Like many, there are a number of ways in which Harrow has come to embody my childhood – whether that be physically in landmarks that have long drawn my curiosity, or sights such as our historic and famous hill. But events make up these memories too – from big events like the Pinner St. George’s Day celebrations, to smaller events felt only on a personal level. With this week’s article, the latter can be seen to clash with the borough at large with Michael Rosen – a famous writer and the Children’s Laureate from 2007 to 2009, having come from Harrow.
The writer of childhood classics such as Going on a Bear Hunt (pictured), Rosen is a key fixture in a number of childhood’s, and the fact that he came from Harrow too, makes him only more centralised in mine. His story, from his time in the borough to his fame that he now knows, is one of the most relevant and interesting stories to have emerged from Harrow in recent times.
Born in 1946, in a nursing home called The Firs, on Roxborough Park, near the Harrow-on-the-Hill tube station, Rosen came into this world under somewhat dramatic circumstances – with the church next door to where they had lived being burnt down on the night of his birth. However, Rosen’s family altogether forms an intriguing background for the Harrow writer. Rosen was the son of communist parents, with both having met whilst members of the Young Communist League in 1935. Rosen also had one older brother, Brian, and would later have a younger sibling, Alan, for a tragically short while before Alan died as a baby.
Growing up in Harrow, even decades after Rosen is able to remember a number of details about his childhood. Until he was 17, he lived out of the family flat in Pinner – specifically 30A Bridge Street – at 17 moving to another flat on Love Lane. Both flats were – and still can – be found above shops, and Rosen can recall how as a child he had made use of the wide alleys that stretched out behind the shops, and of the waste disposed of at the nearby builder’s yard. As Rosen as put it, the alleys and the dump were both his playground growing up.
As he grew up, his mother Connie also encouraged him to take party in a number of writing competitions, even encouraging Rosen to produce poetry for the programme she was working on as part of her job – some of which she even used. Reflecting on his childhood recently with the Harrow Times, Rosen can recall a number of specific details, be they go-karting or breaking his teeth in Pinner Memorial Park. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his childhood in Pinner has found its way to a number of his poems over the years – most notably in ‘Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here,’ and, ‘You Wait Till I’m Older Than You.’
Rosen also found his education in the local area – albeit at from a number of different places. Attending nursery at Tynholme in Wealdstone and Pinner Wood, Rosen went to primary school at the then-recently opened West Lodge – near to where he had lived – before going to Harrow Weald County Grammar School, where his older brother had gone before him, and where his father had taught during the war, and then later Watford Boys Grammar School when his family moved out of Harrow. During this time at Harrow Weald, Rosen entered more writing competitions, further perfecting his craft until he was ready for higher education. Yet, at least initially, Rosen was not set on the path for authorship – with him initially attending Middlesex Hospital Medical School for medical training until he swapped Middlesex for Oxford, and medicine for English.
From there, Rosen quickly became the successful and well-loved writer for which he is now known – albeit not without hiccups along the way, most notably his effective-firing from the BBC in 1972, who did not take kindly to his somewhat radical politics after a change in policy at the corporation. Nevertheless, this only saw Rosen go freelance, and in 1974 he produced his first book – a poetry book for children – called Mind Your Own Business. Plenty more followed after, perhaps most notably his arguably most famous book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt in 1989 – for which he won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize for the year, and which later broke the Guinness World Record for the largest reading lesson.
Since then, Rosen has continued to write widely – not just in poetry and prose but also for TV – and now lives in North London with his own family, in some ways keeping close to the roots which, as can be seen in his numerous interviews and blog posts, he has never entirely lost sight of.
As one of the nation’s most famous and loved writers, and with Pinner and Harrow informing much of his poetry, Michael Rosen is but another famous Harrowvian that we ought remember. Indeed, when next you find yourself reading his childhood classic Going on a Bear Hunt, it would do well to think of the man behind it, and the boy behind that, growing up in Pinner, learning his craft in its alleys and its streets and schools. Certainly, on a personal level, knowing that Rosen too was born and raised here means I will look upon his Bear Hunt book that even more fondly than before.
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: Licensing.biz