New Catalogue: Evan Jones Archive

The catalogue of the Evan Jones archive is now online and the material available for readers to consult.

Born in 1927 in Portland, Jamaica, Jones was educated in both Jamaica and Pennsylvania before studying at Wadham College, Oxford. He graduated in 1952 with a BA (Hons) in English literature and initially went into teaching, but came to establish himself as a poet, novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

The archive consists of screenplays, typescripts, correspondence and publicity material relating to Jones’ poems, novels and screenplays, as well as audio-visual material for the films and television programmes he worked on. Perhaps most notably, the collection contains material concerning his seminal The Fight Against Slavery.

Written by Jones in 1973 and broadcast by the BBC in 1975, The Fight Against Slavery is a 6-part television series which documents the outlawing of slavery in the British Empire. The episodes are based in Africa and the West Indies and tell a story from 1750-1834, with the characters and narrative based on real people and actual events.

The archive includes annotated drafts and typescripts of the different episodes, and the later novel adaptations of the screenplays. There is also publicity material of the series produced by the BBC and printed advertisements for it, as well as contemporary newspaper reviews. The personal letters in the collection indicate that it was well-received and generated much discussion and official correspondence relays the processes behind its broadcast. VHS copies of the series are also in the archive, and will be digitised for preservation and to make them accessible long-term.

Evan Jones is a descendant of both slaves and slave owners, and The Fight Against Slavery seems like a personal effort to disclose the struggles of particular individuals to eradicate the slave trade, with Jones himself introducing each episode.

Not all of Jones’ oeuvre holds the weightiness of this dramatisation though, with films such as Modesty Blaise, a comedy starring Monica Vitti and Dirk Bogarde loosely based on a comic strip of the same name, and the television play Madhouse on Castle Street which features songs performed by Bob Dylan, also being examples of Jones’ screenwriting. As well as this, he is known for the screenplay of the film Escape to Victory. The main plot of this film revolves around a football match between the English and Germans in a German prison camp during World War II, and it stars Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone. Material on these and other works also feature in the archive, demonstrating the wide-ranging subjects and genres Jones worked on.

Outside of Jamaica, Evan Jones’ writing is perhaps not as well known as his screenplays; but since the 1950s when he wrote ‘Song of the Banana Man’ in an Oxford pub in response to a challenge to show what he thought Jamaican literature should be like, he has returned time and again to his homeland and themes of race, family and identity. Almost half a century later and the banana man’s song still resonates with Jamaicans and ex-pats alike and you can find ‘Song of the Banana Man’ featuring in the Favorite Poem Project http://www.favoritepoem.org/ of Robert Pinsky, the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States.

‘Song of the Banana Man’ was the first poem to use Jamaican patois in a way that was accessible to a broader audience and Ian Thomson[1] cites it as a major influence on the dub poets of the ’70s.

Jones was asked to write Protector of the Indians–a historical book about Bartolomé de las Casas–in 1958 but most of his other literary papers remained unpublished while his career in screenwriting took off. Aside from a series on West Indian history and folklore for children (1989-1991)[2] for Macmillan’s Caribbean Writers collection that is still taught in classrooms today, he has mainly focused his energy on film and television; though he had always had the time to write articles and editorials about Jamaica for various publications.

However, in the 1990s he set out to write a novel because there was a story inside him that wanted to be told. Stone Haven (1998): a fictional historical epic with a semi-autobiographical core, chronicles the lives and loves of the Newton family as they rise to political power. Jones’ close ties to and abiding love for Jamaica informs its pages and it has drawn critical praise for its realistic portrayals of life on the island.

This diverse collection of papers and audio-visual material spanning over six decades of Jones’ life will be a great resource for future researchers.

[1] Thomson, I. The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica (2009)

[2] Jones, E. Tales of the Caribbean (1989-1991)

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