Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Britain, assailed by coronavirus, was no country for an angry old Playwright called David Hare

Last summer, before the coronavirus raised its head, David was interviewed by the 'Financial Times'.
When asked : "How politically committed are you?" He replied :
"I’m provoked by the amount of unnecessary suffering there is. Politics, like medicine, should be there to relieve suffering. Clearly at the moment it is not doing its job." 

And asked : "What do you find most irritating in other people?" He replied :
"The abuse of power, in any situation in which any person has power over another." 

* * * * * * * *
This week the Guardian's report of David experience of being sick with coronavirus makes the point that : 'His fury at the Government’s handling of the crisis is to be the subject of a play starring Ralph Fiennes as the playwright.'

The Bridge Theatre in London announced it would reopen in September with socially distanced audiences, assuming the Government gives the sector the go-ahead and will begin with 'Beat the Devil', a monologue written by David in response to his experience of contracting coronavirus early in the pandemic. The Theatre said that in it, David recalls : 'The delirium of his illness, which mix with fear, dream, honest medicine and dishonest politics to create a monologue of furious urgency and power.'

Speaking to the BBC in April, David, who is 73 years old, described his experience of the virus at about the same time the British Government introduced lockdown measures. It evolved rapidly and unexpectedly : “One day it would be fever, next day it would be arctic cold, then it would be vomiting, then coughing, then conjunctivitis, then breathing problems. Day 10 was five times worse than day five.”

David who is one of Britain’s most celebrated stage writers is no stranger to producing work which is witheringly critical of the performance of governments in the past on subjects including the privatisation of the railways and the Iraq war.

He has now been damning of the Johnson's Government's coronavirus response, calling it worse than the handling of the Suez crisis or Iraq and said : “To watch a weasel-worded parade of ministers shirking responsibility for their failures and confecting non-apologies to the dead and dying has seen British public life sink as low as I can remember in my entire lifetime.” 

He thought that : "In return for lockdown, isolation, commercial disaster and social distancing” the British public deserved honesty. He also thought that Johnson and his Ministers : “ Must own up to their mistakes, stop dodging and waffling and start to trust us with the truth.”

He ridiculed those who said that “courage” and “love of life” got the Prime Minister through his dose of coronavirus and instead said : “Those of us who’ve had the virus know you don’t under any circumstances ignore it. What helped me survive were pure luck and the assiduous expert care of my first-class GP. Those two things only, not my fabled resources of character.”

Monday, 10 August 2020

Britain, once made, and the USA has now lost its old Doyen of Theatre Critics, Eric Bentley

Eric, who has died at the age of 103 was, over his long career in the USA, a theatre critic, playwright, singer, editor and translator who, in 1998, was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. He left Britain at the age of 23 in 1939, never to return and what Britain lost, America gained in the shape of his brilliant mind :

He was born in the northern industrial town of  Bolton in Lancashire, two years before the end of the First World War, in the Autumn of 1916, the son of Laura and Fred, a respected, middle-class, local businessman who was a furniture remover. He recalled : "My family were devoutly Baptist, especially my mother and she planned that I would be a Baptist missionary in Africa or the Far East.As a boy, Eric no doubt spent many sundays in the Baptist Chapel in Bolton.

In 1927 he won a scholarship and took his place at Bolton Grammar School for Boys where he "they featured every spring a Shakespeare production directed by one of the faculty. Incidentally I played Macbeth and Ian McKellen played the same part later at the same school." In fact, Ian, who went on to become one of Britain's foremost classical actors, was 18 years his junior, also played in Henry IV Part 2 at the age of 17 in 1956. Eric said : "He told me once, “I should hate you.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because the headmaster held you up as a model to us all, and we were made to feel we could never be as good.”

When Eric was asked about his teenage years, at the age of 99 in 2015, he said  : "I was 14 in 1930 and I was a child of the Great Depression and I shared all the delusions of the younger generation. We were going to abolish the two chief threats which were poverty and war and we thought we could do it within a few years." In his school years he also recalled that : "I read modern authors and lost my faith", the news of which his mother received as a "great blow".

These were the years in which his mother also became aware of his feelings towards his own sex : "I don't know if she knew about homosexuals, but when I was fifteen or so I had a big crush on a boy in my class at Bolton School and Mother went to consult the only woman teacher there. She was worried about us keeping company too much. We were not having sex. I had already played with other boys' genitals now and then, but I didn't connect those small events with the adoration I now felt for Derek. I would go to his home and instead of playing games or talking we would just lie together on the couch, touching but not carnally. I've seldom had more blissful hours than those." 

At the point where he was about to apply for a place as an undergraduate at Oxford University he recalled : "I knew I was ambitious, but I didn’t know what I was ambitious for. At first I was inclined to be a musician. I played the piano reasonably well, and my teacher was very helpful and proud of me. That was what I was intending when I went to Oxford; I was thinking my career’s in music. Then I realized that unless you’re one of a half dozen great soloists, there’s no career in piano playing." 

Eric's entry into Oxford in 1935 was by no means a foregone conclusion. In the days before state subsidised grants for a university education, Eric recalled : "I toiled very hard to get scholarships, because my parents couldn’t afford to send me to university." "My elder brother went to medical school with my father paying the fees buy I was told when I was 12, that unless I won scholarships there was no university for me. I had to win two scholarships to go to Oxford." 

In fact, it was on the basis of a scholarship to read History rather than English Literature that he gained a place. When he arrived in college his unadulterated Lancashire accent set him apart from his wealthier, public-school educated  contemporaries.

He later reflected : "A lot of Oxford I wasn’t impressed by, but the great experience was with C.S. Lewis. He wasn’t well known then, and he hadn’t written all these religious things; I knew his religious views, but he never imposed them on me. So there was not a religious thing. It was just that he made me more aware of everything. I was pretentious, as I was bound to be; with my uneducated background, I tried too hard. I used long words that I didn’t always understand. I would read my paper aloud to him and he would sit there with his pipe. When I paused, he said, “That makes my head swim.” He asked me the meaning of a word, and I said, “I don’t quite understand the word, but I thought you would, sir.” He laughed. I said, “Was there anything good about it?” He said, “Oh, yes, most of the passages were quite good; it was just here and there.” I said, “Would you name a good passage?” Looking over his notes, he gave me an awareness of when my prose was best, and I said, “Well, that’s just me talking.” He said, “You should talk on, and not read these other critics.” He gave me the confidence in myself just to be natural."

It didn't take too long for Eric to find that in class-ridden Oxford : "Communism was the sophisticated thing, in the mid-1930s, for student rebels to believe in, but I was not sophisticated. I wasn't upper class enough for Oxford proletarianism . How, without the right accent and self-assurance would one ever get into a club like that? Marxism was something (I thought) that they must have picked up on their expensive vacations on the Continent".

Instead he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) which had disaffiliated from the Labour party in 1932. He recalled : "I was at the time a young Englishman and a member of the Independent Labour Party in London, which was a Marxist party, very anti-Soviet, but also fundamentally anti-capitalist. The communists called us "Trotskyites," but we didn't regard ourselves as such." He later described the situation in religious terms : "Just as a fanatic Protestant hates a Catholic more than a Buddhist or Hindu, so Communists of the Stalin era loathed the Social Democrat more than the reactionary". Eric's belief in radical, but not revolutionary, democratic socialism was to be expressed in many of his political writings from throughout his career in the USA and he found this brand of socialism was at odds with the dominant political forces on both ends of the political spectrum. 

A a university student, George Bernard Shaw became an early hero of Eric, which he told 'The Times' in 2006, was because he seemed to be a fellow outsider : " 'Pygmalion’ is a great classic in my book because it’s an Irishman’s recognition of the basics of class-ridden Britain”.  He later said : "My model, of course, as a critic was Shaw. We both wrote for a public that would never see the plays, mostly, for a weekly that circulated all over the country but whose readers were not lodged in the theatre capital. So Shaw wrote for a public that was acquainted with what was going on in the world, including what was going on in drama, but he never accepted the West End of London. His own plays are now done as classics by regional theatre, but if you look back at the 1890s, you’ll find that some of them opened on a special performance on Sunday night, one night only. He published them because they weren’t being staged".

One of Eric's regrets is that, as a student, he passed up the opportunity to meet Shaw, who by this time was in his 80s. "I never met Shaw; I was on the point of meeting him when he discouraged me from visiting, because he said I would be disappointed; he was just an old man. He said I wouldn’t meet the author of Man and Superman; I would meet an old man. I should have gone anyway." His book, 'Bernard Shaw' published in 1947, prompted the great man to say that it was the best book written about him.

Eric graduated from Oxford in 1938 and applied for a scholarship to study Literature at Yale in the USA the following year. When the Second World War broke out in 1939 in Britain he recalled :  "As a pacifist, I would declare myself a Conscientious Objector and enter a camp for such. Indeed, I was in a camp near Birmingham when news came that I had won the scholarship to Yale, which I had applied for the previous winter." 

Having journeyed to the States, Eric spent a year studying for his B.Litt, followed by a year working on his doctoral thesis in 1943 which was expanded into the book : 'A Century of Hero Worship', published in 1944. As he began to write, he said, harking back to his mother's ambition for him, that writing was his form of "missionary work". And : "Even writing criticism, I wanted to go beyond drama reviewing to tackle the matter of belief - you know, getting up on my high horse and championing something." 

He was 23 years old when he left Britain and spent the next 81 years in USA, having become a naturalised citizen in 1942. During that time he had a long a varied career which encompassed a close collaborative relationship with Bertolt Brecht, with Eric translating his work from German and introducing it to the American public and led him to say of Brecht : "He was in the strict sense, the most fascinating man I ever met. There were times when I hated him, but there were never times when I did not love him".

In 1948, at the time of the Cold War, the Russian blockade of West Berlin and the American Airlift, with his knowledge of Germany and its culture he was enlisted to help the Army  Having been excluded from service in the US Army six years before on grounds of his homosexuality, the irony was not lost on Eric : "The same U.S. Army that on principle excluded homosexuals had actually let quite a few in and was now hunting them up so they could be "Cultural Officers" and run the culture of occupied Germany." 

In the 1950s he taught at Columbia University while championing modern European drama and was a remorseless critic of commercialised Broadway which he judged it to be anathema to artistic theater. As the theatre critic for The New Republic he was known for his blunt style of criticism. Apparently, he was threatened with lawsuits from both Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller for his unfavorable reviews of their work. In addition to dissecting others’ plays, Eric also wrote his own and had some success as a director. 

In his private life he went on to marry and divorce his first wife Maja Tschernjakow and then marry Joanne Davis and had twin sons with her before he publicly announced his homosexuality at the age 53 in 1969. It was the same year in which the esteem with which he was held by his peers that he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In the 1960s he wrote, probably with reference to his own days at Oxford in the 1930s : 'In case anybody under twenty-five still wants advice from a man over fifty (and actually I know that many do) here is mine : "Be more opportunistic, at least in this respect: grab the education that you can get and that you or your parents are paying for. Understand that this education will have the limitations which, given the history of Western civilization up to this point, it must have. But seek out the exceptions and the freaks. Explode in revolt when you have to, but not when you don't have to. By all means exploit the university for your own purposes, but in the way in which it can successfully be exploited. Concede that the unliberated university can still be of use.'

In a return to his own 1930s student radicalism, in the turmoil of the 1960s, in 1968 he founded the DMZ, a cabaret devoted to political and social satire whose subjects included the war in Vietnam and he criticized Columbia’s handling of student political demonstrations on campus.
Theater reporter Pat O’Haire of The Daily News provided a picture of the 1960s Eric : 'Away from campus, or the confines of teaching, Bentley can only be described as a sort of combination establishment-guerrilla. He goes barefoot and wears jeans, but his shirt, though colorful, is a traditional Brooks Brothers button-down. His hair is long and flecked with gray; he wears a beard that is neatly trimmed in a Captain Ahab style, with the upper lip shaved. It seems as if he is straddling two worlds.'

In the world of academia, having taught at Columbia University for 17 years from 1952 to 69, the year in which he had decided to leave his second wife and live openly as a gay man and said, and he thought his Columbia colleagues would not have tolerated that. For a time he concentrated on his play writing, he found his subjects in those who had rebelled against established society. In 1972 it was 'Are you Now or Have You Ever Been : The Investigation of Show Business by the Un-American Activities Committee, 1947-1958', in 1973 the persecuted astronomer Galileo in 'The Recantation of Galileo Galilei : Scenes From History Perhaps' and Oscar Wilde in 'Lord Alfred’s Lover' in 1979.

In 1974 he settled down to 8 years as Professor of Theatre at the State University of  New York and later taught at the University of Maryland. He supplemented his academic work with his books on theatre : 'The Playwright as Thinker' in 1946, 'In Search of Theater' in 1953, 'The Life of the Drama' in 1964, 'The Theory of the Modern Theatre' and 'What Is Theatre?' in 1968 and 'Thinking About the Playwright' in 1987. As he got older his regard for O’Neill and other American playwrights rose. His earlier criteria for artistic merit, he conceded, had been “puritanic” and even too “Brechtian.” His celebrated 'The Playwright as Thinker,' he conceded, “reflects more my academic side — a certain degree of excessive authority, even arrogance, you could say.”

In 2015, at the age of 99, Eric said :

"My favourite remark about death was made by Lytton Strachey as he lay dying he said : "If this is death I don't think much of it".

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Britain, a country full of pessimism after the first wave of coronavirus, needs the optimism of a 101 year old scientist with a zest for life called James Lovelock

To mark his 101st birthday on July 26th, the BBC interviewed James at his home on the Dorset coast. When asked for his views on the coronavirus he said : "We are an opportunity for the virus. If you go on building up the population, it's almost inevitable that something is going to say "Jeez, there's a lot of stuff to eat here. Let's go get it." When asked about his advice to young scientists he said : "Treat Science like Art. In other words, don't expect to make money from it. Enjoy it." 
James confessed, at the age of 101 : "I've never been so happy. I had always thought the moment you passed a hundred life started going down hill and it was miseries and, you know, staggering all over the place. Well I may stagger, but I couldn't care less. But it's really enjoyable."

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Britain is no longer a country for its old and troublesome priest, John Papworth, a 1920s orphan who spent a lifetime looking for the home he never had

Despite the fact that John, who died at the beginning of July, at the age of 98, is a churchman who has had his life grace the obituary pages of both the 'Times' and 'Telegraph', both made no attempt to assess of the effect on him of having spent the first 14 years of his life, in an early twentieth century orphanage, may have had on him. Here he grew up without the love and affection of parents and the security of family life and was desperate enough, when he left it, at the age of 14, to attempt to take his own life. For this he received no counselling and over the next 70 years and ever restless, proceeded to join and leave a series of other families : the Air Force, the Communist Party, the Labour Party, CND's Committee of 100, the Editorial staff of the publications 'Resurgence' and 'Fourth World Review', the Zambian Government and finally, the Anglican Church. 

John was born in the winter of 1921 and with his mother, Jane Amelia Papworth, a housemaid, unable to support him, was quickly placed in the Essex orphanage, St Leonard's Cottage Homes in Hornchurch, where he was visited by his mother once or twice a year. He never knew his father. Though he described his time in the orphanage as "very miserable". John revisited its buildings in 1997 when the London Film School made a short film about his life entitled 'John Papworth : The Turbulent Priest' and he recalled : "I was raised in an orphanage and I saw very little sign in my own life of the love and goodwill which are the sort of passwords of religion. I think I would have called myself an atheist."
He also recalled, with another orphan, Richard Allen, being caned on the backside by the Superintendent. John stayed in one of the six cottages with 31 other children. The home had its own infirmary, bakery, laundry and workshops and the buildings were designed along a roadway emulating a village street. The boys at the school were given a wide variety of industrial training including engineering, carpentry, painting, tailoring and shoemaking and John worked in the bakery.

Later in life he looked back on the orphanage itself as a success story. It was, he said, set up by a group of working class people, with no guidance or aid from church, state or corporation, with the aim of solving a problem that existed in their parish. The Board of Guardians of the orphanage was, in his opinion, successful in solving that problem for years, until the orphanage was taken over by people he saw as middle-class do-gooders. This happened in 1930 when he was 9 years old and County and County Borough Councils took over responsibility for the administration of children’s homes across Britain. He still remembered the tears shed by the Head of the Board of Governors as she gave away her life’s work. When he looked back, he saw it as his first experience of a successful local initiative being stifled by bureaucracy. John recalled the orphanage at a public talk in 2009.

He left the orphanage, probably at the age of 14 in 1935, to be taken on as a 'baker's boy' in London and in all likelihood was housed by the baker's family. At any rate, he was a sad and lonely teenager who, in his own words, was ‘psychotically depressed’ and failing to see any reason to keep living, he attempted suicide three times. On the first occasion he tried to give himself pneumonia by standing in front of an open window in winter for hours on end, but instead he ended up feeling ‘fitter than ever’. Next he threw himself onto what he considered to be the live rail at a London underground station, but in the event, got the wrong rail and simply cracked his chin open. Lastly, when he got back home, he turned the oven on and tried to gas himself, but the meter ran out of money, was discovered and woke up in an ambulance. His mother visited him in hospital in what was to the last time he saw her and on leaving he was taken to a Salvation Army shelter, from which he fled and lived on the streets as a beggar for several days until the police picked him up and sent him to a Christian hostel, where, with help he recovered and took a job as a school chef.

In 1940, after the outbreak of the Second World War, following the British Army's retreat from Dunkirk, he joined the Home Guard, and later reflected : "We were expecting invasion any minute and do you know how I was armed? A broom stick! Nothing could convey more vividly how powerless our situation was. To think that the safety of the country was dependent on a 17-year-old bloke with a broomstick!" At the age of 18 he tried to join the RAF, but failed the fitness test because of his hearing disability and spent the next seven years in its Catering Department, working as a cook, before his decision to leave two years after the end of the War.

Like many working class lads, he had been politicised in the War, read the writings of Fabian socialist, George Bernard Shaw, saw himself as an “ardent socialist”. He joined the Communist Party because, as he said : "It seemed to me that we needed a revolution to get rid of all these rich bastards who were oppressing us. I swallowed the Communist Party line wholesale. I hadn’t read Marx at the time. Not many communists have in my experience. They’d be amazed to find how much he agreed with Adam Smith." "‘I was really taken with the Russian Revolution, and the talk about “all power to the Soviets”, that seemed to me a wonderful thing. The tragedy is that it was a wonderful slogan, but they never followed it. It was all power to the state. Just like the bosses. I said so and they didn’t like it. They kicked me out after six months. They said I was disrupting the working class, whatever that meant."  

John was 26 when he left the Air Force in 1947. He had impressed officers by his obvious intellectual ability and the RAF sponsored him financially when gained entrance to study as an undergraduate at the London School of Economics. It was at the LSE that he came into contact with and was influenced by the Christian socialist, R.H.Tawney, who had been Professor of Economic History. Tawney warned of the danger of over centralization of power and through his friendship, John met other radical thinkers. Setting up his periodical,'Resurgence' some years later he later said : "I was encouraged to write by R.H. Tawney whose own book 'Religion and The rise of Capitalism' had a big influence." John, however, failed to graduate from the School and on his own admission, was : "Completely out of my depth" and was asked to leave.

His interest in politics was unabated and in the 1950s he joined the Labour Party. He recalled : "First of all I was secretary of the local constituency party. It was all very Fabian and top-down. They thought they were meaningfully determining the direction of the Party, but in fact they were just so much voting fodder for the people at the centre. I became adopted as a candidate in Salisbury in the general election of 1955. It was a hopeless Tory seat. But that disillusioned me because I could see that the ordinary people in the Party, whenever any policy questions came up, instead of saying “well, we think this”, they would say “we must inform the agent and see what he thinks”. The agent would be a bridge to the powers that be in the centre, who would tell them what to think." In fact, John received 12,632 votes and 33.3% of the total vote in the election.

His decision to leave the Labour Party followed. He said : "My total disillusionment came from a conversation I had in the tea room of the House of Commons. I was having a conversation with an MP, Anne Kerr. She asked if I was interested in getting adopted as a candidate for a by-election seat somewhere in the north. I said : "Well I don’t know anybody up there and nobody up there knows me. And she said very smoothly : “Well, these things can be arranged”. And that just echoed in my head."

The first Aldermaston March in protest against nuclear weaponry in 1958, was organised by the Direct Action Committee and supported by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and launched the new movement into the public eye and onto the political agenda. Two years later a number of British public figures set up a group for like-minded people : The Committee of 100. The initiators were active campaigners : members of Direct Action and CND activists whose aim was to be the public front, the face of civil disobedience and anti-war campaigns. They asked the philosopher, Bertrand Russell, to be their Chairperson and John took his place on the Committee alongside a galaxy of talent from the Arts : Lindsey Anderson, John Berger, John Braine, Alex Comfort, Shelagh Delaney, Augustus John, Christopher Logue, George Melly, John Osborne and Arnold Wesker.

Their success with symbolic, non-violent, sit-down demonstrations. In September 1961, the Committee took part in a sit-down in Trafalgar Square where Bertrand Russell was arrested along with John and 34 other members. Summoned to appear in Court they were charged under the Public Order Act and found guilty of a breach of the peace. Before he was sentenced to a week inside, Russell made a short speech which was received with rapturous applause.
Like John, he was sentenced to a month in Brixton Prison, but his sentence was reduced to one week due to his age, he was 98, and health. When the magistrate told Russell he would be exempt from the short sentence if he pledged himself to "good behaviour", he replied : "No, I won't". John compared his incarceration with some of the country's most renowned radical thinkers to a “Butlins for intellectuals”. The following year the Committee were in debt, half of the original signatories had resigned and they had no option but to disband.

At the age of 42 in 1962, he became convinced that Britain needed a political revolution and  took himself off to Cuba in with the idea of asking Fidel Castro how to start one. John was in a Havana taxi when the driver picked up a young woman, Marcelle Fouquet, who was a cultural attaché at the French embassy in the USA and was on her way to a meeting with Castro. She agreed to John accompanying her to the meeting and was glad of the his presence when it became clear that the Cuban leader’s intentions towards her were not entirely honourable. John proposed to her later that day and they married the following year.

In 1963 John flew out to the Canada to join the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), a racially integrated group of social activists which left Quebec City, Canada on their Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo Walk for Peace to protest the United States' policy toward Cuba. It was only upon reaching Georgia in October 1963, that John and his fellow walkers encountered their first incidents of violence and arrests as they remained steadfast in their commitment to nonviolent discipline and began to emphasize the struggle for racial equality as a main goal.

The city of Albany, south of Atlanta, had long practised a policy of racial discrimination despite the fact that its population was 42% black and Police Chief Pritchett took a hard-line stance against integration. On January 27th 1964 the police arrested 17 walkers in Albany and John was probably one of the seven arrested at a disarmament demonstration at the nearby Turner Air Force base.

In Albany Jail, along with the other walkers, he went on huger strike and was denied soap, towels and writing material when news broke that he had been beaten by drunks in his cell, his treatment and the Albany conflict was raised in the House of Commons. In addition, the Committee of 100 protested at the US embassy in London and wired protests over John's treatment to both Mayor of Albany Jimmy Davis and US President Lyndon B. Johnson and the 'Times' inquired about the incident. John himself was released from Jail with the other walkers at the end of February.

By the 1960s John was convinced by his own experience of the institutions of the orphanage, the Communist Party and Labour Party, that the bigger an organisation, the more it disempowered ordinary people. He believed that until the dawning of the industrial age and the rise of capitalism, the 'small community' had been the prominent form of social organisation around the world. His thinking at this time said : "The destruction of the small, local community has given way to the most dangerous, destructive and degenerate social organisation ever to have existed in history, which is the mass society. The whole thing is based on this idea of 'Democracy', yet you can’t have democracy in a mass society. Why? Because the forces that control the mass are at the centre. They’re not in your hands or mine."

Eager to explore this idea, in 1966, John got together with the writer Leopold Kohr, economist EF Schumacher and poet Herbert Reed and founded the magazine 'Resurgence' which was dedicated to this new vision of the small community. It was under John's editorship, that Schumacher developed the ideas that were to become the basis for his influential book, 'Small is Beautiful', which became one of the keystones of 20th century green thought.

Looking back at this period John said : "I think we’ve got to introduce the idea of organic politics, organic economics, where each small cell is playing a vital part in the life of the entity. This means, it seems to me, the disintegration of centralised states and the integration, if you like, of small villages and communities that have full powers to elect representatives to run the practical things, like regional police, water, gas, sewage. Small nations, governed by small communities – that’s the vision."

He now founded the Fourth World Group  and stood as Parliamentary candidate in the 1970 St Marylebone by-election where he gained 163 votes and 0.97% of the total vote. Based on the Fourth World belief that centralised power must revert to the local level he had started to work on ideas which to which he would give expression ten years later in his Fourth World Review.

Through his activities in the 'Movement for Colonial Freedom', John met Kenneth Kaunda, who was was to become the first President of Zambia and who stayed with John in Earls Court in 1970 Kaunda invited him to Zambia as a personal assistant when he took over control of the country as President later that year.  John flew out with his wife and children and started a nine-year stint in Zambia as 'Rural Development Advisor' to the President of Zambia and founded the 'Village Industry Service'. For the first few years continued to edit 'Resurgence' from Lusaka until Satish Kumar agreed to undertake the Editorship. Kaunda's loss of power as President in 1973 forced John to take a new direction.

Before leaving for Africa, John had been had been influenced by the deep Anglican faith of Tawney and said that he had got to a point where “I came to understand that the modern attempt to live without God had failed.” He now trained to be ordained as a priest in the Zambian branch of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa. His three year's training at St John's Seminary in Lusaka was followed by a fourth year in 'ministry formation'in Lusaka. He later reflected : “I used to be, if not an atheist, then an agnostic, but as I got older I came to see how important religion was. It was trying to answer questions that no-one else was asking.”

A journal article by Nadine Gordimer in 1982 entitled 'A Failure to Understand Zambian Society' made an intriguing reference to the activities of clergyman Oglethorpe and John Papworth in 'the only area in the Northern Province where there are cattle.' In fact John had returned to Britain in 1981 having been driven out of Uganda after threats from by anti-white thugs.

On his return to Britain in 1981, John gained the position of Assistant Curate of St Saviour’s, Paddington. From 1983-85 he was between appointments and in then gained a position at St Mark’s, St Marylebone. Here, he was almost certainly a deacon, since the minister during this period was Donald Aird. John stayed at St Marks for 12 years, which was to be the longest attachment he made to any organisation in his entire life. He left in at the age of 76 in 1997, but did not retire from the Church and applied for a 'licence to officiate' from the Bishop of Bishop of London, but as a cleric who had been ordained the Bishop in Lusaka, John first had to gain permission to officiate from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

John had continued for some years to edit 'Resurgence' from Lusaka until Satish Kumar had agreed to undertake the Editorship but when he returned to Britain he felt that "it had lost its hardcore political punch" and he "felt impelled to launch Fourth World Review". He defined its mission as : "To recover democratic control of the functioning of society which had been largely taken over by economic forces for private interests and to shift the emphasis of government so that it operates from the bottom up rather than the top down."

In March 1981, 'The Internationalist' published  an article entitled : 'Fighting for the Fourth World' and said : 'You've all heard of the Third World - but did you know about the Fourth World? Well, the Fourth World will soon become a household word - if Anglican priest John Papworth gets his way. Papworth is the convenor of the `First Assembly of the Fourth World' due to take place in London this summer. Organisers expect more than 1,000 representatives from the world's small nations, provinces, clans, tribes and races, to gather in July to `declare war on giantism'. 'Unfortunately the movement has been delving so deeply into the grass roots of development problems that there is as yet no sign of them surfacing with practical ideas. Their utopian vision will appeal to everyone who has read of the burgeoning power of multinational corporations or corrupt and inefficient state bureaucracies. But can Fourth World supporters stomach the kind of global revolution which a real showdown would involve?'

In 1999, at the age of 78, John was under licence to officiate from the Bishop of London until his remarks about the non-sinfulness of shoplifting in giant stores attracted global media attention and caused him to be sacked from his non-stipendary post. He recalled : "I was on a neighbourhood watch committee in London and the area included the West End shops and at a meeting we were having, shoplifting came up. I said : "If somebody takes goods from their local store without paying for them, that’s illegal and it’s immoral. If they take goods from giant supermarkets, it may be illegal but it’s not immoral, because Jesus said love your neighbour – he said nothing about loving Marks and Spencer. Anyway, somehow or other the press got hold of this and for about five minutes I was internationally famous as 'the shoplifting vicar' and ( Bill Jacob) the Archdeacon of Charing Cross – why they have an archdeacon attached to a railway station I’ll never know – told me they could no longer allow me to function."
John recalled this episode in his life in 1997 :

With the Church of England distancing itself from him, others piled on the criticism. “Disgraceful,” said Home Secretary Michael Howard. “How can we inculcate in our children the difference between right and wrong, how can we hope to teach them moral principles when those in positions of authority in the Church make remarks of this kind?”  Tony Combes, spokesman for Safeway said : "We prosecute all who deliberately steal - it's the law of the land as well as the Eighth Commandment" and Tracey Nelson, for Marks and Spencer said : "Shoplifting is a crime, and we are doing everything in our power to try to prevent it happening". John's story went global with the Los Angeles Times, for example, reporting :  'LONDON —  A Church of England priest sparked a row Saturday by saying he approves of shoplifting from supermarkets.'

John featured national newspapers and interviewed on BBC Radio. he continued to draw a distinction between stealing from individuals or small merchants, which he said was wrong and stealing from giant retailing corporations. Those, he said, had run little stores out of business and harmed local communities. "With these institutions, all you are confronted with are these boardroom barons sitting round the boardroom plotting how to take the maximum amount of money out of people’s pockets for the minimum in return.” 

In 2002 at the age of 85, John made his lone protest about the volume of car traffic with a sit down protest on the zebra crossing in Abbey Road, made famous by the Beatles and with his misspelt hand written banner : ‘STOP CAR MADNESS USE BUSSES AND TRAINS’.
He recalled : "It was my idea. There was no-one else involved, I just thought it needed to be done. I rang up the police and said I’m going to stage a protest about traffic and they said :"Oh please don’t do that". So I did, and they arrested me and took me to Paddington Green and kept me in a cell for a couple of hours. Then they asked, did I want to see the local vicar? And I said : "Well, that’s me." Anyway, they took me into the charge room and the sergeant, a big burly bloke, said : "We can either charge you or we can let you off with a caution". And I said : "I’ve done nothing wrong, so I don’t see how you can let me off with a caution. I’d prefer to be charged". And he glared at me and he said : “Look mate, we’re not here to give crazy people like you free publicity. Just bugger off.” So that was the end of it."

In 2001, in his 80th year and living in retirement in the village of Purton in Wiltshire John refused to fulfil the legal requirement to fill in and return his census, form issued every 10 years by the government to gather  information useful for planning issues and for shaping social and economic policy. Summoned to appear before the Swindon magistrates Court he said : "I am not going to defend myself, I am going to attack them for what they are doing to our nationhood. I am defending our nationhood, our independence and our identity. Britain is not some sort of shopping mall that is just up for sale anywhere on the globe. We have a culture, a history, an identity, and a tradition of liberty and freedom." When he appeared, he tried to defend his actions by addressing the Court with a prepared 15-minute speech stating that details gathered in census forms could be used by politicians and bureaucrats to undermine British sovereignty, but the Clerk of the Court cut him short saying he could not mount a defence if he had pleaded guilty.

After he had been fine £120 he told the BBC : "We are having to tell our children and grandchildren that this England which was once a conqueror has made a shameful conquest of itself and is now bound in with inky plots and rotten treaties." Asked if he would fill in a census form in future he said: "I very much doubt it. We'll see, won't we."

When interviewed at the age of 90 in 2011 by Dele Ogun about his book 'Why Schools of Economics and Political Science should be closed down' when he was 90 in 2011 he said : "I remember when I went to the London School of Economics the first thing I was taught is that the factors of production were land labour and capital. You are saying human beings made in the image of God are a factor of production of no more or less account than a cabbage patch or a bag of money and this seems to me at the root of the immorality of our present economic system that we just cannot we dare not we ought not to dream as human beings as simply a factor of production."

John's census protest was the last time he appeared in the national media, but he remained to the last a controversial figure at the provincial level in the village of Purton in Wiltshire.  Having been barred from his place on the editorial board of the parish magazine he founded his own alternative village magazine, 'Purton Today', which he wrote and edited by himself and in which he attacked the local school for its expansion plans which saw he threatened with a lawsuit by the Headmaster. In addition, he clashed with the British Legion and not unsurprisingly said : "The people in this village can’t stand the sight of me, and I imagine that the minute they had power they’d drive me out."

When interviewed by 'The Ecologist' in 2006, John said :

"If you ask me if I have any hope, I’m driven back to Nietzsche who said : By all means have pessimism of the mind, but never lose optimism of the spirit."