ZAMYATIN The Russia – Tyneside Connection film research & script

On the 7th & 21st August 2018 research for a short film about Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) is featured on this blog. On today’s post I’ve added the script from the film I made about his life. The narrator’s were North East actor’s Iain Cunningham and Jonathan Cash. Recorded by Martin Francis Trollope at Customs Space studio in South Shields and excellent soundtrack from North East musician John Clavering.

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin

Start.

Russian born Yevgeny Zamyatin lived with his wife in Paris until his death in March 1937. Their last few years were lived in poverty and only a small group of friends were present at his burial. His death was not mentioned in the Soviet press.

Zamyatin was an author of science fiction and political satire. Famous for his 1921 novel ’We’ – a story set in a dystopian future – the book was banned in Russia. In his novel ‘1984’ George Orwell acknowledged his debt to Zamyatin.

But how does Tyneside fit in this story ?

Zamyatin was born in a small town 200 miles south of Moscow on 19th January 1884. He had an educated middle class background, his father was a teacher and his mother a musician.

Zamyatin studied Naval engineering at the St Petersburg Polytechnic Institue. He spent winters in the city and summers enjoying practical work in shipyards and at sea. The Middle East being one destination – a rich experience for the future writer.

He was a supporter of the revolution and joined the Bolsheviks, attending demonstrations and meetings. But he was arrested during the 1905 Revolution – for this he was sent to prison for several months. His time there was spent learning short hand and writing poems.

He completed his course in Naval Engineering and was employed as a college tutor. He was also writing short stories and essays – his first published in 1908. Zamyatin immersed himself in the bohemian life of St Petersburg and was an important part of the cultural scene in Russia.

At the time of the First World War Russia were having ice breakers built in UK shipyards. Zamyatin was sent to North East England in 1916 to work as a Naval engineer for the Russian Empire. He supervised the construction of the ships on the river Tyne. While there he lived in Jesmond near Newcastle and during his eighteen month stay he was reported to travel around Tyneside and improve his knowledge of the language.

“In England I built icebreakers in Glasgow, Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields, and looked at ruined castles. The Germans showered us with bombs from airplanes. I listened to the thud of bombs dropped by Zeppelins”.

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Laurence O’Shaughnessy lived in South Shields and worked there as Customs Collector on the river Tyne. His daughter Eileen married the author George Orwell. Was there a connection to Zamyatin ? Leslie Hurst from The Orwell Society looked at the possibility.

‘Would the Russian ships have been checked by customs before leaving the Tyne ? When Orwell learned of the existence of ‘We’ he might have discussed it with Eileen and heard her say that her father had met it’s author. When Orwell died, Eileens library was found mixed with his. Might Eileen have read Orwell’s copy of ’25 Years of Soviet Russian Literature’  and mentioned the Russian engineer who visited South Shields in her childhood ? It is an intriguing possibility’.

When living on Tyneside, Zamyatin wrote two short stories  ’The Fisher of Men’ and ’Islanders’. After a day at the shipyards he would sit at his desk and write about the blinkered and pretentious world of the middle class.

‘By Sunday the stone steps of the houses in Jesmond had as usual been scrubbed to a dazzling whiteness, like the Sunday gentlemen’s false teeth. The Sunday gentlemen were of course manufactured at a factory in Jesmond, and thousands of copies appeared on the streets. Carrying identical canes and wearing identical top hats, the respectable Sunday gentlemen in their false teeth strolled down the street and greeted their doubles’.

Both stories were published on his return to Russia. But by then, the 1917 revolution was burning. He regretted not witnessing the start of it.

“I returned to Petersburg, past German submarines, in a ship with lights out, wearing a life belt the whole time. This is the same as never having been in love and waking up one morning already married for ten years or so”.

The famine, war and economic collapse of the country had a major influence on his literary career.

“If I had not returned home, if I had not spent all these years with Russia, I don’t think I would have been able to write anymore. True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics”.

In 1921, ‘We’ became the first work banned by the Soviet censorship board. In 1923, he arranged for the manuscript to be smuggled to a publisher in New York. After being translated into English the novel was published.

With his political satire, a number of essays that criticised the Communist ideology and dealing with Western publishers, Zamyatin has been referred to as one of the first Soviet dissidents. As a result, he was blacklisted from publishing anything in his homeland.

The English writer Harold Heslop had seven books published and his first was in the Soviet Union. In 1930 he was invited to the Ukraine to speak at the Revolutionary Writers Conference. While there he also travelled to Leningrad to meet Zamyatin who he wanted to help promote his latest book.

Harold was born in Durham but for many years lived in South Shields. He was a miner at Harton Colliery before winning a scholarship to Central Labour College in London.

 (Zamyatin to Heslop) “I cannot quite place you. Are you a Geordie may I ask. I catch the Tyneside dialect in your speech. Am I right ? I know Tyneside well. I liked the people very much. I also liked their strange, musical dialect. Often I found it most amusing. South Shields… Sooth Sheels! I never learned to sing the Tyneside speech!”

Zamyatin read lectures on Russian literature, served on boards with some of the most famous figures in Russian literature, but by 1931 he was experiencing difficulties. Under the ever tightening censorship, and becoming unpopular with critics who branded him a traitor, he appealed directly to Joseph Stalin requesting permission to leave the Soviet Union – a voluntary exile.

“I do not wish to conceal that the basic reason for my request for permission to go abroad with my wife is my hopeless position here as a writer, the death sentence that has been pronounced upon me as a writer here at home”.

Eventually Stalin agreed to Zamyatin’s request and he and his wife left for Paris, where there was already a small Russian community. While there he wrote new stories, most of his earlier work was translated around Europe, but a notable piece of work was his co-writing of a film with French director Jean Renoir.

Just before his death he had told a friend…“I had to leave Soviet Russia as a dangerous counter revolutionary and abroad I hesitate to approach the Russian community, while they treat me coldly and suspiciously”.

He lived out his last years with his wife until his death from a heart attack in 1937, and a final resting place for Zamyatin can be found in a cemetery south of Paris.

End.

Research:

Zamyatin – A Soviet Heretic by D.J. Richards.

Islanders/The Fishers of Men – Salamander press Fiction.

We – Yvegney Zamyatin.

Out of the Old Earth – Harold Heslop.

Short 9min film available on the Alikivi You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W4A0nZ7_PQ

 Gary Alikivi 2018.

WILDFLOWER – South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy 1905-45 timeline.

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In October 2018 I wrote about making a documentary on George Orwell’s first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. The short film had a real local interest as Eileen was born just 2 minutes from where I live. Little did I know when I started the search in 2012 that the film would be shown to the Orwell Society and Richard Blair, son of George Orwell, on the Isle of Jura where Orwell wrote the dystopian classic, Nineteen Eighty Four.

Timeline research 2012-13:

In a graveyard in Newcastle you will find a headstone for Eileen Maud Blair who was married to George Orwell, arguably one of the most controversial writer’s of the 20th century. Orwell wrote many books including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catalonia (1938), Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty Four (1949).

But who was Eileen?

Eileen’s story starts in Ireland. Her father, Laurence O’Shaughnessey was born in 1866 on the small island of Valencia and Portmagee in County Kerry. His father, Edward O’Shaughnessy was employed in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Aged 25, Laurence moved to England and boarded at 19 East India Dock Road, Limehouse in London and found work as a clerk for His Majesty Customs.

Eileen’s mother, Mary Westgate was born in 1866 in Hempnall, Norfolk. Aged 24, Mary moved south to Greenwich in London and worked as an Assistant Teacher at Lewisham Hill Road School.

Laurence and Mary met and eventually married in Holy Trinity Church, Gravesend, Kent in February 1900. The couple then travelled to the North East and made a home at 109 Cleveland Road next to the Union Workhouse in Sunderland. Laurence continued working as a Tax Clerk for HM Customs at Custom House, based at 138 High Street, Sunderland. In 1901 they had a son Laurence, who went on to become a distinguished Surgeon.

Six years later the family moved to 3 Park Terrace, South Shields and Laurence senior was employed as Port Administrator, Collector of His Majesties Customs and had an office in Midland Bank Chambers, 65 King Street, South Shields. Then on 25th September 1905, Eileen Maud O’Shaughnessey was born and baptised on 15th November in St Aiden’s Church. Park Terrace is now re-named Lawe Road.

After a short time the family moved to 2 and a half Wellington Terrace, now known as Beach Road. They called the house ‘Westgate House’ after her mother’s maiden name. It is still visible above the front door of 35 Beach Road.

Eileen was educated at the local Westoe School then attended Sunderland Church High School and finally in 1924 the family moved south when Eileen graduated to read English at St Hugh’s College in Oxford. Sadly, Eileen’s father Laurence died not long after. He was 62 years old.

After leaving education Eileen held various jobs including work as an English teacher and purchased a small secretarial agency. But she returned to education in 1934 for a Masters degree in Educational Psychology at the University College in London.

By 1935 Eileen was a graduate student and living with her widowed mother in Greenwich. One night she was invited to a house party at 77 Parliament Hill in Hampstead where she met the journalist and author George Orwell, real name Eric Blair. Eric was born on 25th June 1903 in India. The Blair family had returned to the UK, settled in Oxfordshire and Eric received a scholarship to Eton College.

Over the months the couple found they had a great deal in common, a passion for poetry, literature and countryside walks. Eric was attracted to Eileen’s blue eye’s, heart shaped face and wavy dark brown hair, her Irish looking features.  They married at Wallington Parish Church in Hertfordshire on the 9th June 1936 and lived at The Stores, 2 Kits Lane, Wallington.

In Europe, a Civil war had broken out in Spain and in 1936 Eileen’s husband travelled to Barcelona and joined the militia of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification. Orwell wanted to help the revolt against Franco and the Fascists. Eileen followed in early ‘37 where she stayed in the Hotel Continental on the Ramblas in Barcelona. She worked as a secretary for the ‘New Leader’ which was a newspaper for the Independent Labour Party. The party’s General Secretary was John McNair from Tyneside. Orwell was stationed at the front and in battle was shot through the throat. He recuperated in a sanatorium outside Barcelona.

The couple returned to the UK and by 1939 Eileen worked at the Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information. For a time they lived with her brother Laurence and her sister in law Gwen, at their home in Greenwich Park.

Orwell worked at the Empire Department of the BBC as head of cultural programming for India and South East Asia. Unfortunately during the Second World War Eileen’s brother was killed at Dunkirk while serving in the Army Medical Corp, and her mother died a year later. A sad time for Eileen. But good news was on the way as Eileen and George adopted a baby boy and named him Richard. Eileen by now had given up her job at the Ministry and taken well to motherhood. Orwell began writing ‘Animal Farm’.

Growing tired of London and feeling unwell for the last few months, Eileen travelled back to the North East with their son, Richard. They stayed with her sister-in-law Gwen at her home near Stockton and with the Second World War nearing it’s end Orwell was in Germany working as a War Correspondent.

Harvey Evers was a surgeon friend of her brother Laurence. He had a private clinic at Fernwood House in Newcastle a train ride away from where she was staying. Eileen made an appointment to see him but after the examination tumours were found on her uterus and a hysterectomy operation was arranged for 29th March 1945.

Before the operation Eileen was aware that she might not survive, and wrote long letters to Orwell. Sadly, under the anaesthetic Eileen died. Aged only 39, Eileen was buried on 3rd April in St Andrews Cemetery, Newcastle.

With Eileen’s death a deep sense of loneliness overwhelmed Orwell. He put off a return to the family home and went back to Germany to report on the end of the Second World War. Close friends looked after his son Richard at their flat in Canonbury Square, London. His novel, ‘Animal Farm’ was published in the summer and in it he credited Eileen with helping to plan the book. In May 1946 Orwell rented Barnhill, a farmhouse on the remote island of Jura in Scotland and wrote Nineteen Eighty Four. The book was published in 1949.

Sadly on 21st January 1950 George Orwell died of tuberculosis in London aged 46. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.

Sources: George Orwell biographies by Gordon Bowker and Scott Lucas. Family history research on Ancestry website. Local Studies in South Shields, Newcastle and Sunderland City Libraries. Thanks to David Harland present owner of Westgate House.

 Gary Alikivi.

WILDFLOWER – documentary about George Orwell’s wife, South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy

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First reaction when I tell people about Eileen O’Shaughnessy is ‘Who…really!’ I tell them a bit more. ‘Orwell the writer. THE Orwell. 1984 and all that ?….Yep, that’s him’ I reply. S’pose everybody’s got to come from somewhere right ? But I had the same reaction when I found the connection between George Orwell and South Shields. In May 2012 I was in the Local Studies library when the librarian showed me a birth certificate with the name Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She thought Eileen was the wife of author George Orwell. (Real name Eric Arthur Blair). A few weeks passed and I was doing some research in the library when I saw a display at the back of the room. There were three large boards. On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell, a newspaper cutting and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. This looks interesting. In the middle was a large black and white photograph featuring about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun at the front. It was obviously a war image. Then I noticed a dark haired woman crouching behind the machine gun. I looked closer. Hair’s stood up on my arms. Goose bumps. I needed to know more. 

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Their wasn’t much information out there about Eileen, just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books. So there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details. Interviews on camera were arranged around the country. One lead to another and to another. It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. Weeks and months passed by while information was gathered but I never come across any obstacles. Everybody I asked wanted to be part of the documentary. During Summer 2013 I put the research to one side and started working on a film ‘Designs for Life’. The short film was about the growing demand for tattoo’s and that women are increasingly becoming part of the tattoo’d tribe. I’ve found having a couple of projects at different stages helps in the film making process. Spending time on something else gives you space away from the other project and finally return to it with fresh eyes and ears. ‘Designs for Life’ kept me busy until Autumn 2013 and further sales of previous documentaries funded my time to start piecing together the film about Eileen. 

Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona. I remember I had the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking how did I get here. It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place. On 26th March 2014 I screened for the first time, Wildflower the documentary about Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Her son Richard Blair, and friends from The Orwell Society came up north to watch the film.

A short clip from the documentary edited this year. Why not check out other ALIKIVI films on You Tube and subscribe to the channel.

 

Gary Alikivi June 2018.

Recommended:

Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

ZAMYATIN -Russian Link to Tyneside. New documentary.

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The Shields Gazette Journalist Peter French wrote on 17th August 2018 ‘It’s a long way from St Petersburg to South Shields. But it was a journey once made by a young Russian, an author, who not only upset the Communist authorities back home, but whose work may have influenced the writing of one of this country’s most influential novels – ‘1984’ by George Orwell.

His name was Yevgeny Zamyatin and his story is now told in a new video produced by local film-maker Gary Alikivi (Wilkinson). The film, which can be viewed on YouTube, may be less than 10 minutes long, but like much of Gary’s work it is informative as well as thought-provoking.

Watch the full film on 7th August post or read more at: https://www.shieldsgazette.com/lifestyle/nostalgia/the-link-between-a-russian-visitor-to-south-shields-and-george-orwell-s-1984-1-9306630

Gary Alikivi  August 2018.

SECRETS & LIES – New documentary about Baron Avro Manhattan

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As the blog hits 35,000 views Journalist Peter French wrote in The Shields Gazette 7th August 2018….The life and times of Avro Manhattan, an Italian born Baron whose artwork and writing made him friends and enemies throughout the world, and who chose to spend his final years, living with his wife in South Shields are truley fascinating. But don’t take my word for it – let the man himself revael to you all about it’.

To read the story go to…www.shieldsgazette.com/lifestyle/nostalgia/hit-man-s-target-settled-in-south-shields-1-9288202

Or watch the documentary ‘SECRETS & LIES’ posted on 17th July 2018.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.

ZAMYATIN: THE RUSSIA – TYNESIDE CONNECTION. Making the video.

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Diary entry 12th December 2016: Reading a post by Leslie Hurst on the Orwell Society blog, a possible link between Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin, author George Orwell and his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Zamyatin was an author also on Tyneside in 1916 to supervise the building of icebreakers for the Russian Navy. Looked into this and found Zamyatin an interesting character and worth following up. 

Monday morning jumped on a metro to Newcastle City Library to check out Zamyatins link to Tyneside. Got the lift up to the local history section on the 6th floor and asked the library assistant if they had any material about him. She came back from the archive with three pieces of information, dates and index number. There was a local biography note, a page from Alan Myers book ‘Myers Literary Guide to the North East’ and a date of an article in the Journal from September 19th 1988. These were all photocopied. 

Within 20 minutes I had found what I was looking for. Normally in local history there is a bit searching, photocopy runs out of paper, the microfiche is difficult to thread and its running slow etc., but no it all went very smoothly.

Then went out into the town with grey skies and spit of rain. Over the road I caught sight of some graffitti. I had my small Canon camera with me so nipped over and took a few pics. The slogans were on the back of a muti storey car park with small slits for windows. Brutal architecture. Very East European. Amongst the slogans was a red hammer and sickle ! Went straight to Waterstones and bought a copy of his novel ‘We’.

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While working on this blog during 2017 I put aside the Zamyatin project untill I had more time. Then in May this year started to fully research and write the script. 

Diary entry 4th June 2018: Got on the metro to Jesmond and found the address where Zamyatin was living when he worked on Tyneside. As I went to knock on the door the owner walked up the path behind me. That was fortunate. Introduced myself and told her what I was there for. We talked for 10 minutes about Zamyatin then exchanged contacts. Took photo’s outside the house and the blue plaque on the wall. Then walked about 5 mins to St Andrews Cemetery to see the headstone of Eileen, Orwell’s wife. The grave is in good nick with a few flowers planted nearby. Did Eileen have any contact with Zamyatin ?

A short script was put together using A Soviet Heretic by D.J.Richards. The voice over’s were recorded at The Customs Space  studio in South Shields. Tyneside actor’s Iain Cunningham  with Jonathan Cash adding the voice of Zamyatin. Again, as on many projects North East musician John Clavering captured the mood.

The finished story of ‘Zamyatin – The Russia-Tyneside Connection’ can be seen here. To see more documentaries you can subscribe to my channel on You Tube.

 

 

 

Gary Alikivi July 2018.