Henry Reed was born and educated in Birmingham, a sprawling manufacturing center in the English Midlands. There is no evidence that this setting had much influence on his poetry, unless it encouraged a desire to travel to and write about sunnier climes. He attended the King Edward VI School in Birmingham and took an M.A. degree at the University of Birmingham.
The influence of his education is evident throughout Reed’s poetry, which, like the poetry of so many young Britons from the universities, smacks somewhat of Survey of British Literature. For example, one can detect echoes of Andrew Marvell, Alfred, Lord Tennyson,Matthew Arnold,Joseph Conrad, and Eliot. In addition, many of Reed’s subjects are literary in inspiration. Seemingly, the weight of the great tradition bore down heavily on Reed, and reaction to this weight could have contributed to his move from poetry to radio plays.
Certainly another influence on Reed’s writing career was his experience of World War II, when he served in the Royal Army and with the Foreign Office. His military training provided inspiration for the poems in the “Lessons of the War” series. In addition, the war brought him to London, where he subsequently formed the association with the BBC that defined his career. He died on December 8, 1986, in London.