Baron, Alexander (writer)

Reference: MS 5126Date: 1935-2001Extent: approx. 60 boxes

Alexander Baron was an author and screenwriter whose most acclaimed works captured and reflected his real-life experiences of warfare and the grittier aspects of life in London in the early 20th century. He was born Joseph Alexander Bernstein on 4 December 1917 in Maidenhead, but his family moved to Hackney a short time later. His father was a Polish-Jewish immigrant who originally settled in London in 1908 and eventually changed the family name to Baron; Alexander formally adopted the new surname in 1948.

Baron was a politically active man during the 1930s. He helped organise the Labour League of Youth, a group tied to the Communist Party of Great Britain, to campaign against fascism in the East End, and he edited the Young Communist League magazine, Challenge. However, Baron became increasingly disenchanted with far-left politics following the Hitler-Stalin Pact in August 1939 and broke ties with the Communist party following the end of World War II.

In the final months of 1939, Baron enlisted in the British Army and served in the Pioneer Corps. He was among the first Allied troops to land in Sicily during the Italian campaign and in Normandy on D-Day. He was injured towards the end of the war and was transferred as an instructor to a British Army training camp in Northern Ireland in 1945. He finally returned to London in 1946 and became the editor of the journal New Theatre.

Baron published his first and most acclaimed novel, From the City, From the Plough, in 1948. This book depicts the events leading up to D-Day and the Normandy campaign, and it is clear Baron drew from his personal experiences fighting on the front lines when writing this work. His military service and time as an instructor informed the themes of his other war-based novels, including There’s No Home (1950) and The Human Kind (1953).

Baron’s novels explored a number of themes, such as the relationship and place of the individual in society, relations between men and women, and aspects of London life. His most prevalent book about London was The Lowlife (1963) which explores the underground society of London’s East End.

In addition to his novels, Baron wrote film, television and radio scripts. He served as a regular writer on the BBC’s Play for Today,A Family at War series and drama programmes such as Poldark. He also wrote adaptions of literary classics such as Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair. In 1992, Baron was elected an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, in recognition of his contribution to the historical and social understanding of East London.

On 4 August 1960, Baron married Delores Lopes-Salzedo (1928-2012?), an advertising copywriter. They had one son. Alexander Baron passed away on 6 December 1999.

This collection contains the papers of Alexander Baron, including his memoirs, published novels, unpublished novels and notes, scripts of television adaptations and plays, radio plays and film scripts.

The first section of the collection contains notes, drafts and a few correspondences relating to Baron’s works. There are notes and drafts for his unpublished autobiography, Chapters of Accidents. A Memoir. There are papers relating to his published novels Franco is DyingGentle FolkThe In-between TimeKing DidoStrip Jack Naked and The Dreamers. There are notes, drafts and correspondence for unpublished novels entitled One FleshThe War Baby, and Bugler Sound Reveille. There are papers and scripts for television adaptations of literary works such as The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, Stalky & Co. by Rudyard Kipling, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are scripts for television plays such as The Blood FightA Bit of Happiness, and Tune on an Apron String and for episodes in television series Tales of PiccadillyThe Sullivans, and A Family at War.  There are also scripts for radio plays The HeroFar Far AwayA Lightning Before Death, and Father and Son. There are several scripts for films that were produced, such as Robbery Under ArmsThe Siege, and The Fractured Smile. There are also numerous scripts and notes for films, television plays and radio pieces that were not produced, such as The White BlackbirdStreets ApartHoney LaneThe Gollantz Saga and The Rothschilds. There are notes for Baron’s unpublished books and stories, such as The Two HussarsLondon 1889Queen of the East and short stories about the Spanish Civil War. There are also numerous drafts and notes for Baron’s unpublished book The Party: A Study in Presumption.

The second section of the collection contains personal papers, press cuttings, periodicals and correspondence with publishers and agents. There are several files of private correspondence from 1948-1998  and also diaries from 1990-1998. The press cuttings are filed chronologically, though there are some folders with cuttings of reviews for one specific work, such as From the City, From the Plough and The Victors. There are correspondences with publishers and agents such as Curtis Brown, Jonathan Cape, Macmillan and Colins.

More Information

  • A full description is available on our online database.
  • A handlist for the whole collection is available here.
  • See also the Gerda Charles Collection. Baron was an associate of Charles and reviewed some of her works.