Help write the missing Anthony Burgess chapter

Can you identify anyone on this photograph taken around 1949 in Bamber Bridge with Burgess front row third from right?
Can you identify anyone on this photograph taken around 1949 in Bamber Bridge with Burgess front row third from right?

Much has been written about - and by - Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange.

But roughly halfway through his life story are a couple of blank pages which Burgess historians would love to fill in.

Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess

They cover the period, just after the war, when he taught ex-servicemen in Bamber Bridge - and played the piano in local pubs for a bit of extra beer money.

This year the novelist, composer, playwright, poet and critic would have turned 100. And to mark his centenary the International Anthony Burgess Foundation is trying to contact anyone who can help complete the chapter between 1947 and 1950 when Burgess lectured in English and drama at the town’s Emergency Training College.

“I was in touch with one or two very elderly gentlemen who remembered being at the college,” said the foundation’s director Professor Andrew Biswell.

“Sadly they aren’t around anymore. But they remembered him as a musician, not an author, who would frequent the local pubs. He played the piano and was remembered as a great socialiser.

Typewriter owned by Anthony Burgess next to a copy of A Clockwork Orange

Typewriter owned by Anthony Burgess next to a copy of A Clockwork Orange

“Apparently he quite enjoyed it in Bamber Bridge and he would have stayed longer. But the college was only a temporary thing.”

The foundation has a battered and yellowing photograph, taken during his time in “The Brigg.” It is probable none of the 18 men pictured are still alive, but Professor Biswell is hoping someone in Lancashire can identify any of the individuals and provide some details, however small, which might help fill in the blanks.

“I’m not sure if it is a picture of people studying there,” he said. “Burgess would have been about 32 at the time it was taken and we know that a lot of the men would have been older than him. So they would be over 100 by now.

“But there my be relatives out there, or people who have memories of the college and who are still living in the area. It may be that someone can remember him in the pubs, or attended performances of plays he produced locally during that time.

What is left of the former Emergency Training College in Mounsey Road, Bamber Bridge where Burgess taught

What is left of the former Emergency Training College in Mounsey Road, Bamber Bridge where Burgess taught

“Even if it is just a bit of history of the college - it is all important to build up a picture of what he was doing over that period in Bamber Bridge.”

Born John Burgess Wilson in Harpurhey, Manchester in February 1917, he added his confirmation name Anthony at a later date. When he began writing he chose Anthony Burgess as his pen-name.

The college in Mounsey Road, part of which still stands today, was based in a former barracks for US troops during the war. Men who had left the forces were given a fast-track one-year course to qualify as teachers.

The affection Burgess held for Bamber Bridge comes across in passages he wrote in later years. In one he writes about playing the piano in the pubs, saying: “I was happy to be paid 35 shillings every weekend . . . on the lid of the piano pints of beer, far more than I could drink, were placed by appreciative customers.”

In an article he penned called “Hot Pot and Tay,” he talks about the local dialect, and Lancashire dishes like meat and potato pie, tripe, cowheel and black pudding and strong mugs of builders’ tea.

“Bamber Bridge likes warm-hearted people,” he says. “They are unviolent, but they know all about death (if the grandfather of the family says he is going for a walk to the churchyard they say: ‘Hardly worth tha while coming back, is it?’

“And if you can’t afford a visit just yet, try Lancashire hot pot tonight. With red pickled cabbage. And no bloody nonsense about finicking teabags. A good coop of tay is what tha wants, lad. A reet drop of sergeant-major’s. Summat tha can stand spoon oop in.”

Anyone who can help the foundation can contact Professor Biswell at director@anthonyburgess.org or visit www.anthonyburgess.org.