Stuart Petre Brodie Mais was a writer and popular broadcaster whose wireless broadcasts for the BBC in the 1920s, 1930s and especially the wartime years of the 1940s, made him one of the most famous men in England at that time.
Mais came to live at the rectory, Tansley, near Matlock in 1889 at the age of 4 when his father the Rev Brodie Mais was appointed rector. He was enrolled in the village school, an experience he later recalled with some distaste. However, the hills and dales of Derbyshire awoke in him an unquenchable love and lifelong interest in the countryside. He was later to write lovingly of Derbyshire in his 'This Unknown Island'
'It is a sort of Lilliput England , enshrined in the very heart of England, with all Englands most characteristic beauties reproduced in miniature, her medieval manor houses, superb churches and compact, dignified villages. If all England were lost but this one small midland county, you could still in after years rebuild the old England from this perfect model of her, for she is not only in the heart of England , she is the heart of England'
At the age of 11, Mais was enrolled at the Heath Grammer School in Halifax Yorkshire, where he was also unhappy, later enrolling at the Denstone College in Uttoxeter where he spent 6 years. He later writes of his teenage exploits gleefully relating how he had picked up girls along the river Derwent on the Lovers's Walk in Matlock Bath
Mais or "Petre" as he preferred to be called, was, at the height of his broadcasting career, receiving 400-500 letters a day from listeners all over Britain.
As a broadcaster, Mais presented a Letter From America in 1933, a full 13 years before Alistair Cooke thought of the idea.
Mais had a great concern for the under privilaged, offering practical help for the unemployed in the form of allotments, open air schemes, and free postage for unemployed men writing applications for work. He broadcast and wrote about unemployment from northern England years before Orwell made his epic journey to Wigan. He personally visited England's worst slums and broadcast harrowing programmes about the Depression, to which Queen Mary listened with interest, and the Prince of Wales asked to meet him.
It was his inspired series on This Unknown Island that introduced the British people to our landscape and led to Mais being acclaimed "Ambassador of the Countryside".
His wider, multitudinous, talents and eccentricities sometimes elude precise definition. How would you categorise someone who was the only child of an impoverished clergy family with tenuous links to the English aristocracy, who experienced the earthly paradise that was Edwardian Oxford, before becoming one of the most innovative and charismatic teachers of his time, teaching English at the best public schools and writing novels in his spare time; who became a Professor of English in RAF but was sacked from the RAF college at Cranwell, where his verve and passion had offended the authorities; who started a new career at the age of 35, working as a Fleet Street journalist and meeting all the famous and notorious figures of his times, as well as working as BBC presenter; and finally made his mark as the author of some 200 books?
His titles encompass travel and history, topography, literary criticism, autobiographies and many wise articles on how England, its countryside, and the English were changing during the tumultuous 20th century.
In the Holy Trinity church at Tansley there is a window was erected in 1941 by Mais, in memory of his mother Hannah Horden Mais and his father the Revd John Brodie Stuart Mais.
A biography of Mais by Masie Robson was published by Kings England Press in 2005, entitled 'An Unrepentant Englishman'
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