Bagley Blue Plaque Unveiled

Today, Friday 11th May, Guernsey’s eighth Blue Plaque was unveiled by the Bailiff Sir Richard John Collas to honour the thriller writer Desmond Bagley and his wife Joan Bagley. The Blue Plaque was issued under the auspices of Guernsey Museums and is only the second on the island to recognise an author.

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The ceremony took place at 11.30am at the Bagley’s former residence Câtel House, now renamed Bagley Hall, in the Rohais de Haut, St. Andrew, Guernsey. Among the guests were: Guernsey States Deputy Mark Dorey; Martin Thwaite, Douzenier for St. Andrew; Dr Jason Monaghan, Head of Heritage Services at Guernsey Museums & Galleries; Helen Glencross, Historic Sites Curator at Guernsey Museums & Galleries; Russ Fossey, Head of Arts Development at Guernsey Arts Commission; Connie Helyar-Wilkinson co-founder of the Guernsey Arts Foundation; David Brawn, Publishing Director – Estates at HarperCollins Publishers; Peter Le Vasseur, Bagley’s portrait artist; and Graham Jackson, Bagley’s portrait photographer. A reception at Bagley Hall was hosted by the owners Deryck and Melissa Mourton, Melissa also being a co-founder of the Guernsey Arts Foundation.

It is especially pleasing to see this plaque bearing the name of Bagley’s beloved wife, Joan, who was very much an integral part of her husband’s success as a thriller writer. Joan always said that it was her husband who was the writer, however this doesn’t tell the full story. Joan was influential in assisting her husband in choosing both the genre and publisher that would propel the fledgling thriller writer into international popularity. Not only was she his manager, research assistant, secretary, public relations officer and No. 1 critic, but she brought us two of her husband’s unpublished manuscripts. Joan re-edited, together with Collins, and oversaw the posthumous publication of Night of Error (Collins, 1984) also finishing the incomplete manuscript ‘The Road’, published as Juggernaut (Collins, 1985).

Melissa Mourton, who lives at Bagley Hall with her husband Deryck, made the Blue Plaque nomination and Melissa commented:

It is befitting that such a prominent author and his wife, whose contributions to the island were significant, are commemorated with a Blue Plaque.

Although Bagley’s initial reason for relocating to Guernsey was to find a more lenient taxation system, it wasn’t the reason why they came to love the island. Bagley, an islander at heart, found a peace in the island and both he and his wife were happy to support local causes. The fee for Bagley’s tourist article about the island ‘A little peace of Britain’ was donated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity both he and Joan supported and actively worked to promote. The couple had an interest in the sport of fencing and belonged to the Sarnia Sword Club. They purchased the metal ‘pistes’ for the club as well as organising the visit of the Royal Naval Fencing Team to the island in March 1979 and December 1982.

Joan also took an active interest in her local Zoo and was both a committee member and volunteer warden for the local Animal Shelter, the G.S.P.C.A., and left a bequest to La Société Guernesiaise, an organisation which encourages the study of the history, natural history, geography and geology of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the conservation of the Bailiwick’s natural environment and the preservation of its historic buildings and monuments. After her husband’s death Joan also ran creative writing workshops at Câtel House, which John Gollop , currently a Guernsey States Deputy for St. Peter Port North,  attended. [1]

As an early adopter of technology Bagley also invited students of Elizabeth College, who had an interest in computers, to visit Câtel House where he demonstrated the capabilities of his computer. One such student was Mark Dorey, now a Guernsey Deputy and member of the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure, Committee for Education, Sport & Culture and the States Assembly & Constitution Committee.

Ian Bott, another student of Elizabeth College, who visited the author around 1976/77 recalls:

It looked nothing like a computer nowadays. No screen, it just looked like a rather bulky typewriter with a keyboard and a teletype printer above printing onto continuous fanfold paper. He loaded up a game for us (I’m pretty sure there was a cabinet underneath with a floppy disk drive in the front). It was a spaceship landing game. The computer typed out your current altitude, rate of descent, and how much fuel you had left, and then asked you to type in how much fuel you wanted to burn that turn. It then recalculated the variables and so it went on until you either smacked too fast into the ground or ran out of fuel too high up.

We each had a go. From what I recall there were two or three of our maths teachers there and a couple of other students as well as myself. We all crashed and burned. The program always finished by typing out a commiserating message telling you how big a crater you’d just made.

Then Desmond had his turn. Half way down he turned to us with a gleam in his eye and said, “Watch this very carefully.” Where we’d all tended to enter rounded numbers of tons of fuel, he typed in a very specific number with a couple of decimal places. A few turns later the program ended with a perfect landing! He grinned, then printed off the program and showed us the code where it was looking out for this “cheat” input that would guarantee you success.

Ian now lives in British Columbia, working as an IT director with the BC provincial government and writes science fiction in his spare time.

It is fitting that both Desmond and Joan Bagley now join the list of people who have been recognised as individuals who have made an important contribution to the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the wider world. Other recipients of a Blue Plaque in the Bailiwick can be viewed here.


Notes

Images © The Bagley Brief

1. Gollop, J. (2018). pers. comm 10th May, 2018.

2. Bott, I. (2018). Pers. Comm 4th May 2018.