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John Sleigh Pudney

(1909 - 1977) - Poet, Journalist and Author

John Sleigh Pudney was known especially for his popular poetry written during World War II.

He also wrote novels, short stories and children’s fiction. His broad-ranging non-fiction, often commissioned, was his primary source of income.

He lived for a period in a rented caravan on Henry Osborne’s land and later at Cherry Orchard, Browns Brook, Fairwarp.

Pudney wrote the ‘Hartwarp’ (Hartfield + Fairwarp) children’s books and, famously, the poem ‘For Johnny’ that featured in the film ‘The Way to the Stars’. The poem was written during an air-raid and was read on radio by Laurence Olivier and in the film by Michael Redgrave. The poem begins:

Do not despair

For Johnny head-in-air

He sleeps as sound

As Johnny underground

Pudney was educated at Gresham’s School, Holt (Norfolk), where he encountered WH Auden, Benjamin Britten and Humphrey Spender.

He was one of a group of young London-based writers including Dylan Thomas, George Baker and David Gascoyne and published two books of verse, story collections and a novel while working for the BBC before World War II.

He joined the RAF in 1940 as an intelligence officer and as a member of the Air Ministry’s Creative Writers Unit. After the War, Pudney continued to work as a screenwriter and an editor for several anthologies and collections until his death in 1977.

Major works:


  • Dispersal Point (1942)

  • South of Forty (1943)

Childrens’ Literature

  • 'Fred and I’ series (1950s)

  • Hartwarp Adventures (1950s/1960s)


  • The Net (1952)

  • Thin Air (1961)

Research undertaken by Ian Brown, John Manthorpe and Jan Kemsley

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