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Monday, 26 October 2020

What's in a name? Rather a Lot.

A tricky, but often overlooked, matter is the choosing of names for a company, a book or play, a website, or a domain name. Here's a look at my own experiences...

Back in 1996, when I left the staff of BBC World Service, I set up Richardson Media Limited with plans to write newspaper articles, do consultancies and teach television journalism. I did all three for a number of profitable years, but then, by accident, I stumbled across the story of a tragic scandal in my extended family. This led to a book and a screenplay, both called God’s Triangle.

Having witnessed the unhappy experiences of a number of my former BBC colleagues who went down the traditional publishing route, I chose to self-publish. This was when I began to have doubts about my company name. Despite the growing acceptance of self-publishing as a legitimate route for authors, there is still the residual stain, if I can call it that, of vanity publishing.


It became clear when I first published God’s Triangle that it didn’t look good to have a book by Ian Richardson, published by Richardson Media Limited. Indeed, I was asked by more than one person “Weren’t you able to find anyone to publish your book?” My answer, whether they believed me or not: “I didn’t try because I didn’t want to see months, perhaps even years, go by with God’s Triangle and my later books gathering dust in trays on the desks of various publishers. Anyway, I had the advantage of a background in publishing, printing and public relations, plus a wife with excellent editing and design skills.

Self-publishing worked with God’s Triangle because I had it in circulation in Australia and the UK within weeks and a couple of months after that, I had a film offer. But I remained uncomfortable about the name, so my wife/business partner and I decided to change it. But to what? We didn’t want to keep “Richardson” or “Media”, so that left only “Limited”.

It took many days and advice from family and friends before we settled on Preddon Lee Limited. So why that name? Well, first of all, we wanted something that meant nothing, so that should the company change its operations in the coming years, it wouldn’t matter. 

Some of the world’s most successful companies have names that mean zilch. They are just names. That said, we needed to avoid names that had negative connotations, such as Gloomy Limited, Downbeat Limited, Death’s Door Limited or Smartarse Limited. Additionally, we needed to consider whether the chosen name might be negative -- rude even -- in any of the major foreign languages. Then there were other equally important questions to consider: 1) Was a chosen name already registered at Companies House? 2) Was it similar to a company name that already existed? 3) Was it easy to spell? 4) Was the domain name available? and 5) Did the name have a good chance of being at the top of a website search page?

Our accountants assured us that changing the company name was “very easy” and would not cost much. They were right. It was easy and the fee was not much more than £100, but that proved to be a small part of the story, not least because it meant changing a business email address that had been in wide circulation for more than a decade. Then there was the legal requirement that I stop using Richardson Media Limited as a trading name at the earliest opportunity. This was not easy when I had a website of that name that had been in existence for at least 10 years and still generated a great deal of traffic. That was solved by our Internet Service Provider posting an announcement of the name change and the new URL.

There  were some other naming issues that arose and needed to be deal with. First, there was the name that I originally gave my latest screenplay and book: The Moral Maze. Some of you will know that this is the name of a long-established programme on  BBC radio. I didn’t consider that a hurdle, because there is no copyright on titles and there were no other possible legal obstacles, other than, perhaps, accusations of “passing off”. This latter issue could not be a problem as my work was a screenplay and book, while the other Moral Maze is a debating programme on Radio Four.

No further thought was given to having the same name as a BBC programme until a remark by a friend made me realise that there might be a difficulty with the search engine ratings. And there certainly was! A quick search of The Moral Maze brought up tens of thousands of results, almost all of them to do with the radio programme.

Our initial reaction was to scrap the name entirely, but after days of head-scratching, we decided we would try The Mortal Maze, a title with an extra “t” and which still fitted the story. A rummage around the search engines proved very promising, and we also discovered that the internet domain name was available. My wife then had a brilliant idea as we organised the design of the book cover: How about inserting a different coloured T into the “moral”, thus giving the book two titles in one? This we did and we are thrilled with the results.

A further issue tied to Internet search engines was my own name. I'd always been happy to be plain "Ian Richardson", but when I put that name into any search engine, the list was dominated by references to a famous actor of the same name. Even putting "Ian Richardson, journalist" didn't help because my actor namesake's most famous role was in the original TV series The House of Cards in which he played a sinister British politician who murdered a journalist. Additionally, there appeared to be quite a few journalists named Ian Richardson. The problem was mostly solved by adding the initial of my middle name Duncan. Henceforth I always was listed as "Ian D. Richardson".

That dealt with, naming challenges still existed. Although my book is a work of fiction, it is openly inspired by my experiences as a senior news editor in BBC World Service radio and television. Therefore, I needed to take great care with the names chosen for the characters. As a further protection against legal problems, some of the holders of real BBC posts were switched from being men to women and vice versa.

I thought I had all that sorted until I realised just weeks before publishing the ebook version that the BBC had recently recruited a news executive with a name almost identical to my troubled anti-hero. So that name had to be rapidly changed. Then two days later, I was listening to BBC radio when I learned that a newish reporter had the same surname as another character in the book. So that also had to be changed. Worse, though, was when a friend pointed out that I had given a terrorist the same name as a prominent Muslim journalist working in TV news. It was at this point that I felt a family of luck-shattering black cats must have crossed my path.

Finally, after checking with BBC friends and double-checking with Google, I was confident that my story didn’t include names of real people related to television journalism. But if there is ever a BBC television reporter called Jackson Dunbar, who has an addiction, who has been corrupted by the intelligence services, whose personal life is a mess and who reports from the Middle East, I am very, very sorry. I really didn’t mean to smear your reputation.

Paperback and ebook versions of my thriller, The Mortal Maze, can be found HERE.  The link to my non-fiction book, God’s Triangle, is HERE.

 

Saturday, 10 October 2020

When women were known only by their husband's name

When I was a young man in Australia, my family owned several small rural weekly newspapers, the main one being the Tribune, which was printed in my home town, Charlton, Victoria. I have the good fortune to have electronic copies of all Tribune issues between 1943 and 1961, the period of our family ownership. It is fun to go through them sometimes to be reminded of old friends and associates and of events that shaped the town with its population of about 1000.

I came across the items below from issues published in 1961, and it struck me that both the women in the stories were referred to only by the full name of their husbands. At no point were the women's first names given.  I was reminded that back then this was the normal practice. 

My mother was always referred to as Mrs John Richardson until after my father died in 1954. From then on she became Mrs R. M. Richardson or occasionally, Mrs Rena Richardson. 

Although my mother was a feminist by inclination, she refused to be described as such. I know that it never occurred to her that there was something odd -- wrong even -- about the naming of married women in newspapers or in the minutes of meetings she attended. Indeed, the items below were written during her time as editor of the Tribune. And if there were a number of married women mentioned in a story she referred to them collectively as "Mesdames Brown/White/Black/Jones" etc etc.

It was very rare for a married woman to insist that she be referred to by her birth or maiden name. However, when I worked for BBC World Service News between 1969 and 1996, the majority of married women on the staff were not known by the names of their husbands. This was partly because the women had started working for the BBC before they were married. Occasionally, the newsroom would receive a phone call asking to speak to a female member of staff by her married name and would be told "We don't have anyone of that name working here."

It is impossible to pinpoint the period in which is became unacceptable to refer to women by their husband's full names because it would have been a gradual change taking place at different paces in different locations and communities.

I do know a very conservative woman who is adamant that she should be known by her husband's name, and if she receives a letter addressed to her by her first name she returns it unopened. No surprise then that she does the same for any letters that insults her by referring to her a "Ms" rather than "Mrs". She is horrified that many married women do not change their name to that of their husband. 

  
  
PS: I have since learned that Mrs Harry Sait's first name was Mary and that 
Mrs Con Fanning was Linda.

It should go without saying that the naming of spouses in Asian, African and other cultures can be quite different and is another story, or stories.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

The hidden years of a prominent Melbourne citizen

Frank E. Paice was a prominent and respected citizen in Melbourne, Australia, for three decades, having been, among other things, a suburban councillor and mayor, a justice of the peace, a commissioner of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and an executive in Hume Engineering Limited. But hardly anyone knew that he had been an ordained clergyman and Baptist missionary in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) from 1912-1918. He also kept secret the fact that he had been in a tragic marriage to Florence M. "Florrie" Cox and that fellow-missionary A. Olga Johnston was his second wife, with whom he'd had an affair while still a married missionary. 

The sad story of Florrie Cox and the establishment cover-up that followed can be found in my book God's Triangle. Below is an extract from Who was Who in the book:

Rev. Frank Ernest Paice 1888-1964

Frank Paice was also born into a religious family—in Woolston, a suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand. His parents, William George “Willie” and Jane “Jenny” Paice, both born in England, had their first child in Australia, Edith, at South Melbourne in 1878. They then spent at least the next eight years in New Zealand, where they had a second daughter, Eva, followed by George and finally Frank.

It has not been possible to establish when, or why, the family returned to Australia, but Frank was brought up near Melbourne at One Tree Hill in the Dandenongs, where Willie had a market garden and was a lay preacher in the Baptist Church.

Frank grew into a very handsome young man with a natural, commanding presence. Though he was a man of firm and clear views, he was mostly well liked, finding it easy to mix with a variety of friends and associates. He was a skilled carpenter but initially trained to become an engineer. He never completed his engineering studies after both he and his elder brother George “got God’s call” and chose to become clergymen, doing their training together at the Baptist College of Victoria in Melbourne.

A formal photograph published in The Southern Baptist in June 1911 shows the students and lecturers lined up at the college with Frank and George standing alongside each other. One of the lecturers in that photograph was my great uncle, the Rev. Hedley J. Sutton, who was in Melbourne on an extended furlough (leave) from his missionary responsibilities in East Bengal.

It can be assumed that it was Hedley who inspired Frank to join him on the mission field. Frank also felt attracted to India because his grandfather, George T. Paice, had fought in the Second Sikh War of 1848-49 which had resulted in the Punjab being annexed by Britain. While Frank’s brother, George W. Paice, took up the first of several postings to churches in Victoria, Frank underwent extra training to prepare him for his work in East Bengal. It was apparently during this time that he began courting Florrie Cox. They almost certainly met through being members of the congregation at the Auburn Baptist Church, which was a religious and informal social hub in Melbourne for the Cox, Sutton and Paice families.

It is difficult to know what drew Frank and Florrie together. Frank wanted to marry and have children, but to what extent this desire was matched by Florrie cannot be established. Whatever Florrie’s attitude, she would have been under family and social pressures to marry and produce children. Frank would not have had a wide choice of potential wives as few women would have been sufficiently religious and hardy enough to accept the many challenges of a missionary wife.

It is not known if Frank had any serious girlfriends before he became engaged to Florrie, but I stumbled across an intriguing entry in an illustrated autograph book that my mother inherited from her aunt Maude Irene “Rena” Sutton, one of Hedley Sutton’s younger sisters.

Rena died in March 1911, from tuberculosis, aged just 22. Frank’s entry, like most of the others, had a religious and formal tone. But it did show that he knew Rena back in February 1910, the year before he began studying for the ministry and more than two years before he became engaged to Florrie.

It is not now possible to establish whether there was any special significance to this entry, but my mother thought that there could well have been. She said that single men did not routinely make entries in an unmarried girl’s autograph book unless they were family or close friends. It is entirely possible, therefore, that Frank had seen Rena as a potential marriage partner.

We will never know for certain about Frank’s intentions towards Rena, but it is clear that she would have been sufficiently religious to qualify as a missionary wife. I have in my possession an Active Member’s Pledge Card signed by Rena as a member of the evangelical group, Junior Society of Christian Endeavour, when she was a teenager. In addition to the usual daily prayers, she promised to read the bible each day and carry out other regular religious duties.

Hedley Sutton, an elder brother, would have been delighted to have a member of his own family alongside him in East Bengal “serving God by gathering souls”, as it was often put. But it was not to be. The speculation about Frank and Rena aside, it is ironical, in view of what happened later to Frank, that his contribution to Rena’s autograph book should include this quotation from the former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli: “Circumstances are beyond the control of men, but his conduct is within his own power.”

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Paperback, Kindle and eBook copies of God's Triangle can be bought HERE.
Reviews are HERE.

More about Florence M. "Florrie" Cox is HERE.
More about A. Olga Johnston is HERE

The secret past of former missionary A. Olga Paice

This is from the Who was Who chapter in my non-fiction book, God's Triangle, about my investigation into the scandal and cover-up surrounding Florence M. "Florrie" Cox and her disastrous marriage to the Australian Baptist missionary, the Rev Frank E. Paice, who later married fellow missionary, A. Olga Johnston

Alvina Olga “Olga” Johnston (later Paice) 1884-1966

Olga Johnston was the child of immigrant parents. Her father, Abraham Johnston, was an agricultural labourer in Southern Ireland. Her mother, Maria Dorothea Juliane “Julia” Holzgrefe, was born near Hanover in Germany. It was a double wedding for Julia and her elder sister, Wilhelmina. It took place in November 1869 at the home of the girls’ father, Christoph, near Carapook, a farming area between Coleraine and Casterton in Victoria.

The service was conducted by an Evangelical Lutheran clergyman, but the Johnston family were Church of England. Julia was just 17 when she was married. Her sister was 20. The wedding register gave Abraham’s age as 31, but other records make it clear that he was 38 or 39.

It seems likely that Julia was pregnant at the time of her marriage, as the first-born arrived less than seven months after the wedding. In all, Julia bore Abraham eight children, the last of whom was Olga, born on September 20, 1884, at Carapook.

Not much is known about Julia (sometimes also called Julia Anna), other than that she died aged just 37 in July 1889 when Olga was only four years old, leaving her and some of the other younger siblings to be brought up by their father and eldest sister, Dora.

Quite a bit of information is available about Abraham, thanks chiefly to an obituary in the Portland Guardian of May 16, 1921. From this, we discover that he was a tough and resourceful character.

The obituary reports that when Abraham was setting out for Australia from Liverpool on the City of Lincoln in 1852, the ship’s owners went bankrupt. Abraham and his fellow passengers seized control of the ship with the intention of sailing it to Melbourne, where they hoped to sell it to recover their expenses. This escapade, with its unpredictable consequences, became unnecessary when the vessel was bought by another firm of ship owners and the voyage took place without further incident.

Before establishing himself as a farmer at Carapook, Abraham unsuccessfully sought riches on the goldfields of Bendigo, Ballarat and Dunolly, among other places. For a time, he went into business using a horse and dray to transport flour around the Bendigo and Ballarat areas.

There are no records of how the Johnston family coped with the death of Julia. Nor is it clear whether religion played a major part in their lives.

At some point, Olga switched from the Church of England to become a devout Baptist. Those who might have been able to tell me about Olga’s time as a young woman have long since died. What is known is that Olga trained as a nurse at Melbourne’s Women’s Hospital—later renamed the Royal Women’s Hospital— before moving to Geelong to be with her sister Dora and other members of her family.

While in Geelong, Olga began attending the Aberdeen Street Baptist Church, which had a reputation for evangelical fervour. It is there that she would have met and come under the persuasive influence of Hedley Sutton, who preached there from time to time while on furlough in Australia.

Church records show that Olga was accepted for missionary training in September 1911. It is not known whether Olga had any marriage prospects before becoming a missionary, but by the time she arrived in East Bengal in 1912, she was already 28—very late for most women of that era to get married.

As there would be few suitable Christian men available for marriage in East Bengal, she had no doubt resigned herself to spinsterhood.

Olga’s nursing skills would have been much valued on the missionary field, not just by the mission staff, but also as a means of drawing in the local population to expose them to the Christian message as they were given medical assistance and advice.

Being a former farm girl would also have helped her cope with the physical adversities she would face in East Bengal. A photograph taken of Olga as she was about to set out for East Bengal showed her to be pretty and having a pleasant demeanour. But as the years went by, she gained a reputation as a forceful, rather intimidating and bitter character who didn’t enjoy living in Australia and had abandoned any religious affiliation. She had strong views on many subjects and was not inhibited from expressing them.

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Paperback, Kindle and eBook copies of God's Triangle are HERE.
Read reviews of God's Triangle HERE.

Learn more about Frank E. Paice by going HERE.

Learn more about Florence M. "Florrie" Cox by going HERE.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The sad and troubled life of Florence "Florrie" M. Cox

An extract from God's Triangle, my investigation into what happened to Florence Martha "Florrie" Cox of Melbourne, Australia, after she married the Baptist missionary, the Revd Frank Ernest Paice, who was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, but was brought up in Australia:

Florence Martha “Florrie” Cox (later Paice) 1887-1950 

Florrie Cox was born at home in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond on November 5, 1887, the third of six children born to Arthur and Amelia Cox. It was a very religious family—extremely so in the case of some members. 

Amelia was very strict, with church-going, hymns, prayers and reading the bible being the only activities permitted on Sundays. Even the meals were prepared the day before. There were complaints in the family about the time Amelia devoted to church activities, often to the detriment to her perceived responsibilities as a mother and housewife. It was as though she were acquiring credit points to ensure her place in Heaven. 

I have not been able to learn anything significant about Florrie’s father, Arthur, as he had died before any of his surviving descendants were old enough to absorb impressions of him. 

Florrie had two brothers, Arthur and Charles. Her sisters were, in order of birth, Amelia (known as “Minnie”, perhaps to differentiate her from her mother), Alice and Lois. 

The two brothers could hardly have been less alike. Arthur was my grandfather and was a forceful, intolerant, humourless, status-conscious, hypocritical and sometimes-violent man with few friends. His religious fervour led him into several bouts of insanity that required hospital treatment. During the Second World War, he was diagnosed with religious mania and dismissed as a major in the Australian Army after declaring to his men that he was Jesus Christ’s second-in-command. 

By contrast, his younger brother Charles—universally known as “Charlie”—was a polite and placid businessman who never forced his views on anyone. He had no interest in religion and attended church very rarely and only when pushed to do so by his wife. By all accounts, he was widely liked and admired. 

Florrie Cox’s sisters, Minnie and Alice, were both married with children, while her sister Lois battled tuberculosis throughout her teenage years before dying when just 22. Little else is known of the three sisters, nor has it been possible to establish exactly what Florrie Cox was like in her early years. She was, though, sufficiently religious to become a Sunday School teacher and later to take on the considerable burdens of a missionary wife in one of the more arduous and remote postings the Baptist Church could offer. 

Florrie was unusually tall for a woman in that era—about six feet or 183cms. She became engaged to Frank Paice when she was 24, which would have been considered rather late. In those days, women who weren’t “fixed up” to be married by their early twenties were usually fearful of being left “on the shelf”, and as spinsters, were often viewed as unfulfilled persons. 

On the other hand, men who did not marry would be referred to, often with affection and respect, as “confirmed bachelors”. The strong possibility that many of these men were closet homosexuals did not seem to be considered. 

In the light of what we know about Florrie’s mother and other conservative members of that family, there must have been great joy that she was to be married—and not just married to anyone, but married to a Man of God and a missionary. 

There is no precise record of when Frank and Florrie were engaged, but the indications are that it was not long before Frank sailed for India in October, 1912. 

Though society contained pockets of uninhibited licentiousness in the early 1900s, sexual attitudes for most people—particularly staunch Christians—were very rigid and oppressive. Married women could expect to have many pregnancies in their reproductive life, but they would be told little about the “facts of life”, as sexual knowledge was euphemistically called. 

The more liberal-minded families might offer a newly-married woman a book on “married women’s health”. These books touched on reproductive matters, but were usually very coy and often ill-informed. (One such book included the “fact” that the best way to avoid pregnancies was to engage in conjugal relations midway between the monthly periods.) 

It was widely felt that wives should simply follow the lead of their husbands in the marital bed, though in the majority of cases, their husbands were almost as anxious and sexually ignorant as their wives. The only truly effective form of contraception was abstinence. This was not seen by devout Christian women as a burden, as it was considered very unladylike to enjoy sex, or at least to admit to enjoying it. 

I remember overhearing elderly female relatives declaring that it was important for married women to “maintain Christian standards in the bedroom”. I took this to mean that any sexual activity should be confined to the so-called “missionary position” with the man always on top in the traditional manner. 

These standards would also require that any nudity be as discreet as possible. (One of my Cox family aunts once proudly declared that her husband had never seen her naked.) 

The accepted attitude of married women towards sex—not helped by the fear of yet another pregnancy—often had a discouraging impact on their husbands. Even in my youth in the 1950s, it was quite common for married men to scornfully dismiss sex as “an over-rated indoor sport”. 

To avoid being carried away by sexual desires, courting couples in the early 1900s were normally not allowed to be alone together until such time as they became engaged. When they went out together on a date, they would be required to do so with a chaperone. 

Keeping this in mind, Florrie and Frank would have had few opportunities for sexual encounters before Frank left Australia. Even when Florrie joined him in Calcutta two years later, she and her fiancĂ© would have been allowed little or no time together. Nor, as devout Christians, would they have wanted it any other way. 

If the social and sexual climate had been more relaxed—dare I say, enlightened—it is quite possible that the marriage between Frank and Florrie would never have taken place. However, given their status in the community and the laws of that time, breaking off an engagement was almost as difficult as a divorce is today. One or other of the parties could have sued for “breach of promise”. This was something not treated lightly by the courts and often ended up with public humiliation in the newspapers and the payment of financial compensation by the offending party. 

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Paperback, Kindle and eBook copies of God's Triangle are available HERE.  

Read the reviews HERE.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

The little-known side of a prominent Australian missionary and teacher

Extract from Ian D. Richardson’s non-fiction book, God’sTriangleabout the church scandal 
and cover-up revolving around Florence Martha “Florrie” Cox, her husband 
Frank E. Paice, and A. Olga Johnston

Rev. Hedley John Sutton 1876-1946 

Much is known about my missionary great uncle, Hedley Sutton, for reasons that I will explain shortly. He was a man of exceptional intellect and from a large and fairly ordinary family. In some respects he could be seen as a marginal player in the story of God’s Triangle, but in truth his involvement was significant.

There were two chief reasons for this: 1) he was the most senior Baptist missionary in East Bengal at the time Frank, Florrie and Olga were there, and 2) Hedley and Florrie were members of the same extended family. (Hedley’s sister, Ethel, was married to Florrie’s brother, Arthur junior.)

Hedley’s parents, John and Lucy Sutton, emigrated to Melbourne from Lincolnshire, England, where John was an agricultural labourer. He worked for many years for the Hawthorn City Council, doing labouring jobs, including sweeping the streets. He was hard working and financially astute and at one point owned three houses.

John was, by all accounts, a severe, very religious and daunting man, with little understanding of the many children he had fathered. By contrast, Lucy was considered warm and affectionate. Nonetheless, Hedley felt aggrieved that his mother was much less keen than his father on his pursuing academic studies. 

Hedley was the seventh of 12 children born to John and Lucy. His education began at the Auburn State School before he became a student of Wesley College then Melbourne University’s Trinity College by virtue of hard-won scholarships.

Hedley grew up to be austere, hard-working, hugely-competitive and rather self-centred. His competitive spirit was obvious not just from his academic studies but also as a keen amateur footballer.

As a college and university student, Hedley was forever conscious that he was a labourer’s son mixing with the privileged children of the prominent and wealthy. This rankled, especially as the scholarship money had to be supplemented by part-time jobs, tutoring fees, loans from his father and prizes from educational competitions.

Hedley’s main interests, aside from his faith, were the classics and languages. Immediately after graduation from Melbourne University with an honours degree in his early twenties, he was appointed classics master at Brighton Grammar in Melbourne, a post he held for five years.

Hedley was brought up as a Methodist, but in his matriculation year at Wesley College, he transferred his religious commitment to the Baptists and remained with them for the rest of his life.

This conversion to the Baptist faith led to his training as a missionary at Ormond College in Melbourne. He was ordained in November 1903 and sailed later that month for a missionary life in East Bengal. Apart from two periods of furlough, he remained there until 1927.

Hedley’s second furlough was primarily to marry Miss Elsie Luke, a daughter of a respected and financially-comfortable Australian family. She was a niece of Aeneas Gunn who wrote the Australian classic We of the Never Never and a cousin of Sir Hudson Fysh, a co-founder of the Australian airline, Qantas.

Hedley and Elsie became friends through her role as secretary of the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union. By the time they married in Melbourne in June 1920, Hedley was about to turn 44 and Elsie was

49. Elsie accompanied Hedley back to Mymensingh in East Bengal in November the following year, but could not adapt to the hardships and health hazards routinely faced by a missionary wife. She returned to Australia in poor health early in 1927, to be followed late that year by Hedley, who then resigned as a missionary.

Hedley had been heavily involved during his 1920/21 furlough in plans to set up a Baptist school in Melbourne to honour the memory of the missionary William Carey. Carey Grammar was established in 1923 and on Hedley’s resignation from the missionary service, he was appointed Vice-Principal. He held that post until retiring in 1941.

Hedley was rather unworldly and did not seem to be a man in danger of being overwhelmed by lustful thoughts about the opposite sex. In his youth, he did have a friendship with an Emily Winstone who lived in the  Melbourne area. This did not appear to be an intimate affair and Emily went on to marry someone else.

When Hedley was in his early forties, still single and working in Mymensingh, he produced Hedley–His Story, a lengthy part-work about his life before becoming a missionary.

It was hand-written for Elsie’s private consumption, but found its way into the archives at Carey Grammar. Hedley would sign off each chapter in this private autobiography with “Elsie’s loving lover, Hedley” or “Hedley Dah”. There was no indication, otherwise, that he was writing to the woman who was to become his wife, though to be fair, I did find one rather obtuse love poem that he once sent to Elsie.

Hedley’s siblings were barely mentioned in his life story—the first reference, half way through, was a passing one to a sister, Lydia—and at no time did he mention that another sister, Ethel, was married to Florrie Cox’s brother, Arthur. But there were a number of affectionate references to his friendship with Emily Winstone. There was no indication that he thought Elsie might regard this as a little insensitive.

The structure and content of his autobiography was curious and revealed unintended sides to Hedley’s character. He wrote almost entirely in the third person. In other words, “Hedley did this”, “Hedley did that”, rather than use the word “I” or “me”.

It could be argued that this was from a sense of modesty, but there is little modesty on display in his life story. Indeed, he seemed rather pleased with himself. At the same time, there was an underlying sense of grievance about the attitude of his parents towards him and his achievements and the snobbery he encountered as a student.

There was the revealing entry he made in my mother’s autograph book in 1929: “To learn what to love and what to hate, what to honour and what to despise, is the purpose of education.” A truly astonishing thing to claim, not least for a teacher and devout Christian. Thus the cumulative effect of Hedley’s austere, rather self-centred character suggests to me that he was not emotionally well equipped to deal with the events of God’s Triangle. 

Hedley, who died in Melbourne in February 1946, had an impressive impact on Carey Grammar, particularly in its early days, and a whole section of the school’s archive has been devoted to his life and his works. His contribution to society is further commemorated by having the Baptist Hedley Sutton Community Aged Care home in Camberwell, Melbourne, named after him. Unfortunately, his writings—at least the ones that have survived—contained no references to Florrie Cox or the cover-up.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

How true are film or television "true stories"?

I've learned through bitter experience that scepticism is required when coming across a movie or a television drama that is "based on a true story". Sadly, many are more fiction than fact, often unnecessarily so.

Some time ago, I wrote a non-fiction book, God's Triangle, which was the result of several years investigating what happened to an Australian great aunt, Florence "Florrie" Cox, after she married, Frank E. Paice, a New Zealand-born Baptist missionary in East Bengal (now Bangladesh). She was someone her family didn't wish to talk about because she was embroiled in a scandal. My investigation revealed that this was not of her making, and that she was a victim not just of her being unknowingly intersex, but because of the social restrictions around the time of the First World War when any discussion of sex-related matters was taboo, particularly in Christian circles.

The book has not made me rich and/or famous, but it sold reasonable well and attracted attention from a number of people in the cinema world who thought it would make a compelling film. I accepted a three-year option for a very modest $1500 from two producers. One I knew well and liked; the other I didn't know but who had the ability to raise development funds from one of the government-sponsored film agencies in Australia. 

My clear understanding was that the screenplay I had been working on over the years would be brought up to production standard, and that once filming was under way and the film was released, I would progressively receive a total of around $250,000. An attractive sum, you will agree. 

The second producer was successful in raising development funds to be spent on her and a script editor. Things began to go wrong when I discovered that this producer had no intention of using my script and was writing one herself, although she had never before written a screenplay. This would have given her two bites at the financial cherry: producer and writer. Worse was to come when I discovered that she had changed the name of the main character for no other reason than she thought the name Florrie was "old fashioned". 

As the film was being presented as a true story, it made no sense to me for Florrie Cox to be called something entirely different, but eventually I won this battle for her real name to be used. 

Despite being told I would get a "co-writer" credit, it was immensely difficult to gain access to the script the producer was creating. On those few occasions when I did see it, I was horrified. It was poorly written, but worse, the emphasis was no longer on the struggle by Florrie and her husband to cope with Florrie's devastating intersex condition. Instead, the emphasis was on the Indian battle for Home Rule, which did not seriously get under way until well after my great aunt's story. Further, the producer displayed an embarrassing ignorance about Baptist missionary behaviour, such as their total objection to alcohol and ballroom dancing. As time progressed, the script became more a work of fiction than of fact. Some scenes bordered on the truly bizarre. 

I am not a "precious" writer. At least I like to think so. I have worked as a journalist for decades and believe in the importance of editors and how they can improve the telling of a story. When I signed the option agreement I was looking forward to seeing a script that sharpened what I had done, Instead, the producer chose to take in her words "a fresh look" by totally ignoring the script that had been worked on for several years by myself and the original producer. 

Of necessity, my script contains dialogue and scenes that have to be imagined, but my intention always was to reflect as accurately as possible the high hopes and deep upsets that must have taken place during Florrie Cox's marriage. I am now writing a novel based on what I discovered in God's Triangle, and I still have hopes that a film will be made. If not, then I would sooner that than have a production that would have been shamefully inaccurate. I will take comfort of sorts from the view of a friend and mentor, an award-winning TV and film director, that the producer's script was so bad it would not have been filmed.

Finally, here is a related article from @Guardian...

"There's a boom in real-life dramas. How do the makers avoid playing fast and loose with the truth?" asks Stephen Moss: https://bit.ly/cinema-TV-accuracy

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Paperback, Kindle and ePub copies of God's Triangle are available HERE