A little peace of Britain

Desmond Bagley - 'A little peace of Britain' published February 1980 'In Britain' magazine. Courtesy & © The Chelsea Magazine Company Ltd.

Desmond and Joan Bagley moved from their house at Hay Hill in Totnes, Devon to Câtel House, in the parish of St. Andrew on the Channel Island of Guernsey, in November 1976. An islander at heart, he came to love his new home:

..It is really a place where the peace settles into your bones as you sit at Cobo and watch that marvellous mellow light seemingly springing from the rocks at sunset. It is my home – I would have no other. [1]

Bagley wrote this in an article titled ‘A little peace of Britain’, published in February 1980, in the magazine of the British Tourist Authority In Britain.

in-britain- a-little-peace-of-britain-collage-edited

In recognition of the Bagley Legacy events taking place in Guernsey this year the current copyright holder, The Chelsea Magazine Company in conjunction with the Bagley trustees, Moore Stephens, have kindly agreed to my request that the article be republished. I am very pleased that the official tourism organisation for Guernsey ‘Visit Guernsey’ took up this offer and Bagley’s article is today published on their blog, seeing the light after 38 years. The author took no payment for this article, donating his fee to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charitable organisation that both he and his wife supported for many years.

Like much of Bagley’s writing this article is still of relevance today, and is particularly appropriate for anybody heading out to the island as a tourist, or indeed heading over to visit the Guernsey Literary Festival 10th -13th May.

Though quite evidently taking great delight in the Island’s physical beauties and unspoilt charm, Bagley was quite open about his reasons for moving from the mainland UK over to Guernsey, he was a tax exile. Speaking to the financial journalist Colleen Toomey in 1978 he said:

If I stand in the street and a man picks my pocket, I consider it an immoral act. I would not mind the British Government taking 50 percent of my income if they would leave me the other half. But I do resent having to pay income tax at 83 percent. It’s exactly the same as having your pocket picked. [2]

Living in the UK for twelve years Bagley’s accountant had been trying to talk him into exile, and a sensible tax rate of 20 percent, for about five years. The author had put off moving as both he and his wife very much enjoyed living in England, however in 1976 he finally made the decision to move. Perhaps explaining this decision is best illustrated by an example of how publishers commission, agents fees and income tax affected the author.

On 29th September 1972, in a letter to his editor, Bagley recalled an example where the sale of foreign rights to one of his paperback novels netted him a payment of £1,000 from one of his foreign publishers. Due to a ‘tradition of the trade’ 50% of that amount remained with the foreign publisher, leaving the rest transferred to his London publisher for the author’s own use. However as his London publisher acted as his agent in this foreign transaction they were entitled to 20%, leaving him £400. This payment falling towards the end of a financial year, which had included a one-off payment for the sale of film rights, meant that the £400 was taxed at 90%, leaving the author £40. Dizzied with euphoria he decided he might invest the £40 in ten bottles of Scotch malt whisky, at £4 a bottle. Of course he then realised that the excise duty on each bottle would be £2.50, giving a further total of £25 to government revenue. The author had worked out that the £1,000 payment would in fact have netted him only £15 of worldly goods.

And so Bagley relocated to Guernsey where the capital, St. Peter Port has been described as the fifth finest Georgian town in Europe, of which he said:

All I know is that I like it – it’s a comfortable town which has a minimum of hurry and scurry, and which fulfils my criterion – I don’t like towns which I can’t see out of. [1]

So why not take a trip over to the Visit Guernsey blog and have a read of his article, which today is republished on-line after nearly four decades in obscurity.


Images © & courtesy BRITAIN (formerly In Britain) magazine, The Chelsea Magazine Company Ltd.

1. ‘A little peace of Britain’ In Britain Magazine (London: The British Tourist Authority, 1980), Volume 35, No. 2, Feb 1980, pp. 24-25. Reproduced courtesy of The Chelsea Magazine Company Ltd., and the Bagley trustees, Moore Stephens, Guernsey.

2. The Star, Johannesburg (1978). ‘Tax ‘pickpocket’ drove him into exile’ (4th April 1978).