Maurice Bowra’s famous ribald satires on his contemporaries
were published at last in 2005

New Bats in Old Belfries

Maurice Bowra

Edited by Henry Hardy and Jennifer Holmes
With an Introduction by Julian Mitchell

‘had me retching with laughter’
Philip Hensher, Spectator Books of the Year

‘Bowra now takes precedence over all his forerunners
as purveyor of filth to the intelligentsia

Bevis Hillier, Spectator

‘this elegant, scholarly volume ... is a welcome addition
to the canon of Oxoniana, and to the lavatory shelf’
Lewis Jones, Daily Telegraph

Published in association with
Wadham College, Oxford, to whom all profits go

I shall not need chastity in heaven,
For I shall be with Oliver Thynne,
And alternando we shall go
In and out and out and in.

Maurice Bowra’s notoriously scabrous satirical poems on his contemporaries have long been the subject of gossip, mostly based on glimpses of small specimens. John Sparrow, Warden of Oxford’s All Souls College, said of his friend: ‘his prose was unreadable and his verse was unprintable’. And unprinted it has largely remained, though Bowra did give occasional after-dinner readings to carefully chosen friends.

Now at last the time has come to make these wonderful poems public. Enormously learned, brilliantly versified, exhilaratingly witty, unashamedly lewd and scurrilous, these soaring fantasies about his friends and enemies, based on the very slimmest of facts, are masterpieces of their genre. They will immediately take their place in the canon of the thinking person’s light verse.

This edition has its roots in a plan formed by Isaiah Berlin and John Sparrow to explain the many allusions the poems contain – allusions that are becoming increasingly obscure as time goes by. Unfortunately, the necessary editorial work was scarcely begun in their lifetimes. Now it has been completed, and the sometimes esoteric cast of characters is identified and put in context. This leaves the reader free to luxuriate in the virtuosity of Bowra’s acid pen.

The playwright Julian Mitchell, as an undergraduate at Wadham College in the 1950s, came to know the author well during Bowra’s long Wardenship, and provides a perceptive introduction to this long hidden department of his œuvre – one which, some think, may well be remembered for longer than his more ‘serious’ works.

208 pp., hardback, £17.50 (£20 inc. p & p)  ISBN 0 946976 11 2

Stocked (or orderable) at Blackwell
s in Oxford,
at Heywood Hill and John Sandoe in London, and at Heffers in Cambridge

To order by post write to:
Robert Dugdale, c/o Henry Hardy, Wolfson College, OXFORD, OX2 6UD
enclosing cheque payable to Robert Dugdale @ £20 per copy

For information contact Henry Hardy,, phone 0151 342 6166

Additions and corrections are gratefully received, and logged on a separate page