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Britton, Lionel

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

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(1887-1971) UK author and playwright, a conscientious objector during World War One who gained some prominence in the interwar period for Hunger and Love, Etc (1931), a speculative proletarian/modernist Dystopia, written before (and influential upon) but published after Brain: A Play of the Whole Earth (1930), a drama in which a giant Computer is set up in the Sahara to run human affairs according to ambiguously Utopian tenets. This it does until nearly the End of the World, when a wandering star collides with the planet.

Spacetime Inn (performed 1931; 1932), also a play, expounds a vision of things derived in part from the theories of J W Dunne, though the main dramatic interest lies in the interactions of various Icon figures – Eve (see Adam and Eve), Doctor Samuel Johnson, Napoleon, the Queen of Sheba, Queen Victoria, Karl Marx, William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw – as they deal with two uncomprehending Cockney intruders into the "Eternal Inn" that has become their world. Ultimately it is indicated that, echoing Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (13 July 1890 San Francisco Examiner), the entire action has taken place during suspended Time in the last moments before a road-crash Disaster. A UK theatre licence having been refused because of the inclusion of Queen Victoria, Spacetime Inn has the unusual distinction of being the only play ever performed – or rather read, with Britton himself playing all the parts – in the House of Commons, on 10 June 1931, to a steadily dwindling audience.

Animal Ideas: A Dramatic Symphony of the Human in the Universe (1935), though less cogent as a drama, engages in similarly ambitious metaphysics. [JC/DRL]

Lionel Erskine Nimmo Britton

born Astwood Bank, Worcestershire: 4 November 1887

died Ramsgate, Kent: 9 January 1971


about the author

  • Adam Daly. "The Lost Genius of Britton: Proletarian Misfit, Apocalyptic Anarchist, Forgotten Genius" (Spring 2006 Wormwood #6) [p47ff: mag/]
  • Tony Shaw. "Lionel Britton: An Update" (Spring 2007 Wormwood #8) [p67ff: mag/]


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