Orwell and Garrett in Liverpool

1936 and 2019
A short film about George Garrett’s meeting with George Orwell in Liverpool in 1936 will feature on BBC TV’s The One Show on Tuesday 12th March.
The film feature George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, and George Garrett’s grandson, Sean.
Orwell was researching his seminal work on poverty in Britain in the 1930s, The Road To Wigan Pier, and Garrett was recommended for him to meet. George Garrett showed the docker’s hiring stands, the corporation housing and they sat up late in the night discussing politics and literature. Orwell, in his diaries, wrote, ‘I was very greatly impressed by Garrett. Had I known before that it is he who writes under the pseudonym of Matt Low in the Adelphi and one or two other places, I would have taken steps to meet him earlier.

Mike Morris of the George Garrett Archive provides more details:-

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On Tuesday 12th March The One Show will screen a short film about when George Orwell met George Garrett, in February 1936 in Liverpool, when Orwell was researching The Road to Wigan Pier.

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Richard Blair with a picture of himself aged 3 with George Orwell

The film features Orwell’s son, Richard Blair and Garrett’s grandson, Sean Garrett, who met in Liverpool to discuss how the lives of the two writers, one, Orwell, who achieved major recognition in his lifetime, and Garrett, who achieved recognition in the late 1930s, but sank into post-war obscurity, crossed in 1936.

George Garrett, Merchant Seaman, writer, playwright and founder member of Liverpool’s Unity Theatre, was a radical activist who travelled the world and wrote a series of short stories, stage plays and documentary reports about poverty and struggle in the 1920’s and 30’s.

George Orwell, who was then researching his seminal work on poverty, The Road to Wigan Pier, was introduced to Garrett, who showed him round Liverpool, visiting the docker’s hiring stands and the new corporation housing, before Garrett dropped him off at Wigan Pier.

Garrett took Orwell around Liverpool’s housing estates, to the Docker’s stand and then to Wigan. They appear to have got on well together and sat up in the night discussing literature and politics. Garrett was well-travelled and known for being well-read and would no doubt have been able to hold his own in discussions with Orwell.

Orwell confessed to ‘being very impressed by Garrett’, even more so when he realised Garrett also wrote under the pseudonym also Matt Low, with more stories published than he previously realised.

‘I urged him to write his autobiography’ wrote Orwell, ‘but, as usual, living in about two rooms on the dole with a wife (who, I gather, objects to his writing) and a number of kids, he finds it impossible to settle to any long work and can only do short stories. Apart from the enormous unemployment in Liverpool it is almost impossible for him to get work because he is blacklisted everywhere as a Communist.’ (Garrett, like many activists had flirted with the Communist party briefly, but was actually a lifelong syndicalist, having joined the Industrial Workers of the World, or The Wobblies, as they were better known, during his time in America in the early 1920s).

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Sean Garrett, Richard Blair, holding the ship in a bottle bought by George Orwell in Liverpool in 1936

In his diaries Orwell wrote that while he was with Garrett, he ‘Bought two brass candlesticks and a ship in a bottle. G considered I was swindled but they are quite nice brass.’

In a very touching and fitting end to the day’s filming, Richard Blair produced the very ship in a bottle that Orwell had bought in Liverpool in 1936. Sean was surprised, and probably a little more moved than he would have expected to be.

Orwell and Garrett never met again, but, inspired by Orwell’s advice and fired up by his view of The Road to Wigan Pier, Garrett did write his autobiography, Ten Years On The Parish. Sadly, it was never published in his lifetime, but, after being rediscovered in a suitcase by Writing on the Wall’s George Garrett Archive Project, Liverpool University Press published it in 2017, along with Garrett’s correspondence with his editor John Lehman as Ten Years On The Parish, The Life and Letters of George Garrett.

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Find out more about Garrett’s life and work at www.georgegarrettarchive.co.uk.

Buy Ten Years On The Parish, The Life and Letters of George Garrett here.

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Following The One Show there will be an event at Liverpool’s Central Library, at 6pm on Wednesday 20th March, where members of the George Garrett Archive Group will speak about George’s work, and invite people to join our new 8-week education course.

Mike Morris, Co-Director, Writing on the Wall. www.writingonthewall.org.uk


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