14 May 2008

Flora Hughes (née Britton), 25 October 1919 – 13 May 2008

Last night, Robert Hughes told me that his mother, Flora Hughes (née Britton), died yesterday morning. She was the daughter of Reginald Percy Leopold Britton (a.k.a. Bob to his family but usually Keebah to Robert) and Maisie Britton. This is Robert's comment:

'She was a wonderful mother to us and she will be sorely missed.

The attachment I am sending is a cutting from the Daily Sketch of April 1937.

My mother fell ill shortly after eating a bite from a packet of nuts and raisins which she bought at the cinema. Realising there was something wrong with the taste, she had a close look at the contents and saw that there was evidence of gnawing by a mouse.

Within a few hours she had lapsed into fever and delirium.

However, she vividly recounted to us how she had fought for life for the sake of her parents who had earlier lost Rob her little brother: she could not bear the thought of them losing her as well.

The illness was subsequently diagnosed as Mouse Meningitis.

She defied death that time and lived for seventy more years, giving us life, and despite many hardships, leading a very fulfilled life herself.

But she never forgot Rob.

As her mind progressively failed over the last few years, many things slipped away from her, but she would point to his photograph on the wall opposite her sofa and ask "Do you know who that is?"

"I do," I would reply, "but do you?"

The withering look she gave me was pure RADA, pure her; transcending amnesia, laughing to scorn the passage of eighty years since this searing event.

The bombing to smithereens of the family home in 1941, the loss of Granny, Keebah, my father; her own struggles with the debilitating condition Polymyalgia, which struck overnight just as she was trying to make a living selling windows in her sixties, (she conquered it and went on to be a prize-winning member of the sales team); her motor accident in 1998 where she came within one inch of death: none compared with the heart-rending loss of her little brother and playmate.’

The following paragraphs are from Flora Hughes’s website, where several more of her poems are published:

'Born in England and trained at RADA as Flora Britton, Flora abandoned a promising career as a classical actress on the West End stage for her husband and, in time, her two sons. Her dramatic instincts have remained with her. These and her love of people, animals and the natural world shine through these entertaining collections, written over many years.

Flora enjoys painting, gardening and verse speaking. "I started writing poetry as soon as I had discovered it because I love words and rhythm," she remarked. "My work is influenced by my observations and my style is varied between classic and humorous. I would like to be remembered as someone who was kindly, entertaining, understanding and sympathetic.

Flora is a widow with two sons, Robert and David. "My biggest fantasy is to be transported by magic to visit fabled places and people," she said. "I have written over 100 poems and had many published but I am most proud of these two books". Flora now lives near Ross-on-Wye, entertaining family and friends whenever the opportunity arises, and tending her beautiful garden teeming with flowers and wildlife.'

Flora's father was a younger brother of working-class writer Lionel Britton. From time to time, Robert would feed me snippets about Lionel which he'd gleaned from Flora – mainly concerning his craziness or his scruffiness. I shall miss these. Robert and his family, of course, will miss much, much more.

7 May 2008

Lionel Britton's Distinctive Signature

Lionel Britton inscribed the above on the f.e.p. of his Spacetime Inn (1932) to his niece, Flora Britton (later Hughes), when she was 13 years old. She is the first daughter of Reginald Percy Leopold Britton, a younger brother of Lionel's. As a science fiction play, Spacetime Inn is highly unusual. And as this is a space where Eve (of Adam and Eve), the Queen of Sheba, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Napoleon, Karl Marx, Bernard Shaw, and two interchangeable members of the working classes of the 1930s all converse with each other, the content is also a little out of the ordinary.

The quotation is from page 96 of Spacetime Inn. After learning that Bill and Jim have lost their money, Eve says ‘Is it so wonderful? What can be more than the delight which breathes through all the world? There is a thrill which quickens every limb, there is a yearning answered through the eyes watching the light of other eyes wake softly like a happy day as we come near them, there is a music underneath a word which kisses the ear of one who listens for it coming from those we love. These things make life wonderful, as sun and moon colour the day and night. Let me give you these!’

Flora's son Robert Hughes comments: 'The full quotation makes a deal of sense in the context of my mother's life, for most of which she either had no regular income at all, or had to work damn hard to produce one. The philosophy behind those few lines helped her through it all and she was certainly a light to us.'

The image on the right shows Harry Peter Smolka's stamp on the first prelim, with another inscription by Lionel Britton (1). Lionel Britton's first play, Brain (1930), concerns the building of a giant brain in the Sahara Desert. This too is a science fiction play, and frequently cited as one of the first plays in which a computer is represented. From Smolka, this book passed to Flora Hughes.

(1) Harry Peter Smolka was born in Austria in 1912 but educated in England. He later became a British citizen and changed his name to Smollet. In 1937 (still as Smolka) he published Forty Thousand Men against the Arctic: Russia's Polar Empire (London: Hutchinson).

Again, many thanks to Robert Hughes for providing me with these images.

6 May 2008

The Art of Karl Salsbury Wood

Karl Salsbury Wood was born at Kings Newton, Derbyshire, in 1888. He later moved to Nottingham for several years, where he worked as a packer in a warehouse at Short Hill in the Lace Market; his boss was Louis Oram Trivett, an enthusiastic boy scout leader from West Bridgford. By the time Wood left service in World War I, he was a self-taught artist, and spent most of his adult life at his studio at Gainsborough, England. He is best known for his many paintings of windmills of the British Isles, and for some years spoke about writing a book called 'The Twilight of the Mills'; unfortunately, the book was never published, although he wrote many articles in the Gainsborough Standard which bore this title. Soon, I shall be publishing these in a re-write of my Windmill Wood: A Biography of Midlands Artist Karl Salsbury Wood.

Many thanks to Karl Wood's cousin Ann Hatton for sending me these images of his artwork. The dates are unknown.

Abbey Farm, Renhold, Bedford. This was Ann Hatton's home, where she and her three siblings were brought up. Watercolour.

Manaccan, Cornwall. Tinted linocut.

Cley next the Sea, Norfolk. The lettering showing through the image on occasions is because Wood did this on the back of an advertisement for an optician. Tinted linocut.

Alveston, Derby.

Unknown location.

Unknown location. Watercolour.

Unknown location. Watercolour.

5 May 2008

Dadaism, Lionel Britton, and Anarchism

May 2008 of course marks the fortieth anniversary of les événements, the often violent protests which spread across France in reaction against the consumer society, the perceived bankrupcy of capitalism, stultifying conformity, the segregation of the sexes, and numerous other things. The protests also spread to many other countries in the western world, picking up many other causes in their wake, and the media have – inevitably – eagerly sought opportunities to indulge in an inkfest of nostalgia and revisionism: many living journalists, French or not, are soixante–huitards in memory if nothing else. The latest hors–série issue of Le Magazine littéraire re-publishes several pages from the May 1968 issue, four of which are from an interview the magazine had with Daniel Cohn–Bendit, a German with no belief in nationalities who was a major spokesperson for the movement which began at Nanterre University (1).

In the interview, one of the questions put to Cohn–Bendit concerns the interest of contemporary student protesters in the surrealist movement of the 1920s. He says, 'The student movement is certainly not a revolution, but a rebellion. We are in agreement. About surrealism, especially about Dada. Because Dadaism was more radical and it is influencing a part of the movement' (2).

Of obvious note here is the association of revolt with Dadaism or surrealism, as is the fact that the anarchist Cohn–Bendit (who, unlike many anarchists, did call himself that) saw the link as a positive thing. I have already noted Lionel Britton's interest in surrealism, although I have not previously mentioned anything of Britton's anarchism: it is normal, and some might argue obligatory (of which more in a later post to this blog), that the literature of the working class align itself to left-wing causes; but with the exception of the Scottish working-class writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon (a.k.a. Leslie Mitchell for his 'English' novels) who is best known for his trilogy A Scots Quair, Lionel Britton is almost certainly the only other British working-class anarchist writer of this period (3).

Cohn–Bendit's ideas seem to have mellowed somewhat in the last forty years, although by no means as much as those of some politicians who once belonged to Britain's now almost non-existent left wing.

(1) 'Quand on critique radicalement on construit', Le Magazine littéraire, 18, May 1968, pp. 20–24; repr. Le Magazine littéraire collections, Hors–Série 13, pp. 42–45.

(2) pp. 44–45. (The translation from the French is by me.)

(3) Grassic Gibbon refers to 'Saint Bakunin', and sent his son to A. S. Neill's radical Summerhill School (which continues today, in spite of the many efforts which New Labour has made to close it).