More to Orwell than Animal Farm and 1984

WHEN Paul Anderson worked at the democratic socialist magazine Tribune, the publication's yellowing archives were in his room. They contained, he was well aware, George Orwell's opinion pieces from the 1940s, and he also knew they were good: intelligent, wide-ranging, readable, and in many places quite humorous.

WHEN Paul Anderson worked at the democratic socialist magazine Tribune, the publication's yellowing archives were in his room. They contained, he was well aware, George Orwell's opinion pieces from the 1940s, and he also knew they were good: intelligent, wide-ranging, readable, and in many places quite humorous.

Unfortunately, he also recognised, Orwell's less high-profile journalism was not as widely read as it deserved to be. “Unless you have worked your way through the final ten volumes of Peter Davison's magisterial 20-volume Complete Works of George Orwell, published in the late 1990s, you are unlikely to have taken in more than a tiny sample of the journalistic writing Orwell did in the last 20 years of his life,” he says.

Orwell joined Tribune in November, 1943 - accepting a drop in pay of £220 when he became literary editor for 13 months. On the plus side, he reasoned the £500-a-year, three-days-a-week job would give him a bit more free time in which to work on his novels - and, in fact, he had Animal Farm done and dusted the following spring.

The author had spent two years as a producer in the Indian section of the BBC's Eastern Service - very content with the quality of work he'd done there but weary of the bureaucracy involved and of being a propagandist. He'd turned 40 the previous summer, his health was fragile thanks to TB, and time was marching on.

As literary editor, Orwell penned 59 articles under the banner As I Please. There was a break of 21 months after he became a war correspondent for the Observer, but then he was back as a Tribune contributor: producing weekly opinion pieces and another 21 As I Please columns in 1946-47.

Paul Anderson, who in 1986 happily followed in the writer's footsteps when he himself became reviews editor of the weekly (and would later move to the editor's chair) had always been a great fan. He'd long believed that Orwell's canon of Tribune articles would make a cracking collection if marshalled within a single cover.

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Orwell was given virtually a free hand; his articles were the main by-lined pieces each week and in many ways defined the character of the publication, Paul says.

“He's a brilliant columnist; really is - with, I think, an extraordinary range, from thoughts on the common toad to the atom bomb, as well as contemporary political issues, literature, broadcasting. He was fresh and original.

“There were ruminations on sport, the popular press, why people spent more on alcohol and fags than books - rather than columns commenting on the ins and outs of the Attlee Government from 1945-47. Because they're not about the minutiae of rail nationalisation, or whatever, they're more accessible than anything else written by his contemporaries.”

Julian Symons, a friend, said Orwell's observations could range from a lament on the “decline of the English murder from the days of Crippen to a casual wartime killing to the spawning of toads in spring”.

That said, politics with a small “p” was never far from the surface. Paul says the columns were intensely political.

“Orwell was writing as a democratic socialist for democratic socialist readers, and his role as he saw it was to provoke them, to get them to think about what politics is and what it can and cannot achieve.

“If there is a single theme that runs all the way through Orwell's Tribune columns from 1943 to 1947, it is that the left needs a more nuanced conception of politics. Democratic socialism is not just a matter of the Labour Party adopting the right manifesto, winning a general election, nationalising the means of production and creating a comprehensive welfare state . . . It also involves telling inconvenient truths - about the nature of Soviet communism, about the economic consequences of decolonisation, about the extent of popular anti-Americanism in Britain.”

Orwell's style was another secret of his success: “taut, demotic journalistic”.

Paul says: “He writes very, very clearly. When I was at the London College of Printing” - where he studied journalism - “I was told 'Read Orwell', as well as various other novelists, for short, sharp sentences and paragraphs. It's reflective and intelligent. I can't think of anyone who's a better model as a writer of columns.”

Its power is largely undimmed, too, six decades on.

“A lot of it is timeless - although there are issues such as the state of Europe after the war, the nature of Russian Communism etc that have moved on - but racial prejudice, religious intolerance, the sensationalism of the popular press; a lot of those things are still very much with us.”

As he says in his introduction, “Orwell's commitment to telling inconvenient truths, his warnings about the slipperiness of political language . . . and the conviction that there is more to life than politics are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s”.

Orwell in Tribune, edited by Paul Anderson, is published by Politico's at £19.99. ISBN 978-1-84275-155-8

GORDON Brown: guilty of “dunderhead incompetence” (during the week his party rushed about like headless chickens) but an OK Prime Minister-in-waiting. Two views from Paul Anderson's web blog - his final summary, after the Chancellor's speech to the autumn conference, a lukewarm “He'll do.”

With Labour in a tizzy about life post-Blair, it's a perfect time to get Paul's take. His credentials are top-notch. A lifelong socialist, he went on to edit the left-wing magazine Tribune and therefore breathed the same air as Labour's big-hitters.

Then, in the mid-1990s and with the party giving itself a makeover that would lead to Downing Street, he co-wrote a book called Safety First: The Making of New Labour. It described how Blairites built on the work of Neil Kinnock and John Smith to shift Labour to the centre ground and thus make it electable. “It was precisely about not frightening the horses.”

A decade on, Paul's not overly amazed at how events have unfolded.

“I've not been massively surprised, but then also not massively impressed. There's a lot of things that should have been sorted out - transport, the education system at various levels. The NHS reform process, as everyone in Ipswich knows, has been rather badly managed.

“But, that said, I'm not massively disappointed by the Government. It's no better than I expected it to be, but I didn't have great expectations in most areas. Quite a lot of people did - but then they probably hadn't spent quite as much time getting involved in the minutiae of politics as I had.”

He thought the UK would be using the euro by now, and he couldn't have foreseen events since 9/11. “I wasn't in favour of the invasion of Iraq at the time, but I'm not as outraged by Blair's Middle East policy as most people I know.”

Paul thinks the Chancellor is not quite a shoo-in as Blair's successor, though as near as damn it.

He says of Gordon Brown: “Over the years, Charles Clarke's description of him as a control freak who's lacking in confidence is rather accurate, in that he's got a horror of engaging with people who might not necessarily agree with him. He'd rather not have the discussion than argue his point.

“In person, off the record, so to speak, he's warm, engaging, a very pleasant human being - full of jokes, smiles a lot - but his public persona is something that is completely different. I don't think he'll be an awful Prime Minister - he could actually be quite good - but there's a certain pessimism I've got that, up against Cameron, he's going to end up shy. But it's very difficult to judge.”

Politics was part of Paul's life from the off. His mother's side of the family was very political and diverse, he says. He remembers huge Boxing Day discussions about the state of anything and everything. His grandfather got him reading George Bernard Shaw and Lenin at the age of 13 or 14.

Ipswich School was part of the public school tradition, though by the time he left it had become rather liberal. He hated aspects of it, and saw himself a great rebel. But, looking back, there was much he loved, too - not least some inspiring teachers who instilled enthusiasm in their pupils for history, politics and literature. “And though I'd quite cheerfully abolish the institution tomorrow, I did have a good time there, and it was by any account a good school.”

Paul Anderson at a glance

Born Edinburgh, 1959

Comes to Ipswich at age of three when father, who worked for fertiliser firm Fisons, moves south

Britannia primary school

Scholarship to Ipswich School

Reads politics, philosophy and economics at Balliol College, Oxford

Early 1980s: Studies journalism at London College of Printing

Reviews editor of Tribune 1986-91

Editor of Tribune 1991-93

Deputy editor of New Statesman and Society 1993-96

Teaches journalism at London College of Printing

2000: Joins City University, London, as journalism lecturer

Commutes from Ipswich

Still writes a monthly column for Tribune

GEORGE Orwell has strong connections with East Anglia - beyond the fact that in 1932 he swapped his name, Eric Blair, for a pseudonym immortalising a Suffolk river.

“As a 17-year-old schoolboy at Eton, he spent much of the Christmas holiday of 1920-21 with cousins of his father in Burstall, a small village just west of Ipswich, where - as we know from a letter written to a friend - he picked up a large cage rat-trap, which several biographers suggest was the prototype for the cage full of rats that finally breaks Winston Smith's resistance to torture in Orwell's last novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four,” explains Paul Anderson.

A year later, Eric, father Richard, mother Ida, and younger sister Avril, moved to Southwold. Home became a rented house in Stradbroke Road.

“The young Eric spent six months at a crammer in the town, swotting up for imperial police service exams which he took and passed before going off to Burma as a colonial policeman. Not much is known about this time in Southwold apart from the fact that he got into trouble for sending a dead rat to the borough surveyor as a joke birthday present.

“He came back from Burma on leave in 1927 and after a couple of months announced to his parents, who had by this point moved to another rented house, in Queen Street . . . that he had decided to quit his job in Burma and become a writer. For the next eight years, Southwold was his main base - though he spent a lot of time away.”

In late 1927 Eric moved to London and then on to Paris, trying without great success to work as a freelance. He came back to Southwold just before Christmas 1929. “Feeling a failure, he took a job looking after what he called 'an imbecile boy' in the nearby village of Walberswick,” says Paul.

“The job did not last, but he didn't leave the town for good until late 1934 - though he often went off in 1930-31, dressed as a tramp, to do the research for what became Down and Out.

“Not only Down and Out but also the novels Burmese Days and A Clergyman's Daughter were written largely in Southwold. A Clergyman's Daughter starts and ends in 'a Suffolk town', Knype Hill, at least partially based on Southwold.

“His family had been living in genteel poverty until the early 1930s, but an inheritance and Avril's success at running a tea room made them comfortably off. They bought a house in the High Street and became pillars of respectable society - Orwell's father a familiar figure in the posher of the local golf clubs and his mother a doyenne of the ladies' bridge circuit.

“Orwell said he didn't like Southwold, and the best bits of A Clergyman's Daughter are a vicious satire on the parochialism of provincial small-town life, including tea rooms . . .

“But he had lots of friends there, including one woman, Eleanor Jaques, with whom he had an affair, and another, Brenda Salkeld, the gym mistress at St Felix girls' school, whom he wooed unsuccessfully for several years . . .”

Paul says: “People apart, there was something about the bleakness of 'the low, barely undulating East Anglian landscape' that Orwell liked. Although it was 'intolerably dull in summer', it was 'redeemed in winter by the recurring patterns of the elms, naked and fanshaped against leaden skies'.”

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