It is 50 years since Ronald Blythe published Akenfield, his melancholy portrait of a Suffolk village on the cusp of dramatic change. Akenfield was actually a composite of two real villages, Charsfield and Debach, and Blythe’s oral history was a patchwork created from about 50 conversations — with figures including a pig-farming colonel, the over-stretched blacksmith and a rural dean who reported residents being ‘blunted and crushed by toil’. It was an unsparing vision of rural poverty, yet also a homage to disappearing ways of life and the virtues of small communities.
Last Saturday’s Akenfield Now, on Radio 4, followed local sixth-former Anna Davies as she surveyed the landscape afresh. The highlight of this richly textured, hour-long documentary (produced by Ned Carter Miles) was her conversation with Blythe himself, now 96.