by Damon Parker, spokesperson and solicitor for the Ted Hughes estate)
The decision of the Ted Hughes estate to withdraw permission for Professor Bate to quote unpublished, copyright material from the late poet's archive, in the book he is writing about Mr Hughes's work, was not one taken lightly and I set out those reasons below. It should be noted that he has not, of course, been barred from studying documents in what is now the public Hughes archive at the British Library.
Mr Bate first approached Ted Hughes's publishers, Faber & Faber, in 2000 with a proposal to write an authorised biography of the poet. This was rejected by the estate in line with the stated wishes of Ted Hughes.
In 2009, he came back with a detailed proposal for something rather different – a literary life – focusing primarily on the poet's work and how that was affected by his life. This proposal was approved. (At the risk of disillusioning him, there was no significance to the restaurant or the street chosen for a lunch with Mrs Hughes and the poetry editor. The restaurant just happened to be a favourite haunt of Faber & Faber executives at that time. Nor was there any "symbolic anointing" of him in anyone's mind other than his own.)
He writes that "we kept the form of words that the book was not to be called a biography". But his proposal to write "Ted Hughes: a Literary Life" was rather more than a "form of words" to the estate and to Faber: it was a whole new, scholarly approach, and that was the basis on which he was commissioned. Yet in his piece How the actions of the Ted Hughes estate will change my biography he dismisses what he calls "the rather artificial distinction between 'biography' and 'literary life'".
Concerns were expressed to Professor Bate as early as 2010 that he might be straying from the remit agreed for his book. He repeatedly resisted all requests to see some of his work in progress, as agreed. His comments to the press in recent days have confirmed the concerns that the estate had long held.
And it is curious that he should have taken his sense of grievance to the press when he had written to Carol Hughes only a few weeks ago, after his contract with Faber was ended by mutual consent, that: "I will not go into print or speak to journalists on the subject of the changed status of my work." Clearly he has chosen to break his own self-imposed silence. He did so last Sunday and Monday with the inflammatory claim that the reason he was dropped was due to concern that he might unearth "revelations about (the poet's) private life".
Carol Hughes totally rejects this claim, insisting that there is no "secret being guarded" as Professor Bate speculates. The archive is open to public inspection. And she dismisses as "ridiculous" his claim here that he has "discovered some things that surprised even Carol … so there may be more surprises to come".
Mrs Hughes says that nothing discovered by him has surprised her. And the poet's widow strongly rejects his suggestion that she "unnecessarily reneged" on the agreement for him to write a literary life of the poet.