University of Texas at Austin

Oswell Blakeston:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Blakeston, Oswell, 1907-1985
Title Oswell Blakeston Collection
Dates: 1927-1985
Extent 39 document boxes (16.38 linear feet), 11 galley folders (gf), 8 oversize folders (osf)
Abstract British artist and writer Oswell Blakeston was born Henry Joseph Hasslacher and his career began with an apprenticeship in the British film industry after which he began writing editorials and reviews for film magazines. He also wrote fairly successful poetry, mysteries, and novels. His papers contain a large quantity of Blakeston's typescripts, page proofs, notebooks, and scrapbooks which range over the full length of his writing career. Also present is a small quantity of personal and business correspondence and a number of personal items, including photographs.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-0405
Language: English.
Access Open for research. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days notice for access in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material:

Administrative Information

Acquisition Gift, 1985 (G2944)
Processed by Robert Kendrick, 1994-1995, updated by Jack Boettcher, 2012

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Oswell Blakeston, artist and writer, was born Henry Joseph Hasslacher on May 17, 1907. His professional life began in the British film industry in which he worked as a camera boy at the Gaumont Studios along with David Lean. This apprenticeship was followed by an editorial position with the small yet influential film magazine, Close-Up (1927-1933), the venue in which Blakeston met contributors such as Bryher, H. D., Robert Herring, and Kenneth Macpherson. At the same time, Blakeston contributed film reviews and articles to other periodicals. Blakeston first tested his directorial skills with the 1929 film, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside. The following year, with the American photographer Francis Bruguière, he made one of the first abstract films in England, Light Rhythms.
Among his early literary endeavors was the co-editorship (with Herbert Jones) of the little magazine, Seed (1932-1933). Collaborating with Roger Burford under the pseudonym "Simon," Blakeston published four mystery novels which received a fair amount of notice: Murder Among Friends (1933); Death on the Swim (1934); The Cat with the Moustache (1935); and The Mystery of the Hypnotic Room (1949). Under his own name, he wrote novels and story collections such as Extra Passenger (1929), Few Are Chosen (1931, with Francis Bruguière), Magic Aftermath (ca. 1932), Jim's Gun (1939), Danger in Provence (1946), Priests, Peters and Pussens (1947), Boys in Their Ruin (1949), Pink Ribbon, as Told to the Police (1950), Hop Thief (1959), The Night's Moves (1961), The Queen's Mate (1962), Fingers (1964), For Crying Out Shroud (1969), Ever Singing Die, Oh! Die (1970), and Pass the Poison Separately (1976). His story "Fireworks" appeared in the collection Charles' Wain (1933). Other stories appeared in numerous periodicals.
Blakeston's poetry was published in the volumes Poems, a Single Word! (ca. 1930), Death While Swimming (1932), Oswell Blakeston (1956), What the Dino-saur (1960), The Greatest Romantic Poem in the World (1963), How to Make Your Own Confetti (1965), The Furious Futures Dying (1967), Jeremy & Others (1971), Some Essential Information (1975), and Journies End in Young Man's Meeting (1979). Blakeston contributed poems to the collections Proems (1938; contributing editor), Appointment with Seven (1947), and Puppet Dreams (ca. 1976), as well as to periodicals such as Ambit, Jeremy, and Onion.
Blakeston also wrote a number of non-fiction books, including cookbooks, travel books, and books on photography and filmmaking. His published cookbooks include Edwardian Glamour Cooking Without Tears (1960), A Surprise in Every Dinner (1968), and Cooking With Nuts (1979). Holidays and Happy Days (1949), edited and with an introduction by Blakeston, brings together several authors' thoughts on the phenomenon of the vacation. Blakeston's own travel experiences resulted in Portuguese Panorama (1955), Isle of St. Helena (1957), the Finland travelogue Sun at Midnight (1958), and Thank You Now: an Exploration of Ulster (1960). His books on photography include Cruising with a Camera (1939, with F. W. Frerk) and Phototips on Cats and Dogs (1938, with Edwin Smith). Blakeston's published books on filmmaking include the study of cinematography Through a Yellow Glass (1928); Working for the Films (1947), a collection by various authors edited by Blakeston; and How to Script Amateur Films (1949). Two books-- Working Cats (1963) and Zoo Keeps Who? (1964)--further indicate the range of Blakeston's interests. Throughout his career, Blakeston contributed art and book reviews to various periodicals, including Arts Review, John O' London's Weekly, Time and Tide, and What's on in London.
Oswell Blakeston died in 1985.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of original and carbon copy typescripts, holograph manuscripts, clippings, printed sheets, advertising material, ink sketches, photographs, page proofs, galleys, notebooks, scrapbooks, audio tape, correspondence, and printed dust jackets, ranging in date from 1927 to 1985. The collection is arranged in three series: Correspondence (1933-1985, undated, 3 boxes); Works (1927-1985, undated, 18 boxes, 61 scrapbooks); and Personal Papers (1929-1985, undated, 3 boxes). Blakeston habitually economized by using both recto and verso of sheets of paper, often using the two sides for different works. Little attempt was made to identify fragments on the versos of sheets unless identification was obvious, as in the case of correspondence. In such cases, the versos were photocopied and filed in the appropriate series.
Blakeston's career as writer and reviewer is well documented in the collection. Among his published non-fiction, there are typescripts of Cooking with Nuts (1979) and Who Keeps Zoo? (published as Zoo Keeps Who? in 1964) as well as galleys of Working Cats (1963) and Working for the Films (1947). Portuguese Panorama (1955) is represented only by fragments and a review list. There is a notebook for Sun at Midnight (1958). Blakeston's published fiction is represented by galleys of Danger in Provence (1946); a typescript, page proofs, publicity, and correspondence for Fingers (1964); galleys for Priests, Peters and Pussens (1947); and a typescript and page proofs for The Queen's Mate (1962). There are also typescripts of many of Blakeston's published stories, including several versions of "Sod Hit." Blakeston's film work is represented by photographic stills from his film I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside (1929) and a poster advertising Light Rhythms (1930) as well as its printed musical accompaniment by Jack Ellit. Blakeston's published poetry is represented by a layout, page proofs and incomplete galleys of Appointment with Seven (1947), a typescript of Jeremy & Others (1971), and page proofs of What the Dino-Saur (1960).
Blakeston's unpublished work predominates in the collection. "Appointment with X" and "First Steps in Quicksand" are memoirs present in typescript drafts. There are also typescript drafts of radio scripts ( "Charlie radio scripts") as well as contributions to planned publications which apparently were never issued. A number of drafts of novels are present, including: "At the Third Stroke,""The Horrid Life of Mary Castle,""How Soon Doth Man Decay,""Moonlight at the Cross-Roads,""The Mystery of the Missing Treasure," and "Naked in the Air." There are also film treatments, a projected short story collection, adaptations of two Balzac stories, and a transcription of a play by Djuna Barnes, To the Dogs. In addition, there are numerous typescripts of essays, lectures, poems, reviews, and short stories by Blakeston as well as files of material (primarily poetry) submitted for publication along with related correspondence. Blakeston's research is represented in notebooks which contain general observations, ideas for stories, lists of words, occasional clippings, and some poetry. Blakeston also kept scrapbooks throughout his career in which are collected many of his art and book reviews as well as his early writings on films, articles about Blakeston himself, reviews of his own work, and correspondence.
The Correspondence series consists primarily of incoming correspondence concerning both Blakeston's professional and private life. Letters from publishers, editors, collaborators, illustrators, and other colleagues document Blakeston's professional transactions. Other letters offer a more personal glimpse of Blakeston. Subjects include observations on Finland and St. Helena, personalities of various editors, the London art scene, and inquiries concerning writers Blakeston had known (including Dylan Thomas). Of primary interest is a large group of letters from the novelist Bryher in which she discusses her creative struggles, her unrequited love for H. D., and her enthusiasm for Blakeston's own work. In addition to Bryher, the significant correspondents are Nancy Cunard, H. D., John Lennon, Kenneth Macpherson, Yoko Ono, Lotte Reininger, Perdita Schaffner, and Eric Walter White.
Among Blakeston's personal items are his application for conscientious objector status in World War II along with related documents, photographs of his childhood and family life, experimental photographs, travel photographs, and his "Delineation of Horoscope," done in 1935.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Correspondence, 1933-1985, undated (3 boxes)
The Correspondence series consists primarily of incoming correspondence of both a professional and personal nature. Incoming correspondence has been arranged alphabetically by correspondent with unidentified correspondents filed at the end of the sequence. This correspondence includes letters from publishers, editors, collaborators, illustrators and other colleagues relating to the day-to-day activities of the publishing world. There are also rejection notices as well as advice on improving material submitted for publication from a variety of correspondents. A sizable amount of correspondence from Ian Young, Winston Leyland, and Dennis Cooper, among others, concerns the publication in various formats of gay fiction and poetry. Another predominant theme of the correspondence is Blakeston's function as art critic. Artists, gallery owners, and their supporters wrote, inviting Blakeston to openings or thanking him for reviewing their exhibitions. There is also correspondence from Blakeston's readers, especially of his travel books, both supporting and questioning his assessments of places visited. A number of entries to newspaper competitions received by Blakeston are included here.
Among the correspondence of a more personal nature, material from Bryher ranging in date from 1952 to 1982 occupies an entire folder. This correspondence touches on a variety of subjects, including Bryher's continuing encouragement of Blakeston's own work, Bryher's unhappy love for H. D., and her own creative struggles. A few of these letters include greetings from H. D. in her own hand. H. D.'s daughter, Perdita Schaeffner, and Bryher's husband, Kenneth Macpherson, also have correspondence in this series. There is a letter from Nancy Cunard accepting one of Blakeston's poems for translation and publication in a French anthology as well as a Christmas card from Eric Walter White. Letters from Lotte Reininger discuss a potential exhibition of her work, her gratitude for Blakeston's sympathy after the death of her husband, Carl Koch, and her travels after his death. A note from John Lennon and Yoko Ono thanks Blakeston for his "defence of us."
The outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically; undated letters are filed at the end of the sequence. This correspondence includes some letters to Bryher (addressed as "Dear Supervisor"); however, the bulk of material relates to Blakeston's professional affairs.
Series II. Works, 1927-1985, undated (18 boxes, 16 scrapbooks)
The Works series is divided into six subseries: Non-Fiction (1947-1975, undated, 6 boxes); Fiction (1929-1964, undated, 5 boxes); Poetry (1954-1978, undated, 2 boxes); Submissions Files (1974-1985, undated, 1 box); Research (1938, undated, 5 boxes); and Scrapbooks (1927-1985, 61 scrapbooks). Correspondence in this series is also listed in the Index of Correspondents at the end of the inventory.
Subseries A. Non-fiction, 1947-1975, undated (6 boxes)
The Non-Fiction subseries consists of original and carbon copy typescripts, holograph manuscripts, audio tape, proofs, galleys, correspondence, photographs, layouts, notes, notebooks, prospectuses, and a poster. The subseries includes typescripts of two of Blakeston's published works: Cooking with Nuts and Who Keeps Zoo? (published as Zoo Keeps Who?). There are galleys of Working Cats and Working for the Films. Among his other published non-fiction, there are fragments and a review list for Portuguese Panorama and a notebook for Sun at Midnight. There are also typescripts of essays, lectures, and reviews, some of which were published. From Blakeston's work at What's on in London, there are notes, typescripts, page proofs and a dummy.
By far, the majority of this subseries consists of unpublished material. Two memoirs, Appointment with X and First Steps in Quicksand, exist as typescripts, the latter in three different versions. There are also drafts of "Charlie radio scripts" along with an audio tape. Submissions to newpaper competitions exist as proofs. A Curious Alphabet for Adventurous Cooks exists in both typescript and proof form. There are typescripts of Film Stills for Amateur Filmers; a contribution to the Focal Encyclopedia of the Screen along with correspondence; a contribution to Oceans, Mountains, Rivers, Deserts, as well as lists, specimen pages, and correspondence; Pestle and Mortar Cooking; and Television Film Production with some correspondence. In addition, there are notes, fragments, notebooks, correspondence, photographs, and typescripts for Photo Work in Film Studios (also titled Taking Photos in Film Studios). Two photo layouts exist for the photo essay, "Heligoland Sequence" and the greeting card, "Magic Movie Greetings." There are also transcriptions of other authors' work. Two untitled manuscripts (on still photography and on magic) exist as typescripts in addition to unidentified fragments and notes. One folder consists exclusively of notes taken by Blakeston on cigarette boxes.
Subseries B. Fiction, 1929-1964, undated (5 boxes)
The Fiction subseries consists of original and carbon copy typescripts, holograph manuscripts, page proofs, galleys, publicity materials, correspondence, photographs, and music. Among Blakeston's published work, the subseries includes galleys of Danger in Provence; a typescript, page proofs, publicity, and correspondence for Fingers; photographic stills from the film I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside; a poster advertising Light Rhythms as well as its printed musical accompaniment, composed by Jack Ellit; galleys for Priests, Peters and Pussens; a typescript and page proofs of The Queen's Mate; publicity for the serial Seed; and typescripts of shorter fiction, including several versions of "Sod Hit."
Among the unpublished fiction represented in the collection are typescripts of the novels "At the Third Stroke,""The Horrid Life of Mary Castle,""How Soon Doth Man Decay,""Moonlight at the Cross-Roads,""The Mystery of the Missing Treasure," and "Naked in the Air." There are also typescripts of a story collection "Contagions" and various film treatments, including "The House of Dr. Belhomme" along with a test sequence and photographic stills. The subseries also includes Blakeston's adaptations of Balzac's stories, "Miss Beauty, a Country Cat" and "Miss Spotless." There is also a transcription of Djuna Barnes's play, To the Dogs. Three untitled novels, including one dedicated to Blakeston's companion Max Chapman, exist in typescript drafts. There are also various unidentified fragments and one unidentified page proof.
Subseries C. Poetry, 1954-1978, undated (2 boxes)
The Poetry subseries consists of original and carbon copy typescripts, holograph manuscripts, page proofs, galleys, periodicals, and notebooks. Among Blakeston's published books of poetry, there are a layout, page proofs, and incomplete galleys for Appointment with Seven; a typescript of Jeremy & Others; and page proofs of What the Dino-Saur. Among the unpublished collections, there are typescripts of "The Cobra King,""Oswellisms,""Poems in a Sequence," and "Portrait: The One Beloved, Screaming Silent Face." There are also typescripts and holograph manuscripts of individual poems (bulk 1960-1979) as well as periodicals containing Blakeston's work.
Subseries D. Submission Files, 1974-1985, undated (1 box)
The Submissions Files subseries consists of original and carbon copy typescripts and correspondence, arranged chronologically. These are batches of poetry with some short fiction which were assembled for submission to various publications and publishing agents. Among those receiving submissions are Ambit, Jeremy, Onion, Tales of Dread, Seahorse Press, and the editor Ian Young. Correspondence accompanies most of these files.
Subseries E. Research, 1938, undated (5 boxes)
The Research subseries contains notebooks with holograph notes, library slips, and some clippings. Most of the notebooks are undated. The notebooks contain general observations, ideas for stories, lists of words, occasional clippings, and some poetry.
Subseries F. Scrapbooks, 1927-1985 (61 Scrapbooks)
The Scrapbooks subseries consists of 61 scrapbooks, arranged roughly chronologically and numbered consecutively, containing a wide variety of material. The contents include primarily clippings of Blakeston's reviews of art and books; clippings of his early writing on film; clippings of articles on Blakeston himself; reviews of Blaketon's own work; announcements of various art exhibitions; invitations; and correspondence. Identified correspondents are included in the Index of Correspondents at the end of the inventory.
Series III. Personal Papers, 1929-1985, undated (3 boxes)
The Personal Papers subseries consists of a range of personal items. There are address books and appointment books, the latter covering 1956-1985. Business cards and invitations from throughout Blakeston's career are included. Many of his book contracts are here as well as some receipts from his travels which resulted in books. There are also clippings and ephemera related to cooking, a few drawings, and dust jackets from some of his books. His "Delineation of Horoscope," done in 1935, is also here. There are family photographs as well as photographic stills from movies and travel photos. Blakeston's research at the British Museum Library is documented by library slips, primarily from the 1930s. There are also documents related to Blakeston's application for conscientious objector status during World War II, including the application itself. Among the publicity items included in this series there is material, some apparently written by Blakeston himself, of a more or less biographical nature.

Related Material

Further material related to Oswell Blakeston may be found in the following HRC collections: Ambit, Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong, Contempo, Nancy Cunard, Constantine Fitzgibbon, Wrey Gardiner, Dylan Thomas, and Henry Treece. Related material may also be found in the Vertical File.

Index Terms


Bryher, 1894- .
Cooper, Dennis, 1953- .
Cunard, Nancy, 1896-1965.
H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), 1886-1961.
Lennon, John, 1940-1980.
Leyland, Winston, 1940- .
MacPherson, Kenneth.
Ono, Yoko.
Reininger, Lotte.
Schaffner, Perdita.
White, Eric Walter, 1905-1985.
Young, Ian.


Art--England--London--20th century.
Authors, English--20th century.
English fiction--20th century.
English poetry--20th century.
Gay men's writings, English.
Gay press publications.
Motion pictures.
Poets, English--20th century.
Voyages and travels.

Document Types

Book reviews.
Christmas cards.
Film stills.
First drafts.
Galley proofs.
Sheet music.
Sound recordings.

Oswell Blakeston Papers--Folder List