Sunday, 24 January 2010
Jack Reynolds - The Search Goes On
Jack Reynolds gazes down from his grave stone.
The first edition of his seminal novel in its original title.
A Pan edition of the book with a snappy cover design.
And a good write up on the back.
Jack enjoyed inscribing his book, this one for John Stirling.
From 1944 Jack spent seven years in China with the Friends Ambulance Unit.
Dominic Faulder's fine portrait of Jack taken not long before his death, appearing on an interview with 'Living in Thailand' in 1983. (Copyright Dominic Faulder.)
I’ve written before about my fascination with Jack Reynolds, the author of “A Woman of Bangkok”, the 1956 novel, just preceding “The World of Suzy Wong”, that established a genre, the Bangkok novel. Since then many such have been written by western authors, including me. They tell stories of torrid affairs with Thai women whose interest was more about money than romance, but more than half a century later Jack’s still sets the standard.
Jack died in 1984, well before the internet era, and I have been trying to learn more about his life and to record something for posterity. I have now written 22,000 words about him and my problem now is to decide what to do with it.
There’s still more to learn about him though and my main gap is that I have not managed to make contact with his children who were born and raised in Bangkok. He had seven children, the first born in the mid-fifties when he was aged forty, and the chances are that they are still in or around Bangkok.
Jack’s real name was Jones and his children are likely to be called Muthikul Jones. The first three were, David, Steven and Philip, one an artist, one a musician, but I do not know the names of the others. I believe that they went to school at the Ruam Rude international school and there must be many who remember them there. They could be in a Thai language phone directory or somewhere on the web. As I cannot read Thai, it is difficult for me to search for them.
Someone, somewhere knows where they are and could help me find them. There can’t be many Thais called Jones so do please help me find them!
I would also like to find more of Jack’s articles published in The Bangkok Post and elsewhere, especially anything about China which generally are his best work. Perhaps you have a copy of one of them in the bottom drawer of your desk or could point me in the right direction.
And one final question. Jack produced a book called, “THE UTTER SHAMBLES”, which was available in the book shops but it seems to have disappeared without trace. Can anyone produce a copy of it?
What now follows is the introduction to my story about Jack Reynolds. I hope it’s tantalizing and makes you want to learn more about him.
Finding Jack Reynolds – Bangkok’s ‘Grand Old Man of Letters’
‘Jack Reynolds’, Humanitarian worker and writer
1st June 1913 to 2nd September 1984
A Rationale for My Search for Jack?
I ask myself, why am I so intrigued to learn more about Jack Reynolds. His one novel, long out of print, is not enough to stir such curiosity, though an element of mystery about its author does intrigue me.
I first saw a glowing recommendation of “A Woman of Bangkok” in Joe Cummings’ ‘Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand’ perhaps as long ago as 1977 when I was first visiting Thailand. Joe now tells me that he’d found a weathered copy of Jack’s novel left there by a previous tenant when he moved into an old wooden house on a khlong in Thonburi, and he’s been praising the book ever since.
Another such story is how Steve Rosse found an abandoned copy in the attic of a burnt out casino in Atlantic City. It had totally fallen to pieces, yet he found the yellowed pages to be ‘a novel of extraordinary sensitivity and insight’. So compelling was it that a year later he was on a plane bound for Thailand to see for himself. ‘Like tripping on a landmine’, it changed his life forever. (www.thailandstories.com.)
It further added to my curiosity that I too am author of a single novel about the obsession of a young Englishman for a ‘Thai girl’, but that still couldn’t explain my fascination for Jack whose book I hadn’t even had the chance to read. At last a few months ago I found a copy of the book in a Chiang Mai second hand bookshop and wrote a long critique of it on my blog (www.thaigirl2004.blogspot.com , 7th November 2009), and then things began to happen. I was contacted by Michael, a son of Bernard Llewellyn, an Oxfam stalwart I’d known long ago in Hong Kong as it transpired that Bernard and Jack had become close friends when doing humanitarian work in China in 1946.
Both men wrote books about their experiences in China during the war years and, since reading these, along with an unpublished book by Bernard that Michael sent me, I have become increasingly intrigued by them and by their friendship. Bernard, who died aged 88 in June 2008 (see www.guardian.co.uk), was an inspirational character and if he and Jack were close friends, then that was enough for me. I thus now wanted to find out exactly who was this Jack Reynolds whose novel about a woman of Bangkok so many readers still talk and enthuse about.
Jack died in 1984 well before the arrival of the internet era so all I could find about him on the net was enquiries like mine asking where to find the book and asking for details of his life. I have therefore tried to find and contact his remaining friends, to listen to their anecdotes and to collect together the few articles written by him that can still be identified. (The small proportion of his articles that I now have is listed in a Bibliography below.)
What follows is therefore a summary of what I have learned about Jack. If I quote extensively from these sources, perhaps with some repetition, please forgive me. My aim has been to preserve any interesting scrap of information as a more permanent record than the yellowing newspaper clippings that inevitably will stay in somebody’s bottom drawer until they are lost forever.
In Bangkok I recently met up with three of Jack’s friends who went to his funeral in 1984 and I have been in touch by email with many more. That they all came forward so readily to tell me about Jack shows in what great affection he was held and that he is far from being forgotten. They know who they are and I want to thank all of them for their help.
If you’d asked Jack about someone writing his biography, I think he’d have laughed aloud and ridiculed the idea. He’s probably right though as he was a private man and he left two fine books by which people can remember him. What now follows is therefore intended briefly to fill some of the gaps in his life story and to answer the queries of the curious that appear on the web from time to time.
In so far as anything can ever be a permanent record, here is my incomplete and imperfect version of the extraordinary life of Jack Reynolds.
So where am I now going to publish the rest of Jack’s story?
That’s my big question!
Copyright Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog January 2010