From Jiu-jitsu

Judith Lee – her new and wonderful detective feats – The Wrestler and the Diamond Ring

Judith Lee

I had lately returned to my London flat following a strenuous and morally stimulating adventure in Tuscany. Sifting through the inevitable accumulation of mail, I discovered a telegram dated just the previous day. It read:

DARLING JUDITH STOP FAR TOO LONG STOP URGENT THAT WE MEET AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE STOP PERSI

followed by a telephone number.

“Persi” could only be my old school chum, Persephone Wright. The particulars were quickly arranged and so I set out for the Café Royal in Regent Street that very afternoon, most curious as to what might have become of Persi in the decade since we had last met.

She had never been precisely demure, but Persephone’s appearance and manner as she swept into the gilt-and-turquoise café was positively Bohemian, all gypsy shawls, art nouveau jewellery, dark honey hair and feline grace.

“Judith, dear”, she began as soon as we broke our embrace, “it’s smashing to see you! Now, I do hope you’ll be able to help – my friend Armand has just been arrested and things are in an awful state!”

This occasioned some raised eyebrows amongst the other café patrons and I ushered her into a booth post-haste.

“Well, I shall do what I can to help,” I began once we were settled, “but please understand that I am not so much a detective as simply an inquisitive woman with a few unusual talents.”

Chief amongst those talents, as my regular readers will be aware, is my ability to read lips, a skill I have honed since young childhood and which I currently employ in my occupation as a teacher of the deaf. It has occasionally happened that I am able to “overhear” by sight certain confidences of an illicit nature, which I have felt morally compelled to investigate; by these means have a number of frauds, thieves and even murderers been brought to justice.

Over our afternoon repast of milky mint tea and crumpets, Persephone informed me that her uncle Edward was the proprietor of the famous Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue, where the cream of London society took their exercise and learned the noble arts of self defence. The unfortunate “Armand” was Armand Cherpillod, the Club’s professor of physical culture and wrestling. Persephone described him as a kind and stalwart but unworldly man, of humble rural stock, who had emigrated from Switzerland some years earlier, at her uncle’s invitation. Since then, she said, Armand had often, and rather successfully, represented the Bartitsu Club in wrestling challenges upon the Tivoli and Alhambra stages.

“And what has brought this great wrestler so low?” I inquired.

Persi lit an exotic cigarette, perhaps to soothe her nerves.

“He has been accused of theft,” she said somberly. “The police found stolen property in his flat – a precious diamond ring that apparently belongs to Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, the wife of Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who was himself a student of Armand’s.”

“Lady Duff-Gordon – better known as Lucile? The fashion designer?” I asked.

“The very same.”

“But you believe that Armand is innocent?”

“Absolutely so. Armand says that he was, in fact, given this ring as a gift by another of his wrestling students, a woman named Marjorie. I strongly suspect that she is the true thief, or at least the villain’s accomplice.” Persephone’s deep blue eyes narrowed as she drew pensively on her cigarette.

“We’ve seen nothing of Marjorie since Armand was arrested, and she’d never missed a class before. Of course, Uncle Edward is very concerned, not just for Armand’s well-being but also for the honour of the Bartitsu Club. A scandal might ruin him.”

“Well then,” I said, “we must find this woman as soon as we can. I assume that you have explained all of this to the police?”

At this, Persi frowned again.

“Of course, but I’m afraid there’s little that I, or any associate of the Bartitsu Club, can say to the police that would influence them for the better,” she said. “They are thoroughly suspicious of the lot of us, at the present time.”

“But why?”

Persi exhaled a thin stream of smoke and then, knowing my talent at lip reading, spoke silently, her lips and tongue forming the words:

“Judith, I understand that you support the fight for women’s suffrage?”

I nodded in assent.

“You should know that the Club is the headquarters of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazon guards. The police are aware of that, though they’ve never been able to prove it; thus our dilemma.”

I understood at once. The Amazons were the subject of much newspaper speculation and street gossip; aside from serving as Mrs. Pankhurst’s personal bodyguards in sometimes violent affrays with the constabulary, they were rumoured to engage in no small amount of criminal activity to draw attention to their cause. I knew, however, that they took great pains to ensure that their protests by vandalism and arson caused no-one any physical harm. While I would not normally associate myself with lawbreakers, as far as I was concerned, the Amazons were serving the higher moral good.

“All right, then,” I said, “let’s pay a visit to your uncle’s Club.”

It was about a quarter to six o’clock when Persephone escorted me to the Bartitsu School of Arms in Soho, the two of us walking arm-in-arm and reminiscing about our girlhood escapades. We turned the slight left from Regent Street into Shaftesbury Avenue and five minutes later arrived at the Club, number 67. An ornate sign announcing the business name and that of its proprietor hung above the door.

Upon entering the spacious, high-ceilinged exercise hall of the Bartitsu Club, my predominant impression was of a curiously formal street brawl in progress. Most of the participants were women, and I wondered whether these were the mysterious Amazons themselves in training. Spread throughout the hall were about fifteen combatants, wearing dark blue exercise blouses and bloomer pants over their stockings, all swinging and jabbing, grappling and falling. One woman was shinnying her way up a thick rope that hung from the rafters, while others struck viciously at heavy leather punching bags. A group of four, attired in sabre fencing pads and helmets, appeared to be fencing with parasols!

The air was rent with occasional sharp cries (of focussed aggression, it seemed, rather than of fear or pain), the staccato smacks of fists and feet against the punching bags and the fearsome “thwap!” of bodies hurled to the mats. Altogether, it was quite a scene.

“This is Bartitsu,” Persephone confided. “My uncle’s invention and his pride and joy. It melds the best of European and Oriental antagonistics – boxing, wrestling, Monsieur Vigny’s art of self-defence with a walking stick or parasol, and Japanese jiujitsu.”

As a longtime physical culture enthusiast I had read of jiujitsu, whose principle was to employ an enemy’s weight and strength against himself, but this was my first experience of it in person. Persi pointed out the two young professors of the art, Tani-san and Uyenishi-san, and I was instantly reminded of the shway jao wrestlers who had served as my grandparents’ bodyguards in Hong Kong.  They were coaching several of the women in some impossibly acrobatic wrestling trick. I had but little time to take it in, however, for now Persephone was waving over a muscular fellow in grey leotards who, from his age (early fifties), demeanor (stern, moustachioed, vigorous) and eyes (blue, piercing) I judged correctly to be her uncle Edward.

“Thank you for coming, Miss Lee,” he said. “I do hope that you’ll be able to get to the bottom of this sorry business. Shall we retire to my office?” His accent possessed the eclectic intrigue of those who have travelled far, wide and long; it was impossible to say whether Scottish, Hindi, London English, French, German or even Japanese held sway. In any case, Mr. Barton-Wright’s voice was deep and commanding.

I accompanied the two of them as they skirted the balletic violence of the hardwood exercise floor. En route, I was surprised to recognise several of the women trainees; there was Toupie Lowther, the champion fencer and lawn tennis player, and Esme Beringer, the famous West End actress. No-one could have failed to spot the giant known popularly as Sandwina, whose fame as a circus strongwoman and wrestler was widespread.

As we entered the spartan office, I decided to take time by the forelock.

“If I may ask, Mr. Barton-Wright, who would most stand to benefit from ruining Mr. Cherpillod’s good name and the reputation of your Club? Do you have any enemies?”

Mr. Barton-Wright did not quite scowl, but his magnificent moustache twitched meaningfully. “Enemies? Oh, I should say so. Certain members of London’s wrestling fraternity come to mind; men who have been bested by Cherpillod, Tani and Uyenishi in honest matches, but who do not care to lose under any circumstances.”

He strode to the bookshelf behind his desk and withdrew a large, leather-bound scrapbook, which he laid upon the desk and flipped open. Inside were pasted pages of newspaper reports detailing the victories of his champions at the Tivoli, the Alhambra, St. James’s Hall and many other famous venues.

“Take your pick, Miss Lee,” he rumbled. “At one time or another I’ve had hard words with Jack Carkeek, Joe Carroll, the Gruhn brothers, Tom Cannon, Klemsky the Russian … the list goes on and on. Some of it’s swank, but some’s on the level.”

“Swank?” I asked.

“Music hall showmanship,” Persephone explained. “Staged arguments and bits of business to keep the punters amused and coming back day after day.”

“I see. But of the real disputants, who would you be most inclined to suspect?”

“If I had to put money on it, Miss Lee, I think Klemsky here is the likeliest malefactor,” replied Mr. Barton-Wright, showing me a publicity photograph of a beefy, balding fellow with a long, narrow moustache, crouching in a wrestling pose.

“He is not really a Russian – that’s an example of swanking, you see. His real name is John Chance. In any case, he lost fairly to Uyenishi-san, though he later claimed that he’d been hypnotised – if you can believe that! – and then to Cherpillod at catch-as-catch-can. He was very sore about that match. I’ve not seen him since then, but we’ve had some vehement exchanges via public correspondence in Health and Strength magazine. I believe that he bears us a real grudge – against Armand, especially.”

Mr. Barton-Wright closed the scrapbook with a soft thump.

“Chance has recently opened his own physical culture school in West London, called the Hammersmith Athletic Club,” Persephone offered. “He has a, well, a checkered past.”

“And perhaps,” I mused, “he believes he had reason to cause this Marjorie woman to pass the stolen diamond ring on to Mr. Cherpillod, disguised as a gift from an admiring pupil.”

“That is precisely Armand’s account of things, though I’ll be dashed if I know how to prove it,” replied Mr. Barton-Wright. “Unfortunately, none of us here ever saw the ring and he did not mention the gift until after he was arrested.”

“Whyever not?” I exclaimed. “It seems an extravagant present from a wrestling student to her professor, surely worthy of some comment.”

“Armand is a genius at wrestling, but he is also the son of a poor Swiss farmer,” said Persephone. “He’s always been ill-at-ease with ‘airs and graces’ and was probably too embarrassed to speak of the gift, precisely for the fear that it would seem extravagant or as if he were big-noting.”

She absently took out her cigarette case, noted her uncle’s reproving glance and primly put it away again.

“Armand’s humility is one of his most endearing qualities, though it’s done him no favours in this case,” she finished.

Mr. Barton-Wright nodded, a grim set to his strong jaw. “So now the poor lad languishes in Wandsworth Prison awaiting trial,” he said, “and our Club’s reputation suffers by the day. If he’s found guilty of theft …”

“Well then, I shall do what I can to investigate,” I interjected, “but while my own reputation may be one of forthrightness, I’ll confess that I’m a little worried about bearding this particular lion in his den alone.”

I turned to Persephone. “Your Amazons, Persi; might they be up for a little freelance excursion?”

She simply smiled.

Continue to Part 2 …

 

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Edith Garrud’s “portrait sculpture” in London (2013)

Garrud

A “portrait sculpture” of Jujitsuffragette trainer Edith Garrud (left), along with health pioneer Florence Keen and music producer Jazzie B outside London’s Finsbury Park bus and tube station.

Portrait bench

Jazzie B joined by, from left, Andrew Turton, Islington Council leader Catherine West and Martin Williams.

The portrait bench is a feature of  a new walking and cycling route established by the Islington Council.  The cycle route links Highbury Fields, Gillespie Park and Finsbury Park together.

Edith Garrud was renowned for teaching ju jitsu to suffragettes to help them in their battles against the police.

All three subjects were chosen by public vote. The family of Edith Garrud were also on hand to unveil their relative’s statue. Her great-nephew Martin Williams said: “She was a suffragette and was able to teach suffragettes how to defend themselves.”

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The unveiling of Edith Garrud’s memorial plaque in London (2012)

Edith Garrud’s great-great-great-grandniece and namesake poses with a replica of the plaque commemorating her ancestor, and with her toy octopus friend.

Thanks to Martin Williams, a descendent of Edith Garrud’s, for both organising the commemorative plaque project and for writing this guest post.

On a sunny Saturday in June 2012, around 70 people congregated around the steps of a house in a smart square in London to celebrate the life of a brave woman who had once lived there; Edith Margaret Garrud, the jujitsu trainer of the Bodyguard corps of the British Suffragette movement circa 1910-1913. Two of the people present had known Edith Garrud; her grand daughters Jenny Cooper and Sybil Evans. To them, she was just Nana.

There was a group of about fifteen members of the Garrud family, many of them from Sheffield in the North of England who had travelled 200 miles to be present at the unveiling of the relative none of them had met. They said they were inspired by her courage and wanted to be part of the ceremony. I met people from one of the London Judo societies and several women proud of their Suffragette predecessors who had helped women to take their place in today’s society. A young boxing enthusiast was clear that Edith and her companions had made it possible for her to be accepted as a boxer today.

As the appointed time for the unveiling approached, the photographer
marshalled groups of family supporters, descendents and others into groups to record the event for the local newspaper and to make pictures for a permanent display of the achievements of Islington people. Although too little to understand much of what was happening today, young Edie will surely grow up to be proud of the ancestor whose name she carries.

At last the photographs were over and the crowd gathered round under the green veil which covered the plaque to listen to a short speech from the Leader of Islington Council. She spoke a little about the Suffragette movement and the equality they sought. She reminded us that the council is trying to promote encourage equality today, between the residents on the west side of Caledonian Road who live on £10,000 a year and those so near on the east side such as the area of Thornhill Square where houses may sell for £2 million. She thanked local Councillors for attending this celebration, and then asked one of the relatives to say a few words. As this was unexpected, I managed only to thank Tony Wolf who started all of this and Islington Council for all of their efforts with the Plaque, and then turned back to the Leader to unveil the Plaque.

There were more photographs, the green baize curtains revealed the Plaque, and after a round of applause most people moved across the road to St Andrews church to enjoy cups of tea and cakes and a good opportunity to find out who else had come to the celebration. Around the walls of the church room there were panels prepared by Islington illustrating the Suffragette movement, there was also a large copy of the Punch cartoon and a family tree showing where Edith fitted into the Williams/Garrud/Jones/Deamer families. After an hour or so of meeting new friends and distant relatives people began to drift away for some long journeys home. I walked with two members of the Jones family whom I had met first 25 years ago and not seen since, and with a few more fond farewells the party was over.

We went home remembering something of Edith’s life and proud of her achievements and our association with her.

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“Suffragettes and Jiu-jitsu” (1910)

From the Wanganui Chronicle, 9 August 1910, Page 5.

No longer is the annoying male interjector to disturb the tranquility of the peaceful Suffragette at her meetings (says the London “Standard”). A Women Athletes’ Society, the latest adjunct of the Women’s Freedom League, has been organised by Mrs. Garrud, a jiu-jitsu expert, and Miss Kelly, one of the hunger-strikers, who entered a Dundee meeting by way of the fanlights.

Mrs. Garrud is not an inch taller than five feet, but she has already enjoyed the pleasure of throwing a six-foot policeman over her shoulder. “He was a very nice man, and he didn’t mind a bit,” she said. “But there are other men who are not a bit nice, men who are merely silly and a nuisance to others besides themselves. I have already had the pleasure of ejecting one youth from a woman’s franchise meeting, and after we have had our new society in full swing for some months, we hope to have a regular band of jujitsu officers, who will be able to deal with all the male rowdies who dare to bother us. Only to-day I received a letter from the headmistress of a North London girls’ school saying that she desires to enroll all her pupils in our society.”

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Photographs of “Amazon” bodyguards in training?

These three extremely rare photographs featured in the Year of the Bodyguard docudrama (1982) may show Jujitsuffragette “Amazons” in training.

Although it is unfortunately impossible to pinpoint their origin, these pictures were almost certainly published in a London magazine circa 1909-1913. Between those dates, and given the presence of tatami mats on the floor, it is highly likely that they were shot in one of three locations. The first candidate would be jujitsu instructor Edith Garrud’s own dojo (training hall) at #8 Argyll Place, Regent Street, which advertised classes for women and children; the second would be the Golden Square dojo that Edith and her husband William had taken over from former  instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi when the latter returned to Japan circa 1908.

However, given that one of the women in the second photograph is wearing what is apparently a Suffragette sash, reading “Women’s (indecipherable) Week”, perhaps the most likely location would be the “Suffragettes Self Defence Club”, which Edith had advertised in the Votes for Women newspaper in December of 1909. The club was based at Leighton Lodge in Edwardes Square, Kensington, which included a number of studios for classes in sculpture, painting and voice. The Suffragette self defence classes started at 7.00 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday evening and cost 5s, 6d per month.

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“The Year of the Bodyguard” (1982): summary

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For a number of years, the 1982 docudrama The Year of the Bodyguard, directed by Noel Burch, was one of the sasquatches of Edwardian antagonistics research. There was tantalising evidence that it existed somewhere, but it proved frustratingly difficult to track down.

In early 2013 we (finally!) had the opportunity to watch the telefilm, which was originally broadcast as part of a British Channel 4 documentary series called The 11th Hour. What follows is not a review, but a comprehensive summary of the film, highlighting those aspects most likely to be of interest to readers of this website.

The film opens with a shot of a chair, upon which rest a red Edwardian-style jujutsu gi (training uniform), an Indian club and a short whip – weapons associated with the militant Suffragettes. In voiceover, an actress representing Edith Garrud briefly quotes the advice given to her by Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankurst – “Speak, and I think that we shall understand”.

Cut to the narration of an eyewitness to police brutality against a Suffragette protestor during the infamous “Black Friday” riots of 18 November, 1910, as the camera very slowly pans in on the face of a woman who has fallen to the pavement:

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There follows some early newsreel footage of the riot itself; lines of police, a vast, milling crowd of behatted Londoners pressing around a small collection of suffrage banners off in the distance.

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Next, there is a re-enactment of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s “Votes for Women” exhibition at Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge, in which a mock-up of the relatively opulent, large cell afforded to recognised political prisoners is contrasted with the cramped, miserable cell of an imprisoned Suffragette. We then watch a re-enactment of the forced feeding of a Suffragette on hunger strike.

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A fashionable shop window is smashed by an unseen militant Suffragette protestor crying “Votes for women!”, and next we see the protestors, having barely out-run the police, escaping into Edith Garrud’s jiujitsu studio. They quickly hide their weapons of vandalism – hammers and stones – and street clothes in a trap-door hidden under the tatami mats, and by the time the police arrive, they appear to be a group of young women innocently practicing jiujitsu.

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Next, an actor portraying G.K. Chesterton delivers a monologue to the camera, making the point that a woman’s deltoid muscles are the least thing a man has to fear from her. This is followed by a startling scene of modern (1980s) domestic violence.

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Returning to the Edwardian era, we witness another common form of Suffragette protest by vandalism, as a woman pours a liquid accelerant into an iron post-box and incinerates the mail within. A female narrator quotes Christabel Pankhurst on the relative moralities of different types of violent action.

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This is followed by a documentary photo-montage of militants being arrested and disorder in the streets of London, while a male narrator explains the doctrine of state-sanctioned physical force behind the rule of law, also suggesting that while physical force is a male domain, the law drew equally from moral force, which is associated with women; “let the men make the laws, and we (women) will make the men.”

An actress portraying a working-class suffragist from Lancashire delivers a speech to the camera in the style of a 1980s television interview, arguing that the undignified protests of middle- and upper-class women who “kick, shriek, bite and spit” were driving her peers away from public political action.

There follows a long, static shot, rather in the manner of early silent film, showing a performance of the George Bernard Shaw play, Androcles and the Lion, which is disrupted by a loud argument on the suffrage question between members of the audience. Three of the actors on stage eventually break the fourth wall and applaud the pro-suffrage position.

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The next shot is of a black and white television set which is showing an actress playing the elderly Edith Garrud circa 1967. She describes her first meeting with Emmeline Pankhurst, which took place at a jiujitsu display she was giving in the early 1900s.

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We then segue to another actress playing Edith at the time of that display, lecturing on jiujitsu and demonstrating several holds and throws on a man wearing a police uniform.

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We shift to September of 1913, as two plain-clothes police officers climb a ladder outside a building to secretly observe a Bodyguard jujitsu training session through a skylight.

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One of the women spots them and, after some confusion, organiser Gertrude Harding orders the trainees to leave one at a time and not to allow themselves to be followed home. The camera follows one of the women as she confronts a detective in the street and proposes a game of wits; if she is able to lose him, she will win. They walk off into the darkness.

A narrator quoting Christabel Pankhurst describes the formation of the Bodyguard and the power of women to terrorise men, over a montage of photographs and early film footage showing Suffragettes in prison, practicing jiujitsu and protesting, “divinely discontented, divinely impatient and divinely brave”.

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Next there is a re-enactment of three militant Suffragettes harassing Prime Minister Asquith during a motoring trip through a Scottish forest. The women rush out from hiding and stop his car, then attack Asquith and his companions with flour-bombs and horse-whips, crying “votes for women!” and “Asquith out!”

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The next sequence quotes a speech by Sylvia Pankhurst, who was concerned with organising political protest among the working classes of London’s East End, urging her followers to learn jiujitsu and to bring sticks to their protests. “There is no use talking. We have got to really fight.” This is followed by a stylised, slow motion scene in which the young Edith Garrud, wielding an Indian club as a weapon, defeats two male attackers in front of a flickering projection of a suffrage rally.

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This scene is interrupted by the Year of the Bodyguard director, Noel Burch, who asks the actress playing Edith to demonstrate one of her jujitsu locks for him. She asks why and the scene freezes momentarily.

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There follows a humourous scene in which a large, but bruised and dishevelled c1913 police constable is interviewed by a female reporter, ostensibly in the aftermath of an encounter with the Bodyguard. He abashedly admits that he was hit by a woman, claims that he doesn’t know whether he supports the right of women to vote in elections, and ends up distractedly trying to re-attach his right sleeve, which has been partially torn off during the affray.

The film then takes a much more serious turn, with slow-motion archival footage of the Suffragette protestor Emily Wilding Davison running into the midst of the Derby Day horse race of 1913 and being trampled by the King’s horse, Anmer. Both woman and horse somersault through the air after the impact, and then the crowd surges on to the racetrack to help; the horse survived and Emily Davison became the first Suffragette martyr.

In a satirical scene, an actor in modern dress playing a psychiatrist offers the opinion that Wilding was a masochist and a “hysteric”.

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The final scenes show a group of women training in a contemporary (early 1980s) self defence class, followed by a series of interviews with the trainees about the value of learning self defence and the politics of inter-gender violence. Following a short scene in which a woman is shown defending herself against an attacker in a busy London street, a title card describes the impact of the First World War on the suffrage movement, as Mrs. Pankhurst suspended the “Votes for Women” campaign and organised many of her followers to support the government during the war effort, which prompted the granting of the vote to women over the age of 30 on 11 January, 1918.

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An interview with “Year of the Bodyguard” director Noel Burch

Noel Burch

 

Our sincere thanks to Noel Burch, who agreed to answer some questions pertaining to his 1982 television docudrama The Year of the Bodyguard.

Q: Can you describe your interest in women’s self defence circa 1900?

A: I think I was first excited by the idea of women learning jiu-jitsu in the West at the beginning of the twentieth century when reading Kafka’s Amerika, in which Karl is humiliated by a young American woman with the then still mysterious art of jiu-jitsu
– and of course, since then I have understood that Kafka too was a masochist.

Many years later I came across a cover of Sandow’s Magazine where a “Mrs. Garrud throws her Japanese teacher”. I’m not sure how I found out about the Bodyguard, but it was still later, I think …

For years I had been a militant male feminist, and when I finally understood about the role of the Bodyguard in the suffragette movement, and had a privileged contact with Allan Fountain’s 11th Hour (documentary series) slot at Channel Four, I decided this was a good “politically correct” subject to propose, dealing as it did with women’s violence, and which would also fit in with my personal passion … which is actually alluded to in the film itself, on the demand of certain members of what was an almost exclusively female crew, including Debbie Kermode, daughter of Frank and a very hip feminist (she comes into the shot where I am challenged).

Q: How did you go about researching Year of the Bodyguard?

A: As I recall, I spent a good deal of time in a library in Hackney devoted to the suffragette movement. My main source was that book by Antonia Raeburn, which was, I believe, devoted to Edith Garrud and which several sequences in the film are copied from, including the pseudo-TV interview with “Edith Garrud” herself.

The hardest part was digging up and paying for the Blondie comic strip which opens the film and which had revealed my passion to myself at the age of 7.

Q: Can you describe the artistic/political choices you made in presenting the Bodyguard story for a television audience?

A: I wasn’t very interested in the TV audience, which may explain certain errors in the film, such as the Bernard Shaw Androcles excerpt, shot in an overly long shot to evoke the early cinema framing. The whole film was made as if I were working for the cinema.

The film reflects a long-term concern I had had with the hybrid documentary, involving different materials, different styles, etc. And involving here the mixing of periods – the TV interviews with Chesterton and with a bobby beaten by the women, etc. This was meant to be a pedagogical “de-alienating” form in those days, when we believed the classical film-language was “bourgeois”. I personally was into the forms of the early cinema as proto-avant-garde practice. I was writing a book about the emergence of film language. Today, I have problems with that avant-garde crap, but at the time, many of us working for Channel 4 were into that.

Q: I was wondering about the scene in which an actor playing a psychiatrist, in modern dress, is commenting on the psychological state of the suffragettes as masochists and martyrs. Was that monologue based on a published report, or was it written for the docudrama?

A: The psychiatrist scene, I wrote myself, possibly basing it on bits from the papers at the time, but more generally on a type of discourse we on the left all know from the dominant schools of analysis and therapy, tending to reduce political commitment to the individual psyche. Marcuse called it “neo-Freudian revisionism.”

Q: That seems apt. Changing tack, do you remember who served as your fight choreographer or martial arts advisor?

A: I had no martial arts advisor. I was the one who brought the actress some books and advice. I’ve been poring over (self defence) manuals for sixty years and I have a vast collection. She was the one who choreographed the demonstrations. She was both an aspiring actress and a teacher of women’s self-defence, and her physique vaguely resembled that of Edith Garrud; those were the reasons she was chosen.

Q: What was the public response to the docudrama?

A: I haven’t the slightest idea; does one ever know? The critics (but they are not the public!) were few and far between; not necessarily hostile, but nobody was very enthusiastic.

Q: How about individual reactions?

A: I remember one reaction by a former student of mine at the RCA, at the time a promising independent director but who now does routine work for the BBC. He felt that the scene where the bobby comes down to the gym where the women have just hidden their street-clothes under the tatami (mats) should have been filmed from the point of view of the police; it would have been more suspenseful, he thought. I tried to explain that I was on the side of the women, that the film was on the side of the women, that such a view-point would have been out of the question. He didn’t understand and, thirty year later, I think I understand why …

Q: I believe that the Suffragette Bodyguard was essentially fighting battles at two levels; the practicalities of street-fighting and evading the police, and as symbols of feminist militancy in the propaganda war against the Asquith government. Do you have any thoughts on that subject?

A: I really don’t know any more about the Bodyguard’s activities than you do, probably less, though your remark seems quite credible. But I should point out that when the film was shown to some committee at the BFI Production board at the time I was submitting a different project to this august body (which was turned down), some feminist historian, whose name I do not remember, was reported to have said “He doesn’t understand anything about the Bodyguard” or words to that effect. At the time I suspected this woman was simply picking up on the perverse underpinning of the film.

Q: Finally, are there any other anecdotes from the production that you’d like to share?

A: Well, after we had spent a whole day shooting that single long take where the women who have just smashed all the windows on Oxford Street take refuge in Mrs. Garrud’s studio (an authentic anecdote, drawn from Antonia Raeburn’s book), I was so happy to have achieved what was a kind of tour de force (a seven minute take, I think), that I failed to go thank that bunch of actresses who had been knocking themselves out all day for “my film” and they were complaining in the dressing room. My producer bawled me out and I tried to make amends.

Also, during the casting, there was one very beautiful actress who was quite skilled but whose agent wouldn’t let her be in the film because her role wasn’t important enough.

Also, and this is the best, the actor who plays the policeman on whom “Mrs. Garrud” does her demonstration at my reconstruction of the women’s festival, tried to get more money afterwards because he hadn’t been warned that he would be “hurt” (which he wasn’t at all, of course, it was just machismo … he didn’t like being thrown around by a woman!)

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