Category Archives: History

The Wit and Wisdom of Malcolm Redfellow, MA (TCD) #92

I wouldn’t want this one to go missing.

I was accused by a poster on politics.ie (roc_: patently no relation to the more famed Ross O’Carroll-Kelly) of misusing the word ‘an-historical’:

I’m assuming you mean ahistorical not an-historical which isn’t even a word.

So here’s the response:

Both variants are well-attested, by the Oxford English Dictionary, no less. Both are twentieth-century formulations. WH Auden (later in his career, Nones in 1952), has:

Their a-historic​
Antipathy forever gripes​
All ages and somatic types.​

As always, with Auden, I find myself muttering, “Yer wot, Gov?” Instructive — isn’t it? — that Auden felt it an awkward word which needed hyphenation.

So which of the two variants trips easier off the tongue? Auden’s hyphen is an awful warning. Which is more understandable, when there lurks the possible miscue of ‘a historical account’ and ‘ahistorical account’?

The version I prefer is that of The Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Neither of which felt the need to hyphenate, I admit.

So approach it logically.

‘History’ is from Greek, ἱστορία, via Late Latin and French. There was a perfectly good Old English term, gerećednis, so blame the Romance word on those pesky ecclesiastics. But notice the aspirated initial ἱ (iota). So when we stick on the prefix ἀν- we have regard to that aspirated iota. As the OED also says:

Etymology: < ancient Greek ἀν- (privative) not, without, wanting (only occurring before a vowel, including aspirated vowels; before a consonant as ἀ- …).​

And the moral of this instructive tale is, if one seeks to teach this Grandad to suck eggs, be aware he has a classical TCD education, and he prefers his eggs, like his detective fiction, ‘hard-boiled’.

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Filed under History, politics.ie, Trinity College Dublin

‘The Despard conspiracy’

I wasn’t greatly enthused by first sight of the current issue of The Times Literary Supplement. The cover seemed to promise all things feminist and African. Within, though, are two reviews of history books. Both have, if looked at properly, Irish implications. We’ll perhaps come to the second later.

The first (page 26) is a review by Professor Marianne Elliott. If that name doesn’t ring bells, it should. She is one of those scholars who created at Liverpool University the highly-influential Institute of Irish Studies. Here she is taking large lumps out of Peter Linebaugh’s Red Round Globe Hot Burning — A Tale at the Crossroads of Commons and Closure, of Love and Terror, of Race and Class, and of Kate and Ned Despard. That ponderous title alone suggests something OTT, more Mills and Boon than product of a respectable academic press. The book seems to be account of the lives of

Edward Marcus Despard and his Jamaican wife Catherine, daughter of a freed slave. Despard was a minor member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, whose career in the British army had takeneito Jamaica, Nicaragua and, in 1786, to British Honduras, as its military superintendent. In Central America he took up the cause of the indigenous people and fell foul of the Baymen, or loggers. Recalled to England in 1790, he became involved with the English and Irish “underground”, was twice arrested, and executed inLondon in 1803 for his part in the so-called Despard Conspiracy (allegedly to overthrow the British government).​

On the basis of this review I shall not be rushing to buy the book.

And yet … ‘the Despard Conspiracy’. I had an echo lodged in a disused braincell, but I needed a refresher.

The Oxford Companion to Irish History is no great help:

Despard, Col. Edward Marcus (1751-1803), born in Queen’s County, a naval hero executed 21 February 1803 for an alleged revolutionary conspiracy in London. His activities, long dismissed as a wild personal venture, are now seen as part of the clandestine plotting still kept up, despite defeat in the insurrection of 1798, by the United Irishmen and their radical allies in Great Britain, with possible links to Robert Emmett’s venture later the same year.​

It is unsigned. That, to me, feels little more than a place-marker, waiting to be amplified by developing scholarship. Which may explain why, although I must have heard of the ‘Despard Conspiracy’, I wasn’t up to speed.

The DNB doesn’t quite concur with Professor Elliott:

In June 1786 Despard took up an appointment as superintendent of Honduras. Though he handled relations with the Spanish authorities well he was notably less adept as a civilian governor. His unswerving support for settlers displaced from territories recently ceded to Spain (many of whom he knew from San Juan and the Black River) led him into repeated conflict with the established British settler community, who complained repeatedly to London of his ‘visible Spirit of Self-importance and uncontrollable Domination’ (TNA: PRO, CO 123/6, 21 Feb 1788). Events culminated in his annulment (June 1789) of the colony’s police and magistracy; Despard ruled by direct decree until, suspended on half pay, he was ordered to return to Britain, where he arrived in May 1790, accompanied by his African–Caribbean wife, Catherine, and their son James.​

What comes before and after that DNB snippet is interesting.

There is a link to his older brother, John Despard, another of the colonial administrators who sprang from the lower echelons of the Ascendancy class, and rose through army connections. Much of John’s service had been in the American campaigns, and he was duly rewarded with O/C the Cape Breton colony. Time and circumstances put him running the reception committee for 25,000 Scots evicted by the Highland Clearances.

Caribbean daring-do

From the DNB we find Edward Marcus as an engineer with Nelson, capturing Fort San Juan (1779) from the Spanish (annepisode plundered by CS Forester for Hornblower) , running the occupation of Roatan and the Honduran island (1781), at the defence of Jamaica against the Franco-Spanish assault (1782). Then something of interest:

Despard headed an expedition of Jamaican settlers, assisted by British artillery, to recapture Spanish-occupied Black River territory in south-western Jamaica. For this he received royal commendation and was made a colonel of provincials.​
​In June 1786 Despard took up an appointment as superintendent of Honduras.

As if someone higher up has spotted Despard ‘deals well with the locals’.

Back in Britain, after the Honduran problem:

Despard had to wait until October 1791 to learn that, while complaints against him were dismissed, he was not to be reinstated as superintendent of Honduras. In pursuit of compensation he grew increasingly irascible, while the combination of enforced idleness and grievance against authority led him to both the London Corresponding Society and the overtly revolutionary United Irishmen (UI). He quickly became an intimate of the leading United Irishman and French secret agent William Duckett and in 1797 was reported to be co-ordinator of a proposed rising in London planned to coincide with one in Ireland and a French landing there. In 1798 Despard was pivotal in negotiations between the United Irishmen and a broader conspiratorial group, the United Britons, to foment simultaneous English and Irish risings to assist a French invasion. When O’Connor and O’Coighley, the principal leaders of the conspiracy, were apprehended in February, while hiring a boat to take them to France, habeas corpus was suspended and further arrests followed. Despard’s was predictably among them.​
​Despard seems to have been aware that the revolutionary threat had been contained by the government when, in June 1799, he petitioned for his release in return for voluntary transportation. Among political prisoners at this time he seems to have received the harshest treatment—’more like a common vagabond than a gentleman or State Prisoner’, complained his wife, Catherine (TNA: PRO, HO 42/43)—and Sir Francis Burdett made Despard’s case the centre of a campaign against the ‘English Bastille’.​

Alas! At that single bound our hero was not yet free.

He retreated to the family stamping ground at Camross, seemingly convinced to stay out of politicking. But, get this:

… in February 1802 he returned to London at the behest of the UI leader William Dowdall. After the collapse of the Irish rising of 1798 the United Irishmen had reconstituted itself as a small, centralized military body. Though Britain was now at peace with France food shortages and industrial unrest created a climate in which talk of revolution flourished. Despard now concentrated on enlisting the support of militant Irish labourers and guardsmen stationed in Windsor and London but intelligence sources also show him to have been in contact with Irish and French emissaries during the summer. Disaffected guardsmen tried to force the issue with a rising on 6 September but Despard restrained them, arguing that such action could be effective only if it coincided with an Irish rising and a French invasion; but then, on 16 November, Despard was arrested at the Oakly Arms, Lambeth, apparently planning a coup d’état to coincide with the opening of parliament later that month.​

Much of that sounds remarkably familiar. In the subsequent trial, the prosecution pulled its punches, reluctant to reveal the sources of intelligence, and particularly protective of any evidence against:

a significant number of London Jacobins in the conspiracy, of whom the motley dozen soldiers and workmen tried with Despard were far from typical.​

Instead Despard was depicted as:

a psychotic maverick who had enticed a small band of unfortunates into supporting a futile plot.​

That was when synapses closed; and I realised where Despard had appeared in my past reading. He gets incidental references in EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

The rest of Despard’s story follows a predictable pattern:

… the only incriminating evidence found at his arrest was a printed card calling for ‘the independence of Great Britain and Ireland. An equalization of Civil, Political, and Religious Rights; [and] an ample Provision for the families of the Heroes who shall fall in the contest’. An oath of allegiance to the United Britons was appended. Identical cards circulated in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Such points led Edward Thompson to argue, in The Making of the English Working Class (1963), that Despard was the leader of a nationwide revolutionary conspiracy […] His arrest was simply an opportunist move by a government acting on fragmentary evidence.​

As far as I can see, that is how the notion of an overarching plot, led by Despard, remained current. Though Marianne Elliott (I now see) made an earlier effort at resurrecting Despard’s memory in her Partners in revolution: the United Irishmen and France.

Despard’s defence was circumspect, wishing perhaps not to incriminate others but also aware that the prosecution case was uneven. He enjoyed wide popularity and Nelson himself gave evidence as to his good character: ‘no man could have shewn more zealous attachment to his Sovereign and his Country’. Though finding him guilty the jury recommended mercy ‘on account of his former services’. The government, however, was not inclined to clemency. Whatever the truth of the conspiracy an exemplary verdict had been secured and punishment was enacted accordingly. On 21 February 1803, having taken leave of his wife and refusing all religious consolation, Despard was drawn on a hurdle to the Surrey county gaol, Newington, where, before a crowd reportedly of 20,000, he delivered from the scaffold a speech that was loudly cheered. Along with six co-conspirators he was hanged and his corpse decapitated, whereupon the executioner held up the head, declaring: ‘This is the head of a traitor’. His widow received the remains, which on 1 March were buried in the churchyard by St Paul’s Cathedral.​
In my humble opinion Edward Despard is another victim of the nationalist struggle:
  • Is there any Irish memorial of him, or to him?
  • Perhaps I should take time out to trace any genealogical link between him and Charlotte Despard ((1844-1939, née French), the pacifist, socialist, suffragette, and Irish nationalist, sister of Sir John French, through her husband, Maximilian Carden Despard (1839–1890).

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Plodding along: Great Journeys #1

This was prompted by Alphonse , on politics.ie, posting Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s map.  It is ‘son of Codding abouton the same channel:

humphreygilbertmap.jpg

The hero of this hour ought to be David Ingram. But let me start with the begetter of that map (and a chance for rude raspberries all round) …

(Sir) Humphrey Gilbert
After Eton and Oxford, Humph was at a loose-end. Fortunately his aunt was Katherine ‘Kat’ Ashley, the Princess Elizabeth’s governess at Hatfield. The family connection brought Gilbert into the household. That would be around 1554-5. In 1558 the Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne, and Kat Ashby became First Lady of the Bedchamber. Gilbert was again twiddling his fingers, so did what every idling toff does, and buzzed off to the Inns of Court to become a lawyer.

That achieved, Gilbert took to a bit of soldiering, with the Newhaven expedition (1562-3), to assist the Huguenots of France. He received a good reference from the commanding officer, the earl of Warwick.

More significantly, in 1562 Gilbert was at Le Havre with:

  • Richard Eden (translator of several Spanish writings on naval voyages) and
  • Thomas ‘the Lusty’ Stukley (a double-, if not triple-agent, who had served in France, and had come up with a plan to plant Florida).
Through these associates, Gilbert met with:
All of which set Gilbert to musing, if the Frogs could do it, why not the bold and doughty English.
Around this time the Muscovy Company (which had ambitions for a North-East passage to the Far East), was running into problems. The Russians were none too happy about a one-sided arrangement (which looked like frustrating a land route to the Far East), and Stephen Borough‘s attempts to find a way around the Artic route had run into the ice.
The alternative was to find  a North-West Passage. This appealed to Humphrey Gilbert (that Cartier connection), so he started drafting his proposal in Discourse of a Discoverie for a New Passage to Cataia (though this wouldn’t be published for another decade).

The Irish business

A bit of ‘time out’ is necessary here.

The revolt of Shane O’Neill was giving Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney severe conniptions, so our Humphrey was off to aid and assist.

Once O’Neill had been assassinated, Gilbert put his mind to plantations, particularly a plan with Sir Warham St Leger to settle Munster. Gilbert then found himself colonel, and military governor of Munster, suppressing the rising of James fitz Maurice Fitzgerald. This is where Gilbert earns his rightful place in the recital of MOPEry. Thomas Churchyard’s A general rehearsall of warres recorded, approvingly, Gilbert’s way of winning hearts and minds:

His manner was that the heads of all those (of what sort soever they were) which were killed in the day, should be cut off from their bodies, and brought to the place where he encamped at night, and should there be laid on the ground, by each side of the way leading to his own tent, so that none could come unto his tent for any cause, but commonly he must pass through a lane of heads, which he used ad terrorem, the dead feeling nothing the more pains thereby, and yet did it bring great terror to the people, when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk and friends, lie on the ground before their faces, as they came to speak with the said colonel.​

The Lord Deputy knighted Gilbert for that service. A beneficial marriage to a landed Kentish heiress, Anne Ager, or Aucher ensued.

Colonisation
Allow me to get back on track, by leaping a few years.

By 1577-78 Gilbert was using his Court friends to launch schemes to annoy the King of Spayne. He aimed to destroy the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets working the Newfoundland Banks, and he received Letters Patent to search out and possess remote heathen and barbarous landes.

His first attempt, setting out in November 1578 came adrift. He fell out with his co-mate, Henry Knollys (another dodgy bloke), who promptly tried to get advantage. The result was Gilbert back in port with a bedraggled expedition within months. Gilbert was then instructed to use his ships to patrol the Munster coast: he ‘forgot’ to pay his sailors, who upped-and-offed with two of his vessels, making another hole in Anne Ager’s marriage portion.

By late 1582 Gilbert had put together a speculative proposition for a second effort. On 11 June 1583 his five ships (one of which was The Golden Hind) left Plymouth, Gilbert waved his Letters Patent at the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets, and reached St John’s on 3 August. Gilbert then claimed the harbour and two hundred leagues in all directions for Queen Elizabeth.

Three weeks later Gilbert with three ships headed south (there is some evidence that Gilbert had always set his eyes on the Caribbean). One of his ships was wrecked, and the remaining two crews had had enough, and decided to return home. On 9 September Gilbert was caught in an Atlantic storm, and was lost at sea. End of that story.

The amazing Ingram
The above account, however rudimentary, suggests several attractions for the Newfoundland venture:

  • English settlements in the New World were a fashionable topic in Elizabethan England. The all-purpose Dr John Dee was a particular propagandist;
  • the Newfoundland Banks, and the cod, were a very promising resource;
  • it was off the beaten track for the Spanish, so less chance of small English ships being caught by a massive Hispanic galleon (see below for that eventuality);
  • the French were already on the spot, and poking a rough stick at that lot was ever good english practice;
  • St John’s (latitude 47°33′) is close to a rhumb line from the west of Britain (Bristol is 51°45′). Until John Harrison had his chronometers working (and that’s two centuries after Gilbert & co.), longitude was problematic.

There was one more factor, which brings me back to the extraordinary story of Barking-boy David Ingram.  Were his traveller’s tale not verified by others, this could be another wild fantasy. There’s a far more detailed essay, by Charlton Ogburn, here.

Ingram had been with John Hawkins and Francis Drake in scourging the Spanish trade in the Caribbean. Hawkins took his six vessels to revictual at San Juan de Ulúa (think Veracruz). Alas! The annual flotilla, thirteen great ships, dropped in soon after, with the new Viceroy of Mexico, Don Martín Enríquez de Almanza, on board. Despite initial negotiations, Martín suddenly broke any agreement, and a one-sided battle ensued. Only two of Hawkins’s ships escaped.

Heavily overburdened, Hawkins unloaded the excess ‘self-loading freight’ on the Texas coast. This group aimed to head north. Ingram and two companions, named as Brown and Twyde, apparently hiked all the way to Cape Breton. Which, if true, would be the earliest exploration of the Atlantic coast.

That’s all in 1568. Only in 1582 was Ingram was interrogated by Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth’s ‘M’) and Sir George Peckham (that’s the Gilbert link). Much of Ingram’s story, which was published in 1583, stretches the imagination, and Ogburn’s essay treats it as Walsingham’s propaganda. John Toohey for The Public Domain Review was able to find parallels, and is far more positive than the sceptical Ogburn. Hakluyt included Ingam’s tale in his first edition (1589), but not the second (1598) — which might be taken as dismissive.

Challenge
I’ll stake a claim to David Ingram as ‘Impossible Journey #1’.

I welcome others to suggest stories that beat it. But I have a couple already in mind.

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Filed under History, Ireland, travel

A story of a book

Here’s where this started:

Oxfam Books in York’s Petergate has just received a going-over, and is in the state of fresh-paint-smell that royals must think is the usual when visiting the wider world.

Michael Joseph put this one out in 1941. The cover shows mottling. The paper is a bit on the war-time crude side, but shows little sign of ‘foxing’. I could replace the falling-apart paper-back copy that has followed my house-removals over the years; except, when I look up, I find I must have discarded that one a while ago.

By 1941 Forester already had the first three Hornblower novels behind him — which made it a full score of previously published works. He was among the pantheon of fictionists. In a way, then, The Captain from Connecticut, is almost a pot-boiler.

Enter spooks

From 1941, the British Information Service at Rockefeller Plaza, NYC, was a branch of the British Consulate, and at root a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foreign Office. Its business wasn’t quite disinformation: such would be crude propaganda. The aim was ‘nudging’ American opinion in Britain’s favour.

At first, the output was high-minded: T.S.Eliot was induced to maunder on at length, generating Defence of the Islands.

Jan Stuther had been writing Mrs Miniver for the London Times since 1937 — the life and times of a upper middle-class lady in a period of turmoil. The column evolved into a 1940 novel (about the Miniver family in the opening months of the War). The novel went into the New York Times best-sellers list, and was snapped up for William Wylder’s 1942 movie, which was saved from sentimental mawkishness by Greer Garson as the title character.

More soft-soap from Helen MacInnes and Above Suspicion. It is 1939: an Oxford academic and his wife are off for a continental holiday. They are induced by British intelligence to carry messages to an anti-Nazi agent. The couple are then pursued across Europe by the evil enemy. The sub-text is Helen MacInnes was also Mrs Highet. Gilbert Highet taught at Columbia University, and was extremely close to MI6.

Forester

Also on the plantation was CS Forester. He had come to America when Warner Bros. had commissioned him to turn Hornblower into a screen-play. At the outbreak of War, Forester left California for home to ‘do his bit’ — to be told by the Ministry of Information to get back again.

Forester was also a newspaperman, immensely bumptious over his reporting as a London Times correspondent on the Spanish Civil War, and on the take-over of Czechoslovakia. This gave Forester an ‘in’ to the American magazine market, for which he churned out a steady out-pouring of uplifting pieces.

That is where we should place The Captain from Connecticut. Anyone who reads it (as I am re-reading) would instantly spot the overlaps with The Happy Return, a.k.a. Beat to Quarters, the third (published 1937) of the original Hornblower sequence. Hornblower had his Lady Barbara Wellesley; Josiah Peabody has his exotic Mlle. Anne de Breuil.

Only connect

Roald Dahl’s active service ended in crashing his Hurricane in the Western Desert (the autobiographic account in Going Solo should not be trusted further than it can be thrown). He was posted to the Air Mission in Washington,  we can presume as a come-on for the ladies of the diplomatic circuit.

Three days after his arrival, still not sure what he was meant to be doing, Dahl found Forester on the other side of his desk. Forester wanted Dahl’s account of the crash, as raw material for another article. The two adjourned for an extended lunch at a restaurant near the Mayflower Hotel. Somehow Forester didn’t get the material he needed, and Dahl lost track. Dahl apologised for his vagueness, and offered to send some notes later.

What Dahl turned out was a complete account of a heroic crash, totally fictionalised, which he had the Embassy type up under the title A Piece of Cake. This he sent off to Forester. Forester forwarded the piece to his literary agent, Harold Matson. Matson  submitted it to The Saturday Evening Post. The Post liked it, to the tune of $1,000 (from which Matson deducted his easily-earned 10%). The Post then changed the RAF slang title to the more prosaic Shot Down over Libya, and Dahl’s first published work appeared anonymously.

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Holocaust Memorial Day, revisited

From Nikolaus Wachsmann: KL, A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps:

Which is part of the story. There’s also the broader view in Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands

Fourteen million is the approximate number of people killed by purposeful policies of mass murder implemented by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the bloodlands. I define the bloodlands as territories subject to both German and Soviet police power and associated mass killing polices at some point between 1933 and 1945. They correspond closely to the places were the Germans killed Jews between 1941 and 1945. In the east, more or less of Soviet Russia might have been included; but the existing line allows the consideration of the main German killing sites of the war as well as the western Soviet lands disproportionately struck by earlier Soviet terror. Though I discuss the western lands of today’s Poland, which belonged until 1945 to Germany, I do not include them in the bloodlands. This is to respect the difference between mass killing and ethnic cleansing. Hungary might arguably have been included, since it was occupied briefly by the Germans late in the war, after years as a German ally, and then occupied by the Soviets. After Polish and Soviet Jews, Hungarian Jews were the third-largest group of victims of the Holocaust. Romania, too, would have a kind of claim to belong to the bloodlands, since many of its Jews were killed and the country was occupied at the end of the war by the Soviet Union. Romania, however, was also a German ally rather than a victim of German aggression, and the murder of Romanian Jews was a Romanian rather than a German policy; this is a related but different history. Yugoslav citizens suffered many of the fates described here, including the Holocaust and mass reprisals; but the Jewish population of Yugoslavia was very small, and Yugoslavia was not occupied by the Soviet Union.
These matters of political geography are debatable on the margin; what is not is the existence of a zone in Europe where Soviet and German power overlapped and where the tremendous majority of the deliberate killing of both regimes took place. It is indisputable, to state the point differently, that the contiguous area from central Poland to western Russia where Germans killed Jews covers the regions where all of the other major German and Soviet policies of mass killing had already taken place or were concurrently taking place—if not completely, then in very significant part. The purposeful starvation of Ukraine took place within the zone of the Holocaust. The purposeful starvation of Soviet prisoners of war took place within the zone of the Holocaust. Most Soviet and German shootings of Polish elites took place within the zone of the Holocaust. Most German “reprisal actions” took place within the zone of the Holocaust. A disproportionate amount of the shooting of the Stalinist Great Terror took place within the zone of the Holocaust.
I use the term Molotov-Ribbentrop line to signify an important boundary running north to south through the bloodlands. This line (which appears on some of the maps) is the German-Soviet border as agreed in September 1939 after the joint invasion of Poland. It was significant for Polish citizens, since it marked the division between German and Soviet occupation policies. This line took on another meaning after the Germans betrayed their allies and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. To its west, Germans were holding Jews in ghettos; to its east, Germans began to shoot Jews in very large numbers. The Holocaust began east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line with shooting actions, and then shifted west of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, where most victims were gassed.

 

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Pro-forma Profuma

My recollection is the only times I have read the Daily Telegraph systematically was during the Great Profumo crisis. I’d extend that to the the trial of Stephen Ward for “procuring”, and the subsequent Denning Inquiry.

At this distance my post-adolescent salacious interest was the Telegraph had more detail than other London sources available in Dublin. There was a patient expectation to see when the Irish censors would step in. Yet, this was about when the Dublin evenings could have boards on the lines of:

Car crash at Naas
Nine Dead
Horrific scenes
FULL PICTURES

— so the censorship board was definitely loosening up.

Yogi Berra, as ever

Today It’s déjà vu all over againThe most surprising thing there being the lad from St Louis, MO, accentuating his — pardon me! — French so expertly.

Yes, indeedy: John Dennis Profumo gets another notch on his bed-post:

John Profumo, the Conservative minister who resigned over an infamous 1960s sex scandal, had previously had a long-running relationship with a glamorous Nazi spy who may have tried to blackmail him, newly released MI5 files reveal.

Gisela Winegard, a German-born fashion and photographer’s model, met Profumo in Oxford in 1936 when he was an undergraduate and kept in contact with him for at least 20 years during which time she ran a Nazi secret information service in occupied Paris, had a child with a high-ranking German officer, and was imprisoned for espionage on the liberation of Paris in 1944.

At the height of the 1963 sex scandal when Profumo was forced to resign after misleading the House of Commons about his brief affair with Christine Keeler, MI6 sent MI5 a letter and files detailing the Tory minister’s connection with Winegard (née Gisela Klein).

“Although it is not particularly relevant to the current notorious case, Geoffrey thought you might like to have for your files the attached copy of a report for our representative (redacted) dated 2nd October 1950, which makes mention of an association between Gisela Klein and Profumo which began ca. 1933 and had apparently not ceased at the time of this report,” wrote the MI6 officer Cyril Mackay to MI5’s head of investigations, Arthur Martin.

Not exactly a knee-trembler, but — as always, the cover-up is more deadly than the original fart:

The security services historian Christopher Andrew, commenting on the release of the files at the national archives, said: “Had the media been aware of the contents of the MI5 file in the current release, the conspiracy theories would have been even more extravagant.”

Infamy!  Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

Professor (Emeritus) Andrew is under-rating the extravagance of conspiracy theories (with any number of names) spun in bar-rooms at the time. Nor did the “extravagance” lack foundations — though the commoners were not allowed to know anything beyond Denning’s whitewash.

Here, for a single example, is a small snippet from Phillip Knightley and Caroline Kennedy (page 249, and not in this abbreviated text):

The end of the trial and Ward’s dramatic suicide swept the Profumo scandal off the British scene. It was as if one moment the newspapers had been full of only that and the next moment there was nothing.

Precisely. And cui bono?

But allow Knightley & Kennedy to continue:

There had already been some tidying up of loose ends. Over the weekend of 27/28 July a well-dressed man had walked into the Bloomsbury art gallery which was selling Ward’s drawings. (It sold 123 for a total of £11,517, which at that time meant Ward would have been financially quite comfortable).

You better believe it. Ward had a speciality in “advanced” drawings of the social élite and the lady-friends of the rich-and-famous. Against his posthumous £11k+, I left TCD a couple of years later looking for an annual whack of £800. Back on the main drag:

The man selected every drawing of the Royal Family on show — including those of Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent — declined to give his name, paid with a bank draft for £5,000 and took the drawings away immediately.

 

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“Casablanca”, Hollywood Theater, NYC, 26th November 1942

Was ever less than a million spent so successfully on any movie?

I cannot recall (so would welcome the nudge) who originated the one about war-time propaganda — “Thank goodness Mickey Mouse was on our side!” — but I equally cannot doubt the power of Casablanca. Beside a VHS tape (that’s never going to get another run) and a birthday prezzie DVD, I have here Richard J.Anobile’s illustrated script — looks that my £1.50 investment (reduced from £1.99!) hasn’t lost too much on the second-hand market.

Casablanca was one of many war-time movies that fell foul of Irish censorship during “The Emergency” (© E. de Valera). Even after, thanks to some extensive “cuts” in the interests of moral welfare, Irish audiences were not allowed to know “Rick” and “Ilsa” had history and “Paris”.

US Censorship

The Production Code, better known as the Hayes Code, dates from 1930. More observed in the word than the deed, it pledged:

No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

Similarly, from 1934, the Catholic Legion of Decency had as many as ten million Roman Catholics signed up

to refrain from viewing all objectionable movies or attending any theater that showed such films.

Yet in Casablanca we enjoy a whole mess of amoralities. When the politics get in the way of morals, film the politics?

At the moment of Pearl Harbor, the United States had neither an “official” intelligence service nor a propaganda arm. In both, that makes the US government unique among major powers, and — arguably — too honest for its own good.

What the US did have was William “Wild Bill” Donovan, already in-and-out of FDR’s office, officially (w.e.f. July 1941) “Co-ordinator of Information”, and from early 1942 head of OSS. That sorted the intelligence arm, but — in the context of this post — that’s another story (and a good one).

Twelve days after Pearl Harbor, Congress passed the War Powers Act. This allowed FDR to sign  EO8985 (as if anyone was going to stop him) and set up the Office of Censorship. Byron Price of AP was nominated as Director of Censorship: the intention,  underlined by that appointment, was “light-touch”

The Office of Censorship was essentially “negative”, attempting to prevent breaches of security, enforcing scrutiny of communications, mail and cables. In all truth, US media had been largely applying voluntary censorship since the outbreak of hostilities in Europe — for an obvious example, Canadian troop movements were not reported.

It was not until 13th June 1942 that something “positive” emerged: the Office of War Information, actively “selling” patriotism and propaganda:

to formulate and carry out, through the use of press, radio, motion picture, and other facilities, information programs designed to facilitate the development of an informed and intelligent understanding, at home and abroad, of the status and progress of the war effort, and of the war policies, activities, and aims of the government.

Its Director was Elmer Davis. By the very nature of the First Amendment the OWI had a fraught relationship with the media and the public.

Seeing what/ the man will do/ unbribed, there’s /no occasion to

Humbert Wolfe, famously, on the nature of the unbribable “British journalist”.

Similarly Hollywood didn’t need to be obliged to crank up war propaganda. The studio moguls knew and still know their audience.

Casablanca originated with Murray Burnett’s and his lady-friend Joan Alison’s unproduced play-script, Everybody Comes to Rick’s. About all that survived of that was the notion of a  cynical American bar-owner, a former embittered and adulterous lawyer, in Casablanca, who has a reunion with a former inamorata, and who facilitates her escape, with her anti-Nazi current squeeze. Oh — and the undeveloped character of Victor Laszlo.

Burnett’s script — it had already been rejected by MGM — arrived at Warner Brothers the day after Pearl Harbor, and was passed to Stephen Karnot for appraisal:

Excellent melodrama. Colorful, timely background, tense mood, suspense, psychological and physical conflict, tight plotting, sophisticated hokum. A boxoffice natural for Bogart, or Cagney, or Raft in out-of-the-usual roles, and perhaps Mary Astor.

The play-script had only got so far because of the advocacy of Irene Lee, who had come across it in New York, and ran the story department at Warners.

On 27th December, with (Jack Warner’s 2 i/c) Hal Wallis’s OK, Lee paid $20,000 for the rights. Wallis was ambitious, and tired of being Warner’s gofer. On 12th January 1942 he became Hal Wallis Productions, with a contract for four films a year and 10% of the profits.

Development

A significant part of this was the availability of actors.

On the insistence of director Michael Curtiz, Bogart was cast in mid-February (over a certain Ronald Reagan — which must have changed history), even before there was anything like a developed film-script. Bogart had just completed The Big Shot, and was about to start Across the Pacific. He was allowed a fortnight break between that and Casablanca.

As the script developed, so the Epsteins changed “Lois Meredith” of Everybody Comes to Rick’s into the European “Ilsa”. Ingrid Bergman was available from the Selznick stable. Paramount — it seemed at that moment — had passed her over for the “Maria” part in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Her husband was a medical student in New York; and at $25,000 she came cheaper than any competition (Michèle Morgan‘s agent was demanding $55,000). Another contender had been Ann Sheridan, mainly qualified for filling a sweater.

The next key ingredient was Howard Koch added to “polish” and improve the Epsteins’ script. While this was the norm in the Warner assembly line, it means that the script became more spare, less earnest and more “political”.

Production

At 9 am on 25th May 1942 Bogart and Bergman were on Stage 12A to do the flash-back to Paris. The last shoot was 3rd August — though four days later Bogart was recalled to record the last line of the alternate ending.

Lou Macelle, an announcer for a local radio station, was brought in to do the heavy voice-over intro. Don Siegel (who would have to linger until 1946 before he became a certified director) was told to create the spinning globe and the montage of refugees. The rough cut went to the Production Code Administration for approval — who loved it. At that point, Casablanca became a “major production” a bit more so than the usual hype.

Selling the thing

Considering where I started this post, around now is when it becomes interesting.

The 26th November 1942 showing was opportunist.

Operation Torch — the North African landings — launched on 8th November 1942. The coincidence was too good to miss.

The film didn’t get a national release until January 1943 — and even that was an advance on the schedule of the Spring. The publicists were not just selling the movie — as with any movie — they were selling the War. War bonds were sold by, and on the fame of Hollywood stars — along with fund-raisers for the Red Cross, War relief, the USO. Female stars had to be depicted doing their own housework. Cinemas were bases for recycling collections of metal, rubber, fats and fabrics.

There was a pay-back: as Hollywood stars were morale-boosters, they (and key production staff) were dissuaded from enlisting — though, technically, these were “deferments”. Darryl Zanuck went so far as to lobby for the film industry to be classified as “war-work”. The Screen Actors Guild, on the other hand,

believes actors and everyone else in the motion picture industry should be subject to the same rules as the rest of the country.

An intriguing collision between the need for “lustre” and self-regard?

Some “got away”. Clark Gable (#3 earner in the entire movie industry for 1941) enlisted as a private in the Air Corps — and inevitably graduated from Officer School — to serve as a gunner in the UK (but, equipped with an aerial camera, did five bombing raids). John Ford, making Across the Pacific, had a scene with Bogart tied to a chair, with Japanese guards at every window and door, then walked off the set to join the Signal Corps (Vincent Sherman, as Ford’s underling, had to untie the dramatic knot).

And so on, and so forth …

Leaving the small matter of Burnett and Alison’s 1941 copyright on Everybody Comes to Rick’s.

In 1987 they gave notice to Warner Brothers that they would be ending the arrangement when the copyright was due for renewal. That would have rendered the characters free for whatever purpose Burnett might wish. Warners went into panic mode: $100,000 “refreshers” each to Burnett and Alison, and the underwriting of a stage production of the original play. It opened at  London’s Whitehall Theatre in April 1991, and closed, with scornful reviews, six weeks later.

Proving, perhaps, it is possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

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