Kartun Derek

 Derek Kartun                                                                                                                                                     


Born Derek Isidor Kartun, in Margate on 9th August 1919, Kartun was the son of a Russian-French father and a Polish-English mother. He was born into the world of the cultured bourgeoisie, his uncle being the pianist and conductor Léon Kartun.

His father had left the Paris Conservatoire when he realised that he would not be one of the great violinists of his generation, and became a successful designer and trader of jewellery. His parents’ world was that of the international rich and glamorous, the luxury hotel and the ocean liner. One of his earliest memories was sitting on the knee of Noel Coward as he played the piano. His father later made the regrettable decision not to finance Private Lives.


He was sent to England for his schooling, first to a prep school in Redhill, where the combination of being bookish, Jewish and French proved a hindrance to wide popularity, and then to St Paul’s, where he flourished and claimed to be the school’s first Jewish boy.


In what should have been his sixth-form years coincided with a temporary reversal of his father’s fortunes, and he was set to work in an advertising agency, and later finding himself a job working on scripts for B movies for MGM, where he met Claude Cockburn (see separate entry). Becoming a contributor to Cockburn’s scurrilous newssheet The Week  merely led him into the Communist Party for the next two decades of his life.


Bad eyesight confined him to civilian duties during the war but he wrote several books while in the Communist Party, including Tito’s plot against Europe: the story of the Raik Conspiracy (1949), This is America (1947), and Africa, Africa! (1954). He became foreign editor of The Daily Worker, writing for the Party on a wide range of allied themes. He contributed a piece on the French political scene in April 1946 for Raji Dutt’s Labour Monthly, when he replaced his brother, Clemens Dutt (see separate entries for both) in March 1945 and joined the staff of the Daily Worker for the first time as its European correspondent, based in Paris.
 He was initially expelled from
France by the Ministry of the Interior only a few hours after arriving! Kartun later covered the birth of the state of Israel, being present during the Siege of Jerusalem in April 1948.


In 1949 he married Gwen Farrow, and their house in Kensington became a gathering place of left-wing intellectuals. Clancy Sigal, Mervyn Jones (see separate entry), Margot Heinemann (see separate entry) and J D Bernal were in regular attendance, and Doris Lessing and Claude Cockburn were successively lodgers.


A 1951 pamphlet by Kartun – right


Over the next few years, Kartun became a prolific, not to say almost overly-conventional writer of pamphlets and books either for the Communist Party, or for one of its publishing outlets. He spent time in Hungary and, in 1949, produced a sharp condemnation of attempts to follow a more liberal course there.  His political focus was on celebrating the countries of the eastern bloc and criticising America. Yet, on several occasions in this period, critics put pen to paper in the Party press to query Kartun’s heavy orthodoxy.


His output in this period was as follows:


1947 Joint production committees in France (paperback)

1948 The Marshall Plan and how it affects Britain (paperback)

1948 This is America (hardcover)

1949 Tito’s Plot Against Europe; the Story of the Rajk Conspiracy [Paperback]

1950 New Bulgaria (pamphlet)

1951 America Go Home (pamphlet)

1953 USA '53: the Truth Behind Eisenhower

1954 `Africa, Africa: a continent rises to its feet’  (see below)

1955 `Freedom and the Communists’ (pamphlet)


Then Kartun left the Communist Party for Labour in 1956. Hungary and Krushchev are mentioned by his obituarist – a daughter – in the same breath as telling us that “now having two daughters, he realised that a career in politics was a luxury he could no longer afford”.  And Kartun’s next port of call wass definitely to make money; somehow, he received and accepted an invitation to join the board of a mass-production clothing firm, Staflex, which had a unique selling proposition, fusible interfacing (a means to more firmly attach a piece of textile to the unseen side of a garment to make it more rigid). (The firm now appears to be based in Singapore.)


Kartun became its managing director and later chairman for almost a quarter of a century before the writing bug got him again and he produced half a dozen spy thrillers. He died on 11th January 2005.


Main source: The Independent 10th February 2005, along with many subsidiary sources.



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