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

Gently Does It. Revealing the Alan Hunter Archive

The Archive of Alan Hunter (1922-2005) was generously gifted to UEA by his daughter Helen in 2015. Hunter was the author of a series of crime novels featuring Inspector George Gently.

004Written between 1955-1999, Hunter completed 46 novels across 45 years with punning titles like Gently Does It, Gently by the Shore, Gently Down the Stream, Gently Continental, Gently with the Ladies and so on. The popular BBC One television series George Gently and later Inspector George Gently were loosely based on Hunter’s novels.

Typically each archive collection arrives with its own set of interesting nuances, challenges and surprises and Hunter’s archive was no exception. A vast array of dusty folders and boxes arrived in need of attention and a thorough sort. There was also a heavy wooden chest.

AH Gently Down the StreamHunter’s writing process was methodical, his hand-writing meticulous and his scripts well organised in labelled boxes. While he is most well-known for his Inspector George Gently novels, Hunter was also a keen writer of poetry and drama. In 1945 at the age of 23 he published a poetry collection The Norwich Poems. His archive contains these and many unpublished poems, dramas, screenplays and short stories.

The oldest item amongst his papers is a short story The Crime Without a Clue. This eight page manuscript was completed at precisely 11.40 pm on 31 October 1935. Hunter would have been 13 years old when he created the characters of Detective Grant and his assistant who must solve the baffling circumstances surrounding the death of Sir Harry Fenton, killed by his own pistol fired from the sideboard, by apparently no one.

AH.11.11.1 (002)In a preface written by Hunter in 1963 he explains his earlier attempt in 1953 to publish some short stories. They were not sold and in disgust he turned to writing his first crime novel Gently Does It. On returning from a holiday in Wales and after ascending the Wyddfa (Snowdon), he found that his manuscript of Gently Does It had also been rejected by a number of publishers. One blunt rejection referred to Gently’s personality not coming across, and that just to give him the trade mark of eating peppermint creams was not nearly enough. He resolved to write for his own pleasure and From the Summit was written, in a degree of elation. Meanwhile his crime novel Gently Does It reached Cassell where it found acceptance. Thus began the Inspector George Gently series of novels in 1955.

Writing in a caravanette, Hunter favoured jumpers and tweed jackets and smoked a pipe; he bore a close resemblance to Inspector George Gently himself. Included in his archive are a couple of rejected Gently manuscripts: Millionaires are Murder (1957) and Nothing Holy (1969); and the expected plethora of unidentified manuscripts and fragments of writing.

Despite Hunter’s good organisation there are the inevitable areas where things appear less clear. Creative writing implies a process of branching out, of going back and forth, of re-visiting, and re-developing ideas. This doesn’t lend itself to precise order nor would we want to impose such an artificial structure. Instead, the Archive’s guide to the papers makes users aware of possible connections within the collection by a number of cross-references. We have assigned numbers to all items, making it so much easier to keep track of and identify the many manuscripts and pieces of paper.

The sorting of the papers was tricky as same characters and lines often popped up in different titles therefore making it difficult to say with certainty which script belonged to which work. For instance, Lachlan Stogumber appears in the unpublished manuscript of Nothing Holy (1969) and a couple of years later in the published work of Gently at a Gallop (1971). The line ‘There’s many an airman just finishing his time’ crops up in two unpublished novels: Just Finishing His Time (1956) and Strange Testament (1957). Some rejected novels resurfaced, sometimes more than 10 years later, with a different title and significant changes: in 1961 Hunter went back to his 1953 unpublished novel From the Summit and borrowed from it for Gently to the Summit.

Ideas sketched in notebooks and early stories were taken up years later. Thus there is not always a clear correlation between the drafts and final publications. There is evidence of him re-submitting his writing to publishers many years after the original submission; or re-working something like La Paloma, which began as a story but which was then re-written as a play.

Detective skills are indeed needed to make the links and match up the various drafts. There are plenty of connections still to be made and the expectation is that keen future users of the collection will discover for themselves the evolution of Hunter’s writing.

The notebooks are gems, filled with musings, sketches, character descriptions and detailed plots were Hunter makes his suppositions.

A poisonous prescription issued by a pharmacy, apparently in error; but the victim is the suspected mistress of the chemist’s husband. [1]

Wymondham should have a tale to tell … perhaps the death of the elderly lady who kept the ‘Busy Fingers’ establishment. [1]

He writes of his struggles in coming up with a setting.

A setting out of East Anglia I said. But East Anglia keeps haunting me. Yet I have used so much of it, feel I have spent it out. I need an outside setting. Scotland is probably my best bet. [2]

From Diss to Dunwich, Bury St Edmunds to the Broads, Gently found himself in locations across East Anglia and sometimes in London, Scotland and even Wiltshire. This is in contrast to the televised series which places Gently in Northumberland and Durham.

There are days when Hunter has no inspiration at all.

But now my mind is empty of ideas or rather will have no truck with them. Show it an idea and it plainly refuses. It won’t grasp an idea, vivify it, set it in motion, begin to enrich it, with scenes, drama. [3]

And then there are days when, in his seventies, his hand aches and pen after pen fails to alleviate the frustration.

As he is writing Bomber’s Moon in 1994 he wonders if he wants to devise another book.

I am at the age when Simenon threw in the towel and retired into autobiography. But I don’t feel that old yet. Or even old. Just grown up, experienced. [4]

Hunter completed his 46th and last Gently novel at the age of 77.

References

1 Notebook entry, 24/10/94 (AH/14/23).
2 Notebook entry, 30/10/87 (AH/1/36/1).
3 Notebook entry, 31/1/80 (AH/1/27/1).
4 Notebook entry, 16/5/94 (AH/14/21).

Exhibition

Ticketholders for Charlie Higson and Ian Rankin at Noirwich: The Crime Writing Festival enjoy a preview of an exhibition on the Alan Hunter Archive (16 September, UEA).

The exhibition then moves to UEA Library from 20 September 2016.

Accessing the archive

Enquiries on this collection may be directed to archives@uea.ac.uk
Further details and a listing of the description is available from the Alan Hunter Archive

 

 

Swept Under the Carpet? Servants in London Households 1600-2000

PP.16.2.1.3.B - CopyOpening this month at the Geffrye Museum of the Home is an exhibition which features visually stimulating items from the Pritchard Papers (UEA Archives). Our contribution focuses on the serviced Lawn Road Flats (Hampstead Heath), designed by Wells Coates and opened in 1934.

These minimum flats offered comfort, convenience and freedom from mundane burdens. Included in the rent, which ranged from £120-£200 per year, was “very full domestic service”: cleaning, bed-making, shoe-cleaning, window-cleaning, the services of a housekeeper, maid and porters, constant hot water and central heating. Meals could be taken in the Isobar restaurant, “a club for the epicure”, or in the flats at no extra charge.

PP.15.3.7.20.coverThe flats contained integrated furniture which meant that the tenant just had to add a few personal touches whilst remaining largely free from permanent tangible possessions. The new possessions, as seen by Coates were the “possessions of freedom, travel, new experience – in short, what we call life”.

Following in the success of the Lawn Road Flats, other schemes were proposed. One such scheme was for the development of a site at St Leonard’s Hill, Windsor. Under the alluring brochure entitled Where Life is Living, inclusive rentals offered “such services as would relieve you of household management.” The grime and grind of chores ‘swept under the carpet’ indeed.

PP.15.3.7.20.DThe Archives is able to help with further information relating to serviced flats, Lawn Road Flats, Wells Coates, the Isobar Club (menus, rules, membership), and the development at Windsor.

Our thanks to the Geffrye Museum for including the Lawn Road (Isokon) Flats in their exhibition. The exhibition is on from 15 March – 4 September 2016.

archives@uea.ac.uk

Photo credit: Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia.

EU Referendum – 5 June 1975

img522 smallBritain joined the Economic Community in 1973. After renegotiating its entry terms a referendum was held in 1975 when 2:1 voted to stay in. Over 40 years later the debate goes on. But society has changed and we have the benefit of hindsight. This makes looking back all the more fascinating.

The John Hill Archive includes papers relating to the 1975 ‘Yes’ campaign (yes to stay in Europe). Apart from the serious arguments there’s some good visual material, leaflets, press-cuttings, etc. The ‘No’ campaign has some coverage too, inevitably, one can’t wrangle with oneself.

John Hill (Conservative MP) supported the ‘Yes’ campaign. He contributed a great deal to his constituency of South Norfolk in the 1960s and was on UEA Council from 1975-1982.

The papers (contained in 3 boxes) focus closely on the campaign in Norfolk and Suffolk, and the organisations of The European Movement and Britain in Europe.

The papers are listed on-line (ref JH/POL/PARL/40)https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/hill

Please contact archives@uea.ac.uk if you’d like to know more or would like to see the papers.

[Leaflet produced by the European League for Economic Co-operation (British Section)]