village think of your new fame as an author?

J.P.: They seem very pleased. I thought that nobody would buy it in our little village of 200 people. I was going to keep a copy to pass around and let them see it - like a little circulating library. But I find about 10 people are buying the book already which is a big percentage out of 200. If the rest of the country does the same it will be pretty well circulated.

DC: Will the income that comes from Uncle and the other Uncle books you are going to publish have any effect on your way of life?

J.P.: I don't think so because I live a very simple life. With my first earnings from 'Uncle' I used five pounds of it to mend up the old typewriter which had been going for 30 years. So I think that a very good first beginning from Uncle.

DC: Can you tell us how you pass your time down in Somerset.

J.P.: Yes - I, of course, am very frequently preaching. I prepare my sermons. I visit a good many people in the village. I get called into see people who are ill and in trouble and I find my time is pretty well filled up sometimes I have had to take charge - once I had to take charge of the whole circuit of 11 churches for six months. And I frequently, due to either sickness or absence, have had to take our quarterly meeting - that is our business meeting for the whole circuit and carry on all their affairs. I act as a general cook and bottle washer - helping in these lonely churches when there is breakdown or a difficulty. I came here for that purpose and with God's blessing I have been able to carry it on for 14 years.

DC: Mr Martin do you have any foibles or idiosyncrasies?

J.P. Too many…too many! I like to have something new always if I can - anything new appeals to me at once. I don't want to read a thing that's old - I want something new. I like the Bible because I consider it new and true at the same time. But I don't want a new lie. I don't want that. Anything that's new and true I want - particularly.

DC: How do you start the day?

J.P.: Oh I start the day, naturally, having a word of prayer and then I have a good brush down with a very hard brush. From head to foot.

DC: A brush down? - with a brush?

J.P.: Yes - yes with a hard brush. To brush the surface of the skin - get it rare going. Morning and Night. I do that.

DC: How long have you been doing that?

J.P.: I've been doing it for a number of years. I read it was very good for purifying the blood. Which I believe is true.

DC: Isn't it rather painful?

J.P.: Yes - and it's rather irritating but once you have done it you have done the most irritating thing in the whole day and you are in a good temper generally afterwards.

DC: Anything after that is pleasant?

J.P.: (laughing) Yes - that's it!

DC: Do you smoke?

J.P.: I smoke a bit, not much, but I mix up herbs of my own - I couldn't be happy without some sort of crank! (laughing again) I use dock leaf, I think, with great benefit. I think that you'll find that mixing dock leaf with your tobacco will partially neutralise any harmful effects there are in it.

DC: What sort of pleasures do you allow yourself?

J.P.: My chief pleasure is in the enjoyment of being in the presence of God. I can say without exaggeration that he comes to me as a shining light more beautiful than anything else I have seen on Earth.
Far more beautiful - and when that comes to me I cannot attain a greater pleasure. It comes to me very much in circumstances of difficulty and trial. I seldom visit a sick person or a person in trouble without seeing that shining beautiful light.

DC: What about the future Mister Martin what things are left undone?

J.P.: Well I'm still carrying on with the work much as I did. I'm endeavouring to help people if I can and cheer people. We are told that true religion is to visit the fatherless and the widows and their afflictions. I endeavour in a modest way to try to do something in that direction and I think that it is certainly very much appreciated. I think that they want me to come - most people in the village seem to want to see me very much with their difficulties and so on. But I chiefly let them talk - I don't talk to them at great length but I let them tell me their difficulties and troubles. They seem very glad to have somebody who'll listen to them. I think perhaps you do as much good by listening as by talking when you are a Minister.

Announcer: The Reverend J.P.Martin - incidentally his book called 'Uncle' is published by Jonathan Cape at sixteen shillings.