Reviews of John’s Earlier Book: Long Ago and Far Away
Based on family letters, recollections and newspaper reports, the book traced his family’s history during the 1930’s depression and the years of the second world war.
‘Few first-hand accounts of this migration process,’ (from the East End to Essex) ‘are more compelling than those of John O’Sullivan. He is a natural writer, and you can see why his description of life in the 1930’s was snapped up by a publisher . . . Many accounts have been written about the Essex plotlands: John’s loving, but warts-and-all recollection, is perhaps the most evocative.’
Tom King: Essex Echo
‘A wonderfully vivid evocation of its time. I will place it in the university library as a useful source for students . . . I am uplifted by the thought that our students don’t just study history, but make and record it.’
Mark Galeotti: Head of History, Keele University
‘Completely vivid . . .a book to treasure for all those who can remember those years and for those who are interested in recent British Social History.’
Deborah Knox: Shropshire Star
Born in the heart of London’s docklands, John lived a fascinating and untroubled childhood for eight years before Hitler’s bombers arrived to destroy the old world of the East End and force his family, like so many others, to seek relative safety for their children elsewhere.
He describes his youthful educational career as one that was lived dangerously. From evacuation in September 1939 through to June of 1941 when the family finally ceased its wanderings to settle in Essex, there was little schooling and life was effectively a holiday. Thanks, however, to the dedicated efforts of two young teachers in his little country school, he managed to scrape through the Scholarship examination to qualify for a place in the local minor public school, a privilege on which he signally failed to capitalise.
His rebellious and unappreciative attitude meant that his way there was a way of thorns until he made the happy discovery that he had an aptitude for sport and found a teacher who seemed to show him the way forward.
It was all too late for the glittering prizes, however. He was the one lost cause that Oxford had no home for, and most other ancient illustrious halls of learning were of like mind. But education, education, education was the cry then as now and, following two years of National Service best forgotten, the award of a teaching bursary led him to the gate of the University College of North Staffordshire, later Keele University. Founded in 1949 it was the first of the universities in the brave, new world of post-war education and in its underlying ethos and pioneering environment John felt for the first time that he had come home. There he met and married his wife Pamela.
A good degree in English and Philosophy led on to teaching appointments first in a comprehensive and then a grammar school before he reached the conclusion that he could best serve education and the boys he taught by looking for a career elsewhere.
Entry into the Civil Service and three years specialist training and experience led to his appointment as a District Inspector of Taxes in Birmingham and then to an assignment as an investigator in Enquiry Branch (now Special Compliance Offices) one of the specialist units of the Inland Revenue investigating serious tax evasion and fraud. And in investigation work as far as earning his bread and butter was concerned he felt that he had found his niche in life.
‘Of course you have,’ he was told by a friend, ‘I’ve always known that under that chubby, charming exterior there lurked a lean, mean bugger just waiting to be set loose. You’re a born natural for the part.’
He was in due course appointed Group Leader at his branch where he continued for some
three years before leaving to take charge of a large West Midland District at a time when the Revenue was introducing ‘a new hard look’ at small businesses.
After ten years of District charge he resigned to undertake freelance work as a specialist consultant for individuals being investigated by the Revenue for serious tax evasion.
His ‘off-duty’ interests have included amateur dramatics, the restoration and cruising of Dane a fifty year-old working narrowboat, and in later years running a nine acre smallholding with his wife.
He began to write after transcribing tape recordings of her life left by an aunt who in her youth had been one of Sylvia Pankhurst’s foot-soldiers in the ranks of the suffragettes.