Archive Exhibition: Identity, Memory and Legacy in Suffragette History

 

The archives of leading working class suffragettes, Annie Kenney and Jessie Kenney, are held at the University of East Anglia (UEA) as ‘The Kenney Papers’ and include diaries, memorabilia and original correspondence from leading political figures, including Lady Constance Lytton, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. To celebrate the lives of these extraordinary women and the centenary of partial suffrage in 1918, a small display is on show during 2018 at UEA Library’s Archives Foyer (Floor 02), and available to the public. The archive itself is publicly accessible Mon-Fri by prior appointment e: archives@uea.ac.uk p: 01603 59 3491.

A project to digitise material from the archive as part of an online exhibition is also underway and material is being loaned to the Kenney sisters’ home town in Oldham as part of an exhibition at Oldham Gallery.

About the Kenney sisters

Annie Kenney (1879-1953) worked in a cotton mill from the age of 10. In 1905 she was recruited to the cause of women’s suffrage after hearing Mrs Pankhurst and her daughters addressing an open-air meeting in Manchester. On the 13th October 1905 she carried out what is now recognised as the first militant act of the suffrage movement when she accompanied Christabel Pankhurst to an election meeting in Manchester Free Trade Hall and heckled the speakers, Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill. She and Christabel were arrested and imprisoned. Thereafter Annie Kenney was a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903.

Jessie Kenney (1887-1985) was Annie’s younger sister. She was Secretary of the WSPU and worked alongside Christabel Pankhurst in Paris from 1912, assisting in the long-range operations of WSPU. In 1917, she accompanied Emmeline Pankhurst to Russia, on behalf of the British government to promote the mobilisation of Russian women in the war effort. Jessie was in Russia for some three months and made a detailed record of events. Unpublished memoirs within the archive reveal fascinating insights into the movement and the legacy of the Kenney sisters.

Link to the Kenney Papers’ Archive page

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Children’s essays reveal the effects of Blitz bombing in Hull

As the repository of over 2,000 school children’s essays, the Archives has participated in a new four-part BBC2 documentary ‘Blitz: the bombs that changed Britain’. Episode two looks at the reason the school essays were written; Solly Zuckerman – the scientist who led a casualty survey and who commissioned the essays; the effects of the bombing on the citizens of Hull; and the far reaching implications for the bombing strategy adopted against German cities and citizens.

Hull school essays (2)‘What happened to me and what I did in the air raids’ is the title of the essay written by 10-14 year olds across Birmingham and Hull schools. The essays formed part of a wider psychological survey and details of the methods by which they were to be evaluated are included. The essays were roughly analysed but Zuckerman and his team never had time to get down to the job of producing a picture of an air raid as seen by children. In 1977 he wrote in his autobiography ‘I have often thought that it would be interesting to track down a sample of the writers of those essays to discover what, if anything, they remember of what they had written.’ Here the film has succeeded, in telling the personal stories of those affected.

Essays survive in the Zuckerman Archive from two Birmingham and 13 Hull schools. The handwriting is remarkably neat, some are illustrated, they vary from 1-7 pages and the girls usually have more to say. There are some harrowing tales and a little humour; they are the voices of innocent child witnesses enduring repeated attacks on their homes and lives.

Extracts from the essays:

“I told my mother what I had seen and she said I had not to say anything to the lady next door for it was her daughter I had seen and she was stricken with grief.” (Age 13)

“These bombs descend by parachute, you can hear the flap flap. Molotov bread-baskets were also dropped containing about sixty incendiaries. These baskets explode in mid-air … I thought it a marvel that anyone could live through an experience as that.”  (Age 13)

“Suddenly someone shouted ‘They’ve got him!’ It scared me stiff.”  (Age 13)

“I was buried, I was cut but I still helped to pull out the dead and injured.”  (Age 10)

SZ.OEMU.56.5.45 (recto)

Indicators for the analysis of the school essays (Zuckerman Archive)

Solly Zuckerman (1904-1993) taught at the University of East Anglia from 1969–74. He was on the University’s Academic Planning Board from 1960 and later a key figure in the founding of the School of Environmental Sciences (ENV).

From 1934-1945 he taught in the Department of Anatomy, University of Oxford. It was here in 1939 that Zuckerman, Desmond Bernal and the rest of their team began research on the physiological effects of ground shock waves and blast within the Oxford Extra-Mural Unit on behalf of the Ministry of Home Security.

The staff of the Unit were university personnel, with the exception of some members of the Casualty Survey field teams who were, from 1941, employees of the Ministry’s Research & Experiments Department. They went on to conduct a vast survey of bombing casualties, visiting hospitals, knocking on doors and interviewing survivors. They were interested in physical and psychological effects including morale. It was at this juncture that the school essays were requested.

On 8 April 1942 Zuckerman and his team published their report The Qualitative Study of Total Effects of Air Raids [Hull and Birmingham Survey]. The survey concluded:

“There is no evidence of breakdown of morale for the intensities of the raids experienced by Hull or Birmingham.”

It therefore came as a surprise when their findings were presented to Lord Cherwell (Chief Scientific Adviser to Churchill) and the area bombing of German cities ensued, killing hundreds of thousands of German civilians.

By 1944 Zuckerman was Senior Scientific Adviser to Eisenhower and to Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. He was Professor of Anatomy at the University of Birmingham until 1968, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence from 1960 to 1966, and Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Government from 1964 to 1971. He served as Secretary of the London Zoological Society from 1955–77 and as its President from 1977-1984.

The essays have been microfilmed and are arranged in schools and then according to surname. In addition to the set at UEA Archives, a second copy is shortly to arrive at the Hull History Centre, on loan from the Zuckerman Archive.

The following 13 Hull schools are represented:

St George’s Road School
J.B. Holmes Girls’ School
Somerset Street School
Constable Street Boys’ School
Chapman Street Boys’ School
Chapman Street Girls’ School
Endike Lane Senior Boys’ School
Fifth Avenue Senir Girls’ School
Malet Lambert High School, 3rd Form
Malet Lambert High School, 4th Form
Malet Lambert High School, 5th and 6th Forms
Newland C of E School
Open Air School
Paisley Street Girls’ School
Thoresby Street Central School, 11 year old pupils
Thoresby Street Central School, 12 year old pupils
Thoresby Street Central School, 13 year old pupils
Thoresby Street Central School, 14 year old pupils
Westbourne Street Girls’ School

Essays from Springburn Street School in Hull have were deposited at the Hull History Centre some years ago. They formed part of a school teacher’s papers and it seems they were not submitted as part of the survey.

Birmingham school essays:
Essays survived from two Birmingham schools. Bloomsbury Snr Girls, Lingard Street. The essays were written on 10 and 13 Feb 1942, recollecting raids of November and December 1940 and 9 April 1941. There were 68 essays from this school.

Only two essays survive from Marlborough Road Secondary School. They are written on 19/2/1941 and 19/2/42 (so one of them probably has the incorrect year, 1942 is probably correct). They recollect the raid of 22/11/40 and 9/4/41.

For enquiries and appointments at UEA Archives: archives@uea.ac.uk
For enquiries at Hull History Centre

Zuckerman Archive

Documentation re British Architecture of the 1950s and 1960s

The papers assembled by Prof. Stefan Muthesius over 25 years relate closely to three of the researcher’s books: Tower Block. Modern Public Housing in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (with Miles Glendinning, Yale University Press 1994); The Post-War University. Utopianist Campus and College (Yale University Press 1999); and Concrete and Open Skies. Architecture at the University of East Anglia (with Peter Dormer, Unicorn Press 2004).

cClive Darra

Copyright Clive Darra

In this post we have asked Muthesius (creator and depositor of the papers), to help us draw out the collection’s strengths and potential value to researchers.

The three publications all concern British (and in the case of the Yale University book also foreign) architecture of the 1940s to the 1970s. The material in the archive consists of copies of some unprinted archival material of the period (Ministry papers), of extracts from books, pamphlets and ministerial publications, many of them obscure and hard to get hold of, but principally of extracts from the periodical press of the period in question. While some material from the very major journals may be available on-line, the many lesser periodicals which are massive and which contain the bulk of the detailed information are unlikely to ever be scanned. These extracts have been culled from diverse libraries and have been filed here under both subject and place. The value of these files lies precisely in the fact that nowhere else can one easily find assembled information about a certain building, in this case a housing estate, or a university. Such information is often far ‘better’ than what one could gain from a visit to a local library or archive.

UEA.PHO.4.20

Copyright University of East Anglia

As British architecture of the 1950s and 1960s is now receiving very much more interest than during the 1990s and the 2000nds, the collection will attract more interest, too. The collection relating to UEA (a campus with examples of brutalist buildings from the 60s) likewise contains material that cannot be accessed anywhere else.

Please contact the Archives should you wish to arrange access to the papers.

A guide to Stefan Muthesius’ Papers held in UEA Archives

Photo: Clive Darra (Creative commons license)

How iconic designer Cecil Beaton put theatrical flair into the UEA’s graduation gown

Portrait of Cecil Beaton (1985) by Hugo Vickers

Vickers, Hugo: Cecil Beaton (1985)

An Unboxed blog from Isabel Hassan, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

In 1965 Cecil Beaton was approached by Vice-Chancellor Frank Thistlethwaite to design the academic dress for the new University of East Anglia’s first graduation. Beaton introduced the use of indigo blue gowns at UEA, whereas other universities up and down the country had mostly opted for the traditional black.

Cecil Beaton was, amongst other things, an Academy Award-winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre. Prior to designing the UEA graduation gowns, he had worked on Broadway designing costumes.

Beaton thought that the graduation gowns needed to be more theatrical; if you had worked hard to get a degree, you should be able to dress up and flaunt yourself a little on the day you receive that degree.

The cost of Beaton’s indigo blue graduation gown was £2 in 1966, increasing to £4 in 1970. Current university students may think this is affordable, but £4 in 1970 would today be worth £43.26 which is only slightly cheaper than the current £50 cost for UEA students. However, in 1970 “only 20 of the 2,500 students there [at UEA] have thought it worth paying £4 for the dark-blue gowns.”

UEA Coll 4. Original bachelors hat The Dan Dare

Source: Nicholas Groves’ ‘The Academical Dress of UEA’

One aspect of Beaton’s design which did not catch on was his suggestion for novel graduation caps. According to Nicholas Groves’ The Academical Dress of UEA, Beaton wanted to “abandon the traditional square cap (mortar-board) [ . . . ] and to invent a special hat for bachelors, and another for masters.” This hat was more rounded in shape and was called the ‘Dan Dare’ (pictured). The design was a result of Beaton’s desire to make the entire graduation look more theatrical. However, Groves admits that “they proved unable to withstand popular opinion, and have been replaced by the traditional square.”

Although the Dan Dare may not have prevailed, the indigo-blue graduation gowns have. This is interesting considering that UEA students in 1970 did not think the indigo-blue gowns were worth paying for, and now they are almost iconic at UEA.

2017 will see another year of UEA students graduate in these blue gowns from 17th – 21st July.

Notes
1. A major problem of the indigo gowns was that, over the years, the cloth used grew gradually lighter in colour, until by the mid-1990s it was almost air-force blue. It has since returned to a darker shade (Nicholas Groves. The Academical Dress of the University of East Anglia, 2005).
2. The undergraduates were given a short knee-length cape rather than a gown, with slits for the passage of the arms. The colour is recorded as smokey blue (Michael Sanderson. The History of the University of East Anglia, 2002) and as indigo (Groves, ibid).

Plywood: Material of the Modern World

This exhibition opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 15 July 2017. ‘Featuring groundbreaking pieces by Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer and Charles and Ray Eames, alongside an incredible range of objects from planes to skateboards, this exhibition tells the story of how this often-overlooked material made the modern world.’

On display from UEA Archives are printed designs showing plywood profiles for railway carriages. These were produced by Estonian furniture maker A.M. Luther Ltd, circa 193? They form part of the Pritchard Papers, an archive rich in the history and development of the use of plywood in furniture making.

Plywood in the Pritchard Papers

Jack Pritchard began producing plywood furniture from 1933. The first products were modular shelf units designed by Wells Coates and manufactured by Venesta (Pritchard’s then employer). Venesta was a useful introduction to the industry, with its factories in Estonia, Latvia and Finland. A couple of years later Pritchard set up Isokon Furniture Company. They marketed the designs of other companies such as Finmar and PEL, and with the arrival of European designers Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius expanded their own range of furniture with a particular emphasis on plywood. Marcel Breuer’s Long Chair was a resounding success and is still manufactured today by Isokon Plus.

Other noteworthy items include Egon Riss’ Penguin Donkey book-case and Bottleship, both re-designed after the War by Ernest Race; and Breuer’s nesting tables.

Pritchard not only worked with plywood but he also surrounded himself with it at home. He and his wife Molly built the iconic Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead, London. A block of flats built for minimalist living, complete with built-in wardrobes, modular shelf units, nifty partitions, and a love of all things light and portable which facilitated an unencumbered lifestyle. Plywood did all of this. The Isokon flats are now grade I listed and include a gallery celebrating the buildings’ history, including the history of its members’ only Isobar restaurant.

A search for ‘plywood’ in the catalogue delivers over 200 results. It includes patents; details of the supply of furniture and raw products; customer orders; sales; correspondence; and Pritchard’s 1939 lecture ‘Design in Plywood’. Here he highlights the qualities of plywood, and the opportunities which arise when making full use of its “natural whippiness and springiness”, most evident in a new area of development involving the creation of built-up timber. He refers to Breuer’s Long Chair as being the greatest achievement in the use of plywood to date.

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Photographs: Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia.

Pritchard Papers and online guide
Isokon Gallery
Marcel Breuer Digital Archive
Plywood exhibition at the V&A

If you would like to know more about the collection please contact archives@uea.ac.uk

You cannot fake a writer: Kazuo Ishiguro on his experience at UEA

Kazuo Ishiguro_UEA ImageLibrary

UEA: Archive Image

UEA literature student, Melina Spanoudi, revisits an archived interview with Kazuo Ishiguro as part of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s Unboxed project.

Kazuo Ishiguro applied to the University of East Anglia in 1979, following a long year of social work in London. The MA in Creative Writing began in autumn, leaving the entire summer free for him to panic. He did so briefly, before beginning to write seriously for the first time. Ten years later, he won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day.

Returning to UEA during the Literary Festival of 1999, in an interview with award winning academic, novelist and biographer, Christopher Bigsby, Ishiguro is asked whether writing can be taught. Put plainly, his answer is no. Ishiguro believes that a writer cannot be crafted: rather, they are sculpted, refined in their involvement with the creative process of writing within an academic environment. Through sharing first drafts, exposing themselves and others to criticism, embarrassment and acclaim, the writer is given the opportunity to realize where they must stand when choosing to write.

However, the initial choice to write remains a personal matter. Any creation which is forced to extend itself beyond the boundaries of personal innovation is of no genuine value; you cannot fake a writer more than you can fake a text.

Ishiguro remarks: ‘You can certainly produce someone who can write more competently. But I would be rather more sceptical about the possibility of their producing anything of artistic worth.’

The process between writing and identifying as a writer is unique to each individual; However, what happens when you embark on a degree which expects you to be a writer before you have begun to write?

With little writing experience, sporadically noting descriptive fragments mirroring the semi-autobiographical style of Kerouac, Ishiguro’s journey to becoming a writer invites us to question whether he adopted the identity of ‘writer’ during the course of his degree in Creative Writing. Ishiguro explains that he discovered the space he required to explore his individual style of writing at the UEA. The learning atmosphere fostered through the flexible teaching methods adopted by his tutors, Malcom Bradbury and Angela Carter, enabled him to create, unaided and uninterrupted.

He describes his year at the UEA to Bigsby: ‘That was when I really started to write. So it was very fundamental. Before I went to East Anglia I had written very little indeed, certainly nothing I would count today as proper writing.’

Ishiguro dates the beginning of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, in 1979/80, during the year he was studying at the UEA. He notes that most of his time studying Creative Writing was spent writing that novel. Although his first book resembled a form of a semi-autobiographical work, his later novels are informed by the awareness of his ability to create outside the context of his own life.

He explains: ‘Somewhere along the way I discovered that I could write better, more effectively, if I changed the setting and put the whole thing at a greater distance.’

Somewhere along the way, perhaps at UEA, Ishiguro became one of the greatest writers of our time. His journey at the university reminds students of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing that we are not taught how to become writers, but of the ways which enable us to discover our most humane and distinctive narrative voices.

Quotations reproduced with the kind permission of the author. All rights reserved.

To view the Literary Festival interview in full in our Archive Reading Room, contact the British Archive for Contemporary Writing archives@uea.ac.uk

To find out more about our 300+ collection of Literary Festival recordings, visit http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest

 

Lessing’s writing pushed boundaries and she lived life to the same beat

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s)

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s): Copyright CAMERA PRESS

An Unboxed blog, from Martha Griffiths, first year student of American and English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

Amongst the 110 love letters held in the Whitehorn collection at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing from Doris Lessing to her wartime lover, perhaps one gives us a greater insight into her young life, and the society she grew up in. It was written to John R. M. Whitehorn, an RAF serviceman and intimate confidante and is dated sometime around January 1945.

This letter  perfectly captures Lessing’s determination to make her own choices and express herself and her emotions towards others. It describes her relationship with both her husband and the other men that she met, mostly through Communist Party meetings. Not only is she writing to a long-term lover about her husband, but she also describes the “platonic amour” she has met recently. To many, this flirtation may come as a surprise or appear scandalous but, as she would come to say in later interviews, it was just something one did in those times.

She even joined the Communist Party out of boredom, a feeling shared by many of the RAF soldiers she met there. There is genuine affection in the note towards Whitehorn, but Lessing makes it clear that it would be an unfortunate man who attempted to interfere with her choices.

This was a woman to be reckoned with; she was totally self-aware and comfortably content to make her own choices. Lessing’s works are known for pushing boundaries and she lived her life to the same beat, whilst aware of her husband’s discomfort with her social life she was not willing to give in to the pull of domesticity.

The Doris Lessing Archive, held within UEA’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing, is an invaluable source with letters from one of the most influential female authors of the twentieth century. Her eloquence and her passion cannot mask what a formidable opponent she was if ever obstructed

Men can be feminists: Lord Pethick-Lawrence writes about the suffragettes

Lord and Lady Pethick-Lawrence

Lord and Lady Pethick-Lawrence

An Unboxed Blog from Yaiza Canopoli.

Lady Pethick-Lawrence was an important figure in the suffragette movement. In 1907 she started the publication Votes for Women, with the help of her husband. Supportive male partners are not so rare these days. But in the early 20th century, a man would more likely be scared off by a woman who wanted the vote than to stand by her side as she campaigned. Lord Pethick-Lawrence supported the movement from the start, and in the 1950s published an article, preserved in the UEA Archive, reflecting on the impressive struggle for women to get the vote.

As a prominent and proud member of the Labour party, Lord Pethick-Lawrence begins the article by explaining that this is where the movement began, and where most of the suffragette tactics were taken from. Nonetheless, the women from the Labour party had to accept other political ideologies into the community, for the movement could not have survived by remaining ‘a section of a section’. What is interesting about this article is his praise for the more radical tactics adopted by the movement, ‘which would alienate the timid and the lukewarm’. This praise is a considerable change of opinion, for in 1912 he served a nine-month prison sentence for a violent form of protest that he and Lady Pethick-Lawrence disapproved of at the time (their disapproval caused them to be expelled from the Women’s Social and Political Union).

In the article, he endearingly praises the militant women involved in the movement:

A tiny suffragette—Mary Gawthorpe—had a cabbage thrown at her by a male auditor during a park meeting. Catching it and holding it up, she remarked: “I knew a man would lose his head before long.”

This kind of appreciation and subtle humour is present throughout the article. Perhaps the most hilarious passage is his recounting of a conspiracy trial staged by the government: he and some other suffragettes were found guilty in court and the judge sentenced them to nine months in prison, but he remembers the moment with humour, saying that ‘shortly afterwards [the judge’s] two daughters joined the organisation’.

This way of remembering the suffragettes in an almost nostalgic way goes to show that feminist men are not a modern invention, and that people were different back then is not a valid excuse for any kind of oppression. We are living in a time now where meninism has become a thing, and feminists are still seen as radical and men-hating by many people all over the world. This article puts things into perspective: feminism is not new, it is not the internet corrupting women, and it is perfectly valid for men to be supportive of the movement even today.

Another thing Lord Pethick-Lawrence shows his readers (both at the time he wrote and now) is how to be a good ally: write about the movement, write about the people who were involved and who had to fight for their own rights, and don’t make it about yourself.

Unfortunately the article is not preserved in its entirety, and thus we cannot read the full extent of Lord Pethick-Lawrence’s memories of the movement, but we get a clear idea of where his thoughts are headed. He and his wife might have disagreed with some of the more radical aspects of protesting, but they were undoubtedly an important part of the organisation, and their names deserve to be remembered.

Lord Pethick-Lawrence’s article can be viewed as part of the Kenney Papers in the UEA Archives at the University of East Anglia, alongside multiple documents and forms of correspondence between the Pethick-Lawrences and other suffragettes. https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/kenney

Yaiza Canopoli

A feast of languages – Shakespeare in Translation on display at UEA

a-feast-of-languages

Shakespeare in Translation

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) in London put together a collection of translations of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream into many of the official languages of the European Union.

Seventeen languages are represented in addition to English: Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish. The versions were donated by Field Officers in the respective EU Member States and are on display in three exhibition cases within the lobby of the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) library.

The DGT kindly agreed to lend the collection to UEA to coincide with the workshop conference ‘Shakespeare in Translation’, hosted over the weekend of 10-11 December 2016 by the British Centre for Literary Translation in collaboration with the British Council, Globe Education, the Romanian Cultural Institute and Writers’ Centre Norwich.

The exhibition continues until Easter 2017.

Professor Duncan Large

British Centre for Literary Translation

More information: http://www.bclt.org.uk

Chance Meetings: Roald Dahl, Monica Dickens and Charles Pick

patricia_neal_und_roald_dahl

Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal photographed by Carl Van Vechten (1954) – Library of Congress Collection (public domain)

An UNBOXED blog from Andrew Kenrick

“The stories of how authors meet their publishers or publishers meet their authors are legendary and many are coincidental.”

— Charles Pick, unpublished memoirs 

It is April, 1960. Roald Dahl has just published his second collection of stories, Kiss Kiss, to some acclaim in the United States but is having difficulty making a success of it in the UK. Determined to find a publisher in Britain, he returns from America with his young family on board the SS Queen Mary. Through some incredible coincidence, on this same voyage is the publisher Charles Pick, who is glued to a copy of Kiss Kiss.

While this anecdote appears in Roald Dahl’s biography, Storyteller (1), the incredible full story is related only in Pick’s unpublished memoirs (2).

Early in the voyage, Pick learned that Roald Dahl was on board and, having enjoyed his book, was determined to speak to him, but he could never find him at dinner. Eventually he marched down to Dahl’s cabin, successfully evading the snooty purser, where he was greeted by a scene of utter chaos. The crossing was rough and Dahl’s whole family had been beset by seasickness, his two children and their nursemaid vomiting profusely as the door was opened. Clothes and luggage were strewn everywhere, as his American wife, the actress Patricia Neal, turned over the cabin searching for a lost diamond. Amidst it all, stood the striking figure of Roald Dahl himself, telling her to stop, as he “never did like it.” The diamond was, then, worth £2000.

Later, when the seas – and the family’s stomachs – had calmed, Pick took them to dinner, making Dahl an offer to publish Kiss Kiss. Unsure what to do, for he knew he had other offers waiting for him on arrival, Dahl sent a telegram to his agent, asking for advice. Pick thought no more of it until after they had docked in Southampton. There, as Pick left the customs shed, Dahl came running after him waving a piece of paper and shouting “It’s all yours! It’s all yours!” The paper was a reply from his agent, telling him to accept Charles Pick’s offer before he changed his mind. This was to be the making of Roald Dahl’s literary career in the UK.

Charles Pick (1917-2000) was one of the giants of the British publishing world in the 20th century, a distinguished literary agent and publisher who worked for Victor Gollancz and Michael Joseph ending up as chair of the Heinemann Group until his retirement in 1985. Over the course of his career he championed, nurtured and corresponded with some of the literary greats, including JD Salinger, Wilbur Smith, Graham Greene, Catherine Cookson, JB Priestley and many more.

Roald Dahl was far from the only author whom Charles Pick met by chance. Another was Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of Charles, who would go on to become “one of the best-selling authors of her generation” (3) as well as a close personal friend of Pick’s. Pick first met Dickens in 1937 at a charity dinner organised by a friend’s mother, where he found himself spellbound by her stories of life working “below stairs” as a cook. Later, he learned who she was and told her, “if she could write a book as well as she could tell a story, she could write a bestseller”. She was signed up immediately, and six weeks later had written her first novel, One Pair of Hands, which, as Pick had predicted, became her first bestseller.

These stories, along with many others, can be read in Pick’s unpublished memoirs, which, alongside diaries, letters, obituaries, cuttings and tapes, form the Charles Pick Archive. The Charles Pick Archive shines a light on the business of some of the most important British publishers of the 20th century, and can be accessed at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA.

Andrew is a former editor turned writer, who is studying for an MA in Creative Non-fiction at UEA. He writes about food, travel and ancient history, sometimes all at once. 

1 Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (United States: Simon & Schuster, 2011), p356-377

2 Charles Pick (1990), Memoirs. Unpublished manuscript.

3 Charles Pick, “Obituary: Monica Dickens,” The Independent (Independent), December 31, 1992, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-monica-dickens-1566170.html.