I have been reading John Russell’s book about Shakespeare’s Country, which I had not known existed: his first book, published in Spring 1942, when he was only 23, having recently graduated from Oxford and was working as an unpaid assistant for the Tate, which had been evacuated to Eastington Hall in Worcestershire. It belongs to an odd genre of countryside writing much promoted by Batsford – not a guidebook, because, as I learn from the Preface, publishing a guidebook during wartime was illegal; nor was Russell a very obvious person to have written the book, as he had been brought up not in Worcestershire or Warwickshire, but in Strawberry Hill in London. In fact, the text is as much literary as architectural. The first chapter is devoted to a life of Shakespeare (one of the illustrations is of the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, a magnificent castellated structure, looking as if it belonged in south Germany). In later chapters, he is most enthusiastic about places with literary associations, like Hagley, admired by William Shenstone, and Sion Hill, the birthplace of the typographer, John Baskerville. I like the description of Cheltenham: ‘to coast through is crescents, promenade, and acacia-shaded avenues is to hear an old, thin, bony music, as if someone in an empty house were to play upon a wooden-framed piano, a sonata of Weber’. The qualities of Russell’s writing were much admired by John Piper, who became a lifelong friend, and Logan Pearsall Smith, who encouraged him to be a full-time writer.