CARYL PHILLIPS – THE FINAL INSULT?
One of my students has just sent me a message:
Look who’s coming to the MMU. Caryl Phillips
22 October, 2010, MMU, Geoff Manton Building, Manchester
Novelist and Yale University professor Caryl Phillips. Talk and questions.
Having gratuitously decreed (in spite of protests from more forward-thinking minds than theirs) that I’m too old to any longer be a member of their teaching staff, the MMU have added insult to injury by following this up with the hiring Prof. C. Phillips to come to the MMU in Manchester as a special celebrity writer and academic.
For those of you new to this blog, Caryl Phillips is the bloke who (shall we say) leaned so heavily – without acknowledgement – on my book Battling Jack for the text to the Made in Wales section of his book Foreigners that I thought his publishers, Random House, would be as shocked and disgusted as I was when the similarities were pointed out to them.
I truly thought that they might panic when they concluded that if Caryl Phillips had done produced his writing in this way on this occasion, then perhaps this was the way he had always worked. ‘Wow!’ I thought they would think, ‘This puts the whole canon of Phillips’s work into question!’
NOT A BIT OF IT, me old chinas. NOT A BIT OF IT
In the course of my protestations, Phillips’s legal representative at Random House actually warned me that I was making statements ‘injurious to Mr. Phillips’. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought at the time, ‘that ain’t quite the same as saying the statements I’m making are untrue though, is it?
The upcoming MMU event is so close on the heels of dear old Jack Turpin’s funeral that it is especially upsetting to his family just as it is to me.
FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACADEMIC ENQUIRY ONLY I’ll give you an example of the textual similarities which have caused the upset.
Please note that BlogSpot though perfectly fine for blogging has certain limitations of presentation which prevent me from laying out the following text in the precise positions they hold in their publications. The statue inscriptions, for instance, are centred in the books. You would be advised to look at the published books to get the full weight of similarity.
Here is my text, in Jack’s voice, from Battling Jack published in 2005:
“. . . There was me brother, middleweight champion of the world, the man who’d brought about the twentieth century’s biggest upset in boxing, in his moment of triumph, standing 8 ft 6 in. tall, on a 5-ft stone plinth. On the bronze plaque below his feet:
In Palace, Pub, And Parlour,
The Whole Of Britain Held Its Breath
I thought to meself, ‘You’ve done a marvellous job there, Terry. That’s just right.’
Underneath that it’s got:
Celer Et Audax.
Latin for ‘Swift and Bold’ – the motto of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps who me dad fought with for the freedom of all British people, . . .”
Here is Phillips’s text in the Made in Wales section of his book Foreigners published two years later in 2007:
“. . . In 2001, exactly fifty years after Turpin shocked the world and defeated Sugar Ray Robinson, an imposing 8’6” statue of Randolph Turpin in boxing pose, on a five feet high stone plinth, was unveiled in the centre of Warwick. On the bronze plaque below his feet are inscribed the words:
In Palace, Pub, And Parlour The Whole of (sic) Britain
Held Its Breath.
And beneath this ‘Celer Et Audax’ – Latin for ‘Swift and Bold’ – the motto of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps with whom Turpin’s father served during the First World War . . .’
To me, that not only sounds similar, it looks similar too.
This posting by someone called Dave appeared on the Leamington Guide website on 19th October 2008, 12:37 am:
‘. . . i (sic) went to my local library to see what this “Battling Jack” was about… where in this book does it state that it’s “non-fiction”? there is a book by Caryl Phillips titled “Foreigners” that she (the ‘she’ Dave refers here to is Jack’s granddaughter Lydia) should read as there are passages identical to that in Batttling Jack so who copied who? . . .”
I think you’ve got your answer, Dave.
Now then, I wrote Battling Jack in Jack’s voice because not only are Jack’s life and Jack’s life stories his own intellectual property, but my aim and intention was to recreate for the reader what it was like, in my experience, to spend time with Jack as his audience, friend and confidante.
Here’s something for Mr. Phillips, his researcher, his Random House editor and his Random House legal team:
When I asked Jack what he thought were the proportions of Randolph’s statue, his estimate was that the bronze figure was 20-ft high and stood on a ten foot plinth.
It was clear to me that his perceived exaggeration of the size of the tribute to the brother he loved was a psychological measure of the huge love and esteem he held his brother in.
Jack straightway realised his own fairly wild over-estimate of Carl Payne’s creation and modified it to, ‘Well, no, I should say it’s about 8’ 6” for Randolph and 5 foot for the plinth.’
I left it at that.
My belief is that a reader of Battling Jack with any empathy and intelligence at all will quickly catch on to Jack’s vibe and instinctively know when Jack is exaggerating and when he is not. Just like you would do if you had actually met up with him for a chat (which Prof. Phillips has not).
Mr. Phillips is apparently not such a reader as Mr. Phillips is repeating Jack’s exaggerations as if they are fact and is repeating them in his own voice – the voice of a sober academic, a now Professor of Yale University. Doh!
The real measurement of Carl Payne’s bronze stature is: 6′ 7″ from the top of the stone plinth to the top of Randolph’s head. The plinth is 4-ft high at the front and 4 ft 2″ at the back.
These proportions have long been known to me. Carl is a family friend. I was in at the beginning of his statue commission and followed it all the way through. It is through my involvement with Carl’s commission that I met Jackie Turpin.
Adrian Bush, President of the Randolph Turpin Memorial Fund, decent fellow that he is, climbed up on the Warwick statue on a rainy day recently to verify these measurements, so: Doh! again Professor.
Ah, but there are many other examples of similarity between the two texts that I will not bore you with here.
During the course of my written exchange with Prof. Phillips, he claimed that Randolph’s two elder daughters are happy with his Made in Wales section of Foreigners.
I spoke to them both at Jack’s funeral – and wonderful women they are too, Randolph would have been really proud of them – and told them I had been in communication with a friend of theirs, Caryl Phillips.
‘He is no friend of ours,’ I was quickly told by the first daughter in tones that left me in absolutely no doubt of her sincerity. The second daughter came in with, ‘In fact we are very cross with Mr. Phillips.’
They went on to describe how Caryl Phillips had published things they had told him only in confidence and did so even after they had secured a promise from him that he would remove them from his final text. Doh! yet again Prof.
So, Prof., if you are reading this, and I hope you are, have a good gig at the MMU on the 22nd. You will easily recognise the Geoff Manton Building: It’s 4,078’ 9 ½” high standing on some 867-foot stone steps. Mind how you go.
The inscription on Carl Payne’s statue of Randolph, by the way, is a line taken from my song, Champion of the World, my personal tribute to Randolph’s great achievement in 1951. Come along to a StringFing gig. We often include that one.
Got to shoot off now. I promise a happier posting next time about an old mate of Lynda’s and mine showing up at my National Poetry Day gig.
Tra a bit,