Wednesday, February 06, 2008

James Barlow

Peter Hitchens at his Mail blog is urging his admirers to read Malcolm Bradbury's 'The History Man' - a thinly fictionalised eye-witness account of the cultural revolution at an early 70s university.

One writer who saw it all coming was the thriller writer James Barlow, who attacked the sixties ethos pretty much from the word go - in fact he was attacking it in his first (1956) novel The Protagonists, when it was still struggling to be born.

He wrote pretty much a novel a year through the 60s - The Patriots is probably his best. While I wouldn't call him a great writer, I enjoy his work. Favourite targets of attack were trendy bishops, TV talking heads and chat show hosts - people whose currency was words. I'm sure as an author he appreciated the irony.

He emigrated to New Zealand in the early 70s, leaving with "Goodbye England" - his disgusted (non-fiction) valediction, featuring a much-mocked paragraph about topless girls walking through London with dust and bus-tickets adhering to their mammaries. I must get hold of a copy, as I've never read it.

There's very little about him on the Web and no site devoted to him. If anyone has any information about him I'd love to hear it.


Anonymous said...

I think the change dates to much earlier than the 1960s. In the 1930s we have Virginia Wolf saying there was no difference between the church of England refusing to allow woman priests and the fascists. ie "we are as bad as them". Moral relativism existed then.

My personal view is that the First World War was a huge shock to the collective self confidence of the west. It made the intelligencia doubt the worth of western civilisation. The Second might have been more destructive but it only reinforced the that feeling rather than create it anew.

Cultural self confidence was behind the imperialist urge. eg. The Scramble for Africa. That ended a decade before WW1. Two generations separated the people who demanded we colonise Africa from their grandchildren who demanded we give them up. Three to the generation who say we were as wicked as the Nazis.

Trofim said...

It’s long puzzled me why the book is so little referred to in view of its prophetic nature. The BBC should show the Anthony Sher adaptation again.
I instinctively empathised with George Carmody, the sole individual who dared to espouse non-leftie ideas, and was humiliated and persecuted by Howard Kirk for this. I thought that in the book the author was on his side. A programme I heard on Radio 4 a few years back a seminal example of BBC bias in action. It was that programme where three people choose a book, read that of the other two, and then discuss them. The History Man was one of the books, and I remember like yesterday this Guardian-reading type woman saying in a way which conveyed her assumption that everyone agreed with her “we all met one of these ghastly right-wing types at university”.

Anonymous said...

I've not read the book but I do recall the BBC adaption. One thing puzzled me at the time. There is a coda at the end wherein we are told that Howard Kirk voted Conservative in 1979. I presume that it signifies the character continued his descent into nastiness. Is this in the book?

Trofim said...

It's a long time since I read it, but I don't remember Kirk voting conservative. It sounds the sort of thing they would add on.

Laban said...

They did add it on. The novel was written in the early 70s - Bradbury wasn't THAT much of a prophet.

It does sound very BBC - Kirk is, by anyone's standards, an unsympathetic and selfish character, so they had to portray him as someone who was a Tory inside all along.

The BBC production was adapted by Christopher Hampton, another public-school (Lancing) cultural revolutionary.

ambarlow said...

James Barlow was my husband's father. He died in 1973 in Cork, Ireland.

There is presently interest in dramatising one of his novels

Anonymous said...

ambarlow - if you have any more information about him I'd love to know more. Do you know if his letters etc have survived ? My email address is on the blog.