In 2004, Dione Venables, of Finlay Publishers, decided to edit and publish an updated edition of a small memoir, Eric & Us. Originally published in 1974 by Leslie Frewin and written by Orwell’s friend of that period, Jacintha Buddicom (who died in 1994), it focused on his childhood and teenage years. Jacintha was Dione’s first cousin and left her the copyrights of this book in her will.
The celebrated Orwell biographer, Gordon Bowker, in agreeing to review the book, suggested certain clarifications and so, in late 2006, Eric & Us: The Postscript Edition was published. It created a great deal of interest and the publisher made many new friends and acquaintances, not least of whom was Eric’s son Richard Blair. A website, Orwell Direct, was created to promote the book and this led to a number of people asking whether there was an Orwell Society, and if not, why not ? Dione determined to create the first such society.
On 27 December 2010, a group gathered for the first informal meeting at Phyllis Court Club, Henley-on-Thames (which Eric had often visited in his youth). The day was hosted by Dione and, of those attending that day, Christopher Edwards agreed to be the Society’s first Chair. Richard Blair accepted a role as Patron, Charles Wiggin as Treasurer, Dominic Cavendish took on the editorship of the Society’s website, and Dione Venables agreed to be Membership Secretary. Later on, Ron Bateman took on the Secretary role and Chris Organ was appointed to provide legal input.
The formal inaugural meeting was held on 18 October 2011 at Soane Point, Reading. Professor Peter Stansky, of Stanford University, California, agreed to represent the society in the USA, while Professor Douglas Kerr offered to do the same for China, from Hong Kong University, where he had the English Chair. Professor Peter Davison was made an honorary life member of the society.
On 28 April 2012, The Society held its first Annual General Meeting at Senate House, London – next to Room 101! Quentin Kopp, whose father Georges Kopp, had been Orwell’s commandant and friend during and after the Spanish Civil War, joined the committee as Events Secretary. Richard Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, also joined the committee and went on to become the society’s second Chair, taking over from Christopher at the 2013 AGM.
Since then the society has gone from strength to strength. An annual dystopian fiction prize for university students has been awarded twice, trips have been made to Jura, the remote Scottish island where Orwell composed most of his famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, and to Spain. And there has been an annual visit to Orwell’s grave in Sutton Courtenay on the Sunday nearest to his birthday. 25 June. The Society also has a lively website (www.orwellsociety.com) while its Facebook page is a rapidly expanding database of Orwellian research and commentary.
Last updated: 29th January 2017