George Orwell saw none of the millions
earned by Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Nor did his widow, Sonia.
New legal evidence points to flagrant fraud.
ORWELL A WRITER WRONGED
In 1958 Harrison belatedly told Sonia of Orwell's deathbed offer for him to take 25% of GOP's shares.
He said he did not recall why he had left it eight years to tell her.
Also in 1958, without her knowledge
Harrison transferred 75% of the voting stock to himself from Sonia,
rendering her powerless over anything the company did.
...continued from response to reader asking about Orwell's film rights*
It's amazingly fortuitous I came across this information while in the UK on my Pilgrimage to Orwell in August 2004. On the day before I left England I was reading The Sunday Times and the following article jumped off the page at me, accompanied as it was by a full-page photo of Orwell and Sonia.
All the best,
Jackie Jura, 2004
The last days of George Orwell have been chronicled in detail, the poignant finale of an extraordinary life played out in the bleak banality of a London hospital room. As he lay dying of tuberculosis friends and admirers came to say their last goodbyes. It was the winter of 1949, and the royalties from Animal Farm were beginning to come in. Nineteen Eighty-Four had just been hailed as a masterpiece. Propped up in bed, Orwell lamented: "I've made all this money and now I'm going to die." Orwell's deathbed marriage to Sonia Brownell, Cyril Connolly's voluptuous protegee at the literary magazine Horizon, and 15 years his junior, was undoubtedly a comfort, though it prompted a frisson of suspicion among friends. For her part, Sonia, who had slept her way around London's intellectual haut monde, sat by his side wearing an extravagant ring of rubies and diamonds bought with one of his blank cheques.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in those last days was the sight of a six-year-old child sitting on the end of the bed. The boy, Richard, was Orwell's son, adopted with his first wife, Eileen O'Shuaghnessy, who had died unexpectedly in 1945. So terrified was Orwell of passing on his TB that whenever the child attempted to come near, his father gently pushed him away. In the most recent biography of Orwell, D. J. Taylor recounts his last hours in University College hospital. He records how Orwell's friend, the anarchist poet Paul Potts, turned up on Friday, January 20, 1950, but Orwell was asleep, so Potts slipped quietly away. In the small hours of Saturday morning, an artery burst in Orwell's lung and he, too, slipped quietly away. He was 46.
Taylor speculates that Potts or a nurse on her night rounds must have been the last person to see Orwell alive. But someone else visited Orwell that Friday evening. The visitor hardly knew him, having met him only five months previously. Yet his spectre was to cast a shadow over Orwell's posthumous success. His name was Jack Harrison, and he was Orwell's accountant. He died himself some years ago, a very wealthy man.
Biographers have tiptoed around Harrison's role in the Orwell story. But recently Hilary Spurling's carefully worded memoir of Sonia seemed to imply, as Private Eye less tactfully observed, that she had been the victim of a "major" fraud by Harrison. It is no secret that, shortly before her death in 1980, Sonia had launched a High Court action against Harrison. But she settled out of court, so it was presumed that her case rested on shaky foundations. However, The Sunday Times Magazine has obtained papers that cast an entirely different light on those proceedings.
They are the affidavits presented to the High Court by Jack Harrison and Sonia, and the legal opinion provided by independent counsel that delivered a crushing blow to Harrison, along with a cache of dozens of letters written between the warring sides. They were supplied to the magazine by a member of one of the legal teams that worked on the case, who was intimately involved in every aspect of it. Appalled at Sonia's treatment, the lawyer in question secretly made photocopies of the confidential documents, and has kept them under lock and key for two decades.
In his affidavit defending himself against the action, Harrison claims he and Orwell "got on extremely well". It is hard to see what they had in common: Harrison, the dapper businessman with a penchant for Rolls-Royces, and Orwell, who had renounced his privileged past and whose only hankerings were for a good pot of tea and oxford marmalade. It seems that Orwell contacted the firm of accountants of which Harrison was the senior partner as early as 1947, prompted by the success of Animal Farm, the publishing sensation of 1945. Orwell, for the first time in his life, was anticipating a huge bill from the Inland Revenue, although it would be some years before the bulk of the American profits would roll in. Harrison's firm advised that Orwell set up a company to recieve his royalties and own his copyright, in return for a "service agreement" whereby he would draw a salary. It was the ownership of the copyright that proved contentious in years to come.
On September 12, 1947, George Orwell Productions Ltd (GOP Ltd) was established. At that stage Jack Harrison had little to do with it, leavig the details to junior colleagues. The "service agreement" was not put into effect. It was only in September 1949 that Harrison moved in to take firm control of the company, when it seems the author asked to see him in hospital.
In his affidavit, Harrison admits that he had "no direct recollection" of why Orwell wanted to see him. He muses that Orwell might have heard of his reputation for building up businesses and hoped that Harrison would be able to exploit his works more successfully than he himself could do. There was no witness to that first bedside meeting, which is unfortunate, because Harrison was to claim that Orwell asked him to become a director of the company and manage the firm.
Sonia first met Harrison shortly after in the hospital room with Orwell, and over four further encounters, at one of which all three were confirmed as directors of GOP, Sonia and Orwell being listed as "Mr and Mrs Blair" (his real name was Eric Arthur Blair). At another, according to Harrison, the "service agreement" was executed, passing ownership of copyright to the company, through he was never able to produce a document to confirm this. Sonia was there, too, on the very last occasion Harrison saw Orwell - the night he died. Again, she unfortunately appears to have left early. And so there was no witness to the dialogue that ensued, in which, Harrison claimed, the writer offered him 25% of the shares in GOP.
Within hours, the only person who could confirm this account had gone. Orwell left some 10,000 pounds in his will, a substantial sum in 1950, when the average weekly wage was 10 pounds. The proceeds of Animal Farm would soon swell that figure fourfold, and his publisher, Fred Warburg, calculated that Nineteen Eighty-Four would earn him about the same - some 40,000, perhaps 2-million to 3-million in today's money from those two books alone.
Famously, of course, while Orwell was dying, Sonia was drinking with her former beau, the painter Lucian Freud. Since then she has been portrayed as more of a merry widow than a grieving one: setting off for the Riviera when her husband's body was barely cold, to pursue the real love of her life, the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty; frittering Orwell's fortune on failed affairs and booze, dying a destitute and bitter drunk. It is only recently that friends, primarily the writer Hilary Spurling, have challenged that unappealing image of Sonia.
Spurling acknowledges that Sonia revelled in her "widow Orwell" act. But she insists that Sonia was grief-stricken at Orwell's death. And Stephen Spender's wife, Natasha, said of Sonia: "When he died, it was cataclysmic. She had persuaded herself she loved him intellectually, for his writings, but she found she really loved him."
Another witness to Sonia's grief, it now appears, was Jack Harison. She was so distraught, his affidavit recalls that he offered her any help she needed. Sonia gratefully accepted and left the running of GOP to him, agreeing to become his client too. In the meantime, she devoted her energies to protecting Orwell's position in the pantheon of literary greats, helping set up an archive at University College London and co-editing the magisterial Collect Essays.
Orwell's will had made Sonia joint guardian of his adopted son, Richard, with George's sister, Avril. Sonia thought the child would be better off being brought up by his aunt in Scotland, so they rarely saw one another. But Sonia made sure his allowances, college fees and much more besides were paid through GOP.
Sonia carried on with a hectic workload, as an editor, critic and writer in her own right, and a frenetic social life on both sides of the Channel, wooing the cognoscenti of the Left Bank just as she had their counterparts in Soho and Fitzrovia. In 1958 she married the wealthy landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers. In the same year, Harrison belatedly told Sonia of Orwell's deathbed offer for him to take 25% of GOP's shares. He said he did not recall why he had left it eight years to tell her. Sonia was too embarrassed to refuse. Also in 1958, without her knowledge, Harrison transferred 75% of the voting stock to himself from Sonia, rendering her powerless over anything the company did. Harrison, in his affidavit, says Sonia asked him to do this because she was afraid her marriage would not last, and Pitt-Rivers might seek a share of GOP in a divorce settlement. Sonia, in her affidavit, said she could not recall any such request. When they divorced in 1965, Pitt-Rivers bought her a house in South Kensington, hardly the actions of a grasping cad.
Sonia turned her airy South Kensington house into the nearest thing London had to a Parisian salon, mixing the literary icons of the old guard - Auden, the Connollys and Spenders - with emerging stars: Iris Murdoch, Francis Bacon and the young Hilary Spurling. It is unlikely she would have read anything so declasse as a daily newspaper, but had she glanced at the press shortly after her divorce, she might have come across a City scandal concerning Jack Harrison and an ailing company called Headquarterss and General Supplies that he had been drafted in to save.
At first the coverage was flattering, describing Harrison's habit of discovering bankrupt businesses and selling them off at a profit. Sure enough, a year after he was made chairman of Headquarters and General, Harrison was announcing 257,000-pound profits and - to the elation of shareholders - a 65% dividend. But then it emerged that Harrison had sold his entire stockholding at the top of the market. Gnawing doubts turned to anger when creditors were told that the company had debts of 1.4 million pounds. Harrison was accused of taking 200,000-pounds out of the firm when he knew it faced bankruptcy.
Sonia herself was preoccupied with fending off requests to adapt Orwell's works. She appointed the grande dame of West End theatrical agents, Robin Dalton, to represent Orwell's theatrical rights. Dalton recalls many a boozy lunch over which the two women would assess competing claims, usually in withering terms. One, apparently, came from Melvyn Bragg, who wanted to write the script for Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four (Dalton cannot recall which). "Sonia told him he could do it on spec," recalls Dalton, "When it eventually came, she rejected it out of hand." By 1969, some 8-million copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four had been sold in paperback in the US, and a phenomenal 360,000 in hardback. By 1972 it had sold 1-million copies in its UK Penguin edition alone. Sales of Animal Farm were about the same. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when Harrison told Sonia in 1977 that most of the income had been absorbed by Britain's exorbitant supertax rate. He unsettled her further by advising her to move to Paris for tax reasons. Sonia sold her beloved house and moved into a foul-smelling room in the undistinguished Rue d'Assas.
Months later, Harrison made another admission, and Sonia learnt, to her horror, that she was no longer in control of the company. But Harrison assured her that this didn't affect her financial stake, worth about 100,000 pounds. "Less a quarter, Sonia - I wouldn't lie to you," he added, with an "odd grin", according to Hilary Spurling's 2002 memoir. There was something of a disparity between that and Sonia's allowance, then just 750-pounds a month. But what really upset her was the prospect of Harrison having control over the making of the film of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Her lawyers wrote to Harrison demanding to see every document relating to GOP. Harrison prevaricated and urged Sonia to resolve the issue privately. She was having none of it. As fading balance sheets were unearthed, it became clear that matters were seriously amiss. Harrison had given others shares in the company, and had channelled enormous consultancy fees into his own companies. GOP had made reckless stock-market investments, losing as much as 100,000-pounds. It became clear why Harrison wanted Sonia out of the way in Paris.
In 1979 Sonia brought a High Court action against Harrison and GOP, of which she was still a director. The hearing was fixed for January 1981. But her health was fading fast. In the spring of 1980 she returned to London very sick with cancer, and eventually settled in Hilary Spurling's flat. In his affidavit, Harrison stuck by his claim that the money had been depleted by stock-market losses and huge taxes. But he also claimed, justifiably, that much had been spent on Richard and Sonia's family. It had paid for Richard's maintenance, school and college fees, a house and a modest allowance. It had bught a small house for Sonia's mother, and made small allowances to other family members. Sonia herself had benefited from several small disbursements.
But Harrison's version of events was riddled with inconsistencies. There were no records of the meeting in which Orwell allegedly asked him to become a director, nor of his deathbed request for Harrison to take 25% of the company, nor of the agreement passing ownership of copyright from Orwell's estate to GOP. Sonia's affidavit reads like that of a woman tricked into signing away her inheritance. "Harrison was putting papers in front of her all the time," says Robin Dalton. "She hadn't the slightest idea what she was signing."
Richard Blair, Orwell's son, is more forgiving. He has always taken the view that, if the parties settled out of court, that was the end of the matter. He has never spoken about the case. He started to say that Sonia was "besotted" with Harrison, before correcting himself and saying: "She wasn't as naive as she has been portrayed. But she trusted him explicitly."
As the legal wrangling went on, her lawyers sought an opinion from John Mummery (later Lord Justice Mummery). "I have no doubt that it is in the best intersts of the company to settle Sonia's claims. . .to avoid what would undoubtedly be a complicated and expensive action which. . .Sonia has a much better chance of winning," he wrote. But Sonia was spending more and more time at the Royal Marsden hospital. Her legal team, doubting that she could withstand the rigours of cross-examination, advised her to settle. What followed was one of the greatest injustices of the affair: Sonia paid Harrison to retrieve the rights that almost everybody acknowledged had been hers all along. Sonia found the 200,000-plus-pounds needed for legal fees and to pay Harrison, possibly from the proceeds of selling her London house. The lawsuit was settled on Tuesday, November 24, 1980. "It was amazing the way he deprived her of what she had to get back what she should have had," says Hilary Spurling. But Sonia had achieved what she set out to achieve, and George Orwell's literary rights were now back in her hands. Sadly, not for long: she died on December 11, 1980, aged 62. Harrison, by contrast, continued to live in happiness and prosperity.
In her will, Sonia left Orwell's rights to Richard Blair, who has them to this day. "She did the right thing by my father," he says. "I can fault Sonia for many things, but I can't fault her for that."
Of Harrison, Blair says: "He probably tried to exploit the rights in a way an accountant would, and he may very well have simply made a series of disastrous mistakes, as he claimed all along."
Was it just a case of art clashing with the artful? After a thoughtful pause, Blair says: "I have asked myself, did Harrison do what he did with the intent of committing a felony or simply make mistakes through naivety? I have no doubt it was the former. I think he thought, 'This is too good an opportunity to miss'."
~ end quoting A Writer Wronged ~
Note to readers: The cover of The Times Magazine (the newspaper Winston Smith wrote for in "1984"), August 15, 2004 edition -- wherein I found the article about Orwell being a writer wronged -- had a photo of Tom Cruise behind a windowpane of shattered glass. To create the image of Orwell at the top of this page, I cut out Tom Cruise's face and substituted Orwell's and cut-and-pasted the A WRITER WRONGED headline from the article. ~ Jackie Jura
Orwell wrote prose like a windowpane
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
(but some animals are more equal than others)
ANIMAL FARM 1947 RADIO DRAMA
(re-production of Orwell's own radio version)
Email, Apr 19, 2015
listen Animal Farm 2013 Radio Drama
listen Animal Farm 2005 Radio Drama
ANIMAL FARM 1947 RADIO DRAMA (re-production of Orwell's own radio version). Email, Apr 19, 2015
The Girl From The Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell, by Hilary Spurling, published 2002 (The negative portrait of George Orwell's second wife drawn by his biographers is a travesty. Determined to set the record straight, her friend, Hilary Spurling, herself an acclaimed biographer, reveals the whole story of Sonia Orwell's sad and splendid life....)
ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER MY GRANDFATHER'S & ORWELL'S TYPEWRITER A REMINGTON
Big Brother's living legacy....on George Orwell's adopted son
The Hebridean island that inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four exerts a pull as strong as ever
Allan Brown, Sunday Times, Nov 23, 2008
Give or take the slippage occasioned by the vagaries of Hebridean Mean Time, it was 60 years ago this fortnight that, in a freezing, half-derelict attic room at the northern tip of Jura, George Orwell typed the closing sentence -- "He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother" -- of the novel that has colonised the contemporary imagination like no other...The last living link with the composition of history's most unlikely blockbuster, fashioned in the least plausible of settings, is Richard Horatio Blair, the son Orwell adopted as a baby in 1944. Blair is the inheritor of Orwell's estate, a thriving concern benefiting from its subject's immortal renown as the laureate of austere fretfulness; annually, the estate earns Blair a six-figure sum, he says, "though I wouldn't like to specify whether it's at the high or low end of that spectrum"....Though based in Warwickshire and retired after a career in farm machinery, Blair retains a cottage funded by his father's royalties at Ardfern, and visits Jura several times a year. The island, he says, has become his "spiritual home"....Even today, the ceiling above his work desk is stained with the yellow residue of his mammoth Black Shag habit. His claw-footed bathtub remains, too. There is a framed photograph of Orwell on the mantelpiece and the rusting hulk of his hay rick lies at the bottom of the garden, separated by a pebbly strand from the lapping Sound of Jura. Otherwise, the house's interior has been rejigged and remodelled several times since Orwell's day, a consequence of its current role as a holiday home, for rent at 500-pounds a week....The sole document of his father's that Blair retains is his own adoption certificate. Orwell was desperate, perhaps manically so, to emphasise his connection with his longed-for son. He burnt out the section of the certificate containing the name of Richard's birth parents, Robinson, with a lit cigarette end. It was his symbolic confirmation that the boy was his -- a literal baptism of fire. Orwell refused to countenance that Richard was not fully, biologically, his own; so the sojourn on Jura (Orwell had mentioned to friends the possibility of staying permanently) was to be a crucible of their luckless, sporadic relationship. It didn't work out that way in the long run, of course. In the longer run, we can't help wondering what Orwell would make of the news that Blair has recently been researching his birth parents, partly from curiosity, partly to keep his sons informed about any latent health issues. We can almost hear the furious, ghostly clacking of Orwell's trusty Remington, the indignation of the genius who prized fatherhood above all. "Orwell isn't my father", says Blair. "Eric Blair was my father. But Mr Orwell has been good to us. He gave me the fascinating privilege of managing his estate. He gave my sons their inheritance. He gave my family Jura. The difference is that when we see the place now, it's usually from the boat, with a gin and tonic".
Reader Taner says he met Sonia Orwell when she was editing a Swiss journal during the 50s & 60s
Reader fascinated by copyright story and wonders how it is now
TAXMEN ROBBED ORWELL
Dying Orwell in clutches of taxman (Inland Revenue licking its lips) & Orwell's widow sued tax accountant (swindled copyrights & royalties based on unsigned agreement). Telegraph, Oct 3, 2005
COMMUNIST CAPITALIST ORWELL MOVIES
*Reader Norm asks about Orwell's film rights, Nov 10, 2004 (...Jackie Jura: I understand that Orwell's adopted son Richard currently owns the film rights to Orwell's books. But that's only because Orwell's second wife, Sonia, spent every cent she had in suing the accountant who had fraudulently manipulated her into signing control of Orwell's company and copyright over to him. A month before she died of cancer in December 1980 Sonia won an out-of-court settlement and the accountant who had stolen the copyrights agreed to sell them back to her for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although too late for her to benefit from the inheritence that was rightfully hers, she secured Orwell's bequeathement for his son and his descendents....)
1984 A BAD MOVIE and ANIMAL FARM A BAD MOVIE
ORWELL'S PUBLISHING PROBLEMS
7.SONIA'S FLAT & ORWELL'S HOSPITAL (from Homage to Orwell, by Jackie Jura, 2003)
16.Ministry of Truth and 25.Prolefeed
ORWELL'S WHITE HORSE (...The next day, being Sunday, we were in holiday mood and did touristy things with the relatives including a walk along the seafront and ice-cream on the promenade... Later in the afternoon we returned home to relax and read the Sunday Times (which miraculously had an amazing article about Orwell's estate) and spent the evening catching up on family happenings in Weymouth since our visit there the previous year...)
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