Joseph Alexander Bernstein|
4 December 1917
Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
6 December 1999 (aged 82)|
Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London
Alexander Baron (4 December 1917 – 6 December 1999) was a British author and screenwriter. He is best known for his highly acclaimed novel about D-Day entitled From the City from the Plough (1948) and his London novel The Lowlife (1963).
Baron's father was Barnet Bernstein, a Polish-Jewish immigrant to Britain who settled in the East End of London in 1908 and later worked as a master furrier. Baron was born in Maidenhead and raised in the Hackney district of London. He attended Hackney Downs School.
Politics and wartime
During the 1930s, with his schoolfriend Ted Willis, Baron was a leading activist and organiser of the Labour League of Youth (at that time aligned with the Communist Party), campaigning against the fascists in the streets of the East End. Baron became increasingly disillusioned with far left politics as he spoke to International Brigade fighters returning from the Spanish Civil War, and finally broke with the communists after the Hitler–Stalin Pact of August 1939.
Baron served in the Pioneer Corps of the British Army during World War II, experiencing fierce fighting in the Italian campaign, Normandy and in Northern France and Belgium. As a pioneer, he was among the first Allied troops to be landed in Sicily, Italy and on D-Day.
He used his wartime experiences as the basis for his three best-selling war novels. After the war he became assistant editor of Tribune before publishing his first novel From the City from the Plough (1948). At this time, at the behest of his publisher Jonathan Cape, he also changed his name from Bernstein to Baron.
As well as continuing to write novels (for a list of his works, see below), in the 1950s Baron wrote screenplays for Hollywood, and by the 1960s he had become a regular writer on BBC's Play for Today. He wrote several episodes of the A Family at War series: 'The Breach in the Dyke' (1970), 'Brothers in War' (1970), 'A Lesson in War' (1970), 'Believed Killed' (1971), 'The Lost Ones' (1971), and 'Two Fathers' (1972). Later he became well known for drama serials like Poldark and A Horseman Riding By, and in the 1980s for BBC classic literary adaptions including Ivanhoe, Sense And Sensibility (1981), Jane Eyre (1983), Oliver Twist (1985) and Vanity Fair (1987). He contributed several episodes to Granada Television's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984–1985). For a detailed list of his film and television work, please see his IMDB entry.
In 1991, Baron was elected an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, in recognition of his contribution to the historical and social understanding of East London.
Baron's personal papers are held in the archives of the University of Reading.His wartime letters and unpublished memoirs were used by the historian Sean Longden for his book To the Victor the Spoils, a social history of the British Army between D Day and VE Day. Baron has also been the subject of essays by Iain Sinclair and Ken Worpole.
Since Baron's death in December 1999 his novels have been republished several times, testifying to a strong resurgence of interest among in his work among the reading public as well as among critics and academics. These include Baron's first book, the war novel From the City, From the Plough (Black Spring Press, 2010); his cult novel about the London underworld of the early 1960s, The Lowlife (Harvill, 2001; Black Spring Press, 2010), which was cited in Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming as a literary antecedent of punk; King Dido (Five Leaves, 2009), a story of the violent rise and fall of an East End London tough in Edwardian England; Rosie Hogarth (Five Leaves, 2010); and his second war novel There's No Home, the story of a love affair between a British soldier and Sicilian woman during a lull in the fierce fighting of the Italian campaign (Sort Of Books, 2011). Baron's third work based on his wartime experiences, The Human Kind, was republished by Black Spring Press in Autumn 2011. His novel about post-war London, With Hope, Farewell (1952), is scheduled for re-issue by Five Leaves Press in 2014.
- From the City from the Plough (1948) a novel about the fictional 5th Battalion of the Wessex Regiment British Army. The novel takes place in the weeks leading up to D Day and during the Normandy campaign. It was widely believed that the battalion was based on units of the 43rd Wessex Division and its attacks on Hill 112 and Mont Pincon in Normandy. This novel was re-issued by London publisher Black Spring Press in June 2010.
- There's No Home (1950) - On the interaction of wartime British soldiers with the people of Catania, Sicily, focusing on a doomed love affair. Two stanzas of Hamish Henderson's The 51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily serve as the motto. Republished by Sort Of Books in June 2011. Discussions concerning a film adaptation of this novel are currently in progress.
- Rosie Hogarth (1951), set in London. Republished by Five Leaves Press in 2010.
- With Hope, Farewell (1952), set in London. Scheduled for republication by Five Leaves Press in 2013.
- The Human Kind (1953). The third in Baron's 'War Trilogy'. This was a collection of short stories that were based upon the author's own wartime experiences. The book was later filmed as The Victors (1963), with the British characters changed into Americans in order to attract American audiences.
- The Golden Princess (1954), about La Malinche.
- Queen of the East (1956), an historical novel about Zenobia, Queen of the short lived Palmyrene Empire, and her antagonist Aurelian, Emperor of Rome.
- Seeing Life (1958),
- The Lowlife (1963), set in Hackney, is "a riotous, off-beat novel about gamblers, prostitutes and lay-abouts of London's East End". Re-issued by Black Spring Press in June 2010. Discussions concerning a film adaptation of this novel are currently in progress.
- Strip Jack Naked (1966), sequel to The Lowlife
- King Dido (1969), set in the East End in 1911. In autumn 2009 this was re-issued in New London Editions, an imprint of Five Leaves Press. Discussions concerning a film adaptation of this novel are currently in progress.
- The In-Between Time (1971)
- Gentle Folk (1976); adapted by Baron as a BBC television drama (1980)
- Franco Is Dying (1977)
- Film screenplays
- The Siege Of Sidney Street
- Robbery Under Arms
- Information from the Baron family.
- Alexander Baron: His novels of war and London caught the essential decency of mankind John Williams 8 December 1999, The Guardian; accessed 26 August 2008
- See the Family at War fan site: http://bearspace.baylor.edu/Richard_Veit/www/index.htm>
- For Alexander Baron's film and television work, see http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0056192/>
- See http://www.qmul.ac.uk/alumni/notablealumni/honoraryfellows/>
- To the Victor the Spoils Sean Longden (Constable and Robinson, 2007). See introduction and index.
- Blurb on front cover of the 1964 paperback edition of Alexander Baron The Lowlife. Fontana Books.
- New edition of King Dido: http://inpressbooks.co.uk/king_dido_alexander_baron_i019947.aspx.
- Alexander Baron at the Internet Movie Database
- Alexander Baron at Find-A-Grave
- Web-site dedicated to Alexander Baron's work by Andrew Whitehead.
- A detailed look at Alexander Baron's first London novel, 'Rosie Hogarth', set in Islington
- Review of 2010 edition of The Lowlife by Andrew Stevens in 3:am magazine
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