When I was younger, if someone asked me how I spelled my surname the answer was easy, “Hartley – Like the jam”. Hartley’s jam was (and is) a very famous brand in Britain (and a fine range of delicious jams, too). In the early eighties, things changed, due to an advert on TV for Yellow Pages (a telephone directory of businesses). An elderly gentleman was seen, unsuccessfully, trying to find a copy of a particular book in several second-hand bookshops. Dejected and weary, he returned home, where his daughter hands him a copy of the Yellow Pages and in the next shot he was shown with telephone in hand and a broad smile on his face – he’s found a copy of the book and asks if the seller will keep it for him. At dictation speed, he ends his call with the words, “My name? Oh yes, it’s J R Hartley”. In the film, actor and opera singer Norman Lumsden enunciated the name so clearly that, overnight, my reply changed to, “Hartley – Like J R Hartley”.
Such was the success of the advertising campaign that people began to ask for Fly Fishing by J R Hartley in bookshops, and in response to demand an edition was produced, using a text ghost written by bona-fide fly-fisherman Michael Russell, using Hartley’s pseudonym. The book may well have been a blatant commercial exercise, but surprisingly it is very well written, to Russell’s credit, and it is a pleasure to read. The book sold an eye-watering 130,000 copies, and a second volume J. R. Hartley Casts Again: More Memories of Angling Days) followed.
In 1994, on the advice of his doctor, J R Hartley gave up fishing and took up golf and, inevitably, there was a further book, Golfing with J R Hartley. In real life, Lumsden didn’t take up fishing until he was 85 years old, and when he died in 2001, aged 95, the original advert was rebroadcast as a tribute to him, (it is one of the most popular adverts ever made).
|Page One - A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle 1496|
The earliest book on fishing printed in English (and the first written by a woman) is by Dame Juliana Berners, printed at Westminster by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496 as a second edition to The Boke of St Albans, and titled A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle. It is a very practical guide – indeed, six of the dozen fishing flies mentioned in it are still in use today.
|Another page from A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle 1496|
In the next hundred and fifty years there were only four more books on angling written, until, in 1653, Isaak Walton published what is probably the most famous book ever on the subject – The Compleat Angler.
|Title Page Isaak Walton The Compleat Angler 1653|
Walton continued to expand and add to later editions over the following twenty-five years, the original thirteen chapters growing to twenty-one.
|Example page from The Compleat Angler 1890 edition|
The Compleat Angler combines practical advice with anecdotes and verse, providing the reader with a work that can be dipped into and enjoyed at any time.
|Title Page - Alfred Ronald - The Fly-fisher's Entomology 1836|
The finest book on fly-fishing is Alfred Ronald’s The Fly-fisher's Entomology of 1836, a book that set the standard for all further works.
|Plater from Alfred Ronald - The Fly-fisher's Entomology 1836|
Ronald advocates the use of imitations of the specific insects found at the site, and was the first to standardize the names of particular flies and lures. Republished for over a century, it remains, in my opinion, the definitive word on the subject.
|Title Page - Sir Edward Grey - Fly Fishing 1920 edition|
Another, later, book that is very readable is the classic Fly Fishing by Viscount Sir Edward Grey of Fallodon, 1899, an easy but informative book written in a pleasant, anecdotal manner.
|Chapter Heading - Sir Edward Grey - Fly Fishing 1920 edition|