Denys Watkins-Pitchford wrote over 60 books and illustrated another 30 or so under the pseudonym of BB. In case you are wondering, he chose the name after a size of lead shot he used as a wildfowler.
Most carp fishers I have met are big, still men, slow of movement and low-voiced... Many have nagging, lean wives, and it is by the calm secluded waters that they have found peace...Denys Watkins-Pitchford (BB)
Visit BB's 1905 birthplace, and you would assume that Denys James Watkins-Pitchford came from a hugely wealthy, aristocratic family (especially with such a name). The 18th century rectory at Lamport, Northamptonshire, where he spent his childhood is a huge building, with nine bedrooms. His father, the Rev’d Walter Maristow Watkins-Pitchford, was just the local vicar. Different times. Not wealthy, it's true, but then the clergy were just only one step down from the gentry. BB recalls his parents had several servants, including three maids. No wonder many of his books seem to have a longing for the past, especially his own autobiography, ‘A Child Alone’.
The young Denys was educated at home because it was felt he was a ‘delicate’ child. Instead, he enjoyed an idyllic childhood, left alone to wander fields, collect birds' eggs and as he grew older, to hunt and fish. Fishing was his great passion. When he caught small perch, he would take them home to eat. BB was just as happy casting a line for tench as trout, and he disliked the attitude of game fishermen who looked down on coarse fishermen.
His love of angling remained all his life. When he grew infirm, friends would take him to a nearby stillwater where he would fly-fish for trout. Even in his 80s, he always replied to the many letters he received. If visitors turned up at his cottage, he would offer them tea and show them round his house and garden. Though his sight was failing, he was still selling his sketches at the local auction house. The auctioneer joked they were often still wet when they arrived!
A shy, modest man, he once said: "I had two gifts: an ability to write, after a fashion, and to paint and draw with a modest degree of skill." BB lovers (and there are many: indeed, there is a flourishing BB Society) would fiercely disagree.
BB's first love was art. He was assistant art master at Rugby School for 17 years, though he was never really cut out for teaching. A gentle soul, he had problems controlling boys who thought art was a ‘cissy’ thing to learn.
His first book, written while a teacher at Rugby, was ‘The Sportsman's Bedside Book’. He disliked his own etchings that appeared in it, and began experimenting with scraperboard illustrations, which enhance so many of his books.
In ‘BB Remembered’, Tom Quinn writes: "It can be fairly said that he created scraperboards as an original medium for book illustrations. He was the first to see its wonderful vivid qualities."
While at Rugby, he began contributing regularly to ‘Shooting Times’, and sent a couple of books that he had written to publishers. To his delight, they took both.
The success of ‘The Sportsman's Bedside Book’ and ‘Wild Lone’ (1938), made him realise that he could quit teaching and make a career, albeit a precarious one, as an author and illustrator. That was quite a bold decision, with a new wife and later, two children. He wrote: "Freed from the irksome instruction of boys who regarded art with little enthusiasm, I now felt free to do as I pleased. I went fishing for carp and trout in the summer, and shot pigeons in the woods in winter."
However, it wasn't easy. Royalties did not cover his expenses. At one time, he thought of living in a caravan. Fortunately, things picked up in the 1950s as his children's books became more popular. He never became wealthy, though he wrote around 60 books and illustrated 30 more.
BB even had a story published (on fishing, rather than more risqué subjects) in the soft porn magazine ‘Men Only!’ For anglers, though, it is his wonderful fishing books that hold our greatest interest: ‘The Fisherman’s Bedside Book’ (1945), still one of the finest compilations of writing on fishing; ‘Be Quiet and Go a-Angling’ (1949); ‘Confessions of a Carp Fisher’ (1950); and ‘A Carp Water’ (1958).
Carp fascinated him. Not the barrel-shaped, lardy creatures with fins carrying pet names that adorn angling magazines nowadays, but the carp of legend: huge, mysterious, seemingly uncatchable fish, ghosting through lilypads.
Many traditional carp fishers carry ‘Confessions of a Carp Fisher’ (Chris Yates was one) for those long hours when not much is happening, and read passages like: “Most carp fishers I have met are big, still men, slow of movement, soft-footed and low-voiced. Many have nagging, lean wives, and it is by the calm secluded waters that they have found peace and quietness for their troubled lives."
When he wrote this, the carp record stood at 26lb. His books are not about how to catch carp, but the mystery of fishing, which many feel boilies, buzzers and bivvies have stolen from the sport.
Later in life, BB travelled a great deal, and not just in the UK. He also fished on chalkstreams like the Test, Fenland drains, as well as for carp in Devon, Shropshire and even in the famed Redmire Pool.
He was a founder member of the Carp Catchers’ Club, though even in the 1950s, his methods were somewhat behind the times. But he was tolerant of those who legered and used electric bite alarms, and indeed, he was very close friends with Richard Walker. His contribution to literature was recognised in 1990, just before he died, with an MBE in the New Year’s Honours.
Last date edited: 24 March 2020