history and
Norman Allan
    ted allan: biography         art and literature          science and philosophy            biography            blog



Chapter Nine: Across the Atlantic

Ted Allan and his family sailed from Quebec City in the summer of 1954. Florence and Stanley Mann were on the boat with us. I have a child's image of them standing on the foredeck against the sky; Stanley, a tall man, dark, thin, with a large chiseled nose. Florence, long dark hair and beautiful, slender but full busted, with a mothering quality, though not without a quiet sexuality. Her presence was always reassuring.
     I have memories of the boat, but not of my father. "Ted was in his cabin typing most of time," Stanley told me. "He was working on the play. Ted was an old trouper. They were going to produce his play. What was it called?.."
     "First "The Money Makers", and then renamed "The Ghost Writer", I replied. I had phoned Stanley to ask what he remembered about the trip and about our arrival in London.
     "That's right. "The Ghost Writer". They were going to put it on in London. That's why he went. That's why we all went."

     I asked Stanley about visiting us in London at Reddington Road - that's where I remember him as an important part of our world, helping to hold all our lives together with his kind wit - but he misheard me, and spoke about Toronto. "Ted was working in the basement then, working on those half hour science radio shows. I don't remember you. You must have been just a little one. I spent a lot of evenings at your place. Lots of people did. It was the place to be. Ted and Kate were very exotic to us. Ted had been places, the States, Europe. I found him electrifying. We all thought of him as the master. I was only twenty one. Your mum would cook up a storm. Ted and Kate were a delightful couple when they weren't yelling at each other."
     "Ted was a surrogate father and brother to me. (I had an elder brother, so Ted was like a father and a brother to me.) He was a welcome mat. I thought he was the most wonderful man. He brought out the best in people. He was a very generous listener. He could persuade you that you were the most important person in the room, in the world. He'd give you that undivided attention."
     Stanley paused. "I don't remember the boat. You'll have to ask me questions. I saw Ted at every significant moment in his life."
     "Tell me about arriving in England."
     "When we landed it was raining. It rained for six weeks. Black rain. I walked down by Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, in the rain. I said, "I'm home. I found my home." "
     Stanley is one of the funniest people, but he has black moods, is prone to depression, and his humour can be subtle, or gray. A few years later (the late 1950s) when Julie was in hospital... My sister, Julie, had a heart defect. It was, needless to say, a source of anxiety for Ted and Kate. I first learned of her "condition" when I was twelve, our second year in England. Julie and I were fighting, squabbling over something. I was taken aside and told that now that I was larger I had to be gentle with Julie because of her heart, and, I was told, that I should give in, because I could.
     As to Julie's condition, the doctors were considering surgery, but they were waiting, both upon her increased strength in adolescence and on the constant improvement in surgical technique. Finally, in the late nineteen fifties, they were set to operate to correct the problem. Stanley visited Julie in the hospital before the surgery. "Who is the surgeon?" he asked her.
     "Dr. Newell," she answered.
     "Oh yes, I remember old Newell. From college," said Stanley. "We used to call him butterfingers."

     Meanwhile, back on the phone, the other day (1997, Stanley now lives in LA) speaking of our arrival in England, Stanley continued. "Ted was all agog. He was going to have his play done. That was the thing that kept us all going emotionally. Oh, and there was that story with the real estate agent. The real estate agent asked Ted why he had come to England, and Ted said, "I've come to take George Bernard Shaw's place". And the real estate agent said, "But he's still in it." "
     "Ted was determined he was going to take London by storm. Ted began to rehearse the play. George Colloras played the lead. Even I got cast in the play. Bernie Braden was the director. I said to Bernie that I would leave the production unless John Collicos got a part, because John was a much better actor than I was. So Bernie hired John, for my part, and I got fired."
     "I remember the play was rather good, and well received, and Ted was happy as a lark."

Of the period leading up to our departure for England, Ted wrote:

"I have to remember that my father had a weird sense of humour, like seeing him standing in a rain barrel full of rain water, fully clothed. Bernie Braden had flown in from England to meet me to discuss whether he should direct the Money Makers. Bernie and I were walking along Fairholme Avenue, and there is my father standing in a barrel, up to his waist in water, saluting and saying, "I am Ted Allan's father." Bernie turned to me to ask, "What the hell is that?"
     I said, "That's my dad."
     And then there's my mother walking with some woman on the street towards us. "Hi mom," I said. "Do you know Bernie Braden," and I introduced her to Bernie, and she introduced her friend, and I was very proud of her. Many years later Bernie said to me, "You understand why you impressed me." I said, "Oh? Why did I impress you?" He said, "Because you didn't really realize what your mother looked like. This fat, dumpy, Jewish woman with too much rouge and lipstick on; and you proudly introducing your mother because you didn't see any of that. That's what impressed me," he said, but to this day I don't know why that would impress anybody.

The play, at the London Arts Theatre, was "well received". The following year, 1956, "Legend of Pepito" was produced and directed by Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.(1) The Stratford East Theatre, in the working class East End of London, was the manifest dream of the avant guard: a leftwing theatre, a rising star. Here Joan Littlewood directed Brendon Behan's "The Hostage", and Shella Delaney's "A Taste of Honey". A little later "Oh What a Lovely War" established Littlewood's reputation internationally in circumstances that would turn her into another of Ted's demons.(2) "Oh What a Lovely War" comes from a slightly later era. Ted was involved in its inception. We will come to that story.

I was just recently (1997) reading Mordecai Richler's "A Choice of Enemies", a novel set among the émigré American/Canadian community in London in the nineteen fifties. In the book the narrator says that this clique lived in their own world, isolated, not touching the native of London. While Ted was part of this movie-making, blacklisted, leftwing North American elite, and while he was in some sense the centre of the small Canadian subset of the literary émigrés, he was quickly integrated into the full London scene. For example, while Brendon Behan was but an acquaintance, Shella Delany was a good friend.

Ted wrote: "In London I helped other Canadians like Ted Kotcheff, Sydney Newman, Sylvio Narrizano change the direction of British television drama. Before we all arrived the British workingman was usually a figure of fun. We changed all that with our own plays and by introducing the works of new young working-class writers (e.g. Arnold Wesker)

Arriving in London in the summer of 1954 we stayed for some months in Tana Sayers' house. Tana was a friend from the New York days. Michael and Tana Sayers were in the process of splitting up. Michael had worked on the same left wing journals as Ted back in the early 1940s.
     Tana Sayers, the daughter of an Italian-American Anarchist philosopher, was a woman of singular intelligence and presence. An "eminence grise" in the émigré community, Tana lived with her two sons in Kent Terrace, one of the Georgian Terraces that border Regent's Park. Kent Terrace is on the west side of the Park, north from Baker Street. These "Nash Terraces" (though only the first of them were designed by Nash himself) are one of the distinguishing and defining features of London architecture. They lacked central heating, being heated in those cold damp days by coal and gas fires, another defining feature of London architecture. Sam Wanamaker and his family lived in the apartments just to the north of Kent Terrace. Having a neighbour in the émigré community whom we might visit, drop in on casually, like back home, helped ease us into some sense of belonging.
     We stayed in Tana's house while she, and her two boys, were away in France on holiday for a month. And then we stayed a few crowded weeks more with them.
     Then we moved up to Hampstead proper, to Reddington Road, where we rented for a year the large middle class home of the Holmes family: he, a film-marker, and his family were off for a year to Egypt. Upstairs Joan O'Donavan (3) rented the attic apartment with her young son, Oliver. We listened with them, religiously, each week to the BBC radio's Goon Show. The Goon Show was the first of a dynasty of zany British comedies; the spiritual ancestor to Beyond the Fringe and Monty Python. Why I mention the Goon show is on account of Ted's friendship with Spike Milligan. There were proposed and nascent collaborations planned with Spike on some projects that failed to flower or fruit.
     Ted did get involved in writing comedy at this time. With Bernie Braden he devised and wrote a weekly comedy program for English television: "Early to Braden".
     Another collaboration saw Ted working with Roger McDougal. Roger, with his sweet manner and gentle Scotch accent, was a dramatist of some stature, best known perhaps as the author of the Alex Guiness film, "The Man in the White Suit". Roger was ill and disabled from multiple sclerosis. Confined to a wheel chair in the late nineteen forties and early nineteen fifties, Roger, on his own initiative, put together for himself a strict and healthy diet (4), and regime of supplements (such as Evening Primose oil), much the same diet as practitioners of alternative and naturopathic medicine have advocated since and to this day I mention Roger McDougal to all my MS patients as a monument to patience, for he was on his diet for fully four years before he saw any sign of improvement. With time he recovered completely and lived in health to old age. His diet was written up on several occasions in the clinical journal The Lancet.
     Ted told me that he started to work with Roger as an occupational therapy project to give Roger something to do to improve his morale. Stanley Mann later worked with Roger on their movie, "The Mouse That Roared". "Everyone wanted to work with Roger," said Stanley, "he was such a fine playwright." Stanley imagined that Ted must have met Roger through Tana, and during our phone conversation he recalled how Roger would fall under the table.
     When Ted started working with Roger in the mid-nineteen fifties, Roger had begun his recovery. He was out of the wheelchair and walking short distances in a wobbly manner with a walking stick. Ted had got hold of the dramatic rights to the work of a mystery writer, and with Roger, Ted wrote a stage thriller, "Double Image", produced at the St. James Theatre by Sir Laurence Olivier and Bob Roberts, and starring Richard Attenborough. "Double Image" ran for six months in London.
     A touch of high society. I recall lunch with Olivier and Vivian Leigh at the Savoy. Princess Margaret attending the opening nights. Lord Snowdon and his best man, Dr. Roger Gilliat, head of the Neurological Hospital, became first name acquaintances.

Ted wrote, "I arrived in London in 1954, partly sponsored by Sir Basil Bartlett, then Drama Chief of the BBC, who had bought several of my television plays and had "adopted" me as his "find". Sir Basil sang my praises everywhere and asked me to join the prestigious Savage Club. I accepted the invitation to dinner at "The Club" not realising I was being "vetted" by this august group. T.S. Eliot looked like a cadaver at the time, more English than the English, and he presided. I remembered that during the war our great poet, Eliot, had delivered himself of some pro-fascist and anti-Semitic sentiments. I disliked him. When it became clear that my table manners were being scrutinised by this covey of snobs, I told the waiter to bring me some ketchup and horseradish and I proceeded to make quite a sauce for my oysters. A hush fell over the table. Even Sir Basil, who adored me, turned white. Later I explained to Sir Basil why I had behaved so "uncouthly". He sighed and said, "Tommy often does have a negative effect on people." I was not invited to join that deadly male enclave, a savage club indeed.

"Double Image", a not unclever theatre piece, was translated into French under the title "Gog et Magog". The great French actor, Francois Perier, starred and directed the play, turning it into a vehicle of his own personal tour de force. It ran in Paris for five and a half years. Later Ted asked Perier if he could explain the success of Gog et Magog. Perier said he could not. "I can only explain flops."

During our first two years in England, Julie and I were enrolled in a small "progressive" private school, St. Mary's Town and Country. It was not as grand as its title suggested. Tana Sayers children were there along with several others from the émigré community. Hanna Weinstein's three daughters were fellow students. Hanna produced the television series, Robin Hood. Ted would hack out a few episodes, and it always amazed me that Ted's episodes did not stand out as brilliant but just melded into the genre.
     At the Town and Country school the history (and Latin) teacher was an attractive young woman named Caroline Nicholson. Caroline was a child-analyst. A neo-Freudian.
     When I was twelve years old, my father decided that I should see an analyst, and I was sent to Caroline. Despite the stigma of weirdness that attached to seeing a shrink, it was more of a relief than a burden to me to have someone to talk to. And so I was raised a Freudian.
     Why was I sent to analysis? I'd guess that my shyness, timidity, anxiety, my unhappiness was becoming too evident. Ted said it was because I was beginning to stutter. I've always believed, though, that Ted put me into therapy because he was beginning to think in earnest about leaving Kate, and he wanted to establish surrogate parenting for me. I also believe that he sent me to test the waters. He playing with the idea of getting into therapy himself. My therapist's therapist and trainer, Clare Russell, would become Ted's principle mentor over several decades.
     Ted formed an alliance with Caroline (and Clare). Ted the charming, Ted, who was warm, Ted who was into "growth". (Ted being also loud and self-absorbed, seductive, whatever, could be excused for many things, for he would own them, examine then, and wish to change, improve, at so many guineas an hour.) My mother, though, Kate, was demonized. She was not into growth. She was "controlling".
      I began to anticipate that my parents would split up, and I knew that I wished to be with my father.

Was our family trip to Wales of any importance and worth recording here? Perhaps so in that there was a sense that Ted and Kate's relationship was on trial. And, jeez, Canadians can be such prudes: I remember being scandalized that my mother would pee out of door in the ruins of some castle that we visited.

From Reddington Road we moved a flat (a duplex second floor apartment) on the north edge of Primrose Hill. Elsworthy Road. What memories from Primrose Hill? At my so called Bar Mitzvah ("so called" because it was a simple thirteenth birthday - no Rabbi, no Hebrew, just a couple of fountain pens)... Ted and Kate brought us up as atheists. Jewry was like a skin colour. But now Ted needed to call my thirteenth birthday "a Bar Mitzvah", and to be the life of the party. He pulled the kids out onto the Hill to play baseball (he did not play cricket) and broke his toe .
     I have a memory, shortly before my parents split up, of sitting in the bedroom with them. Ted had brought home a print from some artist. He had paid fifty pounds for it, and Kate was scandelised. It was thick line drawing (somewhat impressionistic) of a women, with a little bit of a belly. "Oh, it's like Mummy's," I observed.
     "How do you spell "caution" ?" my mother cautioned. (The analyst made much of this incident.)

Elsworthy Road, the second floor (5) flat, the curtains are drawn. It's night. Most nights, or many night, the grown-ups are playing poker. Small stakes. Shillings and pounds change hand. But the game is serious. Socially serious. For an extended period it is the focus of social activity. "Let's see what you've got," "I think you're bluffing," "I never bluff," says Ted. The cigarette smoke is thick. There's whisky on the table, each player has a glass.
     Young Mordecai Richler lends an added seriousness and intensity along with his sardonic humour, and his then wife, Cathy "Suckerballs" Boudreau - no implication on her sexual behaviour, it's just that she called everybody "Suckerballs". Cathy, who was thin and frenetic, was not particularly interested in the poker game. The intensity there is more the men's, Ted, Mordecai, Ted Kotchoff, Stanley Mann, the Canadian literary annex.
     Mordecai spent so much time with Ted, the family would comment on how he seemed to be almost in a rivalry with the children, Julie and I, competing for Ted's attention - a sibling rivalry (I was in analysis, so I knew these things).
     When I was fifteen years old Mordacai asked me "when are you going to get a job?" I felt attacked. It sat strangely with me for twenty years until I heard him ask his youngest son Jake, then twelve, "When are you going to get a job?"

So here we have Ted as a centre, and a mentor, to this small Canadian group, and beyond it a welcome member of a larger North American émigré community - here my memory is foggy. Whose house was it up in Hampstead, by the Heath, that was the meeting point for this clique? (6) An elderly welcoming American filmmaker. From visits there I remember clearly only the young actress, Jean Seberg, and Annie Ross, the singer. Annie Ross was a close friend of Ted's over the years. And beyond the American clique Ted was integrating into the London literary scene. While his association with such writers as Arnold Wesker, Donleavy, Doris Lessing... remained loose, casual; friendships with Edna O'Brian, Georgia Brown, Sean Connery... were complex and long standing.

And then a bombshell fell.

Stalin died in March 1953 (and we survived), but in February of 1956, at the 20th Party Congress, in a secret speech to the delegates, Khrushchev "combined a wide-ranging condemnation of Stalin's methods of rule with sensational disclosures of his crimes."(7) At first Ted, along with others of the faithful, refused to believe these "lies".

"I chuckled. The Intelligence Agencies of the Imperialist were obviously at it again. This so-called "secret speech" was full of every ancient Trotskyite slander against Stalin - Stalin was anti-Semitic, he was paranoid, he took pleasure in torturing and murdering his rivals. Everyone who had confessed in the show trials, who had been executed, had been framed. They were all innocent. How could I not laugh at this nonsense?

But the stories would not go away.

"I finally had to accept the fact that Khrushchev had delivered such a speech, but it was simple for me to figure out the Khrushchev had been a secret Trotskyist. It took me months before I allowed myself to believe that it was possible Stalin had been guilty of the crimes of which he was being accused. Even then I told myself he must have gone mad in his later years; that it wasn't possible he had been this unpleasant, cruel psychotic tyrant from the beginning.      
     I needed to speak to somebody I could trust who knew the truth. In Spain, Luigi Longo (8), now the leader of the Italian Communist Party, had been the officer of the International Brigade that I was directly responsible to. We had become friends. I telephoned him, and he confirmed that Khrushchev had indeed delivered the speech attacking Stalin.
     "Did he exaggerate?" I asked Longo.
     "He didn't tell the half of it," he replied.
     "My life has been a farce," I said. "We are assassins, each and everyone of us who went along with the tortures and murders."
     "We did not know the truth then," said Longo. He cautioned me to calm myself. This was a terrible time for all of us, but we had to keep our heads. The truth of Stalin and the terror in Russia was a terrible thing to face. Thousands, millions of innocents had been slaughtered.
     I recalled the stories in Spain that Andre Marty, head of the French Brigade, had called on volunteers to shoot themselves, to commit suicide in front of the ranks to show their commitment, to improve morale. Those stories were true, Longo confessed. Several volunteers had died that way.
     "But you were in charge..."
     "We did not know the truth then," he repeated.
     And I recalled that I had failed to come to the aid of a Canadian comrade accused of Trotskite sabotage. For all that I knew he could have been shot.
     "We did not know the truth then."

The truth about Stalin could not be denied, and all his life became a lie. Ted has always said of this period that he had had a nervous break down. "I didn't get out of bed for two months. I just stayed in bed." Julie would tell him, "Don't be silly. You didn't have a "breakdown". You had a "crisis"."
     Ted wrote of his "breakdown" in his play "The Secret of the World" and in an autobiographical novel "The Minstrel Boy". In this latter, unpublished, work the protagonist (Ted) is called "Martin".

"One of the reasons Martin had been attracted to the communist movement had been their explanation for anti-Semitism and their assurance that communism would solve the age-old problems of racial prejudice forever. Learning now that both Stalin and his secret police chief, Beria, had both been anti-Semitic, had executed most of the Jewish intellectuals of Russia, sent Martin into a deep anger and melancholy. He had fantasies of getting out of bed and going to Hyde Park Corner to make speeches mocking his former beliefs.
     "Come a little closer ladies and gentlemen. Martin Sanderson here. Formerly Marty the Jew, in case your prejudices need stimulating."
     In his mind Martin had created a little airtight box, the size of a match box, in which he now kept the secret of secrets - a dried leaf, a dead worm, and the feather of a canary which the cat had killed when his father had inadvertently left the bird-cage open. He would peddle this secret on street corners.
     "Step right up, step right up for the secret of the world. A new heaven and a new earth, comrades. Greetings, Comrade Stalin. Have you had a busy day?" Then this mock Martin would turn on, and snarl, at the crowd. "What are you laughing at? Got tired of lynching Negroes. Yes, a new heaven will come and the leading comrades will lie down with the lambs."
     "Would you like a song? For a penny? Sing about the middle, the middle of a dame. Black, white or yellow, it's pink all the same."
     In his mind Martin danced and capered like King Lear or his Fool. "This is the state of man. Today he puts forth the tender leaves of hope. Tomorrow blossoms and bears his blushing honours thick upon him. And the third day comes a frost!"
     "If the brain is the highest expression of matter, isn't it conceited of the brain to mention it so often."
     "Sleep, sleep, come veil the ugly day.
     The world has gone around the world,
     And must have lost its way."
     He raved as if in a fever for two months, and then he slept and slept, and when he woke up it was over. He was quiet and depressed, but the madness was over.

One of the paths Ted traveled to help him in his recovery from the shock of disillusionment was psychotherapy. His first foray was with a Canadian in London, a Dr. Jacob Guild. Coincident with this commencement of therapy Ted suffered an extraordinary attack of flatulence. It was so bad, Kate recalls, he had to leave the marital bed and sleep on the sofa. Ted said that apart from going out to attend his therapy he was afraid to leave the house on account of this gas. "Dr. Guild nodded the nod of the wise and said, "You could be farting on Stalin and the Party." "
     Finally, Ted said, he had to leave the house to visit his accountant. Here he could not escape the embarrassment of his farts which were "as loud, as reverberating, as ever."

" "You know," said the accountant, "I had a similar experience last year when I was trying to lose weight after I'd stopped smoking. I started sucking on sugarless jujubes." He opened his desk drawer and withdrew a small package of sugarless jujubes: a chewy, gummy candy substance, strawberry-flavoured."
     "I placed my hand in my coat pocket and withdrew a similar package. I too had quit smoking and, trying to keep from overeating, had been sucking on the same sugarless candy." (9)

Ted stopped sucking the jujubes, stopped farting on Stalin and the Party, and ended his first taste of therapy.

The major aid in Ted's recovery from the trauma of the 20th Congress was his meeting with the eminent Marxist historian, Isaac Deutscher. Isaac's two large critical works, his biographies of Stalin and of Trotsky, lent Ted some clarity on these aspects of the twentieth century history in which he had himself been so swept away. Isaac Deutscher became a close friend. Ted wrote, in one of his autobiographical assays, that he was not sure who the most exciting man he every met was: was it Brecht, or Bethune, or Deutcher?
     Ted recalled taking me to visit Isaac. Ted seemed to be extremely proud of me for he often mentioned how pleased Isaac was with my young inquiring mind. What I recall most vividly of these meetings was one of Isaac's personal anecdote. I recall Isaac speaking of his days in the Russian army during the First World War, rolling back to the camp from town, drunk, and biting off the top of a dill pickle, as though it were the pin of a hand-grenade; then hurling it at the desk sergeant, and everyone diving for cover.
     I also have a vivid memory of driving home with Ted on a misty evening from a visit to the Deutscher's. This may be a little later, and they lived out of town then, up towards Oxford. Ted, driving home on the misty roads counseled me that when other traffic approached with their headlight, full or dimmed, one should look away and down to the side of the road to keep from being blinded.

And Ted wrote of his de-Stalinization, "The reason I understand fanatics so well is that I was a fanatic and didn't realize it. We were all... it's passionate, it's blinded by absolutism, our belief in dialectical materialism (10) and in every word uttered by Stalin. But then any cult follower of any little religious group is the same. We communists may have had more things right in reality, or anyway we thought we did, that backed us up, but I can see a holy-roller or any fundamentalist minister of any persuasion pointing to events in the world as evidence that what they believe is right, just as we could point to fascism and capitalism, unemployment, and so they do the same. They have God, and we believed Science was on our side. So much for that.

chapter ten