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Category Archives: Pyrford Heath

Room at the TopThose of you who have been enjoying the BBC’s adaptation of John Braine’s 1950s novel Room at the Top, with its updated, added raunchiness, might be interested to know of the Yorkshire-born author’s links with Woking, which were news to me.   A one-line reference to Woking in an enthusiastic review of the first episode in the Observer sent me scurrying to Google. This is what I found out. Braine moved to Woking in 1966, occupied a large, six-bedroom house at The Holt in Pyrford Heath for a number of years with his wife and four children, and commuted to a down-at-heel, first-floor office in the centre of Woking each day to write. Its seediness and shabbiness, including the outside loo,  he admitted in a TV profile, reminded him of his roots in Bradford.  According to a blog posted by a former reporter on the Woking News and Mail, that office was above a pet shop and near the-then Gaumont cinema. Braine concedes in the film that his den, where he feels so at home, is destined for redevelopment.  It may be that losing it hastened his decline as a writer. In the 1950s, when Room at the Top came out, he was described as one of the Angry Young Men. It was a form of journalist shorthand; Braine was never that, although he did become an Angry Middle-Aged Man,  further to the right in the 1970s than the Conservative party of the day, and warning in that same BBC profile of the dangers of a British leftwing revolution, something he clearly believed to be a real threat.  In  a later interview with the Yorkshire Post, his widow speaks of his decline; how they were forced to move to smaller houses in and around Woking, that he hit the bottle, and how they eventually separated and he spent his final years alone and in debt, in a flat in Hampstead.  A fascinating and ultimately sad story,  mirroring in some ways the fate of his hero Joe Lampton, who moves to London but loses touch with his roots in the process. I’m sure there must be much information out there about Braine’s time in Woking; I’d love to hear of it.