1984 Makes New York Stage Debut

By Carol Biederstadt

Even for theatergoers in the New York metropolitan area, dramatic performances of Orwell’s novels are few and far between. Thus, when I heard that the New York debut of George Orwell’s 1984 was to be held at the Flux Factory, a somewhat obscure venue in the borough of Queens, I was determined to see it, even though it involved a nearly two-hour trek to the theater.

Housed in a former greeting card factory, the Flux Factory, an Off-Off Broadway arts space, is easy to miss; luckily, a lone playbill, depicting a militant countenance exuding an unnerving aura of omnipotence, caught my eye. While the image was clearly suggestive of Big Brother, it was equally evocative of the Eurasian soldier whose likeness, it is mentioned in the novel, had appeared on posters plastered “all over London”. It occurred to me that the sinisterly mustachioed and goateed visage – devoid of eyes – bore a curious resemblance to both Vladimir Lenin and Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu; superimposed against a background redolent of the Japanese Rising Sun flag, the image not only conjured up the terror of Big Brother, but also seamlessly melded wartime propagandist themes in a manner that seemed to allow the visual to target concurrently both Eurasia and Eastasia, the states against which Oceania alternately waged perpetual war. I found myself wondering whether the artwork was intentionally created to visually depict Doublethink.

The stark industrial interior of the Flux Factory provided an effortless backdrop for this shoestring-budget production, which employed only a handful of simple props and an improvised stage of wooden pallets on a slate grey floor. Directed by Dave Stishan, an ensemble of six immediately transported the audience to Room 101, where a voice periodically bellowed from a modern Samsung telescreen; it was there, deep in the bowels of the ironically named Ministry of Love, that Michael Gene Sullivan’s powerful stage adaptation of the novel began, paradoxically, at the end. With B. K. Dawson convincingly portraying Winston Smith, the story unraveled through a sequence of flashbacks depicting Smith’s “crimes”, and those familiar with the novel quickly learned to steady themselves for the scenes of interrogation and torture that regularly punctuated the retrospection. On the final day of the performance’s two-week run, I sat with a captivated audience of about 40 and impotently bore witness to Winston Smith’s struggle to maintain his humanity.

It has been almost seventy years since Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, yet this performance could not have felt timelier. While Sullivan’s dialogue remains, for the most part, true to the text, minor tweaks, perhaps most noticeably Julia’s use of four-letter expletives, added to the play’s surprisingly contemporary feel. In light of recent political events, the play seemed strikingly relevant and prescient, almost as reflective of the zeitgeist of 2016 as it was of that of Orwell’s imagined 1984. Perhaps the one thing that Orwell couldn’t have foreseen was that unlike Winston Smith, the people of the post-truth world of the future would be fixated on the very telescreens used to indoctrinate them.

Photograph by Carol Biederstadt:

Cast Members (back row, left to right) – Rob Mobley, Ed Brown, Jerry Brown, Jr., Atalanta Siegel, B.K. Dawson, Ben Adducchio
Director (front row, seated) – Dave Stishan

Last updated 7th December 2016


Company website with stage photographs and comments.

Spooks and Scoops: Astor, Orwell, the Observer and a Frisson of Risk

orwell-astor-graves-in-viewGeorge Orwell and David Astor now lie in the same churchyard in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire

by Richard Lance Keeble

The publication of a special supplement to celebrate The Observer’s 225 years (on 4 December 2016) provides a useful opportunity to explore the newspaper’s fascinating attitude towards David Astor, the great friend of George Orwell and its celebrated editor from 1948-1975. *i

Astor, after all, had close ties to the spooks. His intelligence links went back as far as 1939, when he did ‘secret service stuff’, according to his cousin, Joyce Grenfell (Macintyre 2014: 2014). He served in the early part of the Second World War in naval intelligence alongside Ian Fleming (later author of the James Bond spy novels) (Cabell 2008: 12) and then with the covert Special Operations Executive. SOE was established by PM Winston Churchill and Hugh Dalton in July 1940 ‘to facilitate espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines’ and serve as the nucleus of a resistance movement if Britain were invaded by the Axis Powers (ibid: 45). Thereafter, Astor maintained close links with intelligence.

Robert McCrum, in the anniversary supplement, describes Astor’s ties with the spooks colourfully: ‘He was fascinated by journalism and jeopardy – and highly susceptible to the romance of the secret world where the spy and journalist share an interest in covert observation mixed with a frisson of risk.’ And Andrew Rawnsley, in a piece celebrating the Observer’s politics, writes: ‘It was from the 1940s, under the editorship-ownership of David Astor, that the paper became the leading liberal voice in post-war Britain.’

Phillip Knightley (1986: 131), in his seminal history of intelligence, The Second Oldest Profession, records that when in July 1939 Colonel Count Gerhardt von Schwerin, of the German General Staff, arrived in the UK as a spokesman for the German opposition to Hitler, he was met by David Astor. Cabell (2008: 29; 49) writes that Astor and Fleming worked alongside Dennis Wheatley (specialising in deception plans), later to become the occult/adventure novelist. Cabell also reports that Fleming may well have played a central role in luring Rudolf Hess to Scotland in May 1941 (ibid: 40-52).

After he became editor of the Observer, Astor employed Terence Kilmartin (who had worked for Section D, MI6, and SOE – as did his sister – during the war and then for an MI6-backed Arab radio station) who became assistant literary editor in 1950 and literary editor in 1952. *ii In the special Observer anniversary supplement, Nick Cohen devotes a section, in his piece on ‘writers of great polemical clarity’; to Kilmartin, describing him as a ‘great literary editor’ but makes no mention of his intelligence ties.

In 1956, Astor was persuaded to offer cover for the SIS agent, Kim Philby, later revealed as a Soviet spy, as a journalist in Beirut. Intriguingly, in the special supplement, Robert McCrum, in an article highlighting ‘stories that have shaped the Observer’, asks (rather innocently) whether Astor was aware of Philby’s double life. Significantly, Sebastian Faulks comments (in parenthesis) (1997: 265): ‘Neither Astor nor the SIS then knew that Philby was also working for the KGB.’ But Ben Macintyre, in his excellent biography of Philby (2014: 205), writes astutely: ‘Astor later claimed, implausibly, that he had no idea Philby would be working for MI6 while reporting for his newspaper.’

Astor is mentioned on a list of journalists with close MI6 connections by Robin Ramsay in a review of Anthony Cavendish’s Inside intelligence (1967). Included were Lord Arran on the Daily Mail, W. I. Farr, Michael Berry (Lord Hartwell), Roy Pawley, Tom Harris, Michael Field of the Telegraph, Wing Commander Paul Richey at the Daily Express. At the Observer, there was David Astor, Mark Arnold-Foster, Wayland Young (Lord Kennet) and Edward Crankshaw; Brian Crozier at the Economist, Stuart McLean, vice-chairman of Associated Newspapers; John S. Whitlock, managing editor of Butterworth Publications; P. Morgan, editor British Plastic; G. Paulton, of Arbeiter Zeitung (Vienna), and Henry Brandon at The Sunday Times. *iii

Nick Cohen opens his article referring to Orwell. But no mention is made either of his great friendship with Astor nor of his possibly working for him on some kind of intelligence mission in 1945. *iv

Both Richard Crockett (1991: 94) and Bernard Crick (1982: 425-426) report that Astor had been determined to meet Orwell after reading his Lion and the Unicorn (1941) and finally secured an introduction to him through Cyril Connolly, an old Etonian friend of Orwell, then editing the influential journal Horizon and filling in for the Observer’s literary editor. They met in a café near the BBC off Portland Place where Orwell was working on broadcasts to India and quickly became friends. After leaving the BBC in November 1943, Orwell planned to report for the Observer from Algiers and Sicily following the Allied landings but the authorities turned him down on health grounds. Orwell then quickly acquired the post of literary editor at the leftist weekly Tribune, which he held until February 1945 when he resigned to take on the war reporting assignment. *v

Was it a cover for an intelligence mission? Dorril (2000: 457) certainly reports that in 1944 Astor was transferred to a unit liaising between SOE and the resistance in France, helping the French underground in London spread the word to groups throughout Europe. While in Paris, perhaps inspired by Astor, Orwell attended the first conference of the Committee for European Federation, bringing together resistance groups from around Europe. The French novelist and editor of Combat, Albert Camus, was amongst those present. Astor was later adamant that Orwell had no intelligence links *vi and Peter Davison, editor of Orwell’s twenty-volume collected works, commented: ‘I doubt if Orwell would be involved with intelligence – but that by no means says he wasn’t.’ *vii


i Astor was named as one of the 40 Greats of the British newspaper industry by the UK Press Gazette on 22 November 2005 (in a glossy special supplement titled ‘The newspaper hall of fame’)
ii See http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Terence_Kilmartin; and Dorril, Stephen, Spooks, Lobster, No. 22 p. 16
iii See http://www.8bitmode.com/rogerdog/lobster/lobster15.pdf
iv Orwell would not have been alone in working for intelligence during the war: Other intellectuals/writers included A. P. Herbert, Arthur Koestler (who had previously served the Soviet Comintern while a journalist during the Spanish civil war), David Garnett, Elizabeth Bowen, novelist Muriel Spark, Alec Waugh and his brother Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene (Bower 1995: 227)
v Tribune was later to be distributed to British missions abroad by the government’s secret propaganda outfit, the Information Research Department (Norton-Taylor and Milne 1996). ‘[It] combines the resolute exposure of communism and its methods with the consistent championship of those objectives which leftwing sympathisers normally support. … Many articles in it can be effectively turned to this department’s purposes’ (ibid)
vi In an interview with the author, London, November 1999
vii In a letter to the author dated 7 December 1999


Bower, Tom (1995) The perfect English spy: Sir Dick White and the secret war 1935-1990, London: William Heinemann

Dorril, Stephen (2000) MI6: Fifty years of special operations, London: Fourth Estate

Cabell, Craig (2008) Ian Fleming’s secret war, Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books

Crick, Bernard (1982) George Orwell: A life, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books

Crockett, Richard (1991) David Astor and the Observer, London: Deutsch

Faulks, Sebastian (1997) The fatal Englishman: Three short lives, London: Vintage

Knightley, Phillip (1986) The second oldest profession: The spy as bureaucrat, patriot, fantasist and whore, London: Andre Deutsch

Macintyre, Ben (2014) A spy among friends: Philby and the great betrayal, London: Bloomsbury

Norton-Taylor, Richard and Milne, Seamus (1996) Orwell offered writers’ blacklist to anti-Soviet propaganda unit, Guardian, 11 July

Richard Lance Keeble is Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln and Visiting Professor at Liverpool Hope University. He has written and edited 35 books, is the joint editor of both Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics and George Orwell Studies and chair of the Orwell Society.

Photograph: L J Hurst

Last updated: 5 December 2016

O’Shaughnessy, Struve, Zamyatin: The Tyneside Braid?

Yevgeny Zamyatin and South Shields

After the Orwell Society visited South Shields*, the birthplace of Eileen O’Shaughnessy, and the other parts of Tyneside associated with the woman who was to marry Eric Blair (George Orwell) members continued their research. The novel We, which Orwell was to read with fascination and which inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four, was written by a man who had himself spent time on Tyneside. There is a chance that Eileen as a child met Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884- 1937), through her father who was an Inspector of Customs in the port while Zamyatin was in England for the Russian government supervising the building of icebreakers, including the icebreaker Lenin (as it was later renamed) in the ship yards of South Shields. A Soviet Heretic, a collection of Zamyatin’s journalism **, includes three short autobiographical articles, in the first of which he mentions being in Newcastle while it was bombed by Zeppelins. That phrase is sometimes found quoted online, less frequently if ever printed is the third account which mentions in passing his visiting South Shields:

In England it was at first all iron, machines, blueprints. I built icebreakers in Glasgow, Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields (among them, one of our largest icrebreakers, the Lenin). The Germans showered us with bombs from Zeppelins and airplanes.” (“Autbiography 1929”).

Alan Myers’ superb online article in three parts *** on Zamyatin and Tyneside, in its the second section, discusses Zamyatin and Orwell. The great discovery, though is in the third section where there is a discussion of Zamyatin and South Shields. Myers had found a recollection of British author Harold Heslop ****:

On Heslop’s remarking that he preferred South Shields to Newcastle, Zamyatin whispered ‘South Shields… Sooth Sheels! I never learned to sing the Tyneside speech!’ These are not the words of the scourge of the Newcastle middle classes nor the glum introvert of the letters to his wife. Zamyatin’s affection for the ordinary Geordie and his informed interest in the local dialect is obviously genuine.

If Zamyatin knew South Shields well enough to comment on its dialects he must have been there for a considerable time, probably proportionate to the size of the craft he was supervising being built. Perhaps we can make a great if imaginative leap based on that supposition: what sort of British official would have seen off the Russian ships when they left South Shields to sail to Russia? Would they not have been checked by customs before departure, especially as it was wartime? Could Eileen’s father, Lawrence, have met Zamyatin; the Customs officer liaising with the marine engineer? Mighty they even have met repeatedly? It is an intriguing possibility; an example of the small world hypothesis. It even provokes the thought that when Orwell learned of the existence of We he might have discussed it with Eileen and heard her say that her father had met its author, encouraging Orwell to seek out a copy of We in the months after she died as a memorial and a propitiatory act.

Eileen died in 1945 having returned to Tyneside for an operation. By a strange coincidence she was interred in Jesmond, not far from Sanderson Road, the thoroughfare in north Newcastle where Zamyatin had lodged in the earlier World War.

Struve, Orwell and Zamyatin

George Orwell first learned of the existence of We when Gleb Struve, an academic at the University of London, sent him a copy of his book 25 Years of Soviet Russian Literature early in 1944. In his letter of thanks, dated 17 February 1944, Orwell responded that he had not heard of Zamyatin before reading Struve’s book. If Struve had his own copy of We in any language other than Russian he did not lend it to Orwell, who took nearly two years to obtain a copy and then had to read it in French.

Orwell’s laudatory review of We, published in the first week of January 1946 and a follow-up article by Struve are on the Orwell Prize website.

Isaac Deuscher later claimed that Orwell plagiarised Zamyatin, but Struve was able to refute this from his correspondence with Orwell (something with which Christopher Hitchens much later agreed, in denying plagiarism). You can read part of a letter from Struve written in 1976, here.

We do not know how far George and Eileen read each other’s books but when Orwell died her library was found mixed with his. Might Eileen have read Orwell’s copy of 25 Years of Soviet Russian Literature in the last year of her life and mentioned the Russian engineer who visited South Shields in her childhood? It is an outside chance, particularly as Struve seems to have thought Zamyatin was a mathematician rather than an engineer, so she might have struggled to make the connection, but it remains a chance. It would have added an extra pathos to this novel, of lost love as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, that Orwell – as he read – realised not only the public-political significance of romance but of the close and personal companionship he would never again enjoy with Eileen who had shared the discovery of the book with him.



After more research, Gary Wilkinson reports that icebreakers were not built in South Shields, but in Low Walker naval yard near Wallsend. (i.e. on the opposite bank of the Tyne and up-river).

shipbuilders-tyneside-mapMap of ship yards on the Tyne, after 1949

This prompts the question, what was Zamyatin doing in South Shields?


* In 2015, ably guided by Gary Wilkinson

** Zamyatin and Orwell had more in common than just authorship of a dystopia. Zamyatin, like Orwell, was an admirer of both H G Wells and Anatole France, for instance, and wrote Introductions of translations of Wells’s books in addition to essays on both authors.

** Since March 2015, when the Orwell Society visited South Shields, this article has disappeared from the web. All credit to the author Alan Myers for his research. It was at URL: http://www.sclews.me.uk/zamyatin.html

*** Harold Heslop was one of the proletarian writers of the ’30s, but his works include his own thriller of paranoia, The Crime Of Peter Roper, which is discussed in Andy Croft’s essay on radical paranoid thrillers of the period. His memory of Zamyatin (Heslop spells it differently) is in his autobiography Out of the Old Earth (Bloodaxe Books). Part of an academic review can be read here.


Struve, Gleb: 25 Years of Soviet Russian Literature (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1944)

Zamyatin, Yevgeny; edited by Mirra Ginsberg, with an Introduction by Alex M Shane: A Soviet Heretic (London: Quartet, 1991)

by L J Hurst,

with thanks to Masha Karp and Gary Wilkinson.

Last Updated: 3rd December 2016

Orwell and the Left Book Club: Horrabin’s Atlas of Current Affairs

George Orwell relied on the work of cartographer James Frank Horrabin (1884 -1962) at several points in his career, while Winifrid Horrabin (1887-1971), Frank’s wife, was one of Orwell’s colleagues at Tribune.

An Atlas of Current Affairs, was a work updated and published in new editions throughout the 1930s. It was an optional title for Left Book Club members in December 1936.


Horrabin was one of the experts who broadcast for Orwell during his two years as a BBC producer on the Eastern Service, lecturing on geography and economics. He already had experience. Not only was Horrabin a well-rehearsed public speaker, but he had written other works – again repeatedly reprinted – as text books for socialist educational and self-educational bodies, starting in the late 1920s and continuing for the next two decades.


In 1944, Orwell commented on the controversies provoked by another of Horrabin’s books, his Atlas of War Geography, which had been published as a Penguin Special. Horrabin had drawn attention to the borders imposed by the Treaties which ended the First World War, which were made regardless of their economic consequences. Austria, for example, was left with no railways running between its main cities, as the railways had been built in the days of the Hapsburg Empire whose lines of communication had looked to far greater and more distant needs.

In his ‘As I Please’ article Orwell went on to say “There is also a tendency to make yourself look bigger than you are, which is possible without actual forgery since every projection of the earth as a flat surface distorts some part or other” (“As I Please”, 11th February 1944), without mentioning the Mercator Projection responsible. He had probably learned this, or had it re-inforced from his discussions with Horrabin. Horrabin himself went onto illustrate the risks implicit in Mercator in his 1945 pamphlet for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, especially in this double-spread illustration:

horrabin-thinking-geographically-0809Horrabin made a later connection with Orwell, though many years after the death of both men, when W J West or his designer used Horrabin’s maps, with their distinctive thick lines and cross-hatching, to illustrate Orwell: The War Commentaries, Orwell’s re-discovered analyses of current affairs broadcast on many of BBC’s foreign language stations during the darkest days of the struggle against fascism.


British Pamphleteers Volumes One and Two

Reginald Reynolds and his wife Ethel Mannin, members of the Independent Labour Party, and both career authors, first visited Eric Blair (George Orwell) and his wife Eileen when Blair was recuperating from his Spanish War wound at his brother-in-law’s house in Greenwich.

After the Second World War Reynolds -doing most of the library research – and Orwell collaborated on a planned series of anthologies of political ephemera, to be published by the Allan Wingate publishing house and called British Pamphleteers.

In 1948 British Pamphleteers Volume I: From the 16th Century to the 18th Century was published with an introduction by Orwell, and a head-note to each item by Reynolds.

britishpamphleteers-vol-1-frontAt least one letter from Orwell to Reynolds exists outlining plans – in very general terms – for the contents of Volume II.  Orwell’s name was never to appear on its title page, for 1948 and 1949 were the years of the collapse of his health, when he was forbidden from writing and read very little.

Reynolds, however, carried on his research, and in 1951 appeared British Pamphleteers Volume II: From the French Revolution to the present time. The publishers, in those dark days of paper shortages, managed to keep the appearance of the second volume in line with the first. The Introduction – with whose conclusions Reynolds seems to have disagreed violently – was by the historian A.J.P. Taylor. Reynolds contributed longer head-notes to this volume than before.


The back of the dustjacket of the first volume had carried a publisher’s advertisement for a forthcoming colloquium on 1848, ‘the year of revolutions’, edited by Taylor. The back of Volume II, though, advertised Volume I with quotations from reviews such as ‘ … Mr George Orwell contributes a characteristically fresh and intelligent introduction’; ‘Mr George Orwell contributes to this collection a striking and characteristically provocative introduction’; and ‘George Orwell and Reginald Reynolds have compiled an unusual and valuable anthology … a most perceptive introduction by Mr Orwell’.

britishpamphleteers-vol-2-rearBy beginning with the period of the French Revolution Reynolds was able to make many comparisons and contrasts of both political promise and betrayal then and in more recent times. He was also able to refute some contrary positions which still raise their heads today: ‘In our own time a great deal is written about “Socialism” which may be sound criticism of Stalin, of the British Labour Government or even of Hitler (who, after all, called himself a “National Socialist”); but it happens to be entirely irrelevant to the real issue of socialism versus capitalism.’

British Pamphleteers Volume II shows that Reynolds upheld all the standards he had set with his friend with Volume I. This short series remains a lasting tribute to a little known friendship.


L J Hurst 2016

Comstock Footage: The Aspidistra On Film

By David Ryan

Few British television dramatists inspire quite as much affection as Alan Plater. From his early work on Z-Cars to the Beiderbecke Trilogy and beyond, his name “guaranteed a quality of humour, heart and humanity” – words taken from The Guardian’s obituary in 2010.

Born in 1930s Jarrow and raised in Hull during the Blitz, he was, naturally enough, a devotee of Orwell’s. “He loved Orwell,” says his widow, Shirley Rubinstein. “He called himself an old-fashioned socialist. He admired Orwell enormously.”

In addition to being an early trustee of the Orwell Prize, Plater wrote two Orwell-related scripts: a Bafta-nominated BBC play, The Crystal Spirit, about his hero’s days on Jura writing Nineteen Eighty-Four; and a feature film of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, starring Richard E Grant and Helena Bonham Carter.


It so happens that one led directly to the other. Watching the Jura play at home – it was shown, bizarrely, as part of the Christmas 1983 festivities – was director Robert Bierman, a fan of the 1936 novel and owner of the screen rights since the early 1980s. Here’s a man who understands Orwell, he thought, and contacted Plater’s agent.

In early 1984, the writer set to work on what would be the second screen adaptation of the novel. (The first, made by the BBC in 1965, is missing from the archives.) In an outline for the proposed film, he wrote: “Its central character, Gordon Comstock, is an anti-hero supreme – an Angry Young Man, twenty years ahead of the fashion.” The industry’s response was underwhelming.

Eleven years later, however, in part thanks to National Lottery funding, the prospects for modest British films were looking a great deal more promising. Bierman therefore approached producer Peter Shaw, who thought that with Arts Council backing and co-production money, he could finance an arthouse film.

Plater dusted off his first draft and announced that, after some trepidation, he’d enjoyed reading it. “It seems to have caught that characteristic Orwell stance: merciless observation redeemed by irony and the merest hint of compassion. And all a bit dark, which seems to be the spirit of our times.”

However much purists may wince, he’d always envisaged the film as a romantic comedy. “Orwell did the social message and Alan did the wit,” says Rubinstein. Polishing the script, he intensified the focus on Gordon’s relationship with girlfriend Rosemary; this meant jettisoning characters such as Flaxman, the bawdy salesman who lives in the same boarding house as Comstock.

Grant, in the lead role, was a decade older than the 29-year-old poet of the novel, though on the plus side, his upbringing in Swaziland had given him the accent and mannerisms of a 1930s Englishman. Perhaps more surprising was the feistiness and ambition of Bonham Carter’s Rosemary. A “doormat” like the character in the book, argued Plater, simply wouldn’t be accepted by audiences.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying kicked off the 41st London Film Festival on 6 November 1997 and was instantly attacked by newspaper critics, who saw it as a waste of public money. The Daily Mail‘s Christopher Tookey called it “a disastrous choice” of opener. It had, he wrote, “an air of having been made for television, with no thought of the movie-going public”.

Retitled A Merry War, from a line in the novel, it had a warmer welcome in the United States, where Time magazine declared it one of the ten best movies of the year. “They just took the film for what it was,” says Shaw. “I think the British critics were very stuffy about it, to be honest.”

ktaf-a-merry-war-cover2Mike Batt’s score includes tracks such as “Bugger the blasted daffodils”, “Find the editor and kill him” and”The Aspidistra Quickstep”, as well as the more directly named “Sad bit after Gordon is sacked” and “At last Gordon gives Rosemary a really good seeing to”.  A year later Batt re-worked his material into The Aspidstra Suite in three movements: Poetry and Torment; Love and Passion and A Bright Future. Both score and suite are available on one album on which Batt conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

ktaf-ostOn a similar theme, Alan Plater had scripted 1970’s The Virgin And The Gypsy. He died in 2010.

[David Ryan is a freelance journalist. He is currently writing a book about Orwell on screen.]

[If you enjoyed this article you might like to read others as it is one of a series sponsored by the Orwell Society to mark the 80th anniversary of George Orwell’s novel Keep The Aspidistra Flying.]

Shiplake in War-Time: Those who had known Orwell lived on

Memories of Jacintha Buddicom, Christianna Brand and Edward Ardizzone

During World War Two


Dione Venables

[In 2014, we featured an article on Shiplake during the First World War. This village on the Thames was home then to Eric Blair and his sisters. Edward Ardizzone’s autobiography, and letters from Ardizzone’s cousin Christianna Brand, revealed that the Blairs, Buddicoms and the extended Ardizzone family must have known each other well. Our article prompted Dione Venables, cousin,  literary executor of Jacintha Buddicom, and editor of Jacintha’s memoir, to offer her recollections of what was a small place but a significant intellectual melting pot]


It was quite strange to be shot back to the 1940s the way your article did for me. I knew Mary [Christianna] but as Tina Brand, and dear Ted (Edward) Ardizzone, who was such a kindly man, with a great sense of humour. He was by then a very active War Artist. Jacintha knew other artists too, including the then famous Zinkeisen sisters, Anna and Doris. Anna was Jacintha’s best friend and illustrated many of her poems so that they could one day be made into a book of poetry – which never happened!

Ted, whom I met during the War, remained a lifelong friend of Jacintha’s. He actually drew a lovely picture especially for Jacintha’s book Eric & Us and I, rather than the Ardizzone Estate, own the copyright of this drawing today.


You can see his signature in the bottom right side. It is to illustrate Eric‘s poetic lines

” We will remember, when our hair is white

Those clouded days revealed in radiant light.”

Apart from those, I found it such an interesting piece because it mentions people whom I have actually known. I was evacuated to Shiplake from 1940-42, after our London home was destroyed in the Blitz, and I met many interesting people there. I was 9 when I arrived and 11 when I left and was at an extremely impressionable age — which means that I picked up details and memories that remain clear with me to this day. Jacintha’s mother (my aunt Laura (Dee)) was a deeply intellectual woman and surrounded herself with like spirits, so the Shiplake home was constantly filled with such interesting characters as Oliver Strachey (Lytton Strachey‘s brother) to whom she had been engaged when they were very young.

I was a tremendous fan of Arthur Ransome of Swallows And Amazons fame. He and his wife used to come and visit their sailing friends, the Busk family, who lived at Quaint Cottage and were my Aunt’s tenants in one of the five houses she had built on the land around Quarry House at Shiplake. My cousin Michal (Jacintha’s daughter) and I used to fantasize that Genia (Evgenia) Ransome was a Communist spy because we all knew about her having been Trotsky’s secretary.

Arthur Ransome always said that he didn’t like children but he was immensely kind to one lonely little girl (me) whose aunt would not even send her to school. He sent me each of his books as they were published, with a special message in them. They were my greatest treasures until 1944 when a Flying Bomb destroyed the house in Kent where we were staying by then — and all was lost!

[Dione Venables is the editor of Jacintha Buddicom’s memoir Eric And Us: The Postscript Edition (Finlay Publishers), and of George Orwell: The Complete Poetry (Finlay Publishers). She has long been active in the Orwell Society, of which she was a founding member.]

Tom Kelly reads his poem ‘You You You’, a tribute to Eileen Blair

OS Voice is the podcast service of the Orwell Society.

The first item to appear under this heading is Tom Kelly reciting his tribute to Eileen Blair, ‘You You You’.


Tom’s poem developed while he was working with filmmaker Gary Wilkinson on the biographical film Wildflower, which followed the life of Eileen O’Shaughnessy as she grew up and ultimately met and married Eric Blair (George Orwell). She died too soon after the couple adopted their son, Richard.

The first screening of Wildflower was in March 2014. Quentin Kopp made this report.

Animal Farm 1945 – 2015

Animal Farm (1945-2015)

In August 2015 the Orwell Society sponsored a series of original articles on the origins, development, history and genre of George Orwell’s fairy story Animal Farm.

Animal Farm Cheap Edition


Orwell and the Left Book Club: Some of his selections 1

lbc_ssgfGeorge Orwell, in his seminal essay ‘What Is Science?’, published in Tribune in October 1945, refers to Robert Brady’s Spirit and Structure of German Fascism as if he expected his readers to be well aware of it, if not of the conclusions he was to draw.

Philip Bounds, in Orwell and Marxism: The Political and Cultural Thinking of George Orwell, describes Orwell’s argument: “Drawing his evidence from Robert Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (a publication of the Left Book Club [1937]) he noted that German scientists had proved especially susceptible to the appeal of Hitler, and ‘the ability to withstand nationalism’ was likely to be stronger in ordinary people than in the scientific elite. Whereas Bernal had blamed the insularity of modern science on competition between capitalist states, Orwell seemed to regard is a sort of professional deformation arising from scientific activity itself.”

Orwell’s own words were “… the number of German scientists — Jews apart — who voluntarily exiled themselves or were persecuted by the règime was much smaller than the number of writers and journalists. More sinister than this, a number of German scientists swallowed the monstrosity of ‘racial science’. You can find some of the statements to which they set their names in Professor Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism.”

More information about the Left Book Club can be found on the Spartacus Educational website.