Belgrave’s Books

What sort of books might be read by a young British administrator posted to the Middle East? To celebrate World Book Day, it seemed like an interesting exercise to have a skim through the diaries of Charles Belgrave (1894-1969), who was adviser to the rulers of Bahrain from 1926 to 1957. He wrote in his diary almost every day, and in addition to keeping a record of the day’s events, personal meetings, administrative affairs and official matters, he frequently noted details about books that he had read, or films he had seen at the local cinema (which will probably be the subject of a future blogpost.)

Given the extent of Belgrave’s responsibilities on Bahrain, it is remarkable that he found any time for reading at all. In addition to advising Sheikh Hamed Bin Isa Al Khalifa and his successors on financial and legal matters, he was in charge of the police and the law courts, involved in the setting up of schools and hospitals, overseeing improvements in the island’s infrastructure – such as roads, electrical installations, bridge building and harbour construction – as well as dealing with the nascent oil industry, RAF and naval visits, plus the endless round of social calls with Bahraini merchants, pearl fishers, local dignitaries, British officials, American missionaries and visiting clergy.

In spite of this workload – or perhaps because of it – he devoted time to reading a number of novels, both classic and contemporary. Writing in his diary late at night there was neither time nor space for extensive comments, but often he recorded his impressions in a brief sentence or two. The first book to be mentioned was Major Dane’s Garden (London: Hutchinsons, 1926) by Margery Perham, a romantic novel about a District Officer in Somaliland who tries to use his gardening experiments to improve agricultural practices for the locals. Belgrave had arrived on Bahrain on 31 March 1926 and three months later, on 17 June 1926, he wrote ‘Reading a very interesting book called “Major Danes Garden” about Somaliland, really extremely good, the best novel I’ve read for along while.’ Perhaps he saw something in the idealism of Major Dane that he hoped to emulate in his own work on Bahrain?

Next up was The Constant Nymph (London: Heinemann, 1924), by Margaret Kennedy. Set in the Austrian Tyrol in the 1920s, the novel follows the affairs of various members of an extended ‘Bohemian’ family, particularly young Teresa, or Tessa – the ‘nymph’ of the title – and her romantic fixation on composer Lewis Dodd, who shows more interest in Tessa’s cousin Florence. He probably started reading this straight after Major Dane’s Garden as on Saturday 24 July 1926, he noted: ‘Finished reading “The Constant Nymph” a very unusual book, I liked it.’

Unlike many of his contemporaries in diplomatic circles, Belgrave’s tastes at this time seemed to incline towards some of the more unusual and progressive authors on the literary scene. On 26 June 1927 he recorded that he had just read Crazy Pavements (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927) by Beverley Nichols – the ‘original Bright Young Thing’ according to Obsert Sitwell. This darkly satirical swipe at London socialites of the 1920s predated Waugh’s similar Vile Bodies by three years. Belgrave recorded ‘I liked it, though decidedly “modern”.’

Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (London: Chatto & Windus, 1928) was another novel that mocked the elite social circles of the ‘Twenties, but in contrast to the gossipy tone of Crazy Pavements it was a much more a novel of ideas, in which Huxley used thinly-veiled portraits of figures such as Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and John Middleton Murry to explore the complex interaction of various intellectual theories and philosophical questions. Heavy on ideas and thin on plot, it nonetheless intrigued Belgrave: ‘5 June 1929 Just finished reading Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, one of the Tauchnitz books, quite one of the queerest, most improper and most amusing, in parts, book that I have read for a long time. I should like to read more of his.’ Tauchnitz were a German publisher who specialised in continental reprints of English literary works, Point Counter Point was published as Vols.4872 and 4873 in their library of British and American Authors: due to its length it required two volumes.

A slightly simpler read was Richard Hughes’s novel A High Wind in Jamaica (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), which Belgrave finished on 14 June 1930 and ‘liked very much.’ Two months later, on 17 August 1930, his diary records: ‘Am reading Jane Austen again and very much liking it; I find several novels I had not read before.’ He seems to have developed an interest in Austen, and on 18 December 1931 he recounted how his wife Marjorie wore a dress that they had copied from a picture in one of Austen’s novels, along with a large bonnet, fan and hair locket as accessories.

Although the Regency world of Jane Austen was far removed from life in Bahrain, some of Belgrave’s reading clearly resonated with his current experience. Regarding Joseph Ackerley’s account of his appointment as personal secretary to the eccentric Maharajah of Chhatrapur –  Hindoo Holiday. An Indian Journal (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932) – he wrote in his diary for 23 September 1932: ‘rather improper but very amusing and in many ways not unlike this place.’ Similarly, with regard to Maurice Collis’s biography Siamese White (London: Faber & Faber, 1936) about Samuel White, a 17th century merchant trader from Bath who ended up as a mandarin of Siam. ‘A most interesting book,’ wrote Belgrave on 25 July 1942, ‘the sort I should like to write myself.’

Other novels that he read were clearly just for escapism and relaxation, although it is evident that he kept up to date with what was being published. On 15 April 1946 he wrote: ‘Read after lunch, an historical novel Forever Amber – very long & rather good. Some are scandalised by it but I can’t see why.’ Kathleen Winsor’s novel about a mistress of Charles II had been published in 1944 and she was then in the process of adapting it into a screenplay for the 1947 movie of the same name, which caused even more of a scandal than her book, earning the ire of Hollywood’s Hays Office.   Around the same time he was also working his way through some of Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’ including The Small House at Allinton (‘excellent reading’) and Framley Parsonage, before returning to more contemporary fiction such as Waugh’s Decline and Fall (20 February 1947). There was light relief in the form of Robert Hichens’ satire about decadent London during the ‘Naughty Nineties’ The Londoners, which he found  ‘a very funny book – one forgets that he ever wrote comic stories’ (2 June 1955).

Not all Belgrave’s personal reading was fiction, and his diary entries also records him enjoying works such as William Gaunt’s The Aesthetic Adventure  ‘an extremely amusing book…about the arty people of the 90s’ and Anthony Glyn’s biography of his grandmother, the novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn.

If anyone is seeking inspiration for reading choices for World Book Day, Belgrave’s diary could provide some ideas!

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Second Nature’ and ‘Holding Your Ground’

During the first six months of the Common Ground archive cataloguing project, I examined and briefly described the material I found in each file within the archive to create a comprehensive box list. This new box list now provides me with a good overview of the contents of the archive, which – I hope! – will vastly facilitate the cataloguing process. Keen to finally get down to some proper cataloguing, I decided to tackle the archive material relating to two of Common Ground’s early projects: ‘Second Nature’ and ‘Holding Your Ground’.

EUL MS 416/LIB/1 – Books: ‘Second Nature’ (1984) and ‘Holding Your Ground (1987)

The ‘Second Nature’ project concerned the publication of a collection of essays and artwork. 42 writers and artists were invited by Common Ground to ‘express their feelings about Britain’s dwindling wild life and countryside’ (‘Second Nature’, 1984) and contribute to this anthology through prose, poetry or art. The book was edited by Richard Mabey with Sue Clifford and Angela King – the three founders of Common Ground – and published by Jonathan Cape in 1984. Three public seminars at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) took place in October and November 1984 to discuss the themes explored in the book. The artwork featured in ‘Second Nature was exhibited at the Newlyn Orion Gallery in Penzance in 1984, and subsequently travelled to other venues.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/1/1 – Small cards with names of contributors, presumably used to plan the layout of ‘Second Nature’

One year after ‘Second Nature’ was published, Sue Clifford and Angela King co-authored and published a second book together: ‘Holding Your Ground: an action guide to local conservation’. It was first published by Maurice Temple Smith in 1985, and a revised edition was published by Wildwood House in 1987. The book provides information on how to care for your locality, reasons why local conservation is important, case studies of local initiatives, and advice on who to contact for help and support. The book includes a foreword by David Bellamy, artwork by Tony Foster and Robin Tanner, and photography by Chris Baines, Ian Anderson and Ron Frampton.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/1/1 – Comb-bound typescript draft of ‘Holding Your Ground’ (1983)

These early projects highlight the two strands of Common Ground’s work which informed the projects that followed; firstly, collaborating with artists and writers to reflect on our relationship with nature, and secondly, encouraging people to take action in looking after their local environment. Using the arts to celebrate local distinctiveness, encourage people to emotionally engage with their surroundings, and consequently interest them in conservation at a local level would become the cornerstone of Common Ground’s work.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/2/3 – File of research material relating to ‘Parish Initiatives’ for the ‘Holding Your Ground’ project

In addition, many of the relationships Common Ground forged with artists and writers at this very early stage would prove to be longlasting and influential. For example, the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who provided five photographs of his artwork for ‘Second Nature’, completed a residency on Hampstead Heath supported by Common Ground in the winter of 1985-1986, and would go on to work with Common Ground on various other projects, including ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’, ‘New Milestones’, and ‘Rhynes, Rivers and Running Brooks’. Other artists and writers who worked with Common Ground again after collaboration on these early projects include: Norman Ackroyd, Conrad Atkinson, John Fowles, David Nash, James Ravilious, and Tony Foster.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/4 – Files relating to projects with the artist Andy Goldsworthy

Material in the ‘Second Nature’ section of the archive includes: correspondence with artists and writers; papers concerning the production of the book; papers relating to the seminars held at the ICA; papers concerning the exhibition of artists’ work; and several files of papers relating to Common Ground’s collaboration with artist Andy Goldsworthy, in particular: his residency on Hampstead Heath and exhibitions of his work. The ‘Holding Your Ground’ section of the archive comprises drafts of the book ‘Holding Your Ground’, book reviews, correspondence and research material. All of this material has now been catalogued and descriptions of the files and items are available to browse online via our archives catalogue.

Catalogue entries for ‘Second Nature’ (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/1) and ‘Holding Your Ground (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/2) on the Special Collections online archives catalogue

Having now completed the cataloguing of two relatively small sections of Common Ground’s project work in the archive, I’m giving myself a slightly bigger challenge to catalogue next: material relating to the Parish Maps project. The Parish Maps project was launched by Common Ground in 1987 to encourage people ‘to share and chart information about their locality as a first step to becoming involved in its care’ (Common Ground leaflet, 2000). The project output included two exhibitions, several publications, and thousands of maps created in various forms by individuals, groups, schools, councils, communities and organisations – so I will certainly have my work cut out!

Thanks for reading – until next time!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

Click here to browse the section ‘Second Nature’ via the online archives catalogue.

Click here to browse the section ‘Holding Your Ground’ via the online archives catalogue.

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

The Ayubi Papers

The latest Middle East archival collection to be catalogued differs slightly from recent projects in that the papers relate to the life and career of an academic rather than a diplomat or journalist.

A portrait of Nazih Ayubi (1944-95) from the university archives. EUL UA/P/3g

Nazih Nassif Mikhail Ayubi (1944-95) was born on 22 December 1944 in Cairo and obtained a B.Sc. (1964) and M.Sc. (1968) in Political Science from Cairo University, where he was taught by Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He then came to England, studying for a Diploma in Public Administration at Manchester University (1970) followed by a D.Phil (Politics) at Oxford (1975). After returning to Cairo he worked as an assistant professor at the Institute of Public Administration and the National Institute for Management Development (1967-76), followed by a fellowship at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, an independent research unit dedicated to regional and international affairs as well as Egyptian politics and society, with a particular emphasis on Arab-Israeli relations. Ayubi went on to hold posts at the American University in Cairo (AUC) as well as Cairo University, before accepting an appointment as Associate Professor at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1979. After four years in America, he came to the University of Exeter in 1983, where he held the post of Reader in Politics and subsequently Director of the Middle East Programme.

This was an exciting time for Middle East research at Exeter: the Centre for Arab Gulf Studies had been founded in 1979 and the university was already assuming major significance for the quality of its resources and scholarship. Under Ayubi’s guidance, the Middle East programme became one of the most successful graduate programmes in Europe, with a stream of undergraduates and doctoral students benefitting from his expertise. His research interests included Egyptian politics, political economy, international relations and the international politics of Islam.

Nazih Ayubi was an incredibly prolific writer. While cataloguing his papers, I began compiling what I hoped would be a comprehensive bibliography of his published work – a task that remains unfinished and will take a considerable amount of time, given the sheer number of articles, book chapters and conference papers that he published during his career.

Some of Ayubi’s writings on the topic of ‘political Islam’ (EUL MS 129/1/1/3)

The Ayubi Papers

Ayubi’s papers are catalogued in four main categories: academic papers, conference papers, correspondence and research material. The academic papers include different versions of some of his published work, including early drafts of articles and book chapters, working notes and annotated proofs. There are also administrative documents relating to his academic career, both in America and at Exeter.

The conference materials relate to the numerous conferences and symposia attended by Ayubi during the 1980s and 1990s in places such as Paris, Leiden, New York, Istanbul, Marrakech, Rabat and Cairo, and include official conference materials and ephemera as well as copies of papers presented by Ayubi and other participants. Between 1991 and 1992 Ayubi held a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European Institute in Florence, and our archive contains records of his academic activities during this time, including seminars, reading groups and conferences.

Ayubi was a highly-respected scholar who was continually being invited to speak at international conferences and collaborate in major scholarly projects; the correspondence preserved in our archive reflects the extent of his international reputation and the affection with which he was held. The correspondents read like a Who’s Who of Middle Eastern scholarship, with names such as Malcolm Kerr, Louis Cantori, Ray Hinnebusch, Albert Hourani, Roger Owen, Bernard Schaffer, Richard Sklar, Leonard Binder, P.J. Vatikiotis, Gerald Caiden and Boutros Boutros Ghali. The letters typically deal with professional matters such as collaborating on books or taking part in conferences, or seeking job opportunities, but they are often warm and personal too, with correspondents exchanging news about family and children, expressing how much they are looking forward to meeting up or urging Ayubi to come and visit. These informal letters sometimes provide intriguing insights into events taking place in the Middle East, such as the political implications of academic appointments in Beirut or Cairo, and there are continual reminders of the thin veil separating politics from scholarship in the region.

Part of a letter from Malcolm Kerr to Ayubi (EUL MS 129/5/6) illustrating the difficulties in separating politics from academia. Kerr left Cairo in September 1982 when he was appointed President of the American University in Beirut, where he had been born and raised. He was assassinated by gunmen on campus in January 1984.

Ayubi’s research materials include a small fraction of some of the vast primary and secondary literature he gathered while writing his books. Anyone who has read Ayubi’s work will be aware of the extensive scope of his reading, which included official government records as well as Arab writers who were less well-known in the west. The Ayubi archive does not include the published books and periodicals that he gathered for research purposes – these form a separate donation to the library, some of which is still to be catalogued – but it does include a large mass of annotated material, such as photocopied documents and periodical literature, presscuttings and typescripts. Many of these have been grouped together into folders arranged by subject and contain notes by Ayubi, offering insights into his working methods as well as access to the sources he used in his research.

To give some idea of the extent of Ayubi’s work and the potential for using his papers for future research, I want to highlight three main themes:

Political Islam

The international significance of Ayubi’s work is indicated by the numerous languages into which his books were translated, including French, German, Italian and Japanese

In his Political Islam: religion and politics in the Arab World (London: Routledge, 1991) – which was written between 1988 and 1989 – Ayubi argued that, contrary to the claims of Islamists that the early political systems were shaped and formed by Islamic doctrine, historical analysis suggests the opposite: political regimes appropriated Islam for their own ends as a way of legitimising their rule. To counter Islamic fundamentalists who insist that they are trying to reinstate a golden age of Islam; Ayubi demonstrated persuasively that notions of Islam as a political religion are relatively new, and can only be traced back to the interwar period.

Ayubi’s thinking on this topic can be traced through various stages from papers in the archive, including his notes on ‘Islam and Democracy’ (EUL MS 129/1/1/3), early manuscript drafts for his articles on ‘Islamic State’ and ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ (overview article), written for The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (EUL MS 129/1/1/7), his annotated proofs for Political Islam: religion and politics in the Arab World (EUL MS 129/1/1/13), and various research notes he made on Islamic communities, the notion of أمة‎ (‘ummah’), the relationship between militant movements and the history of Islamic jurisprudence (EUL MS 129/1/2/2 and 1/2/4 and 1/2/7).

Ayubi would have had much to say about the Islamist resurgence that has taken place since his death, and his papers could provide an interesting perspective from which to undertake further lines of research.

Europe

EUL MS 129/4/2

Although much of Ayubi’s work focussed on the Middle East, he held a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European Institute in Florence (1991-92) and devoted much thought to relations between Europe and its Arab neighbours. He edited the essay collection Distant neighbours: the political economy of relations between Europe and the Middle East (Ithaca, 1995),  from papers originally delivered at the European Institute in March 1993, contributing the opening chapter on ‘Farms, factories…and walls: which way for European/Middle Eastern Relations?’  He later took part in the 1995 ‘Euromed’ conference (EUL MS 129/3/21) that gave rise to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Such attempts to strengthen and articulate relationships between Europe and its neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East were in part a response to claims of a ‘clash of civilizations’ that had arisen in reaction to Islamist resurgence detailed above. The future and form of these relations remains acutely relevant, as debates over ‘Brexit’ and immigration from the Middle East into Europe have encouraged closer scrutiny of the identities and boundaries used to define these relationships. Researchers seeking to explore this topic could begin their work using some of the papers compiled by Ayubi during his European study fellowships (EUL MS 129/4), at Euromed and other related conferences (e.g. EUL MS 129/3/7).

The Arab State

Ayubi’s work was rooted in the close links between public administration and political theory and throughout his career he retained an interest in the workings of the civil service, the military and the bureaucratic systems that support the functioning of the state. In contrast to a well-established tradition, as expressed by Karl Wittfogel’s Oriental Despotism (1957) that insists that Middle Eastern states are strong while civil society is weak, Ayubi drew a nuanced distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘strong’ states. A ‘hard state’ is one that uses its powers – bureaucratic administration, surveillance, the military and police forces – to coerce and punish its citizens, because it is unable to achieve its objectives by using democratic persuasion, economic incentives and the flexibility that is characteristic of a truly ‘strong state’. By challenging the confusion – typical of a long strand of western analysis of the Arab world – between oppressive power and moral strength, Ayubi’s work opens up a fascinating debate about the potential for, and possible means of, future change in the region. It would be interesting to return to Ayubi’s arguments and reassess them in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ and its aftermath. There is ample scope too for linking all three of the above themes – for example, in exploring the success of political Islamists in ‘state-building’ in Arab regions where the state has proved weak, or European difficulties in providing a coherent economic or political response to the power struggles between authoritarian states and a diverse array of democratic and Islamist challengers.

Nazih Ayubi’s sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 50 was a tragic loss, both for his family and colleagues as well as for the world of Middle East scholarship. The bequest of his papers, however, allows students and researchers access to the materials and processes that shaped his publications and will hopefully inspire others to engage with his writings and build upon his pioneering work. The online catalogue of Ayubi’s papers can be explored here.

Theatre through the lens: the photographic archive of Nicholas Toyne

Nicholas Toyne worked as a photographer for the Northcott Theatre from its first production until the mid 1980’s; capturing thousands of beautiful photographs from the first two decades of performances. His archive of negatives, donated to Special Collections, has now been fully catalogued as part of the Northcott Theatre Archive cataloguing project. The clips below share some of Nicholas’s reminiscences of his work at the Northcott in his own words.

Negatives from the Nicholas Toyne Archive (EUL MS 383)

Having worked as a stationary rep in London, Nicholas Toyne’s photographic business began when he moved to Devon with his wife Shan. Shan had previously worked for the BBC on schools broadcasts with Tony Church who was to become the first artistic director of the Northcott Theatre, and who offered her a job as Theatre Secretary. When the Northcott began looking for photographers Shan suggested that her husband should be part of the auditions and in the clip below Toyne describes a blind audition taking photos of a dress rehearsal for the Northcott’s first production “The Merchant of Venice” in 1967.

 

The process of photographing the Northcott Shows could be extremely demanding. In the early days Toyne often attended a number of rehearsals in order to identify the best scenes and positions for a shot but competing time pressures eventually meant he was forced to take photos during dress runs. In the clip below Toyne talks about his process of taking photographs and the fun of working with Tony Church.

 

Often staying in the theatre until midnight to get photos from the final dress run, Toyne’s job was then to process the photographs ready for display on the first night and use by the press. Below Toyne talks about the challenges of processing the images overnight in time for display for the first night of each production.

 

After an almost twenty year run as photographer for the Northcott, Toyne began to concentrate his photography business on other clients, such as his aerial photography for the National Trust, and the last negatives in the archive date from 1986. Despite the late nights and gruelling time frames Toyne remembers his work at the Northcott with fondness, and his enjoyment is clear from the beautiful images he achieved.

Keep your eyes peeled as work continues on our Northcott Theatre Cataloguing Project as we will be digitising a number of these negatives and making these fascinating glimpses of local theatre history available online for the public to view. You can explore the Nicholas Toyne Archive using our online catalogue here

Bob Hoskins in the Caucasian Chalk Circle (1971)

 

It’s behind you: Christmas shows at the Northcott Theatre

The tradition of pantomime is hundreds of years old; thought to have originated in the 16th century Italian street theatre tradition of commedia dell’arte before spreading through Europe and gaining popularity in England by the mid 17th century. The 18th century saw the commedia character ‘the Harlequin’ emerge to precedence as the star of the pantomime, along with his wooden slap stick (a wooden bat which produced a loud smacking noise but little force, allowing actors to hit one another without injury). In the 19th century the 1843 Theatres Act lifted the restrictions on using spoken word in performances (previously only allowed in theatres with a royal patent) and allowed Victorian pantomime to flourish. The resulting addition of verbal dialogue, puns, social commentary and audience participation provided a format that would be recognised by many theatre-goers today. The 19th century also saw the gradual replacement of harlequinades with pantomime story lines taken from folk tales, fairy stories and nursery rhymes. Mother Goose is often hailed as the grand old dame of pantomime; with the story dating back to an ancient Greek legend. It first appeared in 1806 as ‘Harlequin and Mother Goose or The Golden Egg’, though bearing little resemblance to the story we know today. It may also be in the running for the most popular pantomime ever; being rumoured to have opened on Boxing Day 1806 and played for 92 consecutive nights! The modern version owes its origin to the 1902 version created for Victorian pantomime’s most famous dame: music hall star Dan Leno, who performed as the Drury Lane Theatre Royal’s pantomime dame for 15 years, from 1888 until his death in 1904.

In recent years the Northcott Theatre’s pantomime has become synonymous with Christmas for many theatregoers in Exeter, resurrecting the strong tradition of pantomime set by it’s predecessor. Exeter’s Theatre Royal often put on several pantomimes a year (the current view of pantomimes as specifically a Christmas show being a relatively recent development); in fact a search of our Theatre Royal playbills collection (EUL MS 202) shows 126 playbills for pantomimes performed between 1893-1953! However, despite this long history, the yearly pantomime is a relatively recent trend for the Northcott, which historically put on a family show or musical each year.

Theatre Royal playbill for Little Red Riding Hood (1900)

Theatre Royal playbill for Sindbad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After opening in 1967, the Northcott Theatre’s christmas show for it’s first two years (with a reprisal in 1975) was ‘Big Noise at Fortissimo’. This eclectic show followed the story of a troop of abandoned toy soldiers reclaiming their fort from the new toys that had taken it over, and was written by the Northcott’s writer-in-residence Bernard Goss and actor Paul Starr. These family friendly productions, part musical, part play, and with pantomime elements, continued with ‘The Adventure’s of Noah’s Ark’ and ‘The Fantastic Fairground’ (also by Bernard Goss) until Artistic Director Tony Church stepped down in 1971 and Jane Howell took the reins.

 

Jane Howell, Artistic Director from 1971-74, is often credited with the introduction of the Christmas musical production. This tradition began in 1971 with ‘Guys and Dolls’ and was continued by subsequent artistic directors. As with many of the Northcott’s early shows these musical productions often contain fun glimpses of famous faces early in their careers. If you look closely at the last two photos of ‘Guys and Dolls’ below you can make out a young Robert Lindsay playing the role of Benny Southstreet.

 

During the late 1970’s and 1980’s fairy tales and children’s stories began to become common choices for Northcott Christmas shows. Many of these shows revolved around the same fairy tales that form the basis for much loved pantomimes and. despite being primarily billed as family shows or musicals, many of these shows embraced some pantomime elements, particularly with regards to staging and illusion. Flying systems, trapdoors, elaborate scene changes and the perilous star trap are all used to contribute to the illusion and suspended reality of pantomimes; far from being a cheap show, pantomimes often have some of the most complicated and costly set design, and the smooth performance of scenes relies on perfect timing by both the actors and stagehands. Many of the stage plans and set designs in the Northcott Theatre Archive show a similar level of intricacy in these Christmas family shows and musicals, with complex sets used to create mystical lands. A quick look at these shows again reveals a number of famous names, with Raymond Briggs (creater of ‘The Snowman’) making his debut as a theatre designer for the Northcott’s production of ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ (1984). Sadly my personal Christmas wishes have failed to come true and the archive has so far failed to reveal a picture of Celia Imrie in what i’m sure would have been a seminal role as ‘The Christmas Pudding desirous of remaining in tact’ in ‘The Adventures of Alice’ (1976).

 

Despite the pantomime elements of the Northcott Christmas shows in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, actual pantomimes were uncommon, with only two shows being billed as such before the 1990’s. The 1978 production of Cinderella has the honour of being the first Northcott pantomime, with all the traditional trappings including a principal boy, pantomime dames, a fabulous transformation scene for the ugly sisters, a real horse pulling a carriage on stage and Imelda Staunton starring as a sugar-wouldn’t-melt Cinderella. Despite a successful run, there would only be two more pantomimes performed at the Northcott in the next 17 years; Aladdin (1981), starring prominent black actor Thomas Baptiste as the Genie, and Sleeping Beauty (1990).

 

In 1991 John Durnin took over as Associate Director for the Northcott and the Christmas shows became firmly routed in fairy stories and folk tales. In 1996 Durnin wrote the book for the Northcott’s pantomime ‘Cinderella’, a success he repeated again the following year for ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’. After his departure in 1998 the new artistic director Ben Crocker, a graduate of the University of Exeter’s Drama Department, carried this on and the yearly tradition of the Northcott Christmas pantomime was born. From 1996-2009 a Christmas pantomime has been put on every year at the Northcott theatre with the books for these years usually having been written by John Durnin, John Crocker or Ben Crocker. A particular style of panto has emerged, helped by the long service of pantomime dame Steve Bennett. A local actor, Bennett has acted in many Northcott productions but began his career as a pantomime dame in the 1996 production of Cinderella, playing the dame each year until 2009, a consecutive run of 14 years, almost as long as famous Victorian pantomime dame Dan Leno.

With the Northcott Theatre being placed into administration in 2010 the yearly pantomime came to an end. It’s last outing, rather ironically, being that grand old dame of pantomime ‘Mother Goose’ (2009). But we end with a happily ever after as after after 6 years of absence the pantomime returned in 2016 with ‘Peter Pan’ under Artistic and Executive Director Paul Jepson, and even Steve Bennett has reprised his role as pantomime dame.

Cue: oh no he didn’t, oh yes he did…….

 

EUL MS 348 – Pantomime programmes from the 2000’s

 

Northcott Christmas Productions from 1967-2009

Run start date

Title

22 Dec 1967 Big Noise at Fortissimo
21 Dec 1968 Big Noise at Fortissimo
29 Dec 1969 The Adventures of Noah’s Ark
23 Dec 1970 The Fantastic Fairground
15 Dec 1971 Guys and Dolls
13 Dec 1972 Old Time Music Hall
20 Dec 1972 John Willy and the Bee People
12 Dec 1973 The Owl and the Pussycat went to see
10 Dec 1975 Big Noise at Fortissimo
18 Dec 1975 My Fair Lady
15 Dec 1976 The Adventures of Alice
22 Dec 1977 Rock Nativity
21 Dec 1978 Cinderella (Pantomime)
21 Dec 1979 Jack and The Beanstalk
19 Dec 1980 Godspell
18 Dec 1981 Aladdin (Pantomime)
16 Dec 1982 Treasure Island
22 Dec 1983 Showboat
20 Dec 1984 Toad of Toad Hall
19 Dec 1985 The Railway Children
17 Dec 1986 Pickwick Papers
16 Dec 1987 The Wizard of Oz
14 Dec 1988 Peter Pan
13 Dec 1989 Alice in Wonderland
12 Dec 1990 Sleeping Beauty (Pantomime)
11 Dec 1991 Merlin’s Dream
9 Dec 1992 Robin of the Wood
7 Dec 1993 The Magical Tales of the Brothers Grimm
14 Dec 1994 Toad of Toad Hall
13 Dec 1995 Peter Pan
4 Dec 1996 Cinderella (Pantomime)
10 Dec 1997 Jack and the Beanstalk (Pantomime)
8 Dec 1998 Dick Whittington (Pantomime)
9 Dec 1999 Aladdin (Pantomime)
14 Dec 2000 Sleeping Beauty (Pantomime)
13 Dec 2001 Cinderella (Pantomime)
12 Dec 2002 Mother Goose (Pantomime)
11 Dec 2003 Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood (Pantomime)
9 Dec 2004 Jack and the Beanstalk (Pantomime)
15 Dec 2005 Dick Whittington (Pantomime)
13 Dec 2006 Aladdin (Pantomime)
12 Dec 2007 Cinderella (Pantomime)
10 Dec 2008 Sleeping Beauty (Pantomime)
3 Dec 2009 Mother Goose (Pantomime)

The Road to Emmaus: the papers of Michael Adams (1920-2005) – EUL MS 241

‘I have never met a journalist who isn’t biased about practically anything and, since they aren’t Daleks, this probably shows through in their copy. The idea that a journalist should be unbiased is a curious one. The best ones are very biased indeed.’

– Terry Pratchett, reviewing Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) by Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew MP in The Bath and West Evening Chronicle, 30 August 1975. (EUL MS 241/5/2)

Michael Adams’ career as a journalist spanned almost six decades, during which he established a reputation not only as an expert on the Middle East but also a passionate campaigner on behalf of the Palestinian people living in the Israeli-occupied territories. He was well aware of the potential conflict between these two aspects of his work and his papers offer valuable insights into the internal and external workings of the media. How does a journalist balance personal beliefs against the need to present an equivocal view of events for his audience? How do newspapers and broadcasters balance their desire for editorial independence with their reliance on financial sponsorship and advertisers with their own agendas and vested interests? How can we learn to navigate the complex relationship between media representation, human experience and political reality?

These are issues with which Adams had to wrestle over many years, and which cost him a great deal of personal pain and sacrifice. Like many critics of Israeli policy, he was accused of anti-Semitism and became embroiled in an unpleasant lawsuit trying to defend himself. During a period when sympathy in the UK lay almost entirely in favour with Israel and in opposition to its Arab neighbours, Adam’s reporting upset many and strained his relationship with his editor at The Guardian, Alastair Hetherington. How these events and tensions played out over the years is documented in detail, through correspondence from different parties, personal notes, typed reports and presscuttings.

Although Adams’ name is closely associated with the subject of Israel-Palestine relations, he travelled widely through the Arab world and wrote about many other regions during his long career

Born in Addis Ababa, Adams was educated at Sedbergh School before going up to Oxford, although his time at university was interrupted by wartime service in the RAF. He was shot down and captured in 1940 and spent most of the war in Luchenwald POW camp near Berlin; we have two early typescripts – Solitude and Adventures with Robert Browning – about his experiences as a POW, written in Oxford just after the war (EUL MS 241/5/1). Having obtained his MA in 1948, Adams began working as a BBC scriptwriter, and travelled in Greece, Turkey and American before his appointment as Middle East correspondent for The Guardian in 1956. As Adams admitted in the introduction to his first book, Suez and After (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958): ‘No one could report events in the Middle East for long without becoming to some extent involved in them. Where principles are in conflict, and prejudices heartfelt, only a saint or a cynic could retain his detachment, and I am neither.’

His involvement in these events was deepened in 1967 after the BBC sent him to make a series of radio programmes gauging what Arabs thought and felt about the situation after the Six-Day War. This work took him through the occupied territories of Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank, and while his meetings with Palestinian people inspired his book Chaos or rebirth: the Arab outlook (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1968), the visit had a profound effect on his own views. Disturbed not only by the brutal treatment of Palestinian families that he witnessed, but also by the failure of British and American media to report on these matters, he committed himself fully to addressing what he perceived to be a biased misrepresentation of the situation in the Middle East.

Three photographs of Imwas (Emmaus), taken in (top to bottom) 1948, 1958 and 1968.
EUL MS 241/5/3

One of the events that moved him deeply at this time was the Israeli demolition of three villages (including Imwas, long identified as the biblical ‘Emmaus’) between Jerusalem and Ramla. We have an entire file documenting Adams’ research into the destruction of Imwas, including photographs, maps and letters from former residents of the village (EUL MS 241/5/3). Adams’ persistence in publicising these events led to further difficulties with his editor at The Guardian, who refused to publish the article – it appeared instead in The Sunday Times.

CAABU

In 1967 Adams was one of the co-founders of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), which aimed at countering some of the widespread ignorance and prejudice about the Arab World. Among Adams’ papers are some of the original documents relating to the founding of CAABU as well as records of some of the meetings, events, lectures and exhibitions organised during its early years.  (EUL MS 241/3) Adams found another platform for his mission to promote a greater understanding of the Arab world when he became the first editor of the magazine Middle East International (MEI) in 1971. The archive holds copies of many of his MEI editorials and articles.

Remaining frustrated by the difficulties faced by those who wished to publish opinions that might be deemed critical of Zionism and favourable to the Arab states, Adams teamed up with Christopher Mayhew, a Labour MP and Foreign Office official, to write Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) which presented evidence of systematic media bias in western coverage of matters relating to Israel and Palestine. The book also offered some practical solutions for the future of the peace process – something that Adams continued to think about and actively seek for the rest of his life.

Black September

Perhaps the most striking instance of Adams’ direct involvement in Middle Eastern affairs was the role he played in negotiating the release of hostages following the hijacking of five passenger jets during the Jordanian civil war of September 1970 – a period of bloody warfare known as ‘Black September’ when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the more radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) tried to wrestle control of Jordan out of the hands of King Hussein and give greater autonomy of the majority Palestinian population. The hijackings were carried out by the PFLP almost simultaneously, and after one plane was surrendered in London and other blown up in Cairo, the remaining three were flown to Dawsons Field, an airstrip near Zarka in Jordan. Most of the passengers were released, but around fifty Israelis and Americans were detained. Given the chaotic situation and the lack of trust on all sides, negotiations for the release of the hostages proved difficult and Adams flew out to help on behalf of CAABU.

He landed in Amman, the capital of Jordan, where he met Walid Khaled, brother of the imprisoned hijacker Leila Khaled. Subsequent events are recorded in a 52-page diary transcript, which details his meetings with representatives of the PFLP, Jordanian military and British and Dutch ambassadors, as well as the escalating fighting in Amman, the destruction of the planes and the release of various Arab prisoners from European jails – including Leila Khaled – in exchange for the hostages (EUL MS 241/2/1). In addition to Adams’ account there are copies of various communications between the Foreign Office, the UK Ambassador to Jordan and other officials involved in the negotiations (EUL MS 241/2/2).

Some of Adams’ correspondence, including images of Bethlehem sent as Christmas greetings. EUL MS 241/2/5

Any assessment of Adams’ achievements as a journalist and campaigner must rest primarily upon the quality of his research and writing, and our collections contains copies of scores of his articles in both typescript and published versions, in addition to his working notes, diaries, photographs, maps and letters. The collections would be well worth exploring for anyone seeking to understand better the recent history of the Middle East – in particular, the relationship between Israel and Palestine – as well as the role and responsibilities of the media in educating the public and influencing political opinion. The online catalogue can be explored here. 

The Odysseys of Captain George Henry Parlby White (1802-82) – Naval Diaries, EUL MS 418

While taking a slight repast in the Temple of Venus, we were surrounded by a bevy of young girls dancing the Tarantella       
–     
George H.P. White R.N., Diary entry, May 1836. EUL MS 418/6

Old travel narratives can be a source of reading pleasure as well as edification, as the charm of their quaint language and their unusual perspectives on regions both familiar and unfamiliar can help us to think again about our own views of the world. The literary pretensions and insatiable curiosity of many of these travellers combined to produce chronicles of their journeys that sometimes reveal as much about the culture from which they came as they do about the culture they were exploring.

We are fortunate to have in our collections a series of six notebooks written by Admiral George Henry Parlby White R.N. (1802-82) between 1819 and 1845 when he was a young naval officer stationed in the Mediterranean. These record his journeys around the coasts of Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as voyages further afield to South America and Canada. He later served on HMS Implacable during the blockade of Alexandria in 1840 when the British navy engaged with Egyptian forces who had invaded Syria, although these events are not included in these books.

Four of the six notebooks in which the diaries are written        EUL MS 418

The author of the diaries had been born into a naval family. His father Admiral Thomas White (1766-1846) was a native of Buckfastleigh and lived at the Abbey House, the castellated Gothic mansion built on the ruins of medieval Buckfast Abbey. Thomas spent 66 years in the navy, having entered the service in 1780 at the tender age of eleven. Three of his four sons followed him into the Royal Navy, with George being joined by his younger brothers Edward John White (1805-47) and Richard Dunnington White (1814-99), whose son Vice-Admiral Richard White died in Exeter in 1924. Richard also took part in the naval operations off the Syrian coast and painted a watercolour The Bombardment of St. Jean D’Acre – November 3rd – 1840 which is now held in the collections of the V&A.

George was born on 11 October 1802 at Droxford in Hampshire, and after entering the Royal Naval College in November 1816, he served on ships within British waters before joining the crew of his father’s ship HMS Superb in August 1819. The diaries begin with an entry for 9 September 1819: ‘Sailed for South America in HMS Superb. Longeur and Hyperion in company.’

HMS Superb (on the right) engaging with the French flagship Impérial at the Battle of San Domingo in 1806. Painting by Nicholas Pocock, National Maritime Museum

All the diaries are written longhand in lined notepads, with sporadic inclusion of dates and long prose passages that continue over several pages.  It is not long before the reader gains some sense of White’s character and interests. Having caught sight of Tenerife and crossed the Equator, a dolphin is killed for food and the young midshipman writes out some thirty lines on ‘The Dying Dolphin’ by William Falconer – an extract from Canto II of the poem The Shipwreck (1762.) The wording varies in several places from the published text, suggesting that White was quoting the passage from memory. As the diaries proceed, the sailor’s literary interests and skills become increasingly apparent, as does his intellectual curiosity and observant eye.

When the ship arrives in Rio de Janeiro (24 October 1819) he writes a vivid description of the sunset over the harbour, and is soon exploring inland, recording in detail the riding skills, habits and cuisine of the gauchos, or cowboys, of Maldonado (January 1820.) Life here was not without danger – White’s diary notes how ‘The Hon. Lieutenant Finch was basely assassinated when returning from a shooting party,’ (29 August 1820) – but he evidently found much to interest him in the region, from the ‘immense number of sperm whales’ on the voyage to Valparaiso (13 February 1821), to flamingos, condors and other local birdlife (15 September 1821) – indeed he regarded Chile as truly ‘the country for the Poet, the Artist, the Botanist, in fact every lover of nature and her works; at every step he sees something new, he treads on something yet unknown.’ (13 April 1821.) When not exploring South America’s flora and fauna, there was naval work to be done, such as a fortnight’s pursuit of the Chilean pirate Vicente Benavides (5-19 July 1821); although White and his crew failed to find Benavides, he was captured soon after and executed the following February.

The first diary ends in January 1825, by which time White had attained the rank of lieutenant. Later that year, he would be promoted to captain. At the back of the notebook, written in the opposite direction, are almost 100 pages of poems and prose passages, some of which – such as Lines on Botogago Bay, Rio de Janeiro and Admiralty Leave to Tell! A Soliloquy. In the Royal Marine Barrack Yard – appear to be White’s own work. Others have been selected and copied out from books, periodicals and other sources in the manner of a commonplace book, including poems in Greek and Italian, the work of Gabriel Rossetti and Petrarch, an Ode to Lord Byron and some lines from Morning Twilight, by ‘Maria Colling, a servant girl living at Tavistock’. Some of these passages are dated as late as 1845, indicating that the notebooks were reused.

There is more evidence of reuse in the later volumes, with some entries duplicated in different books, indicating that the diaries were copied out at some point. The wording of the two versions is not always identical. Although we only possess six notebooks, these are numbered in pencil as Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and the full extent of the original diaries is unclear. Pencilled dates have been written inside the covers, either by White or a later hand, but these do not always represent the contents accurately. An approximate summary of the actual dates would be thus:

Notebook I    September 1819 – January 1825, with additional material up to 1845
Notebook II   September 1829 – June 1830
Notebook III  August 1830 – September 1834
Notebook IV  February – August 1834, and September 1841
Notebook V   August 1836 – May 1840
Notebook VI  May 1836 to May 1838

Part of White’s account of his visit to the temple on Aegina, December 1829. EUL MS 418/2

Following White’s departure from South America he had a brief stint off the coast of Africa, but most of his subsequent career was spent in the Mediterranean, which is the background to the events recorded in the rest of the diaries. Notebook II chronicles his ship’s constant cruising between Gibraltar, Malta and the coasts of Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Those who imagine that sailors spent their time ashore seeking the pleasures of wine, women and song might be pleasantly surprised to find White and his fellow officers pursuing other interests. Upon reaching the Greek island of Aegina, he writes ‘Let out with ten officers of our ship to visit the remains of the Temple of Jupiter.’ (4 December 1829). This was the famous Temple of Jupiter Panhellenius, which had only recently become known in the west. After an energetic walk across the island, White provides a detailed description of the site as well as recounting the legends about its foundation. It has since been recognised as being dedicated to Aphaius rather than Jupiter.

‘Temples of Jupiter Panhellenius, Aegina’ engraving by William Miller published in H.W. Williams, Select Views In Greece With Classical Illustrations (London, 1829)

He sailed on to Smyrna in modern-day Turkey, where he visited a mosque and commented, ‘There is something particularly impressive in the simple and unostentatious worship of the Mahomedan. No noise, no bustle, no laughing and talking, as is often the case in Christian churches.’ (20 December 1829). On a later visit to Smyrna he enjoyed a Turkish bath, which he also describes in detail (Notebook III, 17 September 1830, see below.) His ship then moored at Parikia on the Greek island of Paros, where he led his fellow officers into the nearby marble quarries ‘in search of antiquities’ (9 January 1830) only to stumble across the famous bas-relief depicting the Festival of Silenus (a companion of Bacchus). A few days later Captain White ‘formed a large party from our ship to explore the celebrated Grotto of Antiparos’ (15 January 1830.) The party’s enthusiasm for seeking out ancient ruins gives some insight into the degree to which their view of the region was highly coloured by knowledge of classical literature and mythology.

White’s account of a Turkish bath in Smyrna, September 1830. EUL MS 418/3

Later entries cover his visits to Siciliy with detailed descriptions of the Cathedral at Grigento, antiquities in the museum at Syracuse and the Benedictine monastery at Catania, pursuing a Spanish privateer off the coast of Gibraltar, sailing to Tangiers and Tétouan on the African coast, a narrow escape during a boar hunt in Tunisia, a description of the Carlist wars in southern Spain, including the brutal murders of the governors of Malaga and the military exploits of General Miguel Gómez Damas and Don Antonio Escalante, plus carrying troops of the 71st and 73rd regiments around Quebec and Halifax. There are interesting passages in which White ponders on the location of Troy, expressing his doubts about the theories of Dr Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) and advancing his own ideas as he examines inscriptions and the terrain around Berika Bay and Bounarbashi (Pınarbaşı in modern Turkey.)

White married in 1847, retired in 1863, and was subsequently promoted to Rear Admiral (1865), Vice Admiral (1871) and Admiral (1877). Returning to Devon, he lived in Ashburton for a while and later at Rockwood Villa off Totnes Road in Newton Abbot, where he died on 29 December 1881 leaving two daughters and a son.

The diaries would be of interest to anyone doing naval or maritime studies, particularly with regard to the Royal Navy, as well as those researching Victorian travel, antiquarianism, amateur archaeology and classical studies, the political and military histories of Spain and Latin America, the Kingdom of Greece, the Ottoman and British empires, early Victorian encounters with Islam and the Orient, the relationship between Britain and its colonies, 19th century memoir-writing and vernacular literature. The local connections are also strong, with the links to Devon and occasional references to the west country. More details about the contents of the diaries can be found in the online catalogue entries here.

Tracing the ‘roots’ of Tree Dressing Day in the Common Ground archive

In December 1990, the arts and environmental charity Common Ground introduced a new annual custom which it called ‘Tree Dressing Day’. ‘Tree Dressing Day’ was envisioned by Common Ground as a day for people to decorate and celebrate trees in their local area. It was to be held on the first weekend of December of each year, neatly coinciding with the already existing National Tree Week. As the first weekend of December 2018 approaches, I delve into the Common Ground archive to find out how it all began…

Promotional material in the archive relating to ‘Tree Dressing Day’

Common Ground started work on its ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’ project in 1986. In a leaflet preserved in the archive, the charity explains the meaning and purpose behind the project:

They [trees] have been our friends through the ages and they have helped us make sense of the world. They are important economically, socially and ecologically and they are deeply part of many cultures. They need our help now, not just in the tropical forests, but here in the street and down the lane…Common Ground’s work around Trees, Woods and the Green Man is trying to give information and ideas to help you to look at the trees around you and think of ways to involve yourself and others in celebrating and caring for them. Make every tree a wanted tree. (Reference: EUL MS 416/PRO/4, File 2.1)

The project resulted in a variety of activities and events, including publications, exhibitions, and artistic commissions. It was also from the ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’ project that the new calendar custom ‘Tree Dressing Day’ emerged.

‘Tree Dressing Day’ files in the Common Ground archive

Early research by Common Ground into the custom of dressing trees revealed that it had existed for centuries in many different forms all around the world. This inspired the charity to launch its own ‘Tree Dressing Day’, providing advice and encouraging people to decorate trees in their neighbourhoods. The first ‘Tree Dressing Day’ was celebrated in 1990, and the custom has proven to be sustainable, with celebrations continuing to the present day. The success of the initiative and Common Ground’s enthusiasm for it are indicated in a report dated February 1993, in which Common Ground writes:

There is excitement among us that we may have begun the reinvention of a tradition in which young and old, professional and amateur, all cultures and places city and country can share. And in which the seeds of the social and public celebration of trees…becomes an easy first step to long term shared commitment and care. (Reference: EUL MS 416/PRO/4, Report on Tree Dressing Day in 1992, File 1.4)

The Common Ground archive contains a significant amount of material relating to ‘Tree Dressing Day’, including correspondence, reports, press releases, photographs, research material, promotional material and press clippings. It even includes some decorations that were used to dress trees! This section of the Common Ground archive will be catalogued in the course of the next two years, making this exciting material much easier to discover and access.

Archivist Annie showing Sue, one of our volunteers, decorations in the Common Ground the archive that were made by the UK Asian Women Conference for ‘Tree Dressing Day’ (c 1992 or 1993)

Find out more about ‘Tree Dressing Day’ on the Common Ground website, which also includes some lovely images.

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online catalogue today? Simply search ‘Common Ground’ or the reference number ‘EUL MS 416’.

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Oil, Pearls and Politics: cataloguing the papers of Charles Dalrymple Belgrave (1894-1969)

Belgrave’s diary for 1917 along with articles on Bahrain written for ‘The Times’ EUL MS 148/2/1/2 and 10

One reason why the papers of Charles Dalrymple Belgrave provide such a fascinating resource is the distinctive nature of his career in the Gulf. Most of the diplomats whose papers are preserved in the Middle East Collections served in specific roles – such as ambassador or political resident – under the British government, and tended to move from place to place every few years. Belgrave was appointed as ‘Adviser’ to the Sheikh of Bahrain in 1926 and held this post until 1957. This thirty-year period saw Bahrain transformed by the discovery of oil and a series of modernising administrative reforms led by Belgrave, who oversaw improvements in the legal system, infrastructure, police service and public health. As he was an employee of the Sheikh rather than the British government, Belgrave occupied a unique and somewhat ambiguous position, balancing the interests of the Al Khalifa rulers and the Bahraini people with Foreign Office policy and British strategic aims for the Gulf region. The papers in our collection shed light not only on the achievements, challenges and controversies of Belgrave’s life and work in Bahrain, but also reveal the means by which the society and economy of this small island altered dramatically during this time, and the role played by British and American interests – both political and commercial.

Pages from Belgrave’s diary for 13 August 1926, recording events in the wake of a fatal shooting at The Fort, the police headquarters. The Political Agent, Major Clive Daly, was badly wounded in the incident – hence the arrival of the cruiser referred to above, which Belgrave clearly regarded as an over-reaction. EUL MS 148/2/2/6/4

Prior to his appointment as Adviser in 1926, Belgrave had obtained experience of the Middle East through military service with the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade during the First World War in Egypt, Sudan and Palestine. He then held administrative posts in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt – recorded in his book Siwa: The oasis of Jupiter Ammon (London: Bodley Head, 1923) and Tanganyika (formerly German East Africa, now part of Tanzania). It was while on leave from East Africa that he saw a job vacancy in the ‘Personal’ adverts of The Times (10 August 1925) – a life-changing moment that gave its name to his autobiography Personal Column (London: Hutchinson, 1960) and also featured in one of Belgrave’s watercolour paintings, a photograph of which is in our collection (EUL MS 148/2/2/4/1).

Having secured the job after interviews with British government officials, Belgrave undertook a three-month Arabic course at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and tried to find out what he could about Bahrain – only to discover that very little information was available. After marrying his fiancée Marjorie Lepel Barrett-Lennard on 27 February 1926, the Belgraves sailed for Bahrain, arriving on 31 March which is when his diary starts.

It should be noted at this point that – with the exception of a few small sections – the diaries we have here are copies and transcripts, rather than the original books (which remain with his family.) The papers in the collection were assembled by Charles’ cousin Robert Belgrave while working on a biography of ‘The Adviser’ that sadly remained unfinished when Robert died in 1991. In addition to the printed versions of the diaries which Robert had transcribed and typed, the collection includes original letters and documents, artwork by Charles Belgrave, printed material on Bahrain, copies of numerous official documents and presscuttings, as well as Robert Belgrave’s early drafts and working papers for the biography.

Copies from a large album of presscuttings chronicling the visit of Sheikh Hamed Bin Isa Al Khalifa, to the UK in June 1936. EUL MS 148/2/2/5

During the cataloguing process I read through Belgrave’s diaries from his arrival in 1926 to the final months of 1956 when his departure was imminent, and was struck by the extent of the changes that took place both in Bahrain and in Belgrave himself. In addition to his duties advising the royal family and steering British policy in the region, he set up the police force, sat in judgement in the law courts, oversaw improvements in the health and education systems on the island and played a key role in supporting the establishment of the petroleum industry in Bahrain after oil was discovered in the early 1930s. He took a hands-on approach to all these activities, taking part in midnight raids on illicit arak stills, interrogating prisoners in the police cells, interviewing applicants for various posts on the island and generally involving himself in the minutiae of everyday life in Bahrain. His personal influence in the region was so extensive that he was referred to not only as المستشار (‘the Adviser’) but also as رئيس الخليج   (‘Chief of the Gulf’).

                   An original page from Belgrave’s diary for 7-8 April 1928 EUL MS 148/2/2/6/4

Despite Belgrave’s heavy workload he was able to make time for leisure activities including playing bridge, reading novels and listening to gramophone records. At times the references to dull dinners, ‘awful people’ and ‘ghastly’ cocktail parties suggest that the constant round of social engagements – integral to his job – could grow tedious. One form of entertainment that does begin to appear more and more regularly in his diary as the years progress is the cinema, which is referred to at the foot of the above letter. Belgrave was able to watch films at a number of different venues, including home movies at the Residency, onboard visiting naval ships and a small theatre in the oil workers’ camp as well as the commercial cinemas that were later established in Manama. Belgrave’s records of how these cinema venues developed provides a fascinating reflection of the changing society in Bahrain, and may be the subject of another blogpost.

Bahrain’s transformation from a small island economy dependent upon pearl fishing into a modern society owes much to Belgrave, who not only managed the island’s administration and controlled its budget, but also took a personal interest in raising standards of education and health, training the police force, establishing hospitals, improving roads and drainage. However, by holding so much power in his own hands and closely aligning Bahrain’s ruling family with British political interests, he made himself a target for the growing nationalist ferment which manifested itself in a series of demonstrations, several of which turned violent and involved the burning of cars and buildings.

These events, and Belgrave’s response to them, are recorded in detail in his diaries, alongside his concerns about intrigue involving Persia and Egypt, and his personal frustration not only with the Foreign Office but also the attitudes of some of the Political Residents – over a dozen of whom came and went during his time there. It is instructive to compare his analysis of political events in Bahrain with the (often critical) confidential reports (EUL MS 148/2/1/3 and MS 148/2/1/5) written by British and American officials – a picture that could be further fleshed out by consulting the views of his opponents, as published in local newspapers and tracts, and the openly hostile opinions of his role found in the Egyptian and Iranian media. Another perspective on the rise of nationalism and the decline of British influence in the Middle East can be traced through the papers of Sir William Luce, who arrived in Bahrain as Political Resident in 1961, four years after Belgrave’s departure, and was instrumental in Bahrain becoming an independent state in 1971. In his diaries for 1956, Belgrave notes the appointment of a new Governor in Aden (Luce) and comments on the troubles there, which in many ways echoed the unrest in Bahrain at the time.

Documents and presscuttings relating to the trial of Abdul-Rahman Al-Bakir, Abdul-Aziz Al-Shamlan and others. EUL MS 148/2/1/7 and 8.

The nationalist movement in Bahrain was led by a small group of individuals who called themselves the Higher Executive Committee, (later the National Union Committee), and made Belgrave’s life increasingly difficult in later years. In November 1956 he had the leaders arrested following a number of deaths and injuries during riots that he claimed had been instigated by the Committee. The trial and conviction that followed caused controversy both in Bahrain and the UK – these events are documented at length in various materials that can be studied in the collection.

Although Bahrain never formed part of the British Empire, during the nineteenth century the ruling Al Khalifa family entered into a series of legal treaties that offered Britain a degree of control over defence and foreign relations in exchange for military and naval protection from pirates and hostile neighbours. As a British Protectorate, Bahrain was nominally independent but effectively supervised by British government officials. Control was exercised by means both subtle and unsubtle, and when the erratic behaviour of the ruler Sheikh Isa ibn Ali Al Khalifa threatened the island’s stability, the British had him deposed in 1923 and replaced with his son Hamed, Belgrave’s employer. After Hamed’s death in 1942 he was succeeded by his son Sheikh Salman, for whom Belgrave continued to advise and govern. Modern readers may find it hard to justify the moral compromises involved in balancing Britain’s vested interests in oil revenues and foreign influence with the authoritarian and feudal nature of Bahrain’s sheikhdom, but the papers in Belgrave’s collection reveal how those engaged in this policy understood their role and perceived the value of their actions.

Demands for ‘The Adviser’ to leave had been circulating for years and were steadfastly resisted by Belgrave, but his position became more and more untenable as the political turmoil in the Middle East during the 1950s was worsened by the disastrous impact of the Suez crisis. There is evidence that the Political Resident, Bernard Burrows, along with the Political Agent Charles Gault and various individuals in the Foreign Office were manoeuvring in the background to have him removed. When Belgrave eventually left Bahrain it was arguably too late, as his refusal to go had only hardened resentment against him as a symbol of British imperialism. In consequence, Bahraini historians – if not exactly airbrushing Belgrave out – tended to minimize the extent of his contribution. While his diaries provide ample evidence of just how much he did for Bahrain, these personal writings also reveal the prejudices and attitudes that were typical of colonial administrators at this period. Those seeking to understand the history of modern Bahrain, the influence of British strategy in the Gulf region, the relationship between Middle Eastern politics and the petroleum industry, or how nationalist movements flourished on regional, national and international levels, would find much of interest by reading Belgrave’s diaries in conjunction with other documents among his papers, as well as other materials in our Middle Eastern collections and the rich resources held next door in AWDU. The catalogue for the papers can be found online here, but please note there are special access requirements for the Belgrave collection.

#LoveTheatreDay 2018

It’s Love Theatre Day and what better way to celebrate than delving into the Northcott Theatre archives…

In December 2007 the Northcott was about to re-open after a 2.1 million pound refurbishment when it was hit with a blow out of the blue: the Arts Council had recommended that it’s £547,000 funding package be withdrawn. Without this money the Northcott faced potentially having to close it’s doors not long after re-opening them.

 

In reaction to the news the theatre staff, local politicians, community groups, schools and the residents of Exeter and it’s surrounding towns mounted a ‘Save the Northcott’ campaign to show how much they loved their theatre and to persuade the Arts Council to reverse it’s decision. The records from the campaign are a poignant display of the theatre’s loyal audience: petitions comprising a total of more than 17,000 names were collected, along with hundreds of letters and emails written in support of the theatre. Theatre-goers from all over Devon, and many from further abroad, voiced their personal connections to the theatre, their support for it’s writing and acting talent, and their worry that one of the few professional theatres in Devon would be lost.

 

Living in Newtown Ward myself, I was particularly pleased to see a letter from Richard Branston, councillor for Newtown ward, to the chair of the Arts Council enclosing a petition which all but 12 of the ward’s residents had signed. A turnout of 99%. Local schools and community groups that worked with the theatre also collected their own petitions, with one group assembling a book in which 630 young children signed their names on stickers in support of the theatre. My favourite item in this part of the collection however, has to be a tree assembled out of leaves on which people have written what the Northcott means to them. A striking visual representation of the support for the theatre.

Though the Northcott Theatre has faced a number of challenges in it’s fifty years of productions it is clear from the collection that it has loyal supporters in it’s theatre-goers. Love Theatre Day is the perfect day to celebrate both the Northcott Theatre and those who love it; the theatre-goers of Devon.