Chomsky, Orwell and the Myth of Press Freedom

The US maverick intellectual Noam Chomsky cites Orwell’s views on thought control in free societies in his latest YouTube video.

Richard Lance Keeble reports

Noam Chomsky is an extraordinary man. Voted the world’s leading public intellectual in a 2005 poll, the 76-year-old Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has authored more than 100 books. Whenever he travels the world giving talks and supporting progressive movements the halls are packed out.

A linguist specialist and anarcho-syndicalist activist, he rose to prominence in 1967 with his outspoken opposition to the American war on Vietnam. In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, a book he co-wrote with his friend Edward S. Herman in 1988, he proposed the ‘propaganda model’ to highlight the ways in which corporate media in the West serve essentially to promote the interests of dominant financial, social, political and military interests. For many decades the model has inspired countless progressive media activists and theorists globally. I personally used the model prominently for my own PhD (completed in 1996) which examined the US/UK mainstream press coverage of the 1991 US-led attacks on Iraq.

Significantly, in his latest hour-long YouTube offering, ‘On Power and Ideology’, in which he explores issues relating to the suppression of ideas and the myth of American exceptionalism, Chomsky begins by citing the Preface Orwell wrote on ‘The Freedom of the Press’ for Animal Farm, in 1945. Somewhat ironically, the Preface was not included in the original publication – for reasons unknown. In fact, it did not see the light of day until it was discovered amongst his papers by Ian Angus and handed to Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick, who provided his own introduction when it appeared in the Times Literary Supplement in September 1972.

Chomsky says that Orwell, as the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, is normally associated with the suppression of thought in dystopian, authoritarian societies. Lesser known, according to Chomsky, is Orwell’s stress on “thought-control” in supposedly free societies such as England. Here a subtle system of censorship operates which means that unpopular ideas are rarely heard. Going to Orwell’s precise words:

The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. … The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was “not done” to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

Orwell may have been writing on censorship in the 1940s and the suppression of anti-Stalin views – but his views are equally relevant to an understanding of the media today. As a recent report from the Media Reform Coalition stressed: “The ownership of national newspapers remains concentrated in just a few large companies: 70 per cent of the UK national market is controlled by just three companies (News UK, Daily Mail and General Trust, and Trinity Mirror), with Rupert Murdoch’s News UK fully holding a third of the entire market share.”

Despite the myth of freedom, at crucial moments the mainstream press stands united. To take just a few examples: in 1991, during the Desert Storm attacks, all of Fleet Street backed the military response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait – as did 90 per cent of commentators. Today, no Fleet Street newspaper backs Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. On television, it is impossible to imagine any newsreader or interviewee wearing the white, pacifist poppy around the time of Remembrance Day commemorations. For as Orwell wrote: “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.”

Orwell’s response to this “veiled censorship” was inspired. Following his experiences in the Spanish civil war, he wrote in “Why I Write” (of 1946): “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it” (italics in the original). In this way he engaged in crucial debates with the people who mattered to him: activists and intellectuals of the broad left. So most of Orwell’s journalism and essay writing was either poorly paid or done entirely free for small circulation, literary or left-wing publications such as Adelphi, New Statesman and Nation, New English Weekly, Fortnightly Review, The Highway, Time and Tide, Controversy, New Leader, Left Forum, New Writing, Horizon, Tribune, Left News, Polemic, Progressive, Focus, Persuasion, Contemporary Jewish Record, Politics and Letters, and Gangrel. In the United States, he chose not to contribute to the prestigious New York Times but to the left-wing Partisan Review and Politics.

Indeed, from Orwell’s engaged, activist stance came some of the greatest journalism of the last century.


The Third London Walk – Fitzrovia and Soho 26th September 2015

13 members ably led as usual by our guide, member Michael King, enjoyed a lovely sunny day for our walk in the boozy hinterland of Orwell’s life. The group included some of our most recent members.


This is the 3rd time Michael has led us on this route. Each time as Michael acquires more information, some of it from the input of members on this and previous walks, the tour is somehow fresh and different, despite the familiar elements. The walk had two notable firsts this year.

The first was visiting the Marchmont Association Blue Plaque outside the former offices of The Horizon Magazine. Richard Blair and the daughter of Cyril Connolly and the son of Stephen Spender unveiled it in Spring this year. See the photo above.

The second was at the end of the walk the building, which had been the private wing of University College Hospital where Orwell died, has now sadly been demolished and will be replaced by a gleaming new facility.


New (so far)

Michael is planning a new route for next year, which will be in Hampstead and Canonbury Square on Saturday 1st October, which will be followed by a surprise to be announced soon.
Thanks again to Michael.

The next event is the Poetry book launch on 17th October we look forward to seeing you there if you have secured tickets from Neil Smith.

By Quentin Kopp

George Orwell Reads A Book That Never Was

[George Orwell’s favourable review of John Mair’s thriller Never Come Back appeared in the New Statesman on January 4th 1941. The book did not reach the shops for another four months. Indeed, the book that Orwell read and praised never reached the public at all. In this exchange, Orwell Society members Richard Young [RY] and L J Hurst [LJH] discuss the bibliography of Never Come Back in the light of cover scans and impression dates in their copies, explaining how Orwell reviewed a book the public could never read, and the reasons for the delay in its ultimate appearance.]

[RY] … my copy of Never Come Back. Note the jacket says ‘just out’ with no mention of a second edition. So I think this is the first issue jacket. The book is dated 1941 on the title page, with no mention of subsequent printings on the reverse. The title page however is mounted on a cancel, which I think was done so that the note shown in the second scan attached could be inserted. Also a number of other pages in the first part of the book are clearly mounted on cancel stubs as well. So there obviously was a withdrawn earlier version. Is your copy the same internally as mine i.e. no mention of a second impression? If so then Gollancz maybe just put a second edition dust-jacket around the same issue of the book, and that is what you have.


[ILLUSTRATION: JohnMairNeverComeBack1stEdn.jpg]

As for the background to this what I know is the following: On 20th December 1940 Mair’s publisher Victor Gollancz received a letter from a firm of solicitors – Smith, Rundell, Dods & Beckett acting on behalf of Mr Frank Whitaker, then the editor of John o’London’s Weekly and Country Life. Whitaker had been alerted by a third party – ‘a gentleman of literary experience’ – who had seen a review copy of the book sometime that month. Whitaker took exception to passages in the book relating to a character called Mr Whitby. The letter said that these passages ‘are obviously a lampoon of himself and such as to hold him up to ridicule’. The passages to which he objected most are quoted as being on pages 19 and 20 and on pages 48 and 49.

The letter threatens that ‘if publication does take place he will be obliged to take other steps to protect himself’.

So clearly the bound copies of the first edition (some of which had been circulated for review) where withdrawn and the appropriate changes made. The published book makes no mention of the character Whitby, and it may be that this was re-written as the character Mr Poole – but I cannot be certain.

[LJH] … your purple ‘Just Out’ on the front cover is replaced by ‘2nd edition’ on my copy. And the reverse title page shows:
‘First published April 1941
Second Impression June 1941′


[ILLUSTRATION: JohnMairNeverComeBack2ndEdn.jpg]

Orwell’s review appeared in the New Statesman on January 4th 1941, four months before Gollancz’s ‘First published’ date. So it appears that Gollancz was acting as if the ‘Whitby’ version had never appeared, and the ‘Poole’ edition was the first when he printed the impression dates. As you say, Orwell must have had a very early or proof edition of the ‘Whitby’ version. In turn, if Gollancz appealed for the return of the book after receiving the 20-12-40 letter then Orwell did not act on it, and the NS printed his review regardless.

The Oxford University Press 1986 reprint has a long introduction from Julian Symons. In the early ’80s he appealed for information on Mair via the Times Literary Supplement and received responses from a number of people, including Mair’s widow. So his introduction is very detailed. He specifically says that Poole is the character which replaced Whitby, ‘the portrait of him marginally changed’.


[ILLUSTRATION: JohnMairNeverComeBackOUPEdn.jpg]
I would guess that politics was at the bottom of the spat. In theory, John o’London’s was a Liberal newspaper (founded to support the party, though surely Country Life was not?) while Mair was a highly regarded New Statesman reviewer with one successful non-fiction title to his credit (The Fourth Forger, a biography of William Ireland) – mentioned on Gollancz’s dust wrapper. As Mair was a man of the left, it looks as if the (small ‘c’) conservatives were getting their retaliation in first.

[RY] … interesting to learn that it was officially reprinted. I am amazed though that the first impression is then given as April 1941 (with Gollancz you have to have the second to know when the first was issued). The gap between the review and the publication can’t have helped sales!

I am sure though that both Gollancz editions were done in very small quantities. My copy was the first I had seen, and the only other first I know of that has changed hands was the file copy, which was bought by the dealer who sold my one (it had been in his personal collection). I have not heard of any other seconds until yours, which probably makes it rarer than the first (as seconds often are).

[LJH and RY conclude] At Christmas 1946 (coincidentally the anniversary of his review), Orwell looked back at the problem posed by the threat of libel proceedings such as affected the appearance of Never Come Back, without mentioning that title (or the difficulties Orwell himself had with his first three novels, where character and name changes were demanded by Gollancz prior to publication to protect against legal action.), and wrote: ‘I believe the libel trade, like some other trades, went through a slack period during the war, but a few years before that the bringing of frivolous libel actions was a major racket and a nightmare to editors, publishers, authors and journalists alike. Some people used to declare that it would be better if the libel laws were abolished altogether, or at any rate greatly relaxed, so that newspapers had as much latitude as they used to have, for instance, in pre-war France. I cannot agree with this. Innocent people have a right to protection against slander. The racket arose not so much because the law is unduly strict as because it is possible to obtain damages for a libel from which one has not suffered any pecuniary loss.

‘The sufferers are not so much the big newspapers, which have fleets of retained lawyers and can afford to pay damages, as publishers and small periodicals. I do not know the exact provisions of the law, but from interviews with terrified solicitors which I have sometimes had before a book went to press, I gather that it is almost impossible to invent a fictitious character which might not be held to be a portrait of a real person. As a result, a blackmailing libel action is an easy way of picking up money.’ (‘As I Please’ 27th December 1946).

Clearly not enough has been done to help the situation. Events have proved in recent years that while ‘[i]nnocent people have a right to protection against slander’ the law has still not provided it. Orwell’s remarks remain relevant to both sides of the publishing trade.

[Never Come Back was published as a Penguin paperback in 1944, and by Oxford University Press in 1986, as one of their 20th Century Classics. Never Come Back was also published in the US by Little Brown in the autumn of 1941. There were [RY thinks] 3 impressions of that edition. It was filmed, with little of the original story surviving, as Tiger By The Tail in 1955. It has been adapted for both wireless and television broadcast by the BBC under its original title. Potential readers will discover that the book is now out of print everywhere, and while copies of the OUP paperback are available cheaply, even the Penguin edition is extremely scarce and like the hardbacks fetches high prices].

JohnMairNeverComeBack1stEdn Declaration 

[ILLUSTRATION: JohnMairNeverComeBack1stEdn Declaration.JPG]

ALRA Present George Orwell’s ‘1984’

by our northern correspondent

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in the summer of 1949. Preparation of the final manuscript had ruined his health and Orwell died only six months later. Unlike his earlier Animal Farm, which he had adapted for the radio himself, Orwell did not live to see or hear the later adaptations of his work, though the first, broadcast on NBC in the United States, with David Niven playing Winston Smith, went out before he died. NBC’s introduction emphasised that it was the importance of the book that made them produce their play so quickly.

In the sixty-five years since Nineteen Eighty-Four appeared it has not lost its importance, and ALRA’s dramatic adaptation (using the alternate title ‘1984’), which is touring the north-west in September, is another example of how Orwell’s work can be taken, presented in a spartan space, and still drive home its power.

ALRA’s script is based on Matthew Dunster’s adaptation for Manchester Exchange, but under director Liz Postlethwaite, the cast of ALRA post-graduates, before intense lights, grinding industrial music, and telescreen sound effects, have compressed Orwell’s original words on the page into vivid dramatic representations. Beginning with a stylized gaze into the distance, where Big Brother can almost be seen above the heads of the audience, as the ensemble line up, we start to realise that an image or a tableau can usefully summarise Orwell’s descriptions. Unlike some versions this is a play that cuts out language. At the same time this is a play that concentrates on the individuals and their interplay. The readings one sometimes hears from ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’ were cut short here, as were Winston and O’Brien’s philosophical discussions.

It takes a close reading of the novel to realise that Winston and Julia have known each other by sight for a long time before she finally passes him a note. Here we have Winston (played first by Ciaran Wilson) surrounded by the three women in his life and in his mind: Julia (Houmi Miura), O’Brien (played here by a rarely speaking Maria Major), and his mother (Emily Heyworth). O’Brien (readers before me have pointed out that O’Brien’s name begins with a zero and ends with the French nothing ‘rien’) is the figure who will tempt Winston and then empty him of everything but love of Big Brother; a figure who reappears, if only to be seen out of the corner of Winston’s eye, until finally she has him under her gaze totally in the Ministry of Love.

Figures such as Winston’s colleague Parsons (Duncan Crompton) and Syme (Rachel Stockdale) discover that mere work for the party is no defence against the thoughtcrime that will lead them, too, to the cells where there is no darkness. (This version has merged Ampleforth and Syme, which is a pity, as Syme originally may have been both intelligent enough and duplicitous enough to have been promoted somewhere else in Oceania: the novel is unclear). When you remember that Winston, Julia, Parsons and the rest are all outer party members, not proles, you may wonder how Parsons was allowed to marry the struggling Mrs Parsons (Dawn Bramhall) but when you see the vivacity of the Parsons children (Rachel Alcock and Peter James) and the viciousness they have already learned, you see a personification of Orwell’s fears for the future. About half the roles in this production are doubled-up, and later it takes a moment to recognise that a starving figure begging, trying to turn informer, in the Ministry cells is also played by Ms Alcock.

Winston Smith is not just a failed intellectual, he believes in physical love. Katherine (Laura Betts), the wife from whom Winston is long separated, has taken to heart the injunction that reproduction is ‘our duty to the party': her role is one of near-catatonic submission to insemination, sex without feeling. Later, Mr Charrington (Matthew Fordy) will seem to offer the chance of a place to love, a room where Winston and Julia can meet. It is there that Winston and Julia discover that Charrington has instead given them the chance to condemn themselves.

Recordings exist, though I have not found one, of a 1955 Australian broadcast of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Winston was played by two actors, a split personality. As the lights rise on the second part of ALRA’s production Winston is played by Marcus Christopherson. In the cells of the Ministry of Love Winston sees figures passing through – despite his first writings they are not being shot in the back of the neck – they are being manhandled, they are being starved, they are subject to petty orders, they are being beaten senseless, men and women, and they are being taken to Room 101. Bumstead (Christopher Taberner) has become a nervous wreck, an anonymous woman (Rachel Alcock) foreshadows Winston’s own betrayal, trying to denounce another prisoner; none of them escape from the regimented guards (Peter James, Josh Hart, Elliot Brown, Seth Daniels). And finally, neither does Winston. Winston’s rack scene, his face dripping agonised sweat, is perhaps even stronger than the final rat encounter (we heard rats earlier, but not here; perhaps we should). In the novel O’Brien knew that Winston under torture was imagining his spine snapping, dripping grey fluid; Winston and the guards act an equally powerful image of agony. Against that, Winston would do anything: as he finally does, even love Big Brother, betray Julia.

The Party provides no escape, not even the escape of death. Saved, Winston and Julia return to everyday life. Julia limps into the Chestnut Tree Cafe. They have each betrayed the other, not even love has survived.

The Orwell Society was privileged to see this production at The Mill At The Pier, in Wigan, in which enormous building the ALRA also has its northern base. After the production the audience were invited to stay for a question and answer session. Richard Blair, George Orwell’s son, described the conditions on Jura in which his father wrote the novel, while Quentin Kopp described his father Georges’s torture in Spain, descriptions of which may have provided Orwell with source material. And later answers explained how Orwell could be a radical without being a communist. Later conversations with the audience threw up interesting connections with Eton, Orwell’s alma mater, among other subjects.

This season finishes on Thursday 17th September with a production at Oldham Library.

The previous production from this ALRA course was Brecht’s Mother Courage. Could the next be The Road To Wigan Pier?

George Orwell Always in the News Number 16

George Orwell Always in the News

Number 16

The Crystal Spirit Found World Wide

What message would you leave if you had no idea how long it would be before it was read, or could be read, or even how it would be read? Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949), wrote:

‘To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone — to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink – greetings!’

Does it seem verbose, blustering, full of rhodomontade? Here is what real men wrote in near-identical conditions, political prisoners used in construction battalions:

‘This message was immured on 15 March 1954.

‘There were no cheers from the crowds and no orchestra as it was happening.

‘But it will tell our descendants that this theatre was built not with the forces of Komsomol brigades – as they will be claiming – but on the blood and bones of prisoners, the slaves of the 20th century.

‘Hello, future generation! And may your era have no slavery and no humiliation of man by man.

‘Cheers from us, prisoners IL Kozhin, PG Sharipov, UN Nigmatulin.’

(Daily Mail, 4 June 2015)

It seems that what Orwell had seen among the fighters in Spain and called ‘the crystal spirit’ was not a rare diamond, but could be found wherever the human spirit proved itself unbreakable.


Winston Smith, Ballet Dancer

By Anita Coppola

One just might feel a little uneasy, as I did, when taking a seat at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, in anticipation of Northern Ballet’s 1984, which premiered on Saturday the 5th of September. The medium of dance isn’t perhaps the more obvious interpretation of ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’!

The narrative of Nineteen Eighty Four – the totalitarian state, the telescreens, proles, thought police, O’Brien, room 101 and all those other things – wouldn’t seem to lend itself to dance. Plus, it is a risk to offer something so well-known and so full of political ideas in the form of a ballet and the unease I mention derives from wondering how this all could possibly work? Tutus and pirouettes? Surely not!

But, love lends itself, as does betrayal. So it is perhaps not a surprise that Jonathan Watkins’ ultimately triumphant work emphasizes Winston and Julia’s affair. And I’m pleased to say that this production works. It works very well and I loved every minute of it.

The choreography and direction is powerful and effective. The Ministry of Truth is populated by a work force that are almost automata, their repetitive movement synchronized to suggest that what these workers of the Outer Party are doing is factory-like while churning out lies, manipulating the past and fabricating the present. The effect has a strange beauty, as does the two minute hate. Goldstein appears and the synchronization dissolves into fury, the dancers writhing in twisted anger, shaking their arms and bodies at the obscured face distorted on the telescreen.

A sleek, snake-like O’Brien slides around, as Julia and Winston, both beautifully played by Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley respectively, notice each other in the canteen. Even here, during mealtimes, the dance is as a production line – mechanized. But it becomes more subtle as Winston finds himself alone, secretly writing in his diary as he squeezes up against the apartment walls, attempting to evade the telescreens, or as Julia passes her note to him, and the climax of the first act is especially inspired; a remarkable pas de deux as the couple meet in Burnham Beeches.

The dance and emotions are augmented by Alex Baranowski’s brilliant score. I adored it, and found it completely intoxicating played live by the orchestra and resonating in tune with the drama and movement on stage, by turns stringent and opulent. The set works too. For obvious reasons, this is sparse, but very good at suggesting Charrington’s Junk shop (a high tottering shelf of antiques, so-so art prints and a partially concealed bed), or the Ministry of Truth or Love. Helped by the lighting, throwing down blocks of light, hiding the Outer Party in half lights and grey tones while the red, the vibrant prole women cleaners shone and danced on regardless, in vividness. And those all-pervading telescreens…

The production will tour the country, ending in May at Sadler’s Wells. I would urge you to see it if you can. It is engaging and effective, powerful and well delivered and you will be given a memorable evening. Brilliant. Magnificent. Go and see it.

The Tour Dates

Nottingham, Theatre RoyalTue 29 Sep – Sat 3 Oct 2015

0115 989 5555

book now Show Times
Manchester, Palace TheatreWed 14 – Sat 17 Oct 2015

0844 871 3019

book now Show Times
Sheffield, Lyceum TheatreTue 20 – Sat 24 Oct 2015

0114 249 6000

book now Show Times
Edinburgh, Festival TheatreThu 31 Mar – Sat 2 Apr 2016

0131 529 6000

book now Show Times
Southampton, MayflowerWed 4 – Sat 7 May 2016

02380 711811

book now Show Times
London, Sadler’s WellsTue 24 – Sat 28 May 2016

0844 412 4300

Animal Farm – A Sequel (Parts 1-3)

by Nigel Bryant

Part 1

[George Orwell’s Animal Farm was published after much difficulty in August 1945, seventy years ago. In ‘Animal Farm – A Sequel’, a three part study, Orwell Society member Nigel Bryant looks first at books and similar works continuing Animal Farm; then at film and other visual representations; and finally he discusses the treatment of political ideas in popular works and the origins of his own book, Manor Farm]

I live in Bedford and teach in Oxford. Not an ideal arrangement but the journey through the Oxfordshire countryside is pleasant enough. My old but much loved Volvo has two key features. I can put the top down in good weather and I can listen to cassette tapes. I visit the charity shops in Bedford (there are several) and buy talking books on tape. Generally a two-tape book will last one return journey. My taste is eclectic, determined by what is on the shelves rather than literary preferences. Books range from Winnie-the-Pooh to Great Expectations and everything in-between. After I listen to the book, I return the tapes to the charity shops for re-sale.

Two years ago I bought a recording of Animal Farm. An excellent version published by Penguin Audio (1995) and read by Timothy West; well worth the 99p I paid for it. I first read the book in the 1960s when it was de rigeur; along with Nineteen Eighty-Four, On the Road, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the like. As I listened to the tapes, I could vaguely recall the original book. Two things struck me. Firstly, although I was aware of the outcome, the ending seemed inevitable. I continued to listen with a sense of sadness and impending doom. Secondly, I thought how relevant it was in 2013. Having read the book in the 1960s I thought it was written around that time. When I returned home I checked. Animal Farm was published on the 17th August 1945, seventy years ago as I write now in 2015.

A lot has happened during what is almost my lifetime. I thought about the threats when I was growing up: the atomic bomb, the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis, Czechoslovakia, Korea, Hungary, Vietnam, and the Berlin Wall. So many major issues. I began to wonder if there had been a sequel to Animal Farm. Of course, Nineteen Eighty-Four can be considered a sequel or perhaps the next stage in Orwell’s portrayal of dystopia, yet it could not pick up the events of the second half of the twentieth century. Inevitably, I searched online. I found sequels of different sorts.

  • Immediately I discovered English assignments where students had to write the next chapter of Animal Farm. Those published were usually the winners of a writing competition and were well written and plausible. They were, though, of necessity, brief and focussed on the confusion of the animals rather than moving forward with events.
  • Then I found a reference to a Russian sequel retelling the Khrushchev era onwards, introducing new animal characters who were caricatures of 1960s-1990s politicians. I have not been able to track the original source. Can anyone help me?
  • Next I discovered several rewrites of Animal Farm in different scenarios. The first was Snowball’s Chance by John Reed published in 2002 and written in Lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero, in the three weeks following September 11, 2001. The story begins with the death of Napoleon, the original antagonist of Animal Farm. The animals of the farm, fearing what will become of them, learn that Snowball is alive and well, and Snowball returns to the farm to encourage capitalism. The book describes the impact of capitalism on the animals and the environment. Snowball’s Chance focusses on a few specific events from an American perspective. It was not universally well received when it was published, especially by the Orwell Estate.
  • Another parallel version of Animal Farm is Anarchist Farm written by Jane Doe aka Jan Edwards and published in 1996. Anarchist Farm continues the story of Snowball, Napoleon’s exiled partner, who, under the assumed name of “Pancho” (Trotsky in Mexico?), meets up with different groups of animals who all practice different forms of imaginative, cooperative, non-government. Receiving mixed reviews in terms of literary style and writing, Anarchist Farm does give a reasonable introduction to the concept of anarcho-syndicalism. The book gives an alternative view rather than coverage of the last seventy years.
  • Hungry City by Carolyn Steel published in 2008 is not strictly a sequel to Animal Farm. It focusses on the food industry and its transformation. For the first time in history, supply no longer has any clear relation to demand. Output, and the complex international infrastructure that supports it, is controlled exclusively by profit. Chronic over-consumption with its attendant ills (obesity, diabetes, heart trouble) keeps pace in one part of the world with starvation in others. Steel cites several interesting statistics, for example, ninety per cent of milk in the United States now comes from a single breed of cow. An interesting and scary read.
  • Manor Farm, written by J. A. Jones and published in 2006, follows the progress of the planet Gaia created by Mother Gaia from dinosaurs to Armageddon. Following her creation of the dinosaurs, which she was forced to exterminate as she knew they would eventually destroy the planet, Mother Gaia created many forms of different animals that she hoped would develop and live happily together on the planet: but she was wrong. The animals are beginning to destroy the planet and she had to decide whether to exterminate them as well. Manor Farm refers to a green and pleasant land. The book covers other farms, for example Black Eagle Farm, a totalitarian state with the führer – Ferit Lahdol.
  • Manor Farm, I discovered, is a popular book title, and I found another, written by Boswell Taylor, and published in 1963. It tells of a year on a farm in the West Country. The black and white photographs show an idyllic world. No deep political meaning here but a nostalgic read if you need one.

Part 2

In addition to books, there have been film versions which follow the original text or have a different emphasis.

  • Animal Farm is a 1954 British animated drama film by John Halas and Joy Batchelor, based on the book Animal Farm. It was the first British animated feature to be released in cinemas. The CIA paid for the filming, part of the U.S. cultural offensive during the Cold War, and influenced how Orwell’s ideas were to be presented. George Orwell had died four years earlier having had no involvement, and his widow Sonia probably did not realise the role of the CIA. The CIA initially funded Louis de Rochemont to begin work on a film version of Orwell’s work and he hired Halas & Batchelor, an animation firm in London that had made propaganda films for the British government. The film closes with a bottle being thrown at the portrait of Napoleon as the animals presumably retake the farm. Rather than a sequel, it is an interpretation, at best, or, at worst, a bowdlerised version to suit the producer.
  • Another version of Animal Farm is a made-for-TV film released in 1999 by Hallmark (they of the birthday cards) Films. It portrays the farm after Napoleon’s dictatorship has collapsed and the farm has fallen in ruins. The farm is bought by a new family (though what became of Mr. Jones and his wife is left unclear), and Jessie vows that the animals will ‘not allow them to make the same mistakes’. She says that they will work together to rebuild the farm now that they are finally free. An optimistic view that does not pick up on future events.
  • More recently, Andy Serkis announced in October 2012 that he plans to shoot his directorial debut, an adaptation of Animal Farm. This will be the inaugural production of Imaginarium, the new performance capture studio co-founded by Serkis with producer Jonathan Cavendish. Serkis revealed Imaginarium is working with German concept artist Michael Kutsche, whose film credits include Alice in Wonderland, Thor, Maleficent and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, to create “a heightened design aesthetic” for Animal Farm, but there has been little news about the project since.
  • In addition to films there have been radio versions. In 2013, commemorating 110 years since his birth, the BBC produced a series of programmes relating to George Orwell. On Saturday, 26th January 2013 they broadcast an excellent full-cast dramatization of Animal Farm narrated by Tamsin Greig. This production was based on Orwell’s own adaptation of his work broadcast on 14th January 1947. Orwell made minor changes before it was re-broadcast, live on the Home Service, on 2nd February the same year. The BBC producer removed the changes! Sadly there are no copies of these early BBC transmissions, although the scripts exist.
  • There are also other less likely candidates to be considered as sequels. Chicken Run is an animation directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park and released in 2000. Having been hopelessly repressed and facing eventual certain death at the chicken farm where they are held, Rocky the rooster and Ginger the chicken decide to rebel against the evil Mr. and Ms. Tweedy, the farm’s owners. Rocky and Ginger lead their fellow chickens in a great escape from the murderous farmers and their farm of doom. Rather tenuous links to Animal Farm but an entertaining movie.
  • Perhaps even more tenuous but very successful is Animal Crossing. This is a community simulation video game series developed and published by Nintendo, in which the human player lives in a village inhabited by animals who walk around on their hind legs. The animals carry out various activities including fishing, bug catching, etc. Four Animal Crossing games have been released worldwide. The series has been both critically and commercially successful, having now sold over 20 million units worldwide. Whilst lacking deep political statements, Animal Crossing does show the popularity of anthropomorphism.

Part 3

‘Dystopia, n. “an imaginary place or society in which everything is bad”’, Concise Oxford English Dictionary. There are plenty of books portraying a version of dystopia. The top twenty, according to has Nineteen Eighty-Four at the top but also includes other well-known books, for example, Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1932), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury, 1953), and The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985). Dystopian literature has been reviewed comprehensively elsewhere. I will not dwell upon the genre except to make one point relevant to Animal Farm. Dystopian literature follows the principle of reductio ad absurdum. It shows what would happen if any society followed a particular path to its conclusion – totalitarianism. It can be argued that such conclusions are still relevant when looking at some countries, particularly in Asia.

Animal Farm does not describe a totalitarian state. Rather it describes the transition or process of how this can happen. There have been other examples of literature using the process rather than the outcome.

Another audio book I had enjoyed was The Thirty-Nine Steps, much abused by film and TV producers since it first appeared in 1915. I decided to read more of John Buchan since audio tapes were unavailable. The Thirty-Nine Steps is a good thriller but his other books contain more political messages. Greenmantle, for example, appeared in the middle of the First World War, and one of its propaganda purposes was to get America in on the Allied side (which happened the following year, 1917). Its big central idea is that, to win in the East and thus to win the whole war, Germany needs to annex the dreams of Islam by controlling a mystical Muslim figure who can ‘madden the remotest Moslem peasant with dreams of Paradise’. The plan is foiled by Richard Hannay and his chum Sandy Arbuthnot. As one message of the book is the importance of understanding cultures different from our own Greenmantle is worthy of wider exposure; it has things to say about religion, conflict and the interests of this country. Even so, in 2005 BBC Radio 4 dropped its dramatization of Buchan’s Greenmantle from its schedule saying that the drama contained ‘unsuitable and insensitive material’.

Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954) is another book describing ‘process’. A group of British boys, following an aircraft crash, stuck on an uninhabited island, try to govern themselves, using a conch shell as the symbol of democracy but the semblance of order quickly deteriorates as the majority of the boys turn idle, giving little aid in building shelters. The boys divide into two camps representing individualism, the ‘savages’, versus the common good. The decline and fall results in the shattering of the conch and the killing of the overweight, bespectacled ‘Piggy’. The ‘savages’ set fire to the forest, but as most of the island is consumed in flames the boys are rescued by a passing warship investigating the fire. The children revert to their true ages and burst into tears. Lord of the Flies shows the fragile veneer of civilisation, perhaps reflected in the petrol crises of the UK in 2012 and both Nigeria and Pakistan in 2015.

Greenmantle, Lord of the Flies and other novels contain messages that are relevant to the present day. They do not, though, cover the events of the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. Whilst driving to Oxford, I thought about some of the major events: the Berlin wall going up and coming down, the invasion of Hungary, spy rings, the Cuban missile crisis, and more. I decided, perhaps foolishly, to write a sequel to Animal Farm called Manor Farm.

Whilst thinking about the novella I encountered a few problems. The world is now a global village. Any events are complicated by the involvement of one or more superpowers. It would be difficult to write about the farm in isolation. I needed to introduce other farms to give some idea of the complexity of the world. Another problem was when to stop? The last three years have seen problems in the Crimea, an unsettled middle east, the rise and faltering of China, problems in the EU, the economic plight of Greece with offers of a bail out from both Germany and Russia, and doping in major athletic competitions. The world is changing rapidly. I included events until 2013 but perhaps I stopped too early. Maybe there is scope for a sequel to the sequel or, at least, a regular short story in a quarterly magazine?

One final problem, today publishers talk to agents not authors. It is virtually impossible to publish any book unless you have an agent acting on your behalf. A successful television career or a potential blockbuster (involving sexual practices) may get you an agent. I am not sure that George Orwell would get an agent today unless he could make use of contacts in London.

In conclusion, seventy years later Animal Farm raises important issues. My Manor Farm attempts to extend those issues into the second half of the twentieth century. We can learn from history and, perhaps, we can also avoid making the same mistakes.

The End


Seventy Years Of Relevance: The Birth of Animal Farm

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is seventy years old in August 2015. If some people had had their way then that would not be true. Peter Davison’s George Orwell: A Literary Life (Macmillan 1996) details the struggles behind the emergence of Animal Farm: A Fairy Story but here is a quick account of its publication.

Animal Farm was published by Martin Secker and Warburg on August 17th 1945 at a price of six shillings (now 30p). It had been delayed and the true first edition (first impression) has a date of May 1945 inside, though no copy actually appeared then.

First Edition cover

After three printings totalling 20,500 copies, in May 1949 the ‘Cheap Edition’ was issued, priced at three shillings and sixpence (17.5p); the dust-jacket kept the green but swapped grey for cream in its colour scheme, exchanged diagonals for rectangles, and dropped the sub-title. 6000 copies were printed thus.

The jacket describes the book in these words: ‘In this good-natured satire upon dictatorship, George Orwell makes use of the technique perfected by Swift in The Tale of a Tub. It is the history of a revolution that went wrong – and of the excellent excuses that were forthcoming at every step for each perversion of the original doctrine.

‘The animals on the farm drive out their master and take over and administer the farm for themselves., The experiment is entirely successful, except for the unfortunate fact that someone has to take the deposed farmer’s place. Leadership devolves almost automatically upon the pigs, who are on a higher intellectual level than the rest of the animals. Unhappily their character is not equal to their intelligence, and out of this fact springs the main development of the story. The last chapter brings a dramatic change, which, as soon as it has happened, is seen to have been inevitable from the start.’

Animal Farm Cheap Edition

On July 27th 1951 Penguin Books published the first British paperback edition in their traditional orange and white cover in a print-run of 60,000 copies.

In the USA by this time over half a million copies had been printed. It was their sale that gave Orwell financial security for the first time in his life. Quickly translated around the world, Orwell gave up all royalties on copies destined for Ukrainian and Russian refugees.




1984 by George Orwell – Directed by Liz Postlethwaite

1984 flyer updated
Post-graduate students from ALRA North presents Matthew Dunster’s ‘enthralling adaptation’ of a classic novel 1984 By George Orwell, directed by Liz Postlethwaite and  in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre.

Performances will take place at various venues from Tuesday 8th – Thursday 17th September 2015

Winston Smith rewrites history for the Ministry of Truth, but when he is handed a note that says simply ‘I love you,’ by a woman he hardly knows, he decides to risk everything in a search for real truth. In a world of cheap entertainment, where a war without end is always fought and the government is always watching, can Winston possibly hold onto what he feels inside?

The Kings Arms, Salford, Tues 8 Sept – 7.30pm 

Slaithwaite Civic Hall, Weds 9 Sept – 7.30pm

Mill at the Pier, Wigan, Mon 14 Sept – 7.30pm
Tel: 01942 821021

UCLAN, Preston, Tues 15 Sept – 7.00pm

Staffordshire University, Weds 16 Sept – 7.00pm

Oldham Library, Thurs 17 Sept – 7.00pm

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (Copyright, 1949) is bought to us by permission of Bill Hamilton as the Literary Executor of the Estate of the Late Sonia Brownell Orwell

George Orwell Always in the News Number 15

David Lodge Notices Authors Become Less Creative

David Lodge, retired academic, is a prospective retired author. The Independent quotes Professor Lodge in a radio interview saying ‘I think a lot of writers who begin early, like I did, probably reach their peak in their 40s and 50s,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.

‘After that, it becomes more of a struggle. Books take longer to write …’ (Independent 31 May 2015). The report examines other recent authors such as Harold Pinter and Molly Parkin.

It is not a new idea: George Orwell described it nearly seventy years ago: ‘A novelist … has an initial impulse which is good for three or four books, perhaps even for a dozen, but which must exhaust itself sooner or later. Obviously one cannot lay down any rigid rule, but in many cases the creative impulse seems to last for about fifteen years: in a prose writer these fifteen years would probably be between the ages of thirty and forty-five, or thereabouts. A few writers, it is true, have a much longer lease of life, and can go on developing when they are middle-aged or even old. But these are usually writers (examples: Yeats, Eliot, Hardy, Tolstoy) who make a sudden, almost violent change in their style, or their subject-matter, or both, and who may even tend to repudiate their earlier work.’ (As I Please, 6 December 1946).

While Professor Lodge agrees with Orwell’s age-range for artistic exhaustion, Orwell’s observation on change of style extending an artistic life is confirmed by Antonia Fraser’s memory of Harold Pinter in the Independent article. Known as a playwright, ‘Harold continued to write wonderful poetry very late on’ she remembers.

It seems that nothing has changed since Orwell identified the situation nearly seventy years ago.

The official society for the author Eric Arthur Blair known as George Orwell