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Herbert, A P

Entry updated 14 January 2020. Tagged: Author.

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(1890-1971) UK humorist, author and politician – an Independent MP from 1935 to 1950. He was prolific for 60 years after he began publishing light verse in Punch, some of it fantastic, around 1910. From 1917 his Punch work was signed A.P.H. The Secret Battle (1919) – a nonfantastic novel about the judicial murder by the British army of an officer whose tactical savvy is misinterpreted by his privileged senior – reflected the effect World War One had upon him after three years of active service; though by no means marking him as an Aftermath writer, Herbert's frequently iterated Satirical take on post-War British culture gave fibre to his Punch pleasantries.

The Red Pen (1927 chap), the libretto for a radio opera broadcast on 7 February 1927 with music (not included) by Geoffrey Toye (1889-1942), is a Near-Future story in which artists arrange for the nationalization of the Arts. Number Nine, or The Mind-Sweepers (1951) and its loose sequel, Made for Man (1958), also set in the near future, are political Satires, good-tempered except on the matter of divorce law, in which area Herbert's liberal instincts led him to disagree profoundly with contemporary Church of England doctrines (his nonfantastic novel Holy Deadlock [1934] bitterly anatomizes one unjust legal scenario). Number Nine – taking place in 1955 after a brief, non-nuclear World War Three in which the comically inept USSR was easily defeated – primarily satirizes the contemporary vogue for Psychological testing, but also posits a national sweepstake (along the lines of the football pools) based on guessing the coming vagaries of Parliament. Herbert is best remembered for his long-extended Misleading Cases sequence of imaginary law reports, beginning in Punch in 1924 and highlighting actual or potential absurdities of English law: a late example, "Reign of Error?" (13 February 1963 Punch; rev in Bardot M.P.?, coll 1964), addresses the legal question of the criminal responsibility of a malfunctioning, clearly sentient Computer.

One humorous contribution to Prediction concerns the extension of Cinema "talkies" towards Virtual Reality by reproducing tactile ("feelies") and olfactory sensations, in "The Din-Palace, The Smellies and the Future of the Theatre" (8 May 1929 Punch; cut vt "The Smellies" in Look Back and Laugh, coll 1960). Newspaper reports assembled with commentary in Watch This Space: An Anthology of Space (Fact), 4 October 1957 – 4 October 1963 (anth 1964) convey Herbert's jaundiced view of the space and arms races. Herbert was knighted in 1945. [JC/DRL]

Sir Alan Patrick Herbert

born Ashstead Common, Leatherhead, Surrey: 24 September 1890

died London: 11 November 1971

works (highly selected)


works as editor (selected)


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