Fen fiction meets Fen fact in a face-to-face confrontation in Ely; no winners or losers over Grunty Fen

Dennis of Grunty Fen

Dennis of Grunty Fen - Credit: Archant

Fen fiction met fen fact in a face-to-face confrontation in Ely at the weekend. After a lively fight, there were no winners and no losers.

Chris South amd Mike Petty

Chris South amd Mike Petty - Credit: Archant

Fen historian Mike Petty challenged fen fiction writer Christopher South to face an audience of over 70 fen enthusiasts and justify his 30 years spent inventing an imaginary Grunty Fen on radio, in records and in books.

“You’re very brave to be here,” warned Mike when Christopher turned up at Ely Methodist Church on Friday proudly clutching his latest book, “Who’s Who in Grunty Fen”, sequel to his “Official Guide to Grunty Fen.”

But even those members of the audience who came from the real Grunty Fen had to admit they shared the joke which began when singer songwriter Pete Sayers first invented the character Dennis of Grunty Fen. It later developed into a 17-year stint on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire involving hundreds of weekly episodes centring on a squalid imaginary village which happened to bear the same name as the small settlement between Wilburton and Witchford.

Historian Mike tried to tether the exchange of views in solid facts by producing the results of his scholarly research into the real Grunty Fen down the centuries. But Christopher countered by pointing out how often the factual Grunty Fen chimed in with his fanciful fen. After all, Grunty Fen was indeed one of the last fen areas to be drained because no-one had thought it was worth the bother. And, as Mike had discovered, the area had been such a wilderness it had never been adopted by any church parish and long remained a religious no-man’s-land.

Grunty Fen

Grunty Fen - Credit: Archant

Even worse, and echoing the unsanitary culinary conditions in Mr South’s fictional village, Mike had uncovered a case where a Grunty Fen farmer’s wife buttered toast using her husband’s shaving brush.

What’s more, when Mr South asked the audience if there was any truth in his crazy notion that Grunty Fen ditches sometimes flowed one way and sometimes the other, an eminent expert on fen drainage testified to its truth.

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“I’m rather relieved people took my mockery so well,” he said. “They could easily have complained. The best result when one charming lady who is one of the very few people to actually live slap bang in the middle of the real Grunty Fen invited me and the missus to tea.

“Naturally I gave her a complimentary copy of both the Guide to Grunty Fen and Who’s Who in Grunty Fen. The test will be if she invites me back after she has read them.”

Dennis of Grunty Fen

Dennis of Grunty Fen - Credit: Archant

The Authorised Guide to Grunty Fen and Who’s Who in Grunty Fen are available from:

Burrows Bookshop and Topping & Co in Ely, Greetings in March and Chatteris, Barretts of St Neots, Just Cards and Thorntons in St Ives, Tindalls in Newmarket, TIC in Saffron Walden, Amazon.co.uk or through dennisofgruntyfen.co.uk