Pamela Stuttaford: Best-selling Norfolk author and former MP’s wife

Dr Tom Stuttaford with his wife, the author Pamela Ropner, pictured for the EDP in 1970. Dr Tom Stuttaford with his wife, the author Pamela Ropner, pictured for the EDP in 1970.

Friday, July 12, 2013
3:48 PM

A best-selling Norfolk author of books for young people, Pamela Stuttaford, has died aged 82 after a long illness.

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Her second book, set in the Norfolk Broads, “The House of the Bittern,” was the first children’s novel broadcast by the BBC’s A Book at Bedtime programme.

She had used her experience of living and travelling in Africa to write her first book, The Golden Impala, which won a top literary award in the United States.

A daughter of a Scottish farmer and doctor, Pamela Ropner, kept her maiden name during her lengthy and successful career as an author. She married the former Norwich South MP, Dr Tom Stuttaford, on June 1, 1957 in London, where he had been working and training in the capital.

Brought up on her father’s 1,300-acre mixed farm at Tain, by the Black Isle between Inverness and Invergordon, she drew on her childhood experiences for her second book. Originally intended for children and set in the Norfolk Broads, it was written while the GP’s wife was living in Clippesby, near Great Yarmouth, and described the conflict between old and new farming methods and the changes to the countryside. It was broadcast in ten episodes in August 1965 on the BBC Home Service.

She started writing when she was at school and also wrote for magazines. A talented piano player, she had considered studying music or her first love, English, and wanted to go to Oxford. However, the university then insisted on Latin or Greek, so instead aged 17, she did a three-year general degree at Edinburgh University. Then she went to London and studied at art school, where she honed her natural skills and became a good illustrator.

Her father, Col Richard Ropner, who grew malting barley for Glenmorangie whisky, and had served during the second world war in Abyssinia despite severe injuries during Germany’s 1918 spring offensive, encouraged her to travel widely in Africa.

On her return, she wrote “The Golden Impala,” and with encouragement from author Eric Linklater, it was published by Rupert Hart-Davis. It was a great success and made a profit of £5,000 in 1957 (probably worth £100,000 today) – amply justifying her publisher’s faith.

She wrote five books including The Guardian Angel and in 1968 while living at Bramerton, near Norwich, wrote her fourth, The Sea Friends, published by Macmillan. This led to a further career, writing short stories and contributing to a series of annuals for young people. In all, she had eight stories accepted for Macmillan’s anthologies through the 1970s. One, the January Queen, which described the fate of the Hickling drummer boy, was described by author Susan Hill as “probably the finest ghost story ever written.”

While she was always interested in politics and it remained a life-long interest, her husband, who had moved from a practice in Fleggburgh to Vauxhall Street, Norwich, became the Conservative MP for Norwich South between 1970 and 1974. Labour’s John Garrett won the seat after boundary changes while Dr Stuttaford stood twice for the Isle of Ely against the Liberal MP, Clement Freud, in the second 1974 election and again in 1979.

She then conceived her fifth full-length book, while living near Downham Market, “Helping Mr Paterson,” published by Chatto & Windus in 1982.

Married for more than 57 years, she lived in Elm Hill, Norwich, for the past 20 years.

A funeral service was held at All Saints, Billockby, in the tiny Broadland church surrounded by fields of ripening barley. There was standing room only as friends and family recalled her great sense of humour and her achievements over many years.

She leaves a husband, Tom, three sons, Andrew, Thomas and Hugo, and four grandchildren.

Michael Pollitt

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