J is for Evan Jones (1927-2012)

Evan Jones’s career as a writer spanned many genres (including poetry and writings for children, as well as his script and screenwriting work) and engaged with multiple geographies and histories of struggle. He was born in Portland, Jamaica, to an established landowning Jamaican family on his father’s side and his mother was a Quaker missionary and teacher from the US. Establishment. Educated at Munro College and then Wadham College, Oxford, Jones’s creative sensibilities were matched by an awareness of global injustices—both contemporary and historic. Whilst his imaginative engagement with human struggles was grounded in an understanding of Caribbean colonial societies and he often returned to Jamaica for his creative focus, he also reached towards human stories of life in Palestine, Australia, and the United States. Indeed, his first BBC screenplay, The Widows of Jaffa (1957), drew on his experience in Gaza in 1949 with the American Friends Service Committee, where he joined the Quaker volunteers working with the UN in the refugee camps.

Jones’s papers are now held in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and the archive “consists of screenplays, typescripts, correspondence and publicity material relating to Jones’s poems, novels and screenplays, as well as audio-visual material for the films and television programmes he worked on.”

The question of whether the range of Evan’s writings paradoxically limited his recognition is an interesting one. The Bodleian emphasise their holdings related to Jones’s 1975 BBC television series ‘The Fight Against Slavery’ as “most notable,” and certainly Martin Stollery makes a strong case for the significance of this work in terms of including then little-known figures such as Equiano and in drawing attention to the agency of the enslaved. (Some episodes can be accessed on YouTube.)

Jones is also acknowledged and acclaimed in the UK for his film scripts that starred Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Oliver Reid and Sylvester Stallone and others. Even within his extensive screenwriting career, Jones favoured variety as seen in his filmography: the fantasy horror, The Damned (1962); the WWI drama, King and Country (1964); the spy spoof, Modesty Blaise (1966); the spy sequel to the Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin (1966); and his WWII thriller, Escape to Victory (1981).

While Laura Tanna’s 1985 interview with Jones, published in Jamaica Journal, begins with his lack of notoriety as a film-writer in his homeland—”Jamaica’s most successful writer on the international cinema scene remains very much a mystery to his compatriots”—Jones’s poem “The Song of the Banana Man” is known and cherished by many Jamaicans who know it through their school anthologies. In fact,  it is mentioned by Raymond Antrobus as a poetic inheritance from his father: “My dad would read poems to me by Linton Kwesi Johnson. He put a poem called ‘The Song of the Banana Man’ on my bedroom wall…” And the poem is read here by Jamaican/US George Scott as part of the Favourite Poem Project.

Jones’s 1993 novel Stone Haven, which tells a story reminiscent of his mother’s life, has his family home in Portland, Jamaica as its title and was published by The Institute of Jamaica. In Jones’s own words, it was “the book about Jamaica I have always wanted to write.”

Jones passed away in 2012.

More about the author

Jones’s biography on Wikipedia.

A preview of the 1998 edition of Jones’s novel Stone Haven is available through Google Books.

Tanna’s 1985 interview with Jones is available through the Digital Library of the Caribbean.

The original trailer for the 1962 horror film The Damned, written by Jones.

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