British Pamphleteers – A New Discovery

Our article on British Pamphleteers, the two-volume project on which George Orwell worked with his friend Reginald Reynolds, has been updated.  It was thought that George Orwell made only general suggestions towards Volume Two, due to the collapse in his health, but Orwell Society member Richard Young has identified a proof title page showing that Reynolds and his publisher Allan Wingate had expected Orwell to co-author the second volume.

BP2_GO_RRWe have updated our article with Richard Young’s illustration.

Why Did Orwell Go To Burma?

Liam Hunt re-visits the Buddicom Thesis

Jacintha Buddicom was a close childhood friend of the future George Orwell, whom she knew as Eric Blair. They first met in 1914, when Jacintha was thirteen and Eric eleven. Over the next eight years Jacintha and her siblings Prosper and Guinever saw a lot of Eric during their school holidays in Shiplake-on-Thames, near Henley, and at the Buddicom estate in Ticklerton, Shropshire. Her memoir, Eric & Us, first published in 1974, describes their youthful pastimes and enthusiasms.i Eric seems to have divided his holidays about equally between fishing and shooting with Prosper and Guinever—both avidly outdoorsy children—and discussing life and literature with the more sedate Jacintha. She nurtured Eric’s dream of becoming a “FAMOUS AUTHOR” (always written in capitals, she tells us). Eric read her his stories, plays, and poems, and wrote her letters full of literary and philosophical observations.

Eric and Jacintha lost touch after Eric’s departure for Burma in 1922. Not until February 8, 1949 did Jacintha discover that George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm, which she greatly admired, had been her childhood friend Eric Blair. Orwell’s publisher, Frederic Warburg, gave her Orwell’s address at the sanatorium in Gloucestershire where he was slowly dying of tuberculosis. They exchanged a few letters, spoke a few times on the telephone, but never met again.

On January 10, 1971, Jacintha saw a BBC documentary about Orwell entitled The Road to the Left, comprised of interviews with various friends, acquaintances, and critics. As she later wrote to Bernard Crick, Jacintha was “so astonished at the completely erroneous picture of his early life” that she decided “in desperation and disgust” to try to set the record straight. Her brief memoir, “The Young Eric” (which became the nucleus of Eric & Us) appeared a few months later in an anthology entitled The World of George Orwell. In an unpublished “appendix” to her essay, Jacintha explained that

the reason for my contribution to this book was the sudden discovery that apparently nobody knew anything about Eric Blair’s out-of-school childhood, or the true solution to the problem of his life: Why did he go to Burma? As I was there at the time, I can give an authentic first-hand account of what happened.ii

Jacintha Buddicom was concerned to refute what she considered the myth of Eric Blair’s unhappy childhood—a myth largely based, of course, on Orwell’s own writings, especially the late essay “Such Such Were the Joys”. Eric Blair, she insisted, had been a “philosophical” and “practical” boy, with “a great sense of humor: “and among all the boys we knew, Eric was one of the most interesting, the best-informed, the kindest, the nicest.iii

In Eric & Us, Jacintha acknowledged that Eric had became infatuated with her at the age of about fifteen, and she printed several love poems that he had written her. But she insisted that she had felt nothing of the sort in return. “He was a perfect companion,” she wrote, “and I was very fond of him—as literary guide-philosopher-and-friend. But I had no romantic emotion for him.” And Eric himself suffered only from puppy love: “I think he was very fond of me,” she told one interviewer, “but in a romantic and idealistic way. I don’t think he ever had the slightest idea of any possibility of doing anything about it.”iv

Orwell’s biographers have found Eric & Us credible enough to cite about minor matters, but in general the book had little impact. Jacintha’s reminiscences were often trivial and sometimes maddeningly digressive. There were no dramatic disclosures, no portents of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Her picture of the young Eric Blair was impossible to square with Orwell’s own self-portraiture. She was an honest but impercipient witness.

jacinthabuddicom 1918Jacintha Buddicom 1918

For her part, Jacintha was troubled by the kind of writer her young friend had become. She found his work bleak, sordid, and (apart from Animal Farm) utterly unlike the books she would have expected of him. And why had Orwell erased her so completely from his autobiography?

Jacintha blamed it all on Burma. “The gloom and nostalgie de la boue developed much later,” she explained to Bernard Crick. “They were not inherent when he was young. But the first seeds seem to have been sown in Burma.” So why had he gone? What was “the true solution to the problem of his life?” Jacintha believed that Eric went to Burma against his will, for the pedestrian reason that his father made him.

“Eric,” she insisted, was “a born scholar—a boy who lived for books,” and he “had his heart set on going to Oxford.” It was during the summer holidays of 1921, she wrote,

that the final decision on Eric’s future had to be made; and old Mr. Blair insisted on Eric’s following him into the “Indian Civil” against Eric’s pleas (supported by Mrs. Blair and our own mother) that he should be allowed to try for some sort of scholarship or exhibition to Oxford. v

Colonial service “was the last thing Eric wanted, but the tramlines were laid down.”vi

Nothing in Eric & Us has been more decisively rejected than this thesis about Eric’s aspirations for Oxford. Bernard Crick set the tone in his magisterial George Orwell: A Life. The idea of Eric going to Oxford, Crick argued, had been solely Jacintha’s: “Eric almost certainly did not, in later years certainly did not, share Jacintha’s enthusiasm.” vii

In his 1984 interview with Jacintha, Bernard Crick fed her a leading question in the evident hope of eliciting a retraction. “He definitely didn’t want to go to university, did he?” he asked, as though unaware that she had written precisely the opposite on two occasions.viii When a scholar of Crick’s caliber starts tampering with a witness, it is a sure sign that preconceptions are darkening counsel.

Orwell’s biographers have discounted Jacintha’s testimony on several grounds: Eric’s poor performance at Eton had put a scholarship to Oxford out of his reach, and his family was too poor to send him without one; he never expressed any interest in the idea to anyone else; and in later life he often spoke with contempt of the Oxbridge literati. Above all, the image of Eric Blair at Oxford seems flatly un-Orwellian.

George Orwell did not yet exist, however. Against these objections we must set the confidentiality that obtained between Eric and Jacintha during these years—the first two years after World War I when, according to Jacintha herself, they were “inseparable.”ix At fifteen, Eric wrote her a poem that begins “Our minds are married,” and three years he later he wrote another declaring “My heart belongs to your befriending mind.” Jacintha had reason to think that she understood his feelings.

Eric thought it unfair, she wrote, that her feckless brother Prosper should be sent to Oxford on full fees, “whereas Eric himself, who would have so appreciated the opportunity and would have worked so hard to gain an almost-certain scholarship, was forbidden it by his father.”x During the decisive summer of 1921, Eric “talked to me a good deal on the subject. We were rather in the habit of taking long country walks.” xi

Such testimony deserves more serious consideration. Here I can present only a skeletal argument, and space compels thrift with the evidence. (There is plenty more—available on demand—which I intend to deploy elsewhere.)

Jacintha’s story looks flimsy, I suggest, because she suppressed its essential features, features that we can now restore. In 2006, Jacintha’s younger cousin Mrs. Dione Venables reprinted Eric & Us with her own Postscript, based on conversations with Jacintha during their later years. Thanks to Mrs. Venables we now know much more about Eric and Jacintha, and there are at least three bits of news with which future students must reckon.

First, the relationship was considerably more erotic than Jacintha, (conceived, after all, under Queen Victoria) could confess in print. Second, Eric proposed marriage to Jacintha before leaving for Burma, and was wounded by her rejection. Third, in September 1921, Eric tried at least half-heartedly to rape her, which naturally drove a wedge between them. We need to reevaluate her “solution to the problem of his life” in the light of this new intelligence.

In Eric & Us Jacintha described an especially beautiful sunset she and Eric had experienced in 1918, which they both vowed never to forget. She reprinted the poem, entitled “The Pagan”, that he had written to her about it. At the age of eighty-one she disclosed to Dione Venables that this had been the occasion of their first kiss:

Complete trust, complete joy, complete peace. We seemed to be wrapped round in golden light. It was quite strange…You never forget those amber moments.xii

She admitted that she and Eric had later engaged in what used to be called “heavy petting” (“some intimacy but not full intercourse” was how she put it). Jacintha also wrote Eric at least two erotically suggestive poems, one imagining herself as his vampire lover, the other envisioning the two of them reincarnated: Eric as Sarasate, the gipsy virtuoso, and herself as his violin.xiii It can probably be assumed that Jacintha was sending Eric some confusingly mixed messages.

In 1971 Jacintha told Bernard Crick that Eric “wanted me to be engaged to him before he went to Burma.”xiv She made a similar statement to Stephen Wadhams of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.xv This proposal is not mentioned in Eric & Us. But it can be deduced from the text. though only Gordon Bowker, Orwell’s most recent biographer, has done so. Jacintha printed Orwell’s letter of February 14, 1949, in which he accused her of having “abandoned me to Burma with all hope denied.” Near the end of the book she inserted her own poem, beginning “Dear Ghost, forgive—I can’t explain/ Rejected vow, neglected pen…”, which can only refer to Eric’s proposal.

The crisis occurred on September 4, in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, where the Buddicoms and the Blairs were sharing a house for the summer. The story only came to light in 1993, after Jacintha’s death. As her sister Guinever and Dione Venables were going through Jacintha’s effects, Guinever discovered the draft of a letter Jacintha had written to Eric on the day of the disaster, rebuking him for the assault. According to Guinever (who destroyed the letter in disgust), Eric

had obviously done his best to remove her pants and insert himself…She was so angry with him and really mortified. He had torn her skirt and knickers and hurt her hip and shoulder. Jacintha had had to scream for him to stop before he reluctantly did… xvi

Jacintha refused to see Eric again for the rest of the holidays. Some version of the incident reached the two mothers, and Mrs. Venables believes that it produced a lasting breach between the two families.

Jacintha wrote nothing (except by innuendo) about his proposal, nothing about his assault, and nothing about any possible incitation on her own part. Jacintha’s inhibitions thus fatally undermined her credibility. The unexpurgated story would have been much more convincing, as well as more compelling. If we accept, as I think we must, that Eric really did hope to marry Jacintha, then he had a very strong incentive indeed to prefer Oxford over Burma. Whatever his feelings about the University per se, he must have known that an Oxford man would have far better luck with her than an Assistant Superintendent in the Burmese police.

Gordon Bowker, who deserves credit for detecting Eric’s proposal, is surely mistaken to assume that Eric was “asking her to go with him to Burma.” xvii Jacintha Buddicom was not the sort of girl one takes to Rangoon, let alone to the Burmese hill country. Her own dream of attending Oxford had been frustrated: their mother had decided that the family could afford to fund only her brother Prosper. But she still hoped to immerse herself in the social ambience of Oxford, on some presentable Oxonian’s arm. Eric’s best bet to win her, as he must surely have known, was to shine intellectually at Oxford and embellish his social credentials with a First or two.

But did he have any prospect of doing so? Most biographers have accepted the statement of Andrew Gow, Eric’s tutor at Eton: Eric had no hope of winning a scholarship, or of entering Oxford without one. In 2000, however, this assumption was persuasively challenged by Jeffrey Meyers, who concluded that “Eric could have gone to university without a scholarship,” and he had, in any case, a reasonable shot at one.xviii

Certainly the situation did not seem hopeless in the summer of 1921. To be sure, Eric would have had to cram furiously to win a scholarship, and his father’s opposition would have to be overcome. But Eric had the necessary talent, and, according to Jacintha, he was mustering the requisite will. Meanwhile both mothers were besieging Richard Blair on Eric’s behalf:

During the Rickmansworth holiday there were interminable conversations between our mother and Mrs. Blair, united in deploring old Mr. Blair’s obstinate attitude with regard to Eric’s future…Our mother was very fond of Eric, and far more understanding of his wish to be an author than was his father. So when Mrs. Blair sided with Eric in a desperate last-minute stand for a final last-minute chance of Oxford, our mother backed them up in some vigorous correspondence with old Mr. Blair, strongly advocating that that Oxford was ‘the proper thing’ for a boy. She told him that ‘at whatever sacrifice” she was determined Prosper should be given the opportunity. xix

Eric’s father may have been “obstinate,” but he does not strike one as an especially forceful character, or indeed as the dominant partner in his own marriage. The persuasive powers of two strong and intelligent women, reinforced by stiffer resistance from Eric himself, might well have worn him down, if the effort had been sustained.

But Eric’s offense on September 4 would have scuttled this campaign on his behalf. Oxford anyway meant nothing now to Eric, having lost Jacintha. After the incident, Jacintha would no longer speak to him, and the two mothers were not speaking to each other. Deserted by his female allies, and rebuffed by Jacintha herself, Eric was left with neither means nor motive for bucking his father’s will. And so in October 1922, as Jacintha puts it, “he was exiled to the Burma police.”

Gordon Bowker has gotten closer to the truth than his predecessors, but veers wildly off course, I think, when he describes Eric as a “passionate adventurer heading off into the heart of darkness.”xx Bowker has picked the wrong author: Eric Blair was not thinking of Joseph Conrad as he sailed away from England. As he later complained to Jacintha, he had been “abandoned to Burma, all hope denied.” The tone is light, but the reference to Dante is telling. It suggests that Eric Blair left England feeling like a damned soul.


i Jacintha Buddicom, Eric & Us, 2nd.ed. (Chichester: Finaly Publisher, 2006).

ii The manuscript is now in Orwell Archive in University College London. Jacintha Buddicom sent it to Ian Angus on 9 May 1971.

iii Buddicom, 145.

iv Interview with Stephen Wadhams of the CBC, summer 1983, in preparation for “George Orwell: A Radio Biography”, broadcast January 1, 1984. Transcript of original CBC tape sent to Dione Venables by Gordon Bowker.

v Unpublished annotation to Prosper Buddicom’s Diary for 1920-1, Orwell Archive, UCL

vi Buddicom, in Gross, 4.

vii Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (London: Penguin, 1982), 135.

viii BBC transcript of unused interview for Arena program, Orwell Remembered, broadcast January 1984. Orwell Archice, UCL.

ix Buddicom, 186 (Venables Postscript).

x Buddicom, in Gross, 4-5.

xi Buddicom, 119.

xii Buddicom, 70-2, 180 (Venables Postscript), Dione Venables, ms. diary entry, 24 October 1982.

xiii Jacintha Buddicom, “Dracula’s Daughter” and “Henley at Henley: Romantic Regatta”, ms. poetry collection, property of Dione Venables.

xiv BBC transcript of unused interview for Arena program, Orwell Remembered, broadcast January 1984. Orwell Archice, UCL.

xv Interview with Stephen Wadhams of the CBC, summer 1983.

xvi Dione Venables, ms. diary entry, 15 December, 1993.

xvii Bowker, , 71.

xviii Meyers, Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation (New York: Norton, 2000), 43.

xix Buddicom, 118-119.

xx Bowker, 71.

This article originally appeared on the Finlay Publisher website.

We are grateful to Liam Hunt for supplying us with a copy.

Re-uploaded 16 April 2017

“1984” National Screening Day, 2017

Some Reflections

by Carol Biederstadt

Nearly 70 years have passed since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, including 33 years that have vaporized since the events depicted in the once futuristic novel were said to have occurred. Still, the recent spate of press coverage of the novel, especially here in the US, bears testimony to the continued relevance of Orwell’s classic. In late January, for instance, major publications such as The New York Times and USA Today reported on the book’s rapid ascent to the top of the Amazon bestseller list after Kellyanne Conway appeared to use Doublespeak to label claims made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer as “alternative facts.” Nineteen Eighty-Four was in the spotlight yet again this week when nearly 200 theatres across the US and a scattering of theatres around the world banded together for a national screening of Michael Radford’s 1984 film adaptation of Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece. Organized by the United State of Cinema in response to President Trump’s recently proposed budget, which would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the event was scheduled for April 4th so as to coincide with the day on which Winston Smith penned the first entry in his illicit diary. The idea of being one of thousands of people viewing a national screening of 1984 was too much to resist, and for the second time in about four months, I found myself making the trek to a rather distant theatre to attend a production of 1984.

theaterAll photographs by Carol Biederstadt

My destination this time was the historic Landmark Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey, one of only five “Wonder Theatres” that opened in the New York metropolitan area in 1929 and 1930. Now a community arts center, the architecturally impressive and spectacularly ornate theatre had been saved from demolition and was now being operated entirely by volunteers from the Friends of the Loew’s. A flier informed me that the screening had been sponsored by the Jersey City Free Public Library, partnering with Friends of the Loew’s, and as a bonus, the first 100 attendees were to receive a free copy of the novel, courtesy of the JCFPL Foundation. Doors opened at 7:00, and not expecting a huge turnout on a Tuesday night, I arrived shortly thereafter, only to find the books long gone and people queuing in two lines to get in. Surprising even the organizers, the event had drawn over 500 people. The audience, I noted, was a mixture of young and old, including an elderly man wearing a shirt covered with “Hillary” and “Bernie” buttons who caught my eye.

ceilingCompounding the excitement of seeing this classic film on National Screening Day in a theatre abounding with cathedral-like splendor was a special performance by organist Bob Maidhoff playing the magnificent “Wonder Morton” Theatre Pipe Organ. Although not the original organ of the Landmark Loew’s, the Wonder Morton is a nearly identical sister organ that had once graced the Paradise Theatre in the Bronx, one of the other four “Loew’s Wonder Theatres”, before ending up in storage for a number of years. The Garden State Theatre Organ Society, which had purchased the organ and transported it from Chicago, spent over a decade to get the instrument in working order again, but it was clearly time and energy well spent. Aptly chosen yet cheerful-sounding tunes such as “Springtime for Hitler” reverberated from massive pipes hidden behind the walls near the proscenium, enveloping the theatre in sound. Wrapping up the set was the equally fitting “Can You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables, followed by an ominous sounding march that signaled curtain time. The organ performance was a treat I had not been expecting.

organPhotograph by Carol Biederstadt

The film began, and the gripping tale of Winston Smith unfolded before us. A panel discussion had been planned to follow the screening, and while about half of the audience were filing out after the film ended, those of us who stayed behind took a few moments to readjust to 2017. A panel of five local arts and community leaders then led a discussion that covered a variety of topics on themes inspired by the film. Many who remained were eager to chime in, and it soon became apparent that the mind-numbing oppression of Orwell’s imagined 1984 – visually enhanced in the film by the muted colors resulting from the bleached bypass process – was something that resonated with people on both sides of the political spectrum.

Before leaving the theatre, I climbed the grand staircase to get a better view of the entrance hall and its impressive chandelier. I discovered a large, dimly lit anteroom replete with sofas and a now inoperative fireplace adjoining an elegant restroom. I commented on the grandeur of the facilities to a fellow theatregoer, and a brief conversation ensued. She told me that she remembered the theatre and its imposing restroom from when she was a child, adding that an old-fashioned box vending lipsticks had once hung on the wall. “They only came in two colors,” she reminisced, “red and orange.” Thinking aloud I wondered if they might have been the old Tangee lipsticks, prompting yet another woman, washing her hands, to join in: “Oh yes! The Tangee lipsticks! Remember them?” And there, in what is said to be the most diverse city in the United States – in the restroom of a theatre from a bygone time – the three of us shared a moment from a common past, and almost as if through primordial memory, the rhyme that had haunted Winston Smith began to echo through my head:

Oranges and lemons,

Say the bells of St Clement’s . . .

organ 1

9th April 2017

Watched In Wigan 1936

How the secret state kept watch on Orwell in Wigan

It is easy to forget that while George Orwell was in the North of England in early 1936 researching the plight of the poor (published in the following year as The Road to Wigan Pier) he was being followed all the time closely by the secret state.

Orwell’s Special Branch file (MEPO 38/69), covering material from 1936 to 1942 and running to around 24 pages, and his MI5 file (KV 2/2699), spanning 1936 to 1951 and containing 38 pages, were released in 2005 and 2007 respectively. And they reveal that from the moment Orwell began his career as a radical journalist in Paris in the late 1920s, Big Brother was following him.

On 24 February 1936, the Chief Constable of Wigan, Thomas Pey, reported Orwell’s involvement with the communists while he was researching The Road to Wigan Pier, passing on a letter from John Duffy, DC 79, to a certain “Det Insp. Cockram” (catalogue reference MEPO/38/39). Orwell is described as “about 36 yrs, 6ft, slim build, long pale face”. Duffy continues:

I beg to report that this man has been staying in Wigan from Monday, the 10th instant at an apartment house in a working class district in this borough. I understand that a member of the local Communist Party was instrumental in finding Blair accommodation. Blair attended a Communist meeting in this town addressed by Wal Hannington on the 10th instant. It would appear from his mode of living that he is an author, or has some connection with literary work as he devotes most of his time in writing. He has also collected an amount of local data e.g. number of churches, public houses, population etc and is in receipt of an unusual amount of correspondence … In addition to correspondence from England, he is also in receipt of letters from France and I saw a newspaper which appeared to be the French counterpart of the “Daily Worker”. In view of the association which this man has formed with the local Communist Party during his visit to Wigan, I respectfully suggest further enquiries be made with a view to establishing his identity.

Significantly, a report for British intelligence, dated 11 March 1936 (coded 301/NWC/683), as Orwell was completing his researches in the North, commented:

Shortly after resigning from the Indian Police, Blair went to France, and for some time eked out a precarious living as a free lance [sic] journalist. Whilst in Paris, he took an interest in the activities of the French Communist Party, and spent a good deal of time studying “L’Humanité”. Information is not available to show whether he was an active supporter of the revolutionary movement in France, but it is known that whilst there, he offered his service to the “Workers’ Life”, the forerunner of the “Daily Worker”, as Paris correspondent.

Special Branch’s same report shows the high degree of surveillance directed at Orwell, his every career and life move being recorded. For instance, it records the publication in 1934 of Burmese Days by “Victor Gollancz, Ltd, 14 Henrietta Street, W.C., a firm which specialises in Left Wing literature”. His time as a “down and out”, his becoming a “master at a preparatory school known as ‘The Hawthorns’, Church Road, Hayes, Middlesex” and then at Fray’s College, Harefield Road, Uxbridge, Middlesex until the end of 1933, and his time as a patient at Uxbridge and District Cottage Hospital are all noted.

Later in the report, Special Branch notes that Blair worked at Booklovers’ Corner in Hampstead owned by Francis Gregory Westrope who “is known to hold socialist views, considers himself an ‘intellectual’” and is suspected of “handling correspondence of a revolutionary character”. A Metropolitan Police report of 25 August 1936 (301/NWC/683) suggests that they considered charging Westrope for contravening the registration of Business Names Act 1916 – but in the end decided against.

Later in 1936, Orwell handed over the manuscript of The Road to Wigan Pier to his publisher Victor Gollancz, who was also being closely followed by British intelligence. Intriguingly, a copy of a review of the book by Ethel Mannin (author and friend of Orwell), in the New Leader of 12 March 1937, is included in Orwell’s Metropolitan Police file, dated 30 March 1937 (301/NWC/683). She wrote:

There is a great deal in this book which the informed Socialist will find irritating and even infuriating, silly, and a tilting at windmills. But it is worth-while for its first part and because, if only they can be persuaded to read it, it will do a great many people who see no case for Socialism so much good.

The Metropolitan Police report comments:

It is of interest to note that according to Ethel Mannin’s review, Blair is now fighting in Spain with the P.O.U.M in Bob Edwards’ contingent. Edwards left this country on 10-1-37 in charge of a party of I.L.P. recruits who were proceeding to Spain to fight for the Government forces.

The secret state’s surveillance of Orwell continued until he died early in 1950. But by that time, he may well have joined the spooks – following on from his friendship with David Astor, later editor of the Observer, who had extremely close ties to intelligence.

Richard Lance Keeble,

Chair of The Orwell Society

Dystopian Prize Winner Announced

Winner of The Orwell Society 2017 student dystopian fiction prize announced


Maja Emilie Veflen Olsen, a student on the Creative Writing and Publishing MA at City University, London, has won this year’s Dystopian Fiction Prize, organised by The Orwell Society. Her story, ‘The No Child Policy’, was commended by the judges for being a highly accomplished piece of writing which slowly builds to a horrific and unexpected ending. It remains a disturbing presence in the mind long after it has been read.

The judges in the competition – open to all BA and MA students in Britain – were Richard Blair, son of George Orwell and Patron of the Orwell Society (OS), Dr Luke Seaber, of University College London, Dr Julie Wheelwright, of City, University of London, and Professor Richard Lance Keeble, OS Chair.

The prize of £500 comes with a trophy which is a bust of Orwell. They will be handed over by Richard Blair at the Society’s AGM in London on 22 April.


Runner- up was Nicola Rossi, of the Digital Media MA at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her story ‘One Last Gift’ was judged to be highly original, macabre and very funny.

Other students commended were Amanda Fuller, of the University of Westminster’s Creative Writing MA, Robin Mortimer, of Anglia Ruskin University’s Creative Writing MA, Michael W. Thomas, of the Open University’s Open BA, Bradley Byington, of the University of Salford’s Drama and Creative Writing programme, Jane Buffham, of the University of Winchester’s Creative and Critical Writing MA, Anthony Trew, of Anglia Ruskin University’s Creative Writing MA, Nicholas Owen, of City, University of London’s Creative Writing and Publishing MA, Michael Charles, of Goldsmiths’ English BA, Joseph Steele, of Goldsmiths’ Masters of Fine Arts, and Joseph Williams, of Goldsmith’s’ English BA.

The judges praised the overall high standard of the entries.


Last updated: 17 March 2017

The Road To Wigan Pier, at ALRA, Wigan, March 11th 2017

As part of its weekend in Wigan to commemorate the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937, the Orwell Society and the public were treated on Saturday evening to an excellent and illuminating adaption by students at ALRA North of chapter one of the book: George Orwell’s life after he took lodgings in “the tripe shop”.

ALRA 1The approach of the students to the work was simple, yet highly original and totally effective; with four elements to the production:

visual images of the condition of Wigan housing in the 1930s,

the exact narrative of the book,

the very effective use of movement and voice from the actors focussing on the characters in the Darlington Street tripe shop, and the streets around,

and a use of props to add a little humour, as Orwell actually did.

The original text was used for the production, rather than an adapted script, so the audience were able to feel the full force of Orwell’s objective and emphatic language which was complemented by the images and movement.ALRA 2

We were able to get a full picture of the condition of Wigan’s housing and work in the 1930s.

The cast’s approach to the play was impressive in terms of well-polished professionalism, very appropriate application of voice, and even facial expression. “Very well acted” is the term I would use.

ALRA 3Some things stood out in this production:

the continuous activity of the household (which meant continuous labour for the women);

brilliant use of props which changed their function in an instant (in the discovery of the full chamber pot, for example);

and, contrarily, in the absence of props. The scene which closes the play – Orwell’s view from a train of a woman clearing a drainpipe – which featured Orwell on a train, the woman, but no pipe – was a brilliant use of “less is more” and a fine but horrifying point on which to end.

This was a real treat for Orwell aficionados, and anyone just generally interested in Wigan’s social history. We hope that this work can be developed further and that we will see it again.

Thank you, ALRA, and Jane Vicary who oversaw this project.

David Craik, the Orwell Society

The Cast

ALRA 4The cast, with Quentin Kopp left; Richard Blair seated centre; Jane Vickery seated on RB’s left

George Orwell:

Jamie-Ash Townsend


Zoey Barnes

Victoria Burrows

Beth Nolan

Alexi Papadopoulos

Patrick Price

Daisy Roberts

Sophie Ward

Supported and directed by Jane Vicary (Head of Voice) and Michael White (Head of Movement)

Tech and Front of House: Kimberley Night, Jamie Trotter and Sorcha McCaffrey


Nineteen Eighty Four in Pittsburgh – “A trip worth making”

In the autumn of 2016 I was informed that Prime Stage Theatre in Pittsburgh were staging a production of Nineteen Eighty Four and would I, via the Orwell Society, be willing to come over and be present at the opening night. After some consideration I agreed that if they paid for my accommodation and a donation to the society, I would be willing to finance my travel. This was all agreed and on Thursday 2nd March 2017 I flew over to Pittsburgh, where I was made very welcome and met some of the executives on Friday morning and had an private tour with a guide of the Heinz History Centre (Pittsburgh being the headquarters of the company), This was followed by a most agreeable dinner and tour of the (Helen) Frick Gallery in the evening, with its magnificent art collection, part of the Henry Frick collection of New York. I was entertained by Mr and Mrs Nicolson, the curator of the gallery, Prof. Russell, English Professor, specialising in Orwell studies, Jonathon Seaton, Director of the Pittsburgh Opera and Robert Charlesworth, who is a director of Britburg, an organisation dedicated to Pittsburgh-British connections. So ended the first day.

RBlair QandA

Saturday dawned sunny and cold and at 09.30 I was picked up by Wayne Brinda, who has organised my visit and is also the Treasurer of the Prime Stage, who took me to a children’s radio programme, where three very switched on 14 year girls asked me questions about Orwell, I also spoke a little about my life with him. This lasted for about forty five minutes and went out all over the States. Following the interview I was then driven to an out of town mall to take part in a discussion with members of the public at Barnes and Noble, a very large book shop. When I arrived there were about forty people waiting, so at about 11.45 I gave them an introduction to the origins of Nineteen Eighty Four and my life on Jura. This was followed by a Q and A session, lasting about an hour, after which I did a book signing session for the next ninety minutes, not just one book per person, but two or three. I was surprised at the number of first editions I saw, plus several copies of the “Facsimiles”.

BlairStage-jpgPhotograph from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At 06.30 in the evening I was taken to the theatre to meet the cast prior to the first night and more book signings. The performance was excellent, quite conventional, but with an extremely funny sequence at the beginning of the second half, between Winston and Julia, before the startling climax of their capture. To those in the audience, who were not familiar to the story and there were some, this came as a powerful shock. At the end I was called out in front of the audience, who were by this time giving a standing ovation, to present one of the Barnhill slates. I decided to  make the presentation to the theatre as a whole, so it would include everybody. I also took the opportunity to explain the significance of the award, which seemed to go down with immense appreciation. There then followed another long session of book signing until the theatre closed. It was at this point that Wayne Brinda and his wife Connie, who is the secretary, informed me that the board had approved a donation of $1000 plus 40% of all book sales of not only Nineteen Eighty Four but also Animal Farm and The Road To Wigan Pier made during the run of the play to the Orwell Society. They are an amateur theatre company, who rent the premises from the city council, so they are not flush with money. It is a theatre of about 320 seats and I am reliably informed that most seats are booked for the duration until it finishes on the 12th March.

The next day was the matinee performance and before the start I was invited in to the dressing room to meet the cast again, where I recited that rather raunchy poem, “Romance” This went down with rather well. They appreciated the humour. There followed an “afternoon tea” to meet the son of Orwell! More speeches and  book signing before the afternoon performance. At the end I was again invited out to the front and to take a bow with the cast, followed by a proclamation by a city councillor that this was to be known as “Orwell Day”, to which I presented another slate to the City of Pittsburgh, more explanations, photos and then a talk to the audience about my life with Orwell, followed by another Q and A. and book signing.

So ended a very full two days and by all accounts Prime Stage Theatre Co got their monies-worth. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds, so I took it that they were satisfied with my visit. The day ended with another excellent dinner at one of Pittsburgh’s finest Italian restaurants, where I presented Wayne and Connie Brinda with the last of the slates I had taken out and in return I was given an etched profile of the city in aluminium, plus a cheque for $1000. The money from the book sales will follow on later. I returned home on the morning of the 6th March relaxed in the knowledge that it had been a trip worth making..


Richard Blair: 9th March 2017


The Road To Wigan Pier published March 8th 1937


March 10th – 12th Orwell Society commemorations, with friends, in Wigan. Full itinerary.

George Orwell was on the Aragon front in Spain, while his wife Eileen ran the Independent Labour Party office in Barcelona. In Britain Victor Gollancz published The Road To Wigan Pier under his own imprint as a hardback, and as a Left Book Club edition  in soft-cover linen.

Wikipedia illustration

Wikipedia on The Road To Wigan Pier

Follow the Orwell Society’s activities on Facebook, from March 7th.


Orwell Takes Coffee in Huesca – A Wonderful Exhibition

Richard Blair reports on his recent visit to Spain where he and Quentin Kopp joined in the opening of <<Orwell toma café en Huesca>> (Orwell Takes Coffee In Huesca).

Over the weekend of Friday 17th to Sunday the 19th of Feb. Quentin Kopp and I went to Huesca in Aragon at the invitation of the President of Aragon, Javier Lamban, Miguel Gracia, the President of Huesca and Luis Serrate, the Mayor of Huesca, as guests to take part in the opening of a wonderful exhibition entitled “Orwell Takes Coffee in Huesca”, organised and put together by Victor Pardo Lancina, a journalist and historian, who has been involved since the early part of the 2000 with the promotion of George Orwell and his understanding of events in Aragon during the Spanish Civil War. Victor devised and set up a wonderful museum in the little town of Robres, not far from Huesca and also created the Ruta de Orwell in the mountains of Alcubierre, where the trenches that Orwell and Georges Kopp fought in have been restored.

On Friday morning I had an interview with Huesca TV, before Quentin and I walked up to the museum in warm spring sunshine with Victor, his interpreter Elena Torralba and another Elena, Elena Gomez Zazurca, who was to be my interpreter for the address I was asked to give at the opening of the exhibition. On arrival, we were introduced to the local dignitaries and just had time to have a quick look at some of the exhibits and photos before the formal proceedings took place at midday.

_DSC5316Richard Blair speaks at the opening of the Orwell takes Coffee in Huesca Exhibition

After my address, I presented Barnhill Slates to the two presidents and the mayor, before we went inside the Museum for a tour conducted by Victor. Later on, in the evening, Quentin and I returned to take part in much longer tour given by Victor to an invited audience, during which Quentin


Richard Blair (Foreground), Quentin Kopp at his left shoulder

and I were able to explain some of the details arising from the photos and captions. When the museum closed at 21.00 we all retired to a local bar, where we relaxed with some of Victors friends and the feeling was that the day had gone extremely well. What I found most humbling was how many people came up to me to express their gratitude to my father for helping to create understanding about what happened during the time of the war. Thus, ended the first day with a trip to Monflorite scheduled for Saturday.

The day dawned fresh and sunny and after breakfast we made a visit to the Bookshop that sells a lot of Orwell’s books, this was followed by a very pleasant tour of the town and a continuation of a discussion that had started the day before about a proposal to have a statue of Orwell commissioned for the town and which would be entitled “Orwell Takes Coffee in Huesca” We had a lengthy debate as to how the statue should be displayed. I felt that he should be seen as photographed by Vernon Richards (I have since modified my stance at the suggestion of my wife, that he should be seen as he might have been dressed when he was in the trenches).

We then, that is Victor, Quent, Marc Wildemeersch (the author of George Orwell’s Commander in Spain), who had joined us the night before, our two Elenas and myself, drove out to La Granga, the farm that Orwell was billeted on and where the rats “as big as cats” inhabited the church. We were warmly welcomed by Pedro, the owner and in the course of a rather brief visit, were invited to have lunch when we come back in May with the Society. An invitation we were delighted to accept. We now had an appointment with the Mayor of Monflorite, the village where Orwell was treated for a septic hand and not far from La Granga. Most of the village turned out to see both the Mayor and myself unveil a plaque to Orwell, but not before I was cordially invited to the Mayor’s parlour to sign the visitors book. I have to say that the Mayor, a most attractive young lady and I were not alone during the signing! After the appropriate speeches

_DSC5533Richard Blair (Left), holding flag of Aragon

were made we all retired for drinks and tapas and I was presented with the Aragon flag that had covered the plaque.

This pretty much ended the formal proceedings and the rest of the day and evening was given over to more food and drink and another informal tour of the exhibition plus the art gallery at the museum. The evening followed on with a tour of the casino in the town square, where it is hoped to put up the Orwell statue, or rather the figure of Orwell sitting down at a table with his coffee. Finally, six of us then went and had a typically late Spanish supper, where Quentin gave Victor a Barnhill Slate as a token our grateful thanks for all the wonderful work he has put into this enterprise. This was a weekend that we will remember for a very long time.

As a foot note, on the way home Quentin and I were interviewed by the Deputy Editor of El Pais, when we arrived at Atocha station in Madrid. The article has since appeared on the web site.

Richard Blair

February 2017

The Exhibition <<Orwell toma café en Huesca>> (Orwell Takes Coffee In Huesca) continues to the 25th June in the Museo de Huesca. Use the Ruta de Orwell to explore the restored trenches and dugouts beyond the town at any time.