FORMER Home Secretary Alan Johnson will headline an exciting programme for this year’s Thomas Hardy Conference and Festival.

The international celebration of the author will take place in the county town from Saturday, July 26 to Saturday, August 2.

Labour politician Mr Johnson is one of a host of speakers lined up for the week while there will also be a range of walks, tours and other entertainment.

Conference secretary Mike Nixon said he wrote to Mr Johnson directly after hearing of his love of Hardy and fellow poet Philip Larkin.

Mr Nixon said: “He responded straight away and said he would love to speak.

“I think he will be popular, he’s recognised to be one of the nicest MPs.”

Mr Johnson, whose autobiographical work This Boy is currently riding high in the bestseller charts, will be speaking on the final day of the conference – Saturday, August 2.

Other lectures over the week include Costa Prize nominee Christopher Nicholson, Professors Christopher Ricks and John Paul Riquelme from the University of Boston, Dr Mary Rimmer from the University of New Brunswick and chairman of the Thomas Hardy Society Dr Tony Fincham, Tours and walks which begin from the Top o’Town car park will include a visit to Boscastle to explore Hardy’s Cornwall, a Jurassic Coast boat trip, a walk around Dorchester led by Alistair Chisholm and a ‘church crawl’.

Mr Nixon praised the increasing support for the conference, which brings in visitors from far and wide, from the local community – including Dorchester Town Council, which has funded a banner for the event.

He said: “I feel we are really getting some good co-operation now.”

Mr Nixon said that support is extending to the Thomas Hardy Society generally, with West Dorset District Council supporting an initiative to promote Hardy Country.

The Society’s busy programme for the year also includes a joint conference with the Folklore Society at the Corn Exchange from April 11 to April 13 on Folklore, Thomas Hardy and Rural Writing as well as the usual celebrations to mark Hardy’s birthday on the weekend of Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8.

Mr Nixon said this year promises to be an exciting one for the Society, with plans to redevelop the Shire Hall as a major visitor attraction promoting Hardy Country moving forward and a film adaptation of Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, which was shot in West Dorset, due to be released.

He said: “I was lucky enough to go up on set and it looked and felt rather exciting, you could tell it was a quality production.”

For more details about the conference and other Hardy Society event visit