From Year of the Bodyguard

The Amazons in pop-culture and in the media

Shoulder to shoulder

The stories of the Suffragette Amazons were all but forgotten throughout most of the 20th century, but the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s sparked a revival of interest in their “secret history”. Notable amongst these were Antonia Raeburn’s The Militant Suffragettes (1973), the BBC TV mini-series Shoulder to Shoulder (1974) and Midge Mackenzie’s companion volume Shoulder to Shoulder: The Stirring History of the Militant Suffragettes (1975).

The advent of the Internet has seen an increasing number of Suffragette Amazon-related media projects, from books and websites to documentaries and graphic novels.

The following is a summary of media that deal specifically with the Amazons, or in which their principals play key roles:

1982

Writer/director Noel Burch directs The Year of the Bodyguard, a docudrama for Britain’s Channel 4 that deals with the social history and lore of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons. Unfortunately, it has never been released on DVD and modern screenings are extremely rare. We are, however, pleased to be able to present this interview with Mr. Burch in which he reminisces about the production, together with this detailed, illustrated summary of the docudrama itself.

In this scene from The Year of the Bodyguard, a group of Suffragettes escaping from the police after a window-smashing protest take refuge inside Edith Garrud’s jujitsu school.  The scene is closely based on an anecdotal account of real-life events, as reported decades after the fact by Edith Garrud herself:

1998

With All Her Might cover

Gretchen Wilson’s With All Her Might (1998) is a biography of her great-aunt, Gertrude Harding, who was one of the principal organisers of the Suffragette Bodyguard society.

2000

The Perfect Daughter, part of Gillian Linscott’s series of novels about Suffragette detective Nell Bray, features a martial arts-oriented subplot and Edith Garrud appears as a supporting character.

2005-08

Compendia

Both volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005/08), edited by Tony Wolf, feature collections of archival newspaper articles relating to Edith Garrud and the Bodyguard team’s martial arts training.

The Lady Cavaliers theatre company produces a short play, Mrs. Garrud’s Dojo, that offers a lighthearted look at early 20th century gender politics via “Suffrajitsu”.

2009

Tony and Kathrynne Wolf publish Edith Garrud – the Suffragette who knew Jujutsu to introduce the story of the Amazons to younger readers.

2011

The documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, co-produced and co-directed by Tony Wolf and featuring an interview with Emelyne Godfrey showcases the Jujitsuffragettes and features a re-enactment of their combat training.

The play The Hooligan and the Lady, a dramatised biography of feminist jiujitsu pioneer Florence “Flossie” Le Mar, was a hit at the 2011 New Zealand Fringe Festival.

2012

Emelyne Godfrey’s book Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society: From Dagger-Fans to Suffragettes devotes a full chapter to the Bodyguard, Edith Garrud and Edwardian jiujitsu.

Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, performed by Theatre Unbound, explores the social and political pressures that led the WSPU to create the Bodyguard team.

Click here to listen to reporter Julian Bedford’s interview with Tony Wolf for the BBC World Service radio programme, concerning the Suffragette Bodyguards.

2013

 

The BBC documentary Everybody Was Kung-fu Fighting: A History of the Martial Arts in Great Britain (2013) showcases the Suffragette Amazons, featuring an excerpt from The Year of the Bodyguard and interviews with Emelyne Godfrey and Tony Wolf.

2014

Icon Films produces this mini-documentary on the life and times of jujitsuffragette trainer Edith Garrud, hosted by Honor Blackman and featuring an interview with Emelyne Godfrey.

2015

Suffrajitsu Book 1 cover

The graphic novel Suffrajitsu, written by Tony Wolf with art by João Vieira, is published via Amazon’s Jet City Comics imprint.

The mystery novel Move your Blooming Corpse, featuring Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins as detectives in Edwardian London, also includes Edith Garrud and the suffragette Bodyguard team.

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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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