Peter, 81, starts his marathon read to raise money for Caldecote church

Peter Robbins, who will be reading Proust in English and French to raise funds for Caldecote church.

Peter Robbins, who will be reading Proust in English and French to raise funds for Caldecote church. - Credit: Archant

Fans of classic TV drama War & Peace who watched through to its conclusion earlier this month were left in no doubt that it was a splendid saga.

But the Tolstoy masterpiece which provided the basis for the series is even more of a blockbuster.

And now an 81-year-old church fundraiser who once read all 561,093 words aloud to support his favourite cause is taking on an even bigger challenge.

Peter Robbins has started his mission to read every word of Marcel Proust’s À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu – or In Search of Lost Time, hoping to raise more money to help preserve the deserted medieval St Mary Magdalene church in Caldecote.

That’s 1,267,069 words contained in seven weighty volumes, the last of which was published in 1927.


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Peter, who used to live in the villagee, said: “When I read War and Peace in both English and Russian in the church in 2011, I had lots of people coming up to me saying that I had read the longest book ever written, but there are longer ones.”

But Peter, who learned Russian when he trained as a military interpreter at the University of Cambridge during his national service in the 1950s, won’t be staging a public reading at the Grade II* listed building.

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He’s planning to complete the marathon with the help of his Kindle electronic reader at his home in Hitchin.

He said: “I will be reading for five hours a day and I expect it to take 30 hours in total, I’ll even read the occasional chapter in French.

“A few people will come along to witness it and there will be someone with me most of the time.”

The former business consultant has been secretary of the church’s friends group since 2007.

He said: “When it started there were six of us, now there are 187 committed to restoring the redundant church – which is quite an achievement as only 19 people live in the village.”

The group works to open the church to the public for religious services and community events like concerts, art exhibitions and a fuchsia festival which will be returning in July.

Peter’s big read started yesterday and he is hoping to top the £2,000 he previously raised. Call 01462 433773 if you would like to sponsor him.

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