Jack Common Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers of Jack Common consist of published and unpublished typescripts and manuscripts of his work; diaries 1930-1967, notebooks 1930s-1960, research notes, news cuttings and correspondence 1928-1967. The papers also include copies of articles and some draft articles for his contribution to The adelphi and New Britain and other contemporary magazines, drafts and typescripts of his two autobiographical novels and work on film scripts and ideas throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The correspondence to Jack Common includes letters from George Orwell 1938-1949, E.M. Forster 1938-1952, Dorothy and Max Plowman 1930-1961, Richard and John Middleton Murry 1928-1963, Thomas McCullough 1953-1967 and Connie Common, Jack's second wife. There is also correspondence from publishers including Turnstile Press, Phoenix House, Secker and Warburg, as well as correspondence from the BBC and from Associated British Picture Corporation.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jack Common was born in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1903. His father worked at the locomotive works close to the family house in Heaton. He attended Chillingham Road Council School, where he excelled at essay writing, but left at fourteen to attend commercial college and to work in a solicitor's office. Years of indifferent jobs and unemployment led him to move to London in 1928, partly to foster his political convictions and also to escape unemployment in the north. In 1930 he commenced work as a circulation promoter on The adelphi, a socialist journal edited by John Middleton Murry, Richard Rees and Max Plowman. He was soon employed as assistant editor and took over editorship for a period in the 1930s. Common was a contributor to The adelphi and other journal such as New Britain, The Aryan path and The new statesman and nation, but it was The adelphi which occupied most of his time during the thirties; writing political and social articles, book reviews, a column called "The Sweeper Up" and helping to shape policy and direction by working with the three editors. George Orwell was another contributor to the journal and it was through their working relationship on the journal that they formed a close friendship.

In 1939 The adelphi was put out of print and Common sought work as a film script writer and editor for government documentary films and lived in Langham, Essex at the Adelphi Centre, a community set up in 1936. After the war he found more film work with Rank Studios as a script advisor and reporter on suitability of novels as film subjects. He also worked as a freelance for the Associated British Picture Corporation during the 1950s and 1960s, again writing and editing scripts.

In terms of his published work there are two phases to his work, the political and socially conscious essays of the 1930s and the fictional work of the 1950s, which reflect the work he was undertaking at these times.

In 1938 he published Seven shifts, a collection of seven working men's tales of work which Common edited and introduced. In the same year he published a book of social and political essays The freedom of the streets. Kiddar's luck, the fictionalised autobiography of Jack Common's life up to the age of fourteen, published in 1951, was written under conditions of great hardship. Whilst writing the book he worked as a labourer during the day and wrote and edited film scripts in the evening, using the weekends to write his novel. He was under similar financial pressure when writing The ampersand, a further autobiographical novel, in 1953-4; despite the favourable reviews given to Kiddar's luck, the publishers became bankrupt, leaving him without a publisher to market the books and ensuring that the book was not the financial success it should have been.

He also produced many articles for contemporary journals and magazines.

He died in 1968 before he could complete his third novel.


  • JC 1-11 Diaries, 1930-1967
  • JC 12-15 Notebooks, [1930s]-1960
  • JC 16-110 Correspondence, 1928-1967
  • JC 111 Photographs
  • JC 112-133 Scripts for films, television and proposed work, 1951-1960
  • JC 132-156, 161 Typescripts & manuscripts of published & unpublished work, 1931- [1950's]
  • JC 157,160,163-4 Cuttings of reviews, 1933-1968
  • JC 158-9 Contracts, 1937-1960
  • JC 162,165-170 Miscellaneous material, notes, research, finance and early essays, 1916-1966
  • JC 171-173,176-179 Published copies of works and radio transmissions
  • JC 175 The adelphi, 1923-1942
  • JC 174,180-182 Miscellaneous additions, [1940s]-1988

Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to bona fide researchers; appointment in advance and proof of identity required.

Acquisition Information

The papers were bought by the University Library in 1974 with part of the payment met by a grant from the Arts Council. Initially, with the permission of the then Librarian, the papers were kept for research purposes by a member of academic staff who also created the handlist to the papers. They were deposited in the library in 1976.

Additional material including printed articles by Jack Common and a PhD thesis were added in 1980 and 1988.


Description complied by Helen Arkwright, Manuscripts and Archives Librarian, February 2002.

Other Finding Aids

Draft catalogue of the Jack Common Papers by Eileen Aird, 1976 available in the Enright Reading Room ref. : JC

National Register of Archives ref. : NRA 33546 Common

Conditions Governing Use


The library can provide photocopies (to a limit of 30 at any one time) for educational and private research purposes, provided the condition of the document does not prevent copying. Alternatively, photographic or digital images can be produced for educational and private research purposes. Please contact the Special Collections Librarian for further advice (email: lib-specenq@ncl.ac.uk)


Permission to make published use of any material from Special Collections must be sought in writing from the Special Collections Librarian (email: lib-specenq@ncl.ac.uk) and from the copyright owner if appropriate. The library will assist where possible with the identification of copyright owners, but the responsibility to obtain copyright clearance rests with the user.

Related Material

London University : University College London:

Mark Plowden - Correspondence and papers, 1907-1956, Letters from Max Plowman to Jack Common, 1935-1936 ref. : Plowman.

National Register of Archives ref. : NRA 33775 Plowman.


Hawthorne, Jeremy (ed.) 'A revolutionary materialist with a leg free : the autobiographical novels of Jack Common', in The British working class novel in the twentieth century(London : Arnold, 1984)