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Modules/Workshops (16)

The workshops are free and open to all. We meet every Monday, 6-8pm in Liverpool John Moores University’s Aldham Robarts Library, Maryland Street, L1 9DE (off HopeStreet).

Blog created and written by Mike Morris & Tony Wailey, based upon a series of introductions by Tony Wailey to the George Garrett Archive course.

Module Four - Workshop Four

The Subterranean Theatre 1918-1955. The Writer as Historian. 1945 – 1955.

Tony opened tonight’s session by referring to an interview we filmed with George’s two remaining sons, Roy and Derek (for future broadcast in the short film we are making about George Garrett). Towards the end of the interview I asked them if they ever felt, or got the impression, that George was disappointed by life. Their response was emphatically ‘No’. They said he always had a song, he had his faith and he had his family. But what, Tony asked, did they mean by this?

Alan O’Toole, in his as yet unpublished monograph on George, makes the point that more space should be given to that form of libertarian socialist, the anarcho – collective endeavour, and the pursuit of justice by individual radicals. He argues that this strand of left-wing radicals, this way of thinking, which applies to George Garrett, has been washed over by the tendency to look at radical history through the lens of the Communist Party and organised Labour generally.

All too often activists who fell out, for example, with the CP, became bitter, or even reactionary. Jack Carney, a radical from Widnes, who like George sailed to America and became an activist, became so jaundiced with the communism that he ended up working with the CIA, campaigning for ‘free’ trades unions. Jack Braddock, who in his early days as a Communist was what we may now term ‘ultra-left’, went over to the right at a pace of knots after WW2.


Module Four - Workshop Three

The Subterranean Theatre 1918-1955. The Writer as Activist 1926-1939.

In the later 1930’s George, although working on his own writing, still sees the role of the artist in a more collective way. We know in this period, from the letters exchanged between George and the editor of The Left Review, John Lehmann, that George is writing copiously. In this moment, when all of his short stories are published between 1934 and 1937, that he is at the top of his game. But this burst of activity, when he is writing during a long, long period of unemployment, takes its toll, and is finally cut short in 1937 when he suffers what appears to be a breakdown. He spends, in his own words, four weeks in hospital, ‘half-lunatic’.

The success of having his short stories published brings him offers of work; the writer, jack Common, invites him to contribute to a ‘Seven shifts’, a book of working class writers exploring and documenting their working lives, and Tom Harrisson, the founder of the Mass Observation movement, offers him a salary to become one of their writers. George’s piece for ‘Seven shifts’ was torn up by one of his baby sons, after he turned his back with three thousand words complete, and he was unable to complete it. Likewise, he refused the offer from Tom Harrisson. In the workshop Tony speculated upon the reasons for George turning down what appears to be the chance of a lifetime, to finally be paid to do what he loves doing most; to write.


Module Four - Workshop Two

The Subterranean Theatre 1918-1955. A Playwright in the Shadows, a Deportee Lying Low. 1922-1926.

In 1923, after the National Hunger Marchers have reached London, rallying for a mass demonstration at Trafalgar Square, and have subsequently been ignored by the new tory Prime Minister, Bonar Law, George realises that Liverpool, even though they have forced the Guardians to increase the rates of relief, holds little for him. Blacklisted for his activities, he’s certain to be at the back of the queue for any jobs that may be available. With the agreement of his wife Grace, he makes his way to Southampton and on to New York aboard The Homeric.

In New York he is lying low, living as George Oswald James, he works at any job he can to make a living, including in a brewery (during prohibition) and as a janitor in a Police Station. But he’s not complaining, as this also offers him the opportunity to mix with other writers, with actors, immerse himself in the work of Eugene O’Neill, Ibsen and Strindberg, and most importantly, spend time on his own writing.


Module Four - Workshop One

The Subterranean Theatre 1918-1955. The Writer as a Jaunty Radical Seaman. 1918-1920

This module will act as both a recap on aspects of the earlier modules, revisiting some of our previous discussions as a reminder of the context of the times George lived through, and will also allow us to take a longer, deeper look at various aspects of George’s writings – his plays, short stories and reportage, and discuss the themes he explores throughout his work.
Introducing the workshop, Tony Wailey quoted the poet Stephen Spender, who, when writing about the Spanish Civil War said, ‘Never was there a time when justice was so central, nowhere easier to judge right from wrong than in the conflict in Spain.’ Paraphrasing WH Auden’s poem, Spain, Tony talked of the hope, imagining a time after a Republican victory when they could ‘Take bike rides in the suburbs, under liberties masterful shadow’. Writers like Hemingway, writing in The Spanish Conflict, saw Spain from an America viewpoint, urging the US to intervene.
Artists were hugely engaged in the civil war, as were leading working class activists. Industrial areas and ports played a major role in sending volunteers to join the International Brigades – The South Wales Coalfields, Glasgow and Liverpool in particular.
Less than ten per cent of the volunteers are married men. George, now 42 and with a family of five boys, stays at home and fights the battle for Spain from Liverpool. He helps found The Left Theatre, which later joins a national theatre movement and becomes Merseyside Unity Theatre. There has been an opening for George’s writing; between 1934 and 1937 thirteen of his short stories are published in new Writing and The Adelphi Magazine.

Module Three - Workshop Four

On The Parish. 1937 – 1939. From Popular Front to Another War.

For this, the final workshop of our third module, and the last meeting of the group before Xmas, we looked at the period of George’s life from the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War through to the beginning of the Second World War. A tumultuous time, which saw George respond, in classic George Garrett style, through his writing and his personal, social and political activities, to the events he was living through.
Although poverty and unemployment was still endemic throughout the late 1930’s, there were the signs of some improvement on a number of fronts. The ‘Stand Still’ act of 1935, won on the back of the consistent unemployed demonstrations, marches and crusades of the 1920’s and early 1930’s,  a ensured no further cuts in benefits. The parochial councils, ‘The Parish’, had shown themselves incapable with dealing with mass unemployment and the paying of benefits, which were disparate across the country anyway, and as this was taken under state control, so too the state began to offer support to local councils (corporations), particularly in the area of housing. Alongside the rise in available and affordable private housing, a building programme was under way which saw the development of tenements and Gardens, such as Gerrard Gardens in Liverpool, leading to a rise of families in rented accommodation from 1% in 1914 to 14% in 1939. Slum clearances were underway, something commented upon by George Orwell, who George Garrett took round a number of the new developments in Liverpool when Orwell was researching ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’.
In his diaries, Orwell, ‘was impressed by the fact that Liverpool is doing much more In the way of slum-clearance than most towns. The slums are still very bad but there are great quantities of Corporation houses and flats at low rents.’ He comments upon the developing new towns outside of Liverpool ‘consisting almost entirely of Corporation houses, which are really quite livable and decent to look at’, and finishes by noting how there is no tradition of wearing clogs and a shawl over head in Liverpool – ‘how abruptly this custom stops a little west of Wigan’.

Module Three - Workshop Three

On The Parish. 1934 – 1937. The Writer as Historian and Dramatist.

 Christopher Hilliard: To Exercise Our Talents, P.105

In introducing this, the eleventh workshop of the George Garrett Archive course, Tony Wailey, in situating and contextualising George Garrett and his work, opened by reflecting back on the previous workshop where we discussed the great slump, the great depression and the 1929 crash. Because of the level of need displayed through mass unemployment, and as a results of the protests against both that and the poor levels of maintenance generally provided by the poor-law parish guardians, there was more state assistance available to the unemployed. But, the sheer length of the recession and the recession meant that a whole generation had grown up with mass unemployment as a permanent feature of their life. For many, Garrett included, ten years could pass with little more than a week or two of casual work to be had. As an interesting contrast to this back ground, Tony quoted from Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century. 1914-1991’:


Module Three - Workshop Two

On The Parish. 1926 – 1939. From Seaman to Writer to Advocate.

In a continuation of a landmark series of introductions, both discussing and contextualising George Garrett’s life and work, Tony Wailey this week began by exploring how extreme financial dogmatism permeated the period of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Nowhere is this seen better than the great crash of 1929, which draws the world into its vortex. Britain had returned to the Gold Standard of 1913 in the hope it would return the country to pre-war prosperity. Wall Street crashes under a surfeit of credit. In 1932 an incredible 50% of mortgages were broken. Out of the country’s debt of $6.5bn $1.9bn was on motor cars. In the US everything had been put on the consumer boom, white goods and cars – consumer durables.


Module Three - Workshop One

On The Parish. The General Strike to another War 1926-1930

George arrives back in Liverpool at the end of the General Strike, to witness ‘Strikers and Policemen playing football together’, a metaphor for everything now being ‘boxed-off’ inpreparation for a return to normal conditions. What he returns to is a country with a deep residue of Imperialism running through it. The General Strike wasn’t wanted by the ruling class, nor by the union leadership, one of whom commented that he ‘feared the working class more than the capitalist class.’

The Government had returned the country to the gold standard of 1913, hoping to hark back to the pre-war days of prosperity. It had a catastrophic effect upon British industry. Business wanted wage cuts for it to be able to survive. The wage cuts in the mining industry led to a major strike of the miners. This led directly to the calling of the General Strike.


Module Two - Workshop Four

Last years in the States. A Playwright Amongst Stokers. 1924-26.

It’s a question of identity. How did George travel from the image of his early days as a Stoker, or even from the  ‘Coney Island Boy’ of 1919, to the image taken when he enters the States, for the second time, in 1923, when he appears to have modelled himself upon the writers of the day, going by the name George Oswald James?
Who was George Oswald James? That’s an open question. The issues really is about where were the influences coming from that he was absorbing; and the answer to that, as we discussed before, lies in the plays of the new radical, Eugene O’Neill, with Far Horizon, Anna Christie and The Hairy Ape. It seems likely that George has already written, or begun writing, his short stories. The Irish tramp writer, Jim Phelan, who first met Garrett (or Joe Jarrett as he refers to him in ‘The Name’s Phelan’) in New Orleans, talks about how Garrett already referred to himself as a writer. It’s most likely, with stories already in his bag, that Garrett’s head was turned by the new drama pouring forth from New York, which would have chimed well with his ‘Wobbly’ sensibilities of mixing theatre and song with a radical message.
Garrett is in New York and needs to earn money. In the middle of the prohibition era (1920-33) he works in a brewery; While seemingly living under the radar he takes a job as a janitor in a Police Station. He lives on East 42nd Street, a bohemian time. The age of prohibition is also the age of the mobster. Like a real life Zelig, he’s even on hand to witness the aftermath of the murder of the legendary boxer ‘Battling Siki’.
During his time in New York there is a major world-wide strike of British shipping. The strike was provoked by a union-imposed wage cut. Seamen, realising they couldn’t walk off at home, who now had to apply for a 'PC5 system' which allowed the Shipping Federation and the union to decide who could work on the ships, began to walk off ships in ports across the world outside of the UK – New York, Montreal, New Zealand, Auckland, etc. A strike against Empire.


Module Two - Workshop Three

George Oswald James. 1922 – 24.

With the 1922 Hunger March over, George realises his prospects in Liverpool are no better. Leader of the unemployed demonstrations, arrested as one of the leaders at the walker Art Gallery ‘riots’ in Liverpool; George knows his name will be first among equals on the blacklist. With a growing young family to provide he heads to Southampton, gets work on the Homeric, and sails once again for his beloved New York. But this is a different George Garrett than the one who sailed before. He’s not just sailing for money, he’s leaving Liverpool to find some space to write. He boards the Homeric as George Garrett and alights in New York as George Oswald James; just one of the many pseudonyms he used throughout his life.

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