13 March 2008

Eisenstein Meets Lionel Britton

Below, I have already provided a link to this wonderful photo, although it clearly merits a more direct viewing. The above scene was taken in 1929, almost certainly at the Film Guild of London on the day that Einsenstein's banned film Battleship Potemkin was shown there (1).

In the foreground, from left to right, are Hans Richter, Mark Segal, -------?, and Len Lye.

At the back, again from left to right, are Irza Britton, Sinead Acheson, Lionel Britton, Sergei Eisenstein, -------?, Jimmy Rogers, Frederick Edward Towndrow, Basil Wright, and Michael Hankinson.

Of the two unidentified men, it is possible that the one at the back is Herbert Marshall, or was he the photographer? (2).

Many thanks to Roger Horrocks for giving me permission to show this photo and for his identification of most of the people in it. It is from Roger's book Len Lye: A Biography (Auckland: University of Auckland Press, 2001).

(1) Lionel Britton was chair of the Film Guild of London, Herbert Marshall the secretary; the studio was in Charing Cross Road in a room that was part of the premises of Foyles bookshop.

(2) The film director Herbert Percival James Marshall (1906–91) – see
filmography – was a student of Eisenstein's for several years, and was a close friend of Britton as well as a great admirer of him. He married the sculptor Fredda Brilliant (1903–99). On Britton's death in 1971, Marshall had all of Britton's literary effects moved to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where Marshall was Professor and Director of Soviet and Eastern European Studies (Performing Arts), and where they remain today. Fredda Brilliant is well known for sculpting Gandhi's statue in Tavistock Square Gardens, London, although she also sculpted a bust of Britton (who called her 'Freddie'); it is not known if the latter has survived.

6 March 2008

Lionel Britton's Letter to Bertrand Russell, 28 November 1955

As I mentioned in a post below, Lionel Britton and Bertrand Russell wrote a number of letters to each other. One dates from about eighteen months after Britton was injured in a car accident in which he sustained multiple fractures and was lucky to escape with his life. He briefly explains his difficulties resulting from the accident, and says that he is now recovering. He also says that he received an undisclosed sum of money in compensation, and hopes that he can 'use [it] to publish my work, & be independent of publishers' readers' (1). Unfortunately, nothing came of this, and for some unknown reason Britton later lost his money.

The letter is also interesting in that it reveals that Britton had recently attended a 'One World meeting' in which he was pleased to see Russell 'standing up to the rowdies'. The last volume of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell has cast light on this comment (2).

Andrew Bone, the editor of the volume, reveals in an Appendix that the occasion took place in at Central Hall, Westminster, on 9 November 1955. The speakers – Russell, Professor Alexander Haddow, Lord Beveridge, and Henry Usborne – had contributed to Gilbert McAllister's The Bomb: Challenge and Answer, and the meeting was sponspored by the British branch of the World Association of Parliamentarians for World Government (3). There was a great deal of heckling because some feared that world government would mean domination by communists, and because of interruptions Russell, according to The Times, was unable to speak for ten minutes.

(1) Lionel Britton, letter to Bertrand Russell, 28 November 1955, in the possession of Harry Berberian.

(2) The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, ed. by Kenneth Blackwell [et al.], 29 vols (London: Allen & Unwin, and Routledge, 1983– ), XXVIV: Détente or Destruction 1955–1957 (ed. by Andrew Bone, 2005), 409–10.

(3) The Bomb: Challenge and Answer, ed. by Gilbert McAllister (London: Batsford, 1955).

2 March 2008

Bertrand Russell on Lionel Britton's Hunger and Love, and the Correspondence between the Two Men

Bertrand Russell was very impressed with Lionel Britton's novel Hunger and Love, to such an extent that – very unusually – he wrote a five-page Introduction to it, full of praise. Of course, Britton took as much advantage of this Introduction as he could, as he had done with Bernard Shaw's (rather ambivalent) comment on his earlier apocalyptic science fiction play Brain.

In his Introduction, Russell says:

'Mr. Britton's "Hunger and Love" is a very remarkable piece of work. His hero, Arthur Phelps, who is first a boy and then a young man, possesses a first-rate mind, but nothing else. Every conceivable obstacle is put in the way of his acquiring knowledge; as a bookseller's assistant, he is tempted to read the books in his employer's stock, but when caught doing so, is dismissed with ignominy. He has that difficulty about acquiescing in preventable evil that characterises the best minds, and therefore does not achieve quick success, as a person of a slightly lower order of ability would do. The book relates not only his personal adventures, but the growth of his philosophy and his social outlook. It is filled with a splendid rage against the humbug, the cruelty, and the moral degradation of the possessing classes' (1).

The two final sentences of Russell's Introduction read:

'Mr. Britton has portrayed his world with passion, with vividness, with a wealth of illustrative detail, and with a considerable power of generalising thought. For these reasons, I am convinced that his book deserves to be widely read.'

Russell apparently only wrote an Introduction to one other novel (the title of which is at present unknown to me), but his very positive verdict on Hunger and Love is a very strong testimony to both Britton's ability as a writer and to his persuasive powers as an individual.

Britton and Russell corresponded intermittently from 1930 to 1970. The early letters concern securing a publisher for Britton's books, although the majority of the letters concern Britton's problems with the Society of Authors preventing him from simultaneously publishing Shaw's final play Why She Would Not and Britton's amplification of this (possibly unfinished) work.

A few of the Russell–Britton letters are held at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and a number of them are in the private possession of Harry Berberian.

I have only just discovered about Louise Morgan's interview with Russell, which was originally published in Everyman a few months before the publication of Britton's novel (2). In this article, Britton receives a very brief – although nonetheless significant – mention. McMaster University re-publishes the aticle online under its original, eye-catching title:
'Bertrand Russell Would Imprison All Writers of First Books'

In this article Russell playfully states, 'If a law were passed giving six months in jail to every writer of a first book, only the good ones would think it worth their while to do it.' But this wouldn't have deterred Britton, who, in a reply to Russell's comment in Everyman, equally playfully imagined being imprisoned for the publication of Hunger and Love: ‘I don’t think six months in gaol would stop me. Most of my friends say I shall get twenty years. The unkind ones say I shall deserve it’ (3). (Russell had been imprisoned for inciting pacifism, and Britton for conscientious objection, during World War I.)

The article is fascinating in its own right to anyone interested in the way Bertrand Russell wrote.

(1) Lionel Britton, Hunger and Love (London: Putnam, 1931), p. vii.

(2) Louise Morgan, 'Bertrand Russell Would Imprison All Writers of First Books', Everyman, 2 November 1930.

(3) Lionel Britton, letter, ‘Should Authors Be Paid?’, Everyman, 4 December 1930, [n. p.], [n. pg.], Lionel Britton Collection, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.

1 March 2008

The Thomas Family of Redditch

There were several Thomas families in Redditch in the nineteenth century, but the relevant one here has Samuel Thomas senior as the head, a man born in Bitton near Bristol in 1807 who established a large needle and fish-hook factory on Prospect Hill, where he lived. Samuel's great-grandson, Lionel Britton, wrote that Samuel originally set off from Wales with sixpence in his pocket and went on to become a very wealthy man in Redditch.

Samuel was certainly wealthy, but the story of the sixpence is no doubt part of the family myth, as is perhaps also the idea that he came from Wales (although his father Aaron Thomas probably did). Samuel's sister was Mary Jane Thomas (1816–43), and he married Mary Quarterly (1808–83) from Devonport.

The Thomas family is noted for the number and the longevity of its children, and Samuel senior and Mary had at least nine children:

Elizabeth Thomas, b. 1833

Samuel Thomas junior (1834–1912), m. Marie Antoinette Goffin (1843–1928)

Ann Thomas, b. 1838

Fanny Thomas, b. 1840, m. Thomas Tanner

Maria Thomas (1841–60)

Richard Thomas, b. 1844

John Thomas, b. 1847

Mary Thomas, b. 1848

Henry Thomas, b. 1850

Samuel Thomas junior was Lionel Britton's grandfather, and following the death of Lionel's father he and his brothers and sister went to live in Samuel's house on Hewell Road in Redditch. Samuel and Marie Antoinette had at least ten children:

Irza Vivian Geraldine Thomas (1866–1959), m. Richard Waddams Nimmo Britton (1859–1894), m. Francis le Breton, b. circa 1874

Lilas Edith Beatrice Thomas (1868–1949), m. William (a.k.a. George (?)) Warwick (c.1840–1920)

Henri (a.k.a. Henry) John Thomas (1869–1952), m. Mary Ann Elizabeth Quartly (1866–1943)

Rose Thomas, b. 1871

Samuel (a.k.a. George) Thomas, b. 1872, m. Ethel May Morris, b. 1884

Ernest Augustus Thomas (1875–1950), m. Edith Louisa Hill (1872–1954)

Francis (a.k.a. Frank) Thomas, b. 1876, m. Gertrude Morris, b. 1880

Rosa (a.k.a. Rose) Thomas (1877–1971), m. Henri Charles Guillaume (b. 1866–1954)

Florence Mabel Thomas (1880–1972)

Newton Thomas, b. 1883, m. Rosamund Lilian Garood, b. 1886.

Many thanks to Robert Hughes and David Guillaume for compiling the tree, from which this severely truncated record was made.