Saturday 10 December 2016

How true are "true stories" on TV and at the cinema?

      Jonathan Oates, the highly-respected local history organiser and researcher at Ealing Library in London, has written to the Ealing Gazette challenging the accuracy of the current BBC1 drama Rillington Place.
      As some of you know, I have an axe to grind over the way television and cinema dramatists often use "based on a true story" to play fast and loose with the facts -- usually for no honest purpose -- and in the process, re-writing what is the accepted historical record. I recently turned my back on the prospect of a large payment when I refused to extend the film rights to my book God's Triangle because one of the producers was promoting a script that outrageously and farcically ignored the true story.
      Anyway, here is Jonathan's letter:

In the interests of balance, here is the BBC blog on the background to the series:

More on this topic. My bitter experience with a film maker who didn't care 
about the truth in a true story. Go HERE

Tuesday 1 November 2016


As a keen genealogist I have many family photographs that I regard as “special”, but this one is particularly so because I wasn’t supposed to see it. Nor were any other descendants of the bride and groom.
      The couple were my great aunt, Florence “Florrie” Cox, and the Rev. Frank E. Paice, on the day they were married in the Circular Road Baptist Chapel in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in December 1914. Both were Baptist missionaries from Melbourne, Australia, and went on to be stationed in East Bengal (now Bangladesh).
      The marriage, which began with high hopes in both families, fell apart in scandal. This was partly because Frank had developed a fondness for a fellow Australian missionary, Olga Johnson, but the greatest contributing factor was the discovery on the honeymoon that Florrie had no vagina.
      Florrie had what was identified after her death in 1950 as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). She looked and felt that she was a woman, but had male chromosomes and no internal female organs.
      The marriage took place in an age when sex was a taboo subject in strict Christian families. It was quite common for females never to be told in advance about menstruation. In Florrie’s case, she was never aware that mature women should be having periods. Nor did Frank know this until much later.
      In my years of research into why the marriage ended in a covered-up annulment divorce, I found few photographs of Florrie and no photographs of the wedding. That is, until I met a distant cousin who had been researching a different branch of the Cox family.
      The cousin showed me a postcard copy of the photo accompanying this article, but had no clue who was in it, other than the words “Florence and Frank 1914” written on the back. We came to the conclusion that this was probably the only copy in existence because all the others had been destroyed by the more immediate family members of Florrie and Frank.
      After the divorce went through in a secret session in the Supreme Court in Melbourne, Florrie led a quiet life, often battling depression, and regarded by her family as an embarrassment. Frank went back to India, married Olga, became a pillar of the engineering world in Calcutta, then returned to Melbourne years later to be prominent in local government. Both he and Olga died in the 1960s with very few people – not even their only child – knowing about the scandal or that they had ever been missionaries.
      One question that is frequently raised by those who see the wedding photograph: “Why is Frank sitting while Florrie stands?” One answer was that he didn’t want it to be obvious that he was shorter than his bride. But there are also suggestions that the photographer wanted the focus be on the bride, allowing her to display her wedding dress and her bouquet to their best advantage.

The investigation by Ian Richardson into what happened to
 Florrie Cox and Frank Paice is available here:

Monday 31 October 2016

'The Mortal Maze', a modern thriller set in the Middle East

Comments & Reviews

"Ian Richardson has written a page turning thriller that screams to be turned into a blockbuster film. It has all the ingredients and characters to make a box office success. A flawed foreign correspondent, troubled by a gambling addiction, a penchant for exotic escort girls and drinking whiskey from the bottle; his old, avenging school chum, who becomes the world's most wanted terrorist, and a duplicitous, immoral spymaster who manipulates the reporter with devastating consequences. Their personal epiphanies come far too late. To say any more would spoilt the plot." Amazon review by Malcolm Brabant.

"A fast paced novel, full of authentic journalistic references and fascinating detail about the Middle Eastern setting. Richardson weaves a complex plot with dexterity, interweaving carefully crafted characters' subplots and storylines to a thrilling climax." Full review here. Beth Pevsner, Durham University, County Durham, England.

"A labyrinthine tale with a blinder of an ending. Heart stopping stuff. I am glad you didn't tell me how it ended before I began reviewing it." - Jan Woolf, editor, London.

"Oh how I enjoyed it! I could just see it all happening. I could hear the chaos. I could smell the horror. I cried for Felicity and the children. It's been my New Year's reading pleasure. I will read it again." - Christine Bett, Ballarat, Australia.

"The Mortal Maze is entertaining, fast paced with well drawn believable characters, and is well worth a few hours of anyone's time. In fact, it's something of a page turner and difficult to put down; I read it in two sittings. Written by an author not unfamiliar with the troubles and tribulations of TV journalism in foreign lands, it has a genuine feel for the sometimes problematic relationships between journalists and diplomats as well as the demands of the editors back home and the realities on the ground. I had to smile at the groans from the journalist 'hero' and his irrepressible cameraman when HQ in London sends in the self important 'heavyweight' as the story develops in significance. I look forward to a follow up." - Ben A. Amazon review.

"I thoroughly enjoyed this well researched & very well constructed fast moving topical thriller. It is full of twists & turns & had me gripped from the start to the climactic finish. I would love to see it made into a film!" - anon, Amazon Customer

"A well-plotted novel packed with incident and featuring sharply drawn relationships between some convincing characters, this lively and topical thriller fairly zips along from the start, gathering pace until the dramatic finale. The author makes the most of his journalistic background without overdoing the use of an insider's knowledge of technical detail and jargon." - T. Luard, Amazon review.

"A terrific fast-paced read! I was well and truly hooked from the start. I loved the feisty characters and loved loathing one or two of the BBC high-ups. A great insight into what goes on behind the news in dangerous territory. I recommend." - Carole Bentley, Amazon review.

"Excellent thriller: rattling good yarn. Works on several levels; critique of hypocritical foreign policy, skewering of BBC bureaucracy, portrait of Middle Eastern country, deft characterisation." - Amazon review by Stephen Jessel, Paris.

"The Mortal Maze was part of my holiday reading - and a very good part it was! I particularly enjoyed the frictions and conflicts between the resident members of the BBC's news bureau team and the special correspondent followed by the relief manager who were flown in to work at the bureau. I also very much enjoyed the way the relationships between the members of the bureau team itself were portrayed. As well as these, I found Ian Richardson's storylines were most compelling... though some were more than a little sad." - Amazon review by Peter Udell, London.

"Fast moving and thoroughly enjoyable. An excellent insight into the way news works, some of the unpleasant people who work in it and the strong professional rivalries. Plausible plot - who are the Government spooks in the broadcast organisations? I was so hooked that I got through the last 20 minutes according to Kindle in 12 minutes because I wanted to find out what happened." - Amazon review by JRExelby.

 Buy The Mortal Maze here

Wednesday 26 October 2016


A question: how many  family photographs will survive our digital age?

There was a time, not that many decades ago, when taking a photograph was an event from which the results were treasured. Families would have a Kodak Box Brownie or maybe, as I did, a clunky East German Praktica 35mm. Most of the photos would be in black-and-white or sepia, although with the growth of 35mm cameras, a treat would be to buy a roll of Kodachrome colour transparency film.

Special events, such as weddings and the birth of a child in the family, would occasion the services of a professional photographer or perhaps a visit to a photographic studio with its massive lights and camera. The photographs from these sessions were archival quality and became proud possessions to be passed on from generation to generation.

The rot began to set in when cheap cameras, 35mm colour print film and one-hour processing began to dominate the market in the 1970s and 1980s. Colour photographs became the norm and began to lose their value as a means of permanently recording our lives pictorially.

Extra prints were sometimes ordered for friends, then the negatives would probably be binned. Worse – and this is something few people realised – these colour prints were prone to discolouring and fading and had little or no long-term archival quality.

It is safe to estimate that billions of digital photographs are now taken around the world each day, the majority of them on smart phones, but how many will survive to take their place in a family’s historical record? Almost none.

Some of these photographic efforts end up being emailed to friends and family, or are posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and other social media outlets, but are very rarely turned into prints that can be held in the hand and admired, or put in a frame or even a photographic album.

The irony is that the technical quality of the pictures taken on digital cameras and smart phones is exceptionally high, but not by the time they are transferred to the social media. They may look good on a computer, but they can’t be printed in good quality.

From time to time, I get interesting family photographs emailed to me, or they are posted on Facebook, and I ask for high-definition copies so that I can produce good quality prints and add them to my family history archive. I rarely get them, either because they have been deleted, or the photographers can’t figure out how to process them in top quality.

A friend of mine fires off the camera in his iPhone at every opportunity, but when I ask him what happens to all the pictures, the short answer is that they are mostly lost whenever he upgrades his mobile phone or computer, something that he does quite frequently.

This takes me onto another bugbear: identification of photographs. Almost since photography was popularised by the likes of Fox Talbot and George Eastman, there has been a failure to identify the who, the where and the when on a photograph.

It is sometimes a tedious task, but all my saved photographs are identified, usually with a caption added when I process them through my Photoshop, or similar, software.

This often prompted ridicule on the part of my family and friends, but I am delighted to report that I am gradually winning them over. Initially, when I showed them a photo with a name, location and date on it, I would be told “But we know all that!”

My answer is “Well, you know that now, but I bet you won’t remember the date in a matter of months. You will be a bit hazy about the location in a few years, and a few years after that you won’t be entirely sure who all the people are. This has proved to be true in many cases.

Some years ago, during a visit to my mother in Australia, we found a box of old photographs in the top of a wardrobe. It was a goldmine of family memories, but not without its problems. The colour prints were mostly faded, and while the black-and-white and sepia photos were generally in good condition, almost none bore any identification.

We spent hours working our way through the photographs, using a soft pencil to write names, and where possible, locations and approximate dates on the back of each one.

As we worked our way through the collection, my eye was caught by a family group photograph taken in a studio in Melbourne in 1914 around the time the First World War was getting underway. The group included a woman I had never seen before.

My mother identified the woman as my Great Aunt Florence “Florrie” Cox, and under my cross-examination, she very reluctantly revealed that Florrie had been a Baptist missionary in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and had innocently been caught up in a terrible scandal that had shamed the family in Melbourne.

I had originally thought this would be a marginal family history episode, but the more I learned the more I realised that I had a book in the making. This was published as God’s Triangle. Had my mother not had such a clear long-term memory, that old photograph would not have been identified and the fascinating story of God’s Triangle would have remained untold.

While I fear for the future of our family photographic history, new and cheap printing opportunities have emerged in recent years as a benefit of digitisation. It is now possible with fairly basic computer skills to design a photobook that can be printed by a commercial company for as little as £10, although £40 is a reasonable expectation for larger books with hard covers.

Photobooks have an advantage over the old photographic albums in that the photos do not become unstuck and fall out over time. So, while I fret that so much of our pictorial history is being lost, never to be recovered, it is not all depressing news.

Ian Richardson’s book, God’s Triangle, is available here:

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Reasons to read the true detective story "God's Triangle"

By Ian D. Richardson

Ian Richardson, a former BBC journalist, was curious about his family history, and in particular his mysterious and rarely mentioned great-aunt Florrie Cox. He embarked on a journey in search of the truth. What followed was a shocking tale of what might most generously be described as institutional ignorance as he tracked down the truth. Richardson was ruthless in his pursuit of the facts and uncovered a horrifying account in which no one came out favourably.
      Richardson’s research took him through the Australian Supreme Court, the archives of the Baptist church and Indian missionaries and uncovered a shocking catalogue of betrayal and collusion by some of the authorities whose very responsibility should have been to protect his great-aunt Florrie.
      God’s Triangle resonates particularly today – a time when our understanding of androgyny is still developing and an era when we are discovering quite how brutally un-Christian the behaviour of church authorities has been. It will appeal to lovers of a thriller, those with an interest in Australian social history, and the role of the church, and anyone who has ever thought to question their own family history. It reads well, and Richardson is exhaustive in his detail and historical accuracy.

Beth Pevsner, Durham University, County Durham, UK

See more reviews and comments about God’s Triangle HERE

Also by Ian D. Richardson: The Mortal Maze

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Keeping up with Strine, the language of Australia

Language difficulties: I scored just 6/10 with this test of Australian slang. No wonder there are people out there who think my Australian passport should be cancelled!

See also my earlier posting on this challenging subject:

Friday 8 July 2016

The morality of fictional journalists

Sarah Lonsdale's The Journalist in British Fiction book launch and symposium, City University, London, July 7 2016.
Why did Edwardian novelists portray journalists as swashbuckling, truth-seeking super-heroes whereas post-WW2 depictions present the journalist as alienated outsider? Why are contemporary fictional journalists often deranged, murderous or intensely vulnerable? As newspaper journalism faces the double crisis of a lack of trust post-Leveson, and a lack of influence in the fragmented internet age, how do cultural producers view journalists and their role in society today?
My contribution... 

My screenplay and book have undergone a name change since I first started work on them a few years ago. Originally, the title was The Moral Maze. I knew about the BBC radio programme of the same name, but did not feel that would be a problem until I realised that it would be a disaster when promoting the book on the internet. Do a Google or Yahoo search on The Moral Maze and up comes hundreds of thousands of references to the radio programme. Any reference to my book and my film would have been buried.

My wife, Rosemary, then came up with the suggestion that the letter T in red be inserted in the title, so that it became The Mortal Maze. This meant that a Google or Yahoo search would take potential readers straight to my book, always a great marketing plus, although I am still waiting to be made rich by being the author of a rocketing global best seller.

The change of name effectively gives the book two titles – both of which reflect how television journalists now face not just the moral challenges that have always been there, but nowadays much greater physical dangers.

Having settled the most-important matter of the title, I was then faced with a dilemma: should I set the story in the BBC or in some fictional broadcasting organisation. My concern was that I didn’t want to do anything to damage the BBC’s hard-earned reputation as the world’s foremost and most trusted broadcasting news organisation. As you will have detected from my accent, I’m originally from Australia. I grew up as a boy in the bush, working on small weekly newspapers owned by my family.  I loved listening to BBC news programmes, such as Radio Newsreel, relayed by the ABC, never for a nanosecond thinking that one day I would be editing some of them.

Although the BBC had – and still has – its faults, I remain immensely proud of having worked for it for more than two decades. There can hardly have been a day when I didn’t walk through the entrance doors of Bush House or Television Centre and be excited by what might lie ahead that day.

 After much thought and after consulting some journalist friends, I decided to go with The Mortal Maze being set in the BBC. As much as anything, this was because it would be widely known that I had been a BBC news editor and the story would really be about the BBC regardless of what I called the organisation. My friends assured me that the BBC was big enough to cope with any critical aspects of my story. They also reminded me that it would hardly be more damaging than the comedy series W1A, which the BBC had made about itself.

I knew that it would be implausible and extremely dull if the main character in The Mortal Maze, Jackson Dunbar, was a goody-two-shoes without flaws. So, I gave him a gambling problem that provided me with a vehicle for some of the ethical issues that journalists often face. In particular, I wanted to explore the often-grey question of when a journalist is spying or merely reporting. And how much pressure would be required to force a journalist to put to one side deeply-held principles?

I began taking a particular interest in this area of journalism while working abroad as a field editor for the BBC, then as head of newsgathering for BBC World Service in charge of around 200 staff correspondents and stringers.

BBC correspondents overwhelmingly are immensely proud of their journalism and would do nothing to discredit their work, but there were a few who I felt had two masters – the BBC and the intelligence services. One of these would spy for the money – because money was what mattered to him most – and another would do it for patriotic reasons. If I had taken that second person aside and accused him of spying he would have been genuinely aghast. For him, he was not spying. He was simply passing on information out of a civic duty.

And in fairness to the reporters in these two examples, the accuracy of their stories was never in question. There was, however, one BBC stringer who I and others were convinced was a spy for South African intelligence. He was not very clever with it and cast serious suspicion on himself by being able to get to places no-one else could with no visible means of support. I fired him -- not because I was able to prove he was a spy, but because he rarely delivered his promised stories. 

As most of you will know, one of the Cambridge Five Espionage Ring, Guy Burgess, spied for the Soviet Union while working for the BBC. And the author Frederick Forsythe, another former BBC correspondent, confirmed last year that he worked for British intelligence for 20 years.

Few would defend the traitorous spying activities of Guy Burgess, but was it okay for Frederick Forsythe to spy, as he was doing it for our benefit, or so he believed anyway? I don’t think so. In my view, journalism and espionage are totally incompatible. Journalists should always aim to be detached observers. Putting aside any moral questions, once journalists cross the line into spying, they put themselves and others in their profession at great physical risk. Already journalists find themselves increasingly targeted in the world’s hot spots and we should do nothing to make that bad situation worse.

As I checked a draft of this speech I realised there was a danger that The Mortal Maze might be seen as a rather pompous, self-righteous moral lecture – hectoring even. There are, of course, several ethical messages in the story, but I also wanted it to be exciting with lots of unexpected developments, amusing revelations about how television journalism achieves its aims – and, above all, a memorable surprise ending. I hope I have succeeded, but that’s for others to decide.

Here’s an extract from The Mortal Maze. It follows on from when the television reporter, Jackson Dunbar was given a tip-off by his one-time friend Thomas Fulham who blackmailed him into become a spy. The tip-off provided Jackson with a spectacular scoop when he witnessed a government minister’s convoy being blown up in the middle of a busy shopping centre. But Jackson is so appalled by what he witnessed that he told his cameraman Pete Fox to get lots of close-ups in an attempt to let the world know the full horror of what has taken place...

That evening, as arranged, Thomas Fulham turns up at the BBC bureau. He is in a hurry and has no time for pleasantries. “So what do you want to show me?”
Jackson goes to the video machine. “I take it that you saw my reports on the assassination?” he asks.
"Not an assassination, Jacko, a neutralisation, if you don’t mind. But, yes, of course I saw your reports and I was impressed, as always.”
“Right, Thomas, I now want you to see some of the scenes that my bosses felt were too dreadful to show.”
Jackson pushes the ‘play’ button and immediately the monitor shows a series of graphic close-ups of wounds and body parts. He winds up the volume, filling the room with piercing blood-curdling screams. Thomas flinches.
Jackson spools through to another section of the video. It shows wounded and terrified children howling at the top of their voices. Thomas angrily hits the ‘stop’ button, unwittingly causing the video to freeze on a close-up of the little boy trying to shake his dead mother alive.
Thomas is furious. “What the fuck is this all about?” he shouts.
“I thought it was just possible that you might feel some shame. I wanted to show you the full, brutal, unadorned result of the actions of you and your ilk. What would you say if those kids had been your children, Sophie and Sam?”
Thomas’s fury now has no limits. “We’re at war. The death of a few innocent women and children is the price that sometimes has to be paid for the higher good of democracy.”
It is now Jackson’s turn to lose control. “I’m out of this, Thomas. No more of your dirty games.”
“Sorry, Jacko, that’s not an option for you – at least not yet.”
Thomas leaves, slamming the door behind him. Jackson switches off the video editor and slumps into a chair behind his desk. He takes several large breaths to try to calm himself. After a few minutes, he hunts through the cupboards until he finds a half-empty bottle of whisky. He flops into a chair and drinks straight from the bottle.
The Mortal Maze as a paperback or Kindle ebook is available through or or Smashwords.ePub.  And The Journalist in British Fiction & Film, written by Sarah Lonsdale, is available HERE

Sunday 29 May 2016


I was recently asked by a builder doing some work for me in London why I chose to live in the UK, rather than in Australia, the land of my birth. "I'd move to Australia in a flash if I could," he enthused. "I'm sick of all the crime and other stuff in Britain, and the weather is so much better in Australia."

Tourism Australia is not going to thank me for my response, but much as I enjoy going back to Australia for visits to see family and friends, I don't expect to live there again.

There are many enjoyable aspects of life in Australia, not least the sense of space and the easygoing nature of much of the population. And there are the spectacular and varied landscapes. But don't kid yourself that it is Paradise. For starters, the weather is often terrible. Too hot in summer and too cold in winter, too wet or too dry. Where I grew up in the bush in the State of Victoria, we often had extended periods of drought, usually accompanied by wildfires and sometimes followed by devastating floods.

I vividly remember the summers where the temperatures frequently reached more than 40 degrees celsuis (100 Farenheit) and the many winter mornings that began with severe frosts. Severe and spectacular storms are also common across much of the country. A relative who lives in Queensland reported her house having been struck by lightning twice in as many weeks. A friend in Brisbane spent several days stranded on the roof of his house during a flood.

But let's leave the weather and move onto my builder's assertion that there was less crime and social disruption in Australia. If anything, it is worse in Australia than in Britain. Out of curiosity I scanned the website pages of the Melbourne Herald-Sun, the Melbourne Age and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Here is a selection of the headline stories I found in a 24-hour period:

  • A WEB of closed-circuit television cameras will be spread across Melbourne to crack down on the violent Apex gang, which has been terrorising the city.
  • THE week-long homeless camp in Melbourne’s CBD is degenerating, as street beggars and protesters clash.
  • EMBATTLED Labor MP is facing questions over a multimillion-dollar property portfolio, amid revelations he charges taxpayers $271 a night while living in an apartment owned by his wife’s trust.
  • METRO and V/Line trains could simultaneously grind to a halt causing transport chaos in Melbourne as a pay-and-conditions fight escalates.
  • A BENDIGO man fought off at least six crocodiles with nothing but spanners, spark plugs and his fists as he desperately tried to save his mate’s life.
  • MOTHER of four may have stabbed herself to death in front of dozens of oblivious witnesses, her killer has claimed.
  • A GROUP of students have been kicked out of Deakin University for cheating after paying people to write assignments for them.
  • YOUTH gangs competing to steal the most cars are helping power an unprecedented surge in Victoria’s car theft rate.
  • VICTORIAN prisons are bursting as taxpayers are forced to fork out tens of million of dollars more for security, almost a year after remand centre riots — blamed on overcrowding.
  • A HABITUAL pedophile who has abused children most of his life has had just four months added to an existing jail sentence for an offence he committed at the beginning of his adult life.
  • A VIOLENT sexual predator who preyed on small orphan boys then beat them when they complained will spend 12 years and nine months behind bars.
  • EXCLUSIVE: Border security officials allegedly working for organised criminals.
  • Teenager scoped out government buildings but was moving towards one likely target when police intervened.
  • Five men who allegedly planned to travel by boat to Indonesia so they could join Islamic State in Syria are due to be extradited under tight security from Cairns to Victoria this morning.
  • Sworn statements show senior staff at Sydney's high-profile Northside Clinic were warned about the "inappropriate" and "dangerous" behaviour of its star psychiatrist years before he was stood aside.
  • A SOUTH Australian woman has been charged over the bludgeoning death of a pensioner in his Kew East, Melbourne, home more than a decade ago.
  • TEENAGE criminals in a tense standoff with police at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre were promised KFC to come down from the roof, a court has heard.
  • A Victorian man who paid an overseas surrogate to give birth to twin daughters, brought the girls to Australia where he filmed himself sexually abusing them and shared the footage with other paedophiles, a court hears.
  •  A LIGHT plane, almost 300kg of drugs and $3.6 million in cash have been seized from members of Australia’s outlaw bikie gangs in just one year.
  •  KITTENS strip club in South Melbourne has been sprayed with bullets for the third time in six months – this time in broad daylight.
  • A CAR smash racket is running rampant, leaving thousands of Victorians with huge repair bills and without their cars. This is how they do it.
  •  THIEVES used sledgehammers to smash into Collins Street Gucci and Prada stores and steal thousands of dollars worth of handbags.
  •  CLUMSY cyclists are crashing into each other, stationary objects, and even a train, with thousands also playing red-light roulette, not wearing helmets, and ignoring fines.
All seems rather familiar, eh!

If you are, justifiably, fed up with politics in the UK, it will seem to be a model of propriety and maturity when compared with the turmoil of the infantile, bigoted and often corrupt Australian political community. Oh, and I haven't mentioned the flies, mosquitoes, spiders and occasional snakes. Or that there is no National Health Service. Or that public transport is often non-existent. Or that the mainstream media is terrible. And I nearly forgot to mention that you won't enjoy driving on Australian roads because there is zero tolerance with speeding (a couple of kilometres an hour over the limit can get you booked). Speed limits keep changing and most speed cameras are hidden. On top of this, there is random breath and drug testing.

So, if you still fancy moving to The Lucky Country, I wish you the best. But first a further reality check with this sobering item from BBC News.