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Was Henry Root a real person

01:00 Mon 09th Jul 2001 |

A. Henry Root, who retired at 45 having made a fortune in wet fish, was not a real person, though many thought - maybe still think - he was. Root was the alter ego of William Donaldson, author and satirist, who used Root as a vehicle through which to prick the egos of the great and the good of late 1970s Britain.


Q. How
A.
Donaldson, in the guise of Root - a hang-'em-high Tory who had no truck with immigrants, 'sexual deviants', feminists and anyone not of his ilk - wrote letters to prominent people offering support (often in the shape of a 1 note) and asking them to address his group of like-minded citizens. Their replies along with copies of his originals were reproduced in facsimile in The Henry Root Letters. There were sequels in the 1980s, and even a television programme, with George Cole playing the part of Root.


Q. When exactly was this
A.
The letters in in the original Root were written immediately preceding and in the aftermath of the first Tory victory under Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Correspondents included the then commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir David McNee, Esther Rantzen, Larry Lamb, at the time editor of The Sun, Lord Grade and, of course, his heroine Margaret Thatcher.


Q. Any examples
A. The following letter was published in the London Evening Standard (15/8/79). This is the text in full:


I wish to protest most strongly about everything.
- Henry Root, Park Walk, West Brompton


Q. What else has William Donaldson done
A.
For a - possibly unreliable, though there's plenty of 'fact' in it - run through of his life it's worth trying to find a copy of From Winchester to This (ISBN 0 7206 1063 X). From a privileged background, he found himself, after Cambridge, in the London theatre world, where he bank-rolled the original production of Beyond the Fringe - thus helping to launch the careers of such luminaries as Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller.


After losing all his money, in dedicated drug abuse, living in a brothel and the like he wrote novels, such as The English Way of Doing Things, All the Ladies and the Gentlemen, some toilet books and then hit on Root, which was a run-away success. Since then he has continued to write and make mischief - most recently the Heart-Felt Letters - and penned a long-running column in the Independent.


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By Simon Smith

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