One of four children, Mervyn Jones was born 27th February 1922in Londonto a comfortable upbringing. His father was Ernest Jones, the chief administrator, biographer, and chief supporter of Sigmund Freud. He was instrumental in bringing the Freud family out of Nazi-controlled Viennain 1938. Jones was deeply attached to his Welsh father but not so towards his Viennese-born Jewish mother Katerina (Kitty) Jokl, who had been at school with Freud's daughter, Anna.
Jones was educated at Abbotsholme, in Derbyshire, a fashionable and progressive boarding school for boys. Though disliking every minute there, he became a committed socialist and joined the Young Communist League at the age of 16. For this, the school expelled him, ostensibly for being away from the dormitory after lights out, a few weeks before he was due to leave.
A voracious reader, he had begun to absorb everything the came out from the Left Book Club as well as a wide range of literature. This clearly aided an offer of a place at Queen's College, Oxford, but the young Mervyn turned it down. This led to a severe conflict with his father, who did not approve of his son's involvement in Communism.
In 1939, he and his mother moved to New Yorkwhere the young Jones enrolled at New YorkUniversity. In the USAhe engaged in public campaigning for Communist causes. He decided to concentrate on poetry but by 1942 his conscience told him he should be back in Britainfighting fascism and he and his mother returned there that year.
He became a full member of the Communist Party and took a job as a garage hand in central London. But Jones entered the forces in November 1942 and was commissioned as a second-lieutenant in the 59th anti-tank artillery regiment. Participating in the D-day landings, two days after the initial assault on Normandy, by October was in the Netherlands, where he was taken prisoner. The collapse of Germanyfound Jones in a prisoner of war camp in the Rhinelandthat was liberated by the Americans. He returned briefly to Britainand was then packed off to Indiato serve another two years before his demobilisation in 1947.
His first job offer, which he declined, came from the Daily Worker, via his friend Claud Cockburn, or Frank Pitcairn as his pen name was. Instead, Jones chose to try his luck as a novelist and freelance writer.
Jones remained staunchly supportive of the Communist Party for quite a while after the war, campaigning for the party in the 1945 election. But as the Cold War gathered pace, he became disillusioned by the growing conflict in tone with pro-Americans in the labour movement contrasted with the need for loyalty to the Soviet Union. Although he continued to write freelance reviews for the Daily Worker, his resignation from the Party in 1951 did not perhaps harm his career launch as a novelist, since the year after leaving the Party a publisher picked up `No Time to Be Young (1952), the "autobiography" of an Anglo-French girl growing up between the wars.
In 1948, he had met and married Jeanne Urquhart, also a Communist and nearly five years older than himself; both of them were active in the Communist Party until 1951. Mervyn joined the Labour Party, quickly associated himself with the Bevanites, and then stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate in the 1955 general election in Chichester, West Sussex– a Tory stronghold. That was where he first met Michael Foot, whose biography he was to write and publish in 1994.
His ties to the Communist Party not quite over, in the mid-1950s, he wrote and supported the revisionist journal New Reasoner, which was edited by his mentor, E. P. Thompson, and which caused the exit of a fair few intellectuals from the Party.
In the latter part of the 1950s, Jones sought to establish himself in a political career, unsuccessfully looking for selection in three marginal seats. Jones was a consistent and life-long supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and was its press secretary in 1959.
But neither a career as a politician, nor as a novelist, despite his prolific output, came and Jones would make his living mainly as a freelance journalist. Short stories for journals such as `Homes and Gardens’ brought in income. His only staff jobs as a journalist were with the New Statesman and Tribune, and as a freelancer for the Guardian but he wrote in journals across the spectrum.
It was in 1955, and only after being vetoed by the security services for a job with the Central Office of Information, that Jones joined the staff of Tribune, which he was with from 1956 to 1960, when the editor was Michael Foot. Jones continued to write for Tribune as a freelance drama critic until 1967 but stayed longer at the New Statesman, where he was for 12 years, being assistant editor from 1966-68 and again between 1977 and 1978.
In all Mervyn Jones wrote 29 novels, five unpublished, and three biographies, notably one on Michael Foot. Amongst his non-fiction work, `Big Two’ (1962), was a comparative study of Americaand the Soviet Union, which saw McCarthyism and Stalinism as opposite sides of the same coin. Possibly his most widely read work was `Holding On' (1971), which saw the world of the working-class family through the eyes of a Londondocker. `Strangers’ (1974) is the novel by which he said he would like to be judged. This concerns a pacifist during the Second World War, who is alienated from his family and, going to Africato perform good deed, leaves his wife behind to cope with a house full of his own charity cases.
Two novels were filmed, `John and Mary' (1966) – a story of a journey from casual sex to love – and `Holding On' (1973) – a TV chronicle of an East End family from the turn of the century.
His final years were spent, virtually blind, in a home in Brightonwhere he was cared for by his three children and close friends. Jeanne died in 1990. Jones died on 23rd February 2010aged 87.
Sources: Guardian 25th February 2010; The Times March 2nd 2010; The Telegraph 24th February 2010
Be the first to comment