Ruskin Park: Sylvia, Me and the BBC


Can we ever really know the truth about our parents? From the journalist, podcaster and tweeter about rescue dog #SophiefromRomania, a compelling memoir in search of the truth behind his isolated childhood and absent father.

Ruskin Park is so much more than a memoir. It is a tribute to an individual woman and a whole generation and class.’

Justin Webb, The Sunday Times

Now available in paperback.

SKU: 9781914613432 Categories: ,

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‘For Rory, to read and think about – in the hope it will help him to understand how it really was.’

Rory Cellan-Jones knew he was the child of a love affair between two BBC employees. But until his mother died and he found a file labelled ‘For Rory’ he knew little of its beginning or ending. Or why his peculiarly isolated childhood had so tested the bond between him and Sylvia as she single-parented two sons in a one-bedroom flat, while working full time, through the 1950s and 60s.

This is a compelling account of what Rory uncovered in the papers, letters and diaries; of a relationship  between two romantics and the restrictive forces of post-war respectability and prejudice that ended it. It is also an evocation of the centrifugal force at the centre of all their lives – the BBC itself.

Both tender and troubling, the drama moves from wartime radio broadcasts to the golden era of TV drama. His father may have directed The Forsyte Saga and Rory may have watched him from afar, but he would never actually meet him until adulthood, when the damage to his mother’s life had already been done.

‘A captivating family detective story – and a poignant social history of Britain.’



‘I loved this highly evocative, unpretentious memoir. It’s a small-scale BBC drama in itself. Against the backdrop of an office love affair kindled at Television Centre, a baby conceived during a stolen weekend at the Three Crowns in Angmering-on-Sea, and a childhood of fish fingers prepared by a tired working mother in a south London council flat, it paints a Larkin-esque picture of the arc of one 20th-century woman’s life, from passionate, ambitious and hopeful to lonely, depressed, nostalgic and “always a pain at Christmas”.’

The Times


Ruskin Park is Rory Cellan-Jones’s touching tribute to both his parents, but particularly to the mother he came to know more fully from the letters she left behind.’

Book of the Week, Daily Mail


‘Almost unbearably moving, but never sentimental. A fascinating, intensely personal story, courageously told with unflinching honesty.’

Adrian Chiles


‘The result is this enthralling memoir of his captivating, indomitable mother; his talented and ambitious father; and of the golden era of BBC drama and the glamorous milieu that was 1950s television.’

Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller


‘Riveting, poignant.’



Read an extract.

Also available in audio and ebook.