Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whatever happened to James Barlow?

It isn't easy to find a more obscure novelist than David Karp, but I think I've just succeeded. A recent visit to Camilla's Bookshop in Eastbourne yielded this novel, published in 1961:


Yes, that is Larry Olivier on the front cover and the girl is a very young Sarah Miles. Barlow's novel was turned into a film a year after publication and also starred Simone Signoret, Thora Hird and Terence Stamp.

Amazingly, it doesn't appear to have been released on DVD or VHS which, no matter how bad the film might be, is surprising given the distinguished cast.


In 1963, someone called Bosley Crowther published a damning review in the New York Times, complaining that:

'A hero more afflicted than Lazarus and more humble and patient than Job is not likely to cut a dynamic or captivating figure in a film, no matter how finely he is acted, even by Lawrence Olivier. And that's why "Term of Trial," which came to the Paramount yesterday, is not an exciting picture, for all its skittering around a sordid theme.

The meek and shabby high school teacher that Mr. Olivier plays in this British rehash of "Blackboard Jungle," with minor "Lolita" overtones, is a wistful and well-meaning fellow for whom your heart bleeds a drop or two as you watch him stoically enduring all sorts of troubles and woes. But he's just not enough of a person to make your blood run hot or cold.'

Crowther clearly doesn't like what he describes as the 'current British "kitchen sink" style' however on this side of the Atlantic the film appears to have been more successful and Olivier received a BAFTA nomination for his performance.

I have no idea how good or bad the film is, but the novel is a corker. Set in a nameless industrial town, Term of Trial is a bleak depiction of working class life at the end of the 1950s and its descriptions of sink estates are prescient for a novel written almost half a century ago. With a little editing it wouldn't be hard to pass Term of Trial off as a contemporary novel.

To give you a flavour of Barlow's style, here is the first page to click on:



As for Barlow himself, there is next to nothing about him on the internet. Not even a small Wikipedia entry. The author blurb says that he was born in 1921, when means that he may still be alive (he's a year older than our friend Sam Youd). However, like David Karp, he appears to have stopped writing novels at the end of the 1960s. I would love to know why.


Term of Trial may be derivative in places, but it is a thoughtful, well-written novel that is both a perceptive study of human nature and a compelling social document. It doesn't deserve to be out of print.

Addendum: James Barlow died in 1973, at the age of 51.

39 comments:

Scriptor Senex said...

The Burden of Proof was a recommended text by our English teacher at school in the mid-1960s. How far a fall from grace that has proved to be!

Steerforth said...

That's a rather risqué novel to recommend to schoolchildren! However, I'm glad to hear that it received an endorsement from an English teacher.

JRSM said...

Dreary 1950s England with school teacher shenanigans! What does it say about me that this sounds like my ideal book?

Steerforth said...

I expect these books provide you with a little light relief from the relentless blue skies and sunshine.

1981Marcus said...

Barlow ended up emigrating to Tasmania and writing the hysterical screed "Goodbye England". I'd be interested to know if the personality he revealed there (a puritanical, snobbish, racist paranoiac) is apparent in his novels.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I managed to catch the end of the film broadcast on Turner Classic Movies in America. Bosley Crowther was a reviewer for the NYTimes in the sixties. And, while the film sank into melodrama at many points, there was a lot to like. Especially the story and performances.

Anonymous said...

I read this book years ago when I was young and impressionable and thought it excellent. I picked up a second hand copy by chance a few weeks ago and settled down for a nostalgic re-read. Alas, I found it almost unreadable and can't get beyond the first few chapters. I think it is the lack of nuance and subtlety that I find off-putting: the descriptions are heavy and laboured; the characters almost caricatures - the sort of thing you come across in creative writing classes. I'll persevere and see if it develops into the novel that gripped me all those years ago.....

Gary said...

I came across these posts when searching for information about James Barlow. I'd finally started reading an old copy of 'The Patriots' and loved it.

ambarlow said...

James Barlow died in 1973 in Cork Ireland. My husband was his son.

There is a possibility that another of his books is about to be dramatised.

Adrian said...

i wonder if after the novel "the Patriot" was ever been maked a movie ?

Ray said...

Burden Of Proof was made into the movie 'Villain' with Richard Burton (available as a dvd). 'Both Your Houses' really good Romeo and Juliet set in the Irish troubles.

Bryan said...

Is the book Liner interesting?

Bryan said...

Is the novel Liner any good

Gillian Barlow said...

In response to Adrian, the film rights of The Patriots were bought around 1960/61 by Lord Brabourne and the film was very nearly ready to go with Stanley Baker cast as Reg Mills, but then the great train robbery happened and they cancelled the film feeling that it would appear to be cashing in on misfortune so it was never made. Whoever inherited from Lord Brabourne will have inherited the rights. I hope that one day a film is made as it is a cracking, but very human novel. It was certainly felt to be his best.

Bryan - in my (hopefully unbiased) view Liner is very good indeed. It is a page turner but with people who are beautifully drawn and real. I hope you read it and that you enjoy it.

Gary - there is now some biographical detail on Amazon and on the James Barlow Facebook page. I intend to do a biography for Wikipedia when I can find the time and also to do a webpage devoted to him, with lots more detail about his books, his background etc. I do have a day job though, so although I would like to do more, I can only do so much in the time I have.

Did I say that five of his novels have been released a short while ago as ebooks (including The Protagonists and The Burden of Proof and Both your Houses)? In the not too distant future 8 more of his novels will be published (including The Patriots and Liner).

I hope people enjoy them.

Steerforth said...

I saw Villain only a few months ago and loved it - I wasn't aware of the James Barlow connection.

Gillian Barlow said...

Not my most favourite novel or film because it was very violent. It was based on true characters (including the dogdy politicians!) Dad did his research in London and gangster informants in late 60s London spilt the beans on people like the Krays. It is quite a time since I last read it so might read it again in the near future. The stories that he was told about what they did and some of the people who attached themselves to people like the Krays were horrific. One well known painter used to be allowed to go along to paint torture sessions. Grim, but truly realistic.

Gillian Barlow said...

And by the way 'Term of Trial' is out on DVD, but it is for the American territories. You can buy it but you need an all territories DVD player (which again you can buy but they are quite expensive).

Steerforth said...

But I'd say read the book first! The fact that it was filmed with such a quality cast shows how respected it was at the time.

Gillian Barlow said...

It still is! The film director who is hoping to make a film of The Protagonists loves the novel of Term of Trial and also the film. The reason I know about the DVD and all territories DVD players is because he wanted a DVD of Term of Trial and I searched it out for him.

Although there has been a hiatus in dad's books being published here due to a new literary agent disappearing, on the continent Term of Trial has continued to be published by several publishers (out of copyright!!). Likewise The Protagonists. In fact he is very well thought of in places like Italy where fans review The Protagonists and compare the themes in it to Dostoievsky. The publisher is now publishing it in copyright and I'm hoping to meet the head of publishing when he comes to London in April (I want to express my appreciation). It has really lifted my spirits knowing that a novel that I love is equally appreciated by a lot of people.

Steerforth said...

As soon as I started reading Term of Trial I knew that I'd discovered a gem. It's very frustrating that some perfectly good novels become virtually forgotten, whilst the fiction tables in bookshops bulge with third rate new ones, but that's the nature of publishing.

On a positive note, a lot of authors are now being rediscovered by a new generation of readers, thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations on the internet.

A Facebook page is a good idea, but even better would be a Wikipedia entry.

Gillian Barlow said...

Well as I said I do intend to do a Wikipedia biography and feel very frustrated that I haven't been able to get on with it and to finish it. I have been writing notes for a while, but have been dealing with all sorts of matters associated with the publication of the ebooks, the film etc and typing up his last unpublished novel have taken up a lot of my time and have had to take precedence. You are right though, a Wikipedia entry is needed and I hope to crack on with it soon.

I can't find the words to say how pleased and encouraged I feel that you like and appreciate Term of Trial. Even though it is many years since I last read it, bits of it have stuck in my memory. If you like it I wonder if you could go on Amazon and do a review and give it as many stars as you feel able to as this will help push it up the charts and into people's consciousness. Hope you don't mind me asking!

I agree about the mediocrity of a lot of books on the book shelves. So many times I have been disappointed. I got two novels recently and I couldn't finish one and I thought, even on a bad day dad's writing was far superior to this. I also agree that the internet and word of mouth has been a boon to authors, but I think ebooks are going to make as much impact on publishing as Caxton did. We live in interesting times!

Steerforth said...

Yes, I'll happily put a review on Amazon.

Please let me know when the Wikipedia entry is up.

Gillian Barlow said...

I will do and it's encouraged me to put everything else aside for the time being!

Gillian Barlow said...

Steerforth,

Good news! Someone (not me) has started a Wikipedia page for dad. It is only a brief account of his early career and has no photos, but since I have written a biography which I have been going through finding citations from papers, magazines to underpin what I have written it hadn't gone up. This is very encouraging as I have the next week off and will really get cracking and concentrate on finishing what I have got and learning wiki language so that I can add to this wiki page.

Gillian Barlow said...

steerforth,

Not sure if my previous comment was accepted or not. However I'll give it another go. Good news! Someone (not me) has posted a brief piece about dad on Wikipedia. It is brief and only covers the bare bones of his early career. However I'm thrilled to bits as I had done a biography and was still going through his papers for reviews, articles etc to underpin the biography ( eg Dorothy Parker wrote a wonderful review of The Patriots which is so exciting to find. I will continue and add once I have done this and conquered Wiki language!

Steerforth said...

Gillian - That's great news. I'm looking forward to reading more about your father. I'm sure that a new generation of readers would enjoy his novels. It's just a case of getting them back in the consciousness of the reading public.

Christopher said...

What an exceedingly nasty and ignorant comment by 1981 Marcus. It says a great deal about the writer and precisely nothing about James Barlow. 'Goodbye England' was a highly prescient book which accurately forecast what would happen to the best governed country in Africa, Rhodesia, under premature so called 'black majority' rule. And we know what happened don't we? Robert Mugabe...

Gillian Barlow said...

Thanks Christopher. I've only just seen your comment. I hadn't commented on Marcus 1981's remarks because as his daughter I could be accused of bias. I do agree with you. Also anyone less snobbish, puritannical etc than my dad you could hardly wish to meet. He was thoroughly down to earth and was an immensely genuine and lovely person.

Quite irrespective of his writing skills I feel that I was very lucky to have him as a father. Over the years I have really missed his wisdom, kindness and humour. I would also like to add that the reason I plug away trying to promote his work isn't because he was a loveable person but because I genuinely feel he is one of the best writers (with a unique voice) that I have ever read. It takes an awful lot of my time and effort and I wouldn't waste my time if he was just a run of the mill writer whose time has past. Quite often I have to pinch myself when reading his work and think "My God, this man was my father!!'

Anonymous said...

Gillian - You write beautifully and most movingly about your father. You are a true fighter for him and your passion is transparent. I believe your father not only deserves your passion but that he would be very proud of you...And in case anyone might think otherwise, I never met your father and I do not know you. Christopher

Chris said...

Have just finished Barlow's 'The Patriots', which is every bit as good as 'Term of Trial'. Well worth a read, to anyone curious and who has strayed onto these pages.

Gillian Barlow said...

Glad you enjoyed The Patriots Chris. It is the book that made his reputation. Even Dorothy Parker gave it a brilliant review! It should be released electronically fairly soon as an ebook on Amazon although you can get copies of the hardback and paperback on sites such as Amazon, Alibris and Abe books.

Anthony McKay said...

I believe film producer Paul Soskin was interested purchasing film rights for one of James Barlow's novels. This would have been around early 1961 - 1962.

Soskin didn't make a film - any idea which novel he was after?

Steerforth said...

No idea I'm afraid. Perhaps Barlow's daughter Gillian might know.

Gillian Barlow said...

Anthony I can't answer that off hand at the moment. What I can say is I will look in his papers for those years. I think it is likely to be The Hour of Maximum Danger as I know the rights were being sought for that particular novel although I can't say by who without looking. Also it is the right time frame. I will get back to you asap.

Anthony McKay said...

Thank you Gillian, that would be appreciated.

Gillian Barlow said...

Anthony,

I have looked at the letters written by dad's agent Carl Routledge in the years 1964-1965. I haven't as yet found anything on Paul Soskind though. I have however found that a company called Four Stars was after The Hour of Maximum Danger and were keen to do a film of the novel. Was Paul Soskind anything to do with them? Although I have got of boxes of his letters and papers I haven't got everything as somewhere along the line letters have gone missing that I know existed. One thing I intend doing in the next year or so is go to the USA to Texas university where they have got 37 boxes of my dad's papers/letters etc in their library archive including a lot of Carl Routledge's letters. I want to go because I have been editing his last book and I need to cross check a few things with a manuscript of his last novel that is there. I would also welcome the chance to see copies of letters from people like Alfred Hitchcock etc. I did intend going last autumn, but I developed heart problems (the doctors though I had had a heart attack) and had to go into hospital for investigations etc. Also a film director who is planning on making a film of one his novels wanted some background letters etc for his research on dad. When I go if I find anything on Paul Soskind I will let you know. Sorry I can't shed any more light at the moment though.

bomber brown said...

Dear Miss Barlow, are you still following this thread as I would like some information about the Patriots.
Regards db

bomber brown said...

Dear Miss Barlow,
I hope your still following this theme, as I would like some information the Patriots.
Regards DB

Gillian Barlow said...

Bomber Brown, yes I still follow this thread although I don't get any email notification to let me know someone has posted anything. How can I help you? What would you like to know? I will try and help if I can.