H. E. Bates was born on 16 May 1905 in Rushden, Northamptonshire, and educated at Kettering Grammar School. After leaving school, he worked as a reporter and a warehouse clerk.
In 1931, he married Madge Cox, his sweetheart from the next road in his native Rushden. They moved to the village of Little Chart in Kent and bought an old granary and this together with an acre of garden they converted into a home. Bates was a keen and knowledgeable gardener and wrote many books on flowers. The Granary remained their home for the whole of their married life. After Bates' death Madge moved to a bungalow, which had originally been a cow byre, next to the Granary. She died in 2004 at the age of 95. They raised two sons and two daughters. Their younger son, Jonathan, was nominated for an Academy Award for his sound work on the 1982 film Gandhi.
During World War II he was commissioned into the RAF solely to write short stories. The Air Ministry realised that the populace was less concerned with facts and figures about the war than it was with reading about those who were fighting it. The stories were originally published in the News Chronicle under the pseudonym of “Flying Officer X”. Later they were published in book form as The Greatest People in the World and Other Stories and How Sleep the Brave and Other Stories. His first financial success was Fair Stood the Wind for France. Following a posting to the Far East, this was followed by two novels about Burma, The Purple Plain in 1947 and The Jacaranda Tree, and one set in India, The Scarlet Sword.
Other novels followed after the war; he averaged one novel and a collection of short stories a year, a prodigious feat. These included The Feast of July and Love for Lydia. His most popular creation was the Larkin family in The Darling Buds of May. Pop Larkin and his family were inspired by a colourful character seen in a local shop in Kent by Bates and his family when on holiday. The man (probably Wiltshire trader william Dell, also on holiday) turned up to the shop with a huge wad of rubber-banded bank notes and proceeded to spoil his trailer load of children with Easter eggs and ice creams. The television adaptation, produced after his death by his son Richard and based on these stories, was a tremendous success. It is also the source of the American movie The Mating Game with Tony Randall and Debbie Reynolds (1959). The My Uncle Silas stories were also made into a UK TV series from 2000–2003. Many other stories were adapted to TV and others to films, the most renowned being The Purple Plain in 1954 which starred Gregory Peck, and The Triple Echo; Bates worked on other film scripts.
Bates died on 29 January 1974 in Canterbury, Kent, aged 68. A prolific and successful author, his greatest success was posthumous, with the television adaptations of his stories The Darling Buds of May and its sequels, as well as adaptations of My Uncle Silas, A Moment in Time, Fair Stood the Wind for France and Love for Lydia. In his home town of Rushden, H. E. Bates has a road named after him to the west of the town, leading to the local leisure centre.
Eads, Peter, 1990, H.E.BATES, A Bibliographical Study, St. Paul's Bibliographies, Winchester, Hampshire, Omnigraphics, Detroit 1990 ISBN 0 906795 76 1
He was also commissioned by the Air Ministry to write Flying Bombs, but because of various disagreements within Government, it was shelved and publication was banned for 30 years. It was eventually discovered by Bob Ogley and published in 1994. Another commission which has still to be published is Night Fighters.