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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.