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Bowen, John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1924-2019) Indian-born playwright and author, in UK from childhood, active in television and radio; he was notable for his habit of adapting works from one medium to the other. His first novel, The Truth Will Not Help Us: Embroidery on an Historical Theme (1956), is a fantasy in which an eighteenth-century piracy trial is depicted as a twentieth-century event, with much anachronistic verisimilitude; the attack on McCarthyism is explicit. His first work of sf interest was "Living? Try Death" for Science Fantasy #23 in 1957 as by Justin Blake (almost certainly solo; but see below). In his first sf novel proper, After the Rain (1958), a lunatic inventor starts a second Flood. Most of the novel takes place on a Ship of Fools conveniently designed for Bowen's Satirical purposes, where survivors of the Disaster act out their humanness and win through in the end only because of the dour fanaticism of one person, who in the end must be ritually sacrificed. The stage version (produced 1966, revised 1972) was published as After the Rain: A Play in Three Acts (performed 1966 Hampstead Theatre Club, London; 1967 chap). A World Elsewhere (1965) has some structural similarity to The Truth Will No Help Us (above); the exile on a deserted Island of Philoctetes from the Trojan War intersects with the exile on the same island of a contemporary British politician. Philocetes's festering wound and his inerrant bow – cf Edmund Wilson's The Wound and the Bow: Seven Studies in Literature (coll 1941) – have become ideogrammatic of the artist's task, an association immanent in Bowen's tale. Squeak: A Biography of NPA 1978A 203 (1983) puts into fabulated form the life of a pigeon. No Retreat (1994) is a classic Hitler Wins tale, set in an Alternate History 1990s United Kingdom governed by a triumphant Germany; the plot involves an attempted revolution under the auspices of the British government in exile, which is housed in the United States.

Of Bowen's twenty or more stage plays, and his even more numerous Television plays, several are of genre interest, including The Fall and Redemption of Man (performed 1967 Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Scotland; revised 1970; 1968); the Year-King fantasy "Robin Redbreast" (broadcast by the BBC 1970; in The Television Dramatist, anth 1973, ed Robert Muller; produced 1974), featuring another ritual sacrifice; The Guardians (1971), a thirteen-episode sf thriller series set in a Dystopian Near Future UK, for which Bowen wrote seven scripts, including four of the five climactic final episodes; and two episodes of the BBC's annual A Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-1978), the first an adaptation of "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" (in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary coll 1904) by M R James (1862-1936) broadcast on 23 December 1974, and the second the newly scripted, enigmatic and experimental "The Ice House", broadcast on 25 December 1978.

Earlier, with Jeremy Bullmore (1929-    ) under the shared pseudonym of Justin Blake, he scripted the 50-episode Garry Halliday live television series for the BBC (1959-1962), a sequence of children's sf adventures in which the Biggles-like pilot protagonist combats his criminal adversary, known only as "The Voice". The episodes were divided into three sustained stories: "Garry Halliday", "Garry Halliday and the Gun-Runners" and "Garry Halliday and the Secret of Omar Khayyam". A series of novels ensued, beginning with Garry Halliday and the Disappearing Diamond (1960) and ending with Garry Halliday and the Flying Foxes (1964).

Most obviously in his adult work, Bowen was a supple, subtle, sometimes profound writer. [JC]

see also: McGuffin; Post-Holocaust.

John Griffith Bowen

born Calcutta, India: 5 November 1924

died Oxfordshire: 18 April 2019

works (selected)

as by Justin Blake


Garry Halliday


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