Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sybil Burr

Another quickie...

Sybil (Edith) Burr was born 13 October 1909. She was a fairly prolific author of girls' stories in the 1950s but doesn't seem to have written much beyond 1960. She is best known for her book Life with Lisa, the fictional diary of a 12-year-old girl whose vivid account and comments on her neighbours and surroundings was later reprinted by Puffin Books (1979) and adapted for Radio 4 in 2003 (five episodes, 8 September-12 September) with Victoria O'Donnell as Lisa. Lisa subsequently appeared in a sequel, Leave It To Lisa. [Lisa may have begun life some years earlier in short stories in annuals, e.g. 'Lisa Loses Her Hat', Daily Mail Annual for Girls 1953, 1952.]

Sybil Burr contributed to various annuals (Collins Girls' Annual, Girls' Own Book, etc.) in the 1950s, including Swift Annual 1 (1954).

Sybil Burr died in Greenwich, London, in 2002, aged 92.

Lantern of the North, illus. Sheila Rose. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954.
My Candle the Moon, illus. Sheila Rose. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955.
The Saint Bride Blue, illus. Leslie Atkinson. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956; as Highland Fling, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1957.
Full Fathom Forty, illus. Leslie Atkinson. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957.
Life With Lisa. London, John Murray, 1958.
Leave It To Lisa. London, John Murray, 1960.
Operation Blindbell. London, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1960.


  1. Hi, does anyone recall what the story was in this one? I loved 'My Candle the Moon' and always wondered what happened to Pud afterwards...

  2. Sorry, should have said my question relates to Operation Blindbell...

  3. Thanks for posting.

    I've not read Operation Blindbell so if anyone can comment or review the book...


  4. I bought Life With Lisa when it came out in 1979. I was 9 years old and it was one of my favourite books. I managed to track down a copy on the internet a couple of years ago and have read it lots of times since.

    I didn't realise there was a sequel so am grateful for the information! I hadn't realised she was so prolific and will try and get hold of some of her other stuff.

  5. Dear Steve, I just posted this comment on Lucy Mangan's blogsite at the Guardian.
    Dear Ms Mangan,
    I was very surprised to see Life with Lisa as this week’s choice in your Guardian Book corner, for I have found almost nobody else knows of it, or of its author, Sybil Burr. However, I do agree on recommending it as worthy of inclusion in a brilliant children’s library.
    Let me say straightaway that I am writing this letter in the very study where Sybil Burr wrote Life with Lisa, at the above address. She lived in this house, (p.39 “Regular whose address is 16 South Eastern Road,” where I have been 40 years now), for about a decade in the 1950s; she helped to develop the large garden here as well as write. She did her writing in this poky little maid’s bedroom up a steep flight of stairs from the kitchen, where she could hear the potatoes boiling on the hub (pp.183/4).
    Bladsole is Ramsgate, and Lisa went to the Ellington Secondary Modern Girls’ School, named after the park nearby, where my daughter went, but called it the James Blean Secondary Modern, Blean being a village above Canterbury (Weavers’ West).We still have the 11+ here in this part of Kent.
    When I first came to live here in May 1969 there was the same blue door and the yellow glass doorhandle; unfortunately, the door has had to be repainted but it is still blue, in her honour, and the door handle broke, and now it is tarnished brass.
    I have lived in Ramsgate for coming up to 60 years, and so I have been able to find and properly name the invented names she used throughout the story, perhaps to retain anonymity, but some details she gave are the same, e.g. Screaming Alley, Grange Road, and, of course,16 South Eastern Road.
    When we moved here our two next door neighbours both knew and remembered the author and her stock broker husband who used to travel to London every day, but they separated.
    Later she wrote a sequel, Leave It To Lisa, of which I have a copy bought via ABE Books from a bookseller for £18! in Weavers West, but we think it is not as good as the earlier book. It describes her life in a boarding house on the East Cliff above the Harbour, helping out during the holiday season. Once again she has given every person and place new names, but a little detective work helped to pin down the places. To my knowledge, there are only two copies of the second book in England, one in the Stock room of Colne, Lancs, Public Library, and the one I have.
    When I found a copy of Life With Lisa, and wanted to share it with others in Ramsgate, no-one at Ramsgate Library was aware of it, nor at James Blean Secondary Modern School (Ellington), nor at the Kent County Library, not even by Marcus Crouch, the Kent Librarian, who had just brought out a review of children’s books connected with Kent. This may well have been from the fact that no-one had penetrated the disguise the Regular had dressed it in.
    I am sorry to say that Ellington School is no more, the High Street has been pedestrianised, the two Police Stations and the Pavilion Theatre no longer exist, the garage at 16 South Eastern Rd was pulled down by the woman who bought the house from Sybil Burr and later sold it to me, and that corner of the garden and orchard had a modern house (16A) built in its place.
    I agree, it’s a lovely story, and I share it with as many people as I can.
    I enjoy your column and choice.

    Yours sincerely, Laurie Webb

  6. Laurie,

    Thanks for sharing that remarkable insight into the story of Lisa and her diary.

    Anyone wishing to read the Guardian piece mentioned by Laurie can find it here.

  7. Laurie,
    Interesed to see your comment about Life with Lisa. If you would like to see what 16 South Eastern Road looked like when SB was in residence I can furnish you with pics of the garden being newly laid by SB herself. Has the back stairs still got a rope handrail? We lived there during the 1950s. Being her son I have all her diarys many covering those writing days.

  8. Bill,

    Hopefully Laurie will spot your comment. I would certainly be interested to learn more of your mother's career as a writer as I only have the barest bones of a bibliography; I'm sure she must have written a lot more than the seven novels I've listed. Any further details would be wonderful.

  9. Dear Steve,
    I am sorry to report that Bill has not yet got in contact with me since posting his comment of 13 months ago. However, I have some important news to impart to him, to Clive, and all Sybil Burr fans.
    The Ramsgate Society ( has since then established a scheme for affixing blue plaques to houses of noteworthy people who have resided in Ramsgate. So far they have lined up twelve out of the twenty which have been funded for, with such as the brother of Jane Austen; the author, Wilkie Collins; the barrister and judge, William Garrow (Garrow’s Law BBC1); and Karl Marx. My family have taken advantage of this scheme to advance the claim of Sybil Burr, who lived in Ramsgate from 1955 to 1960 in this our house at 16 South Eastern Road, where she wrote Life With Lisa.
    Frank Batt on behalf of the Ramsgate society and I have now signed a contract to mount a 14 inch plaque on the front wall of No.16. This will take place in the New Year, when we hope the presentation will include William, her son, who appears in Life With Lisa, and Clive, who features in the sequel, Leave It To Lisa, as well as Barbara, William’s older sister.
    Plans are afoot to include Sybil’s name in a new edition of the Ramsgate Town Guide, the publication of a pamphlet for interested people, and perhaps a sort of competition cum puzzle for readers of the two novels to find out which are the real places in Ramsgate and East Kent which the author hid under pseudonyms.
    I hope William, Barbara and Clive will get in touch with us, me at 16, South Eastern Road, Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 9TR, 01843 591402 and Frank Batt, at 6 Guildford Lawn, Ramsgate, CT11 9AY, 07989 403383 ( I would also be happy to receive any additional information or opinions from anyone else.
    I am much obliged to you, Steve, for the opportunity to pass on this information to all interested people. Thanks, Laurie Webb

  10. Congratulations, Laurie.

    Always nice to hear that authors are being remembered and their works celebrated in some way.

  11. Dear Steve, All Sybil Burr fans will be glad to hear that the ceremony to affix a blue plaque to the house where she lived from 1955 to 1960 in Ramsgate, Kent,16, South Eastern Road, CT11 9TR, 01843 591402, and where she wrote Life With Lisa, is now fixed for Saturday next, February 19, 12.00, where Lucy Mangan, Bill(Sybil's son) and Barbara (her daughter) will unveil the plaque.
    All are welcome to gather outside and join the ceremony.
    Laurie Webb

  12. Hi

    I'm the Clive Martin featured in 'Leave it to Lisa' as 'The Pirate'. Unfortunately I've only just learned of the Blue Plaque ceremony. If Bill (I knew him as Willie) would contact me at I'd be delighted to hear from him again.

  13. Dear Steve,I've passed on Clive Martin (anonymous)'s e-mail address to bill burr. Laurie Webb

  14. Laurie Webb
    My sister and I adored the book and I was both astonished and delighted when I worked with you and discovered you lived in "her" house. We grew up in SE London so my connection with Ramsgate came much later.My sister now lives in San Francisco but we have passed our love of Lisa on to our children. I now have a very new granddaughter and can't wait to share Lisa with her!
    We picked up a leaflet in the library and discovered there was now a plaque
    Linda Fettes

  15. Very interesting to read more about sybil burr. I bought 'life with Lisa' when it was published in paperback by Puffin books, and have always been very fond of it. a few years ago I managed to obtain a copy of 'leave it to Lisa', an ex library edition, though I don't know what library it came from. I must go to ramsgate and see her blue plaque.

  16. Laurie
    I was shocked to find no Kent libraries held copies of the Lisa books, even after the plaque ceremony. After my complaints I hope the matter has been rectified.



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