Typescript copy of Reed's 1979 play adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick . The collection also contains four more radio plays, broadcast between 1947 and 1959: his Greek play Pytheas ; two biographical plays charting the life of the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, with whom Reed heavily identified himself, The Unblest and The Monument ; and the seventh and last play in his Hilda Tablet series, Musique Discrte . There is also some fragmented material in various stages of drafting relating to the play Dimitry which Reed worked on over a number of years but which was neither completed nor published. In addition to this there are some manuscripts, typescripts and Listener cuttings of translations "from the Italian"; including a typescript of one of Reed's most well known translations, The Advertisement , from Natalia Ginzburg's L'insorzione .
There are several notebooks in the collection, containing working notes on, amongst others, the proposed script for the radio play Mycenae , and the television play on Richard Strauss which Reed was working on with Ken Russell in 1969 and which was Reed's only foray into the medium of television.
However, the main bulk of the collection consists of Reed's poetry and personal letters. The poetry is largely in manuscript or typescript form with emendations in Reed's hand. There are also cuttings of various poems, mainly taken from The Listener ; and some amended galley proofs, including those for the Clover Hill, 5th edition of The Complete Lessons of the War , printed in 1970. Some of the poetry contained in the Birmingham collection was published for the first time in Professor Jon Stallworthy's Henry Reed: Collected Poems (Oxford University Press, 1991); some appears never to have been published: for example, The Candidate or The Summer Exam , Liberal Rhymes for Liberal Times and Voyage Autour de ma Chambre .
The 137 letters and postcards held at Birmingham are mostly from Reed to his family (mother, father, sister Gladys and niece Jane), and to Michael Ramsbotham. They have survived because they were retained by the recipients. Unfortunately, Reed did not keep the correspondence he received; although, interestingly, the collection does contain a photocopy of a letter written to Reed by E. M. Forster and praising Reed's poem The Return which was broadcast on BBC radio on Christmas Eve 1944. To have kept the letter Reed must have highly valued Forster's praise. The letters are an invaluable source of information for anyone researching Reed and have in fact been used recently as part of a Masters dissertation on critical editing. Some of the letters are extremely witty; some are full of despair. Together they demonstrate the duality of Reed's nature.