Mr James W Drawbell

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James Drawbell At his November 1933 party to launch his book A Gallery of Women.[1]

James Wedgwood Drawbell, 33, (1899-1979), Falkirk born writer, playwright and journalist, was Editor-in-chief of the Sunday Chronicle at this time, having been hired in 1925 by William Berry, Lord Camrose, to set up the new paper – “at twenty-six the youngest editor since Delane was made editor of The Times in 1841 at … twenty-four”, he wrote in his 1963 autobiography The Sun Within Us. In 1932, five months before the dinner, he met Hitler “Innocently, at tea, in a house with a garden. It was all so English”. But it ended up with Hitler crying loudly “They are always around us… around me. Around you. The distorters of the truth. The liars!” A few months after the dinner, on 1st November 1933, James published an interview with Viscountess Rhondda for Britannia and Eve, as No.7 in his Gallery of Women Contemporary Portraits, later published in a book.[2] Thanks to that article we have a photograph of Lady Rhondda at the dinner standing by her new portrait, at the Rembrandt.

In his autobiography he also wrote of his failure to persuade Margot, Lady Oxford, the wife of former PM Asquith, to contribute to a series “What love means to me”.[3]

Seated Beside…

Ideally he would have been seated with the former headmistress now salon hostess Annie Douglas, sharing gossip as well as reflecting on more serious matters – perhaps even on what makes a successful woman – and beside the more serious guest on the table of four, lawyer Claud Mullins. But he won’t have missed the opportunity to engage with Claud’s 29 year old wife, Gwen.

What’s On His Mind?

Like Sir Norman Angell, events in Berlin could well have been uppermost in his mind and doubtless he recounted his meeting with the Fûhrer at the table. But with his series of contemporary portraits “A Gallery of Women” perhaps in mind he will have been looking for material for his future writings. We do know of course that his later interview does include a photograph of Lady Rhondda beside her presentation portrait – the only image we have at the moment of Alice Burton’s work on show at the evening.

James’s Story So Far

James Wedgwood Drawbell was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1899, the son of Jane Drawbell née Broome (3rd August 1862 – then still living in Edinburgh 1939/40) and James Drawbell (1864 – ) – one of six children to reach maturity. His mother was the daughter of Francis Wedgwood Broome, a bookseller and stationer who set up a newspaper called the Bo’ness Journal”, possibly helping to influence James’s future choice of career. James’s father drank heavily and his mother eventually packed him off to “the Colonies” for good. James served with a Scottish Infantry regiment from 1917 until the end of the war. He then sailed for Canada with a friend Bob Paterson looking for a job in journalism. Meeting little success in Montreal he moved to New York, held a variety of jobs with journals and met Noel Coward and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He returned to London at the age of 23, and worked for the magazine John Bull before setting up the Sunday Chronicle, where he stayed for the rest of his career.

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James Drawbell at a party, 1933 [4]

James Drawbell was consistently anti-Nazi and from 1930 was convinced another war was to come.   He sought to counter the view that Hitler harboured no ill-will towards Britain and criticised Britain’s lack of preparedness for war. In 1932 he met Hitler “Innocently, at tea, in a house with a garden. It was all so English”. After an unexpectedly civilised conversation it concluded with Hitler crying loudly “They are always around us… around me. Around you. The distorters of the truth. The liars!” Drawbell reflects that Hitler had fallen short (at the tea) of his later ranting and raving, but “this was Hitler’s method”. Hitler was not yet in power when he met him but became Chancellor in January 1933. It is hard to think he didn’t relate some of this story at the dinner. 27th February had been the day of the Reichstag fire. On the 5th March Federal elections gave no-one a majority. And on the day of the dinner, Thursday 23rd March 1933, Hitler was calling for the Reichstag (at the Opera House having already torched the main building) to vote through legislation which would give him absolute power, which they duly did on the 24th. Democracy was ending in Germany that night, and the rest, is history.

Just before his appointment as Editor, James married the sculptor, ceramicist and painter Marjorie Violet Gloria Bull, in the autumn of 1924 in Chelsea (they had met when neighbours in Chelsea -“she was twenty-one, dark, with the most attractive hazel eyes, and glowing vitality”, he wrote later). She modelled figurines and animal groups, mainly for pottery manufacturers, but her work was also reproduced in silver by Asprey’s. Her book “Making Pottery Figures” was published in 1953.[5] [6]

From ships’ registers we know that in 1923 James was living at 90 Iona St, Edinburgh, in 1925 they were living at 2 Grafton Mansions, Dukes Road, London WC. In 1926 he was living at 17a Royal Parade, Temple Fortune, NW11, in 1930, Park Lane Hotel, W1, in 1931 Dorincourt, Dormans Park, Surrey. In 1932 they were living at 1a Wellington Place, St John’s Wood, London NW8. In 1933 only he is registered in St John’s Wood but they are both registered at Dorincourt. Post war she is registered at different West and SW London addresses.

There was clearly mutual respect between him and his boss Lord Camrose, related in his autobiography to the time when he almost lost his job for writing an article about Cardiff and in trying to give it some life, talking about its good citizens having a drink in their pubs of a Sunday evening. For a city with Sunday closing that didn’t go down well – the edition of that paper sold out for all the wrong reasons.

What James Did Next

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Lady Rhondda at the Rembrandt beside her portrait [7]

James authored many volumes, including several autobiographical works but for us by far his next most important publication was the light, friendly, bordering on the gushy interview in her office with Lady Rhondda, published in Britannia & Eve, for his Gallery of Women Contemporary Portraits. He opens up by describing the portrait presented at the dinner.

 

Britannia and Eve. Interview with James Drawbell for his Gallery of Women[8]

A portrait of Lady Rhondda has been painted which shows her lazing under the beeches in her Kentish garden. Here, one might say, is the real woman, the essential woman behind the business mask, the woman who wants out of life peace and quietness, and the perfume of a garden. The woman who can lie dreaming under the beech tree has surely little in common with the office executive controlling the destinies of many people. There must be two Lady Rhonddas. There are twenty. The garden-loving woman is no more the complete woman than is the office chief. But the garden is an escape, and the office is reality fashioned out of the deepest human instincts to aspire and achieve. Only people who want to evade their adult responsibilities in life desire to spend their days sheltering in a garden, or beach-combing in the South Seas, or hermiting in a Highland cottage. Lady Rhondda seeks escape to her Kentish garden as I seek escape on an Atlantic liner or as we all seek escape in the theatre or cinema. She escapes so that she can come back to reality she turns her back on life in order to be able to face it……………………

The setting of this written portrait is not her garden but her office and he notices three other portraits: of Bernard Shaw (a great supporter of Time and Tide), of St John Ervine, and of her father. Which segues into a paragraph describing the rise of D.A. Thomas, the creator of her inherited business empire.

Except for the desk and the few papers upon it, and the two telephones, there is nothing at all in the room to suggest that it is an office. It is, in fact, the most unofficy office I have ever been in.

The conversation is interrupted by the formality of a cup of tea

“Here is tea” she says quietly, and we sit down at the large desk, she with her back to a shelf containing the bound volumes of Time and Tide, I in a comfortable chair.

James obviously liked a chat over tea – from tea with the Fûhrer to tea with one of Britain’s first major businesswomen….

Her dark hair is streaked with grey, and her blue-black eyes this afternoon are a little tired. If you saw this woman anywhere you would like her shy, shrewd face. A bit of a mouse, you might think, and the last thing you would imagine is that she is a bit of a business woman.

He then touches on her recent autobiography, released in March, and then moves onto suffrage, a chance for her to relate, at a little length, her jump onto Asquith’s running board, and he gives a brief nod to pillar boxes “she does not talk about that now”.

After a little charade whereby she reads his fate, involving a silver pen and the shutting of eyes, they move on to the Lusitania, the experience she says that “at last gave her confidence in herself and destroyed her fear”. Then with a linking of her once-stated desire to have a dozen babies they discuss her Time and Tide baby and he alludes in his piece that he too knows what it takes to put your all into editing a newspaper. Indeed he reports what he has to say on the matter, to which “she nods in agreement”.

They then leave together, going different ways, in different taxi-cabs.

Today you can find nearly twenty of James’ books advertised on Amazon, a mix of novels (his first published in 1929), real world volumes and autobiographies. He encouraged Monica Dickens when she was looking for a publisher. He also wrote plays including one with Reginald Simpson, Who Goes Next? which was later filmed, bringing to the fore the actor Jack Hawkins.

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puzzle-piece2-50He and Marjorie had no children??? and divorced?….In 1974 he married Sheila Mary Drawbell [sic] (3.7.1908 – Q4 1996, Taunton) in Merton.

James died when residing at 6 Bradbury, North Berwick, on 6th February 1979. His brother Frank Wedgwood Broome Drawbell emigrated to Canada and, unlike James, stayed there and in 1927 named his son James Wedgwood Drawbell.

In 1949 and 1951 James was living in Hillhill, Rodmells Road, Lewes, Sussex and in 1951 was travelling with his daughter Diana Drawbell, 20.[9]

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We will complete our portrait of James when we have consulted more of his writings. He could tell a good story. But tea with Hitler and a portrait for Lady Rhondda has been a good start.

 

 

 

BACK TO TABLE 4


 

[1] The Sketch 13.11.1933 p14, ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans James Wedgwood Drawbell, (1933) A Gallery of Women, .

[2] James Wedgwood Drawbell, A Gallery of Women, published by Collins 1933

[3] James Drawbell, The Sun Within Us, Collins, 1963, p254ff

[4] James at a party of the launch of his book A Gallery of Women, December 1933, The Sketch, 13.12.1933 ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans 

[5] Marjorie Violet Gloria Drawbell née Bull, Artist Biographies website, accessed 20.3.2018

[6] Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, Marjorie Violet G Drawbell, accessed 9.2.2019,

[7] James Wedgwood Drawbell, (1933) A Gallery of Women. Contemporary Portraits No.7 Viscountess Rhondda, Britannia and Eve, Wednesday 1.11.1933 ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans

[8] James Wedgwood Drawbell, (1933) A Gallery of Women. Contemporary Portraits No.7 Viscountess Rhondda, Britannia and Eve, Wednesday 1.11.1933 ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans

[9] James Wedgwood Drawbell, Wikipedia, accessed 7.2.2019

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