VICAR of Dibley writer  Paul Mayhew-Archer admits he no longer reads to his own 28-year-old son, but he is backing our campaign to get Oxfordshire reading.

The BBC writer, producer and script editor is among a host of celebrities and political figures who are supporting  the joint Oxfordshire County Council, National Literacy Trust and Oxford Mail campaign aimed at improving literacy standards in the youngest children.

And Mr Mayhew-Archer, a former teacher, already shows his own commitment to children’s literacy, reading once a week with children at Thomas Reade Primary School, in Abingdon, where he is the literacy governor.

He said: “I support the initiative to get children reading because stories are wonderful.”

Here he talks to ESTHER BROWNING about books that have inspired him – and moved him to tears.


What was your favourite book when you were small and why did you love it?

When I was seven, my dad was laid up in bed with a bad back for a few days and I remember lying next to him while he read the whole of Five go to Smuggler’s Top (by which I mean he read it aloud).

It had secret passages, villains up to no good, Block the mysterious butler, and I remember being gripped by the story and loving my dad reading it to me.

After that I read every Famous Five book available. I also read 38 Bobbsy Twin books before I realised they were written for girls.

Which children's book moved you the most?

The book that moved me most as a child was Black Beauty. I won’t spoil it for children who haven’t read it yet but there’s a moment which I found very sad indeed.

My first job was teaching English so I then (as an adult) read a lot of books written for children.

The one that thrilled and inspired me was Leon Garfield’s Smith. Edge of the seat stuff. I also read Of Mice and Men to my Year 10 Class.

It’s not exactly a children’s book but is very popular with teenagers. The ending is intensely moving so it was a big mistake for me read it to my class of fifteen year olds.

“Are you crying sir?” said a girl as I held the book in front of my face. Yes. I was.

 Tell me about the books you enjoy reading now and why they appeal to you?

The book I’m reading at the moment is Anna Karenina. I never got round to it when I was younger, and it is marvellous.

It is so even-handed and non-judgmental and beautifully observed. Tolstoy simply sees the human frailties in all his characters, frailties which are common to us all.

My favourite author is Emile Zola. Germinal is about a miners’ strike in 19th century France and is the most overwhelmingly exciting book I have ever read.

Why do you believe it is important for children to read?

Almost everything we do requires the ability to read. ‘Poison’, ‘Stop’ ‘These animals are dangerous’ could mean the difference between life and death. But reading also means you can read stories which are fun and thrilling.

Where’s the most unusual place you’ve found yourself curled round a book?

When I get to that unputdownable stage I’ll read a book anywhere. So I read the last 50 pages of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin sitting on the toilet at work.