Born in Shenfield, Essex in 1925, Vivien Hallett grew up in Surrey and London. However, she has lived in many different places and countries.
Her main education was at Roedean School, Brighton. When the war intervened, the school was evacuated to the Lake District and this gave her a life long appreciation and enjoyment of the area.
Vivien attended the Royal Academy of Music in London as the Henry Smart Organ Scholar (1943~45). She then transferred to the RAM Drama department under Rose Bruford, whilst continuing to study piano, gaining her Speech and Drama Licentiate in 1947.
In 1949, Vivien married Michael Allen in London, settling first in Wilmslow outside Manchester, as Michael was working there in personnel management. Their three children were born here in the years 1951~56.
The move that was to influence the rest of her life came in 1966. Following the death of her father, who was half South African, the family emigrated to Pretoria. At first, they lived in the old family house and this made an indelible impact on Vivien, starting her on an investigation of her family's history and then the city of Pretoria itself. It may be said that her writing career was inspired by, and stemmed from, Melrose House.
Vivien became a freelance critic of music, theatre and books for The Pretoria News. She contributed a series of articles, 'Old Pretoria' on the buildings still standing that had been there in the days of Paul Kruger and also about the people who had lived in them.
The first article was on the house Zonneschyn in Arcadia. There were two photographs, the earliest to be found and one taken at the time, which was fortunate, as the house was demolished soon afterwards, in 1970. The article contained 600 words and was on the inside of the second section. The interest this aroused lead to the commissioning of the whole series.
By the time the 25th article had been printed some two years later, 'Old Pretoria', had moved to the front of the second section and the five photographs and 2,500 words, overflowed to the next page. These articles formed the basis of her first book Kruger's Pretoria (Balkema, Cape Town, 1971, revised and updated edition due soon - see this web site for details). The book has become a key document in the history of South Africa and is much sought after.
Following the success of 'Old Pretoria', Vivien was asked by The Pretoria News. "What do you want to write about now?" Her reply was that her researches had turned up a number of interesting pioneers and early visitors to the city who could not be tied to any surviving building. The Editor suggested a second series of feature articles to be about these people.
This series, 'They Came to Pretoria' was to give birth to two books. Lady Trader; A Biography of Mrs. Sarah Heckford.(Collins London 1979) and Du Val Tonight! The Story of a Showman (Square One Publications UK 1990).
Following her second marriage to 'Archie' Atkinson in 1976, they returned to the UK and settled in Bristol, before moving to the Isle of Man in 1981. Archie turned to his hobbies of photography and early picture postcards of South Africa. In 1980 he started and ran The Southern Africa Postcard Research Group, producing their Newsletter with Vivien as Secretary for a number of years.
During this time, Vivien wrote freelance for magazines and newspapers on the Island, including the in-flight magazine of (then) Manx Airlines, Manx Tails. She also renewed an early interest in Hall Caine, a major figure on the Island and whose biography she would write in the late 1990s.
The Isle of Man African Society was founded by Vivien and Archie in 1983, with two other South African couples and it is still in existence.
Isle of Man Authors was founded by Vivien in 1982 with Zena Carus and Sheila Holland, both of whom died in recent years, and it is also still in existence.
Vivien is a member of The Society of Authors in London and The Authors Lending and Copyright Society. She has been a member of the London Library since 1967.
Her biography, Hall Caine; Portrait of a Victorian Romancer (Sheffield Academic Press, UK 1997) proved a great success. This led directly to a volume of letters between Caine and the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Dear Mr. Rossetti The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Hall Caine 1878~1881 (Sheffield Academic Press, UK 2000).
A meeting with a cousin, Christopher Bulteel, who had been researching a history of the Bulteels (her mother's family) led to her involvement with Christopher's project of writing the family history. Vivien became a research assistant for him while he was writing the book, at first intended only for his own children and grandchildren. When he became ill, he handed the project over to her. Sadly he had died before it was published privately in paperback in 2000. The whole edition of 150 was sold and aroused so much interest and brought in so much new information that a full history was soon in demand.
Thanks largely to the Internet and their web site, Bulteels got in touch from all over the world and The Bulteel Association was formed. It has a mailing list of some 150 and sends out a Newsletter edited by Vivien. They meet biennially at locations significant in Bulteel history. In March 2004 The Bulteels; The Story of a Huguenot Family was published by Phillimore & Co. There is a steady flow of 'new' Bulteels enquiring about joining.
Vivien has continued to research another branch of her family, the Halletts, but is resolute that this will not turn into another book!
Vivien left the Isle of Man following Archie's death on 2 March 2008. She now lives in Devon and is still writing in her 80s. She says working at her computer keeps the arthritis in her fingers at bay.
Vivien in 1984: with Archie and a representative of the South African Tourist board.
The display is from their personal collection of historical postcards from South Africa at a promotion in Douglas.
Vivien with Roger Sims, Manx Museum Archivist
|Vivien with her husband Archie Atkinson in 1984 on an IOM Authors Writer's Weekend.|