Wednesday, 16 August 2017

JAGO STONE AND THE MEDIA


As spring turned to summer in 1983, the 'Sunday Express' published a feature-length article on Jago Stone, headlined 'The Bar Stool Fantasies of a Cad'. That admirable piece of journalism by Denis Pitts, one of Fleet street's most accomplished writers, provides the initial focus for Chapter 2 in my biography of Jago. My late father-in-law, Ronald Watkins (see my eulogy for Ronald using this link) had given us the faded newspaper cutting sometime in the late 1990s. Only then did we learn that the artist, Jago Stone, whose palette-knife and oil paintings graced the walls in our home, had spent nearly twenty years in gaol before he was released in 1967 at the age of 39.
Jago's gift to my wife, Louise, presented as he left the Gerrards Cross area around 1970

When I first read this piece – and for a long time afterwards, I had little reason to move beyond what Denis Pitts sets out as his impression of Jago – a bit of a card, a bar stool character in his mid-fifties, an affable English eccentric proud of being a reformed gaolbird. That of course was exactly what Jago was acting out. He had the pub regulars as his audience and a man come up from London to do the interview. The playhouse of the local hostelry provided the perfect setting for his performance. And what a brilliant choice of venue for the interview. The pub was called ‘Up the Garden Path’. Jago, the pied piper, leading his listeners on. Yet it was all true. As Denis says, the

newspaper clippings are there as proof. Remember, though, the warnings from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright, over two hundred years ago: 'The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous - licentious - abominable - infernal ... I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.' 
If we should approach the written word with a degree of caution, let this blog-post celebrate unreservedly some of Jago's best art work at the same time as providing the reader with extracts from my draft for Chapter 2 in my biography in which I catalogue and explore Jago's link with the media. Here is an image that was sent me very recently by Guy Griffith through the medium of Facebook - many thanks again, Guy! Guy was 11 years old when Jago painted this picture, sitting at his parent's kitchen table in their house in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire in 1969. Jago had been introduced to his parents by Peggy Wilding who had an antiques shop in Eton High Street. They commissioned four paintings, including an oil painting of the Houses of Parliament, a large painting of a market square and a water-colour of their Iver Heath house. Guy has no idea of what has happened to these others but this one takes pride of place in his flat. The similarities between this painting and Jago's gift to Louise are obvious. 
Untitled - Jago Stone (1969) - this image kindly given by the owner of the painting, Guy Griffith 


Jago was by now a seasoned stager, an experienced interviewee. Mr Pitts would have paid a price for the privilege of listening to Jago’s stories – a fixed price no doubt, albeit a reasonable one. The search for media attention once he had been released from Blundeston in 1967 is a constant for almost all the rest of Jago’s life. Seeking attention came as second nature – when it suited him. And the art of presenting himself convincingly had been perfected by the young Jago to the point of criminality. The guise of the Franciscan monk, Father Andrew, had cost him, on his own admission, ten years of freedom although he in fact served seven years – from 1960 to 1967. Jago got full remission. Now, with an identity as an artist, Mr Stone set about the task of marketing himself.
The performances that I have uncovered in my detective work are many and various. In the summer of 2017, I was gifted access to a 3-minute BBC Radio 4 interview that Jago had given fifty years earlier in the autumn of 1967, on October 30, in which he says he had been ‘out nearly four months’. The artist was not wasting any time in self-advertisement. At the end of the Autumn term, 1967, the final speaker – commanding ‘the largest audience of the year’ -  at the Arts Club in Wellingborough Grammar School in the county of Northamptonshire was ‘a local ex-prisoner-turned-artist called Jago Stone’. In February 1969, Harlech TV made their 23-minute feature on the representational artist, Jago Stone, and brought Kenneth Griffith from London to interview him in Devon on the edge of the Mendips. Later in 1969, BBC TV produced a short ‘Nationwide’ feature on the 41-year old ex-convict artist with Giles Neil conducting the interview in and around Amersham, Buckinghamshire in the Chilterns.
'The Makers of Sweet Smells' - Jago Stone (1969)

Jago may be a man on the move – by the end of 1970 he has said his farewells to the county of Buckinghamshire and by 1971 has arrived in Hellidon in Northamptonshire – but the pursuit of media attention is a constant. In the summer of 1971, BBC Radio 4 transmitted a 20-minute programme from Birmingham called ‘The Gaolbird’ in the series ‘It Takes All Sorts’ in which St. John Howell conducts his interview with the former burglar-turned-artist. In January 1972, it is the turn of commercial television to advance the public profile of Mr Stone. ATV Today presented a seven-minute feature on Jago as the artist within the village community of Prior’s Hardwick in Warwickshire, just over the border from Hellidon.


Untitled - Jago Stone (1969)

And then of course there is the autobiography published in February 1975 – ‘The Burglar’s Bedside Companion’. With sales of 30,000, what a success in self-advancement – only that figure is the product of the artistic licence that by now was shaping Jago’s hedonistic world. Yet there was certainly at least one further interview, probably with the BBC, in 1975 that followed its publication although I have not been able to unearth a copy. 


My thanks again to Mark A. Donohoe who is another recent Facebook contact - this time from the States - for this photo image of Jago (in the centre). Mark wrote: I knew Jago personally! He was a friend of the family. We lived in England between 19745 and 1977 and he painted several water-colours for us, including one of my Lego toys, which unfortunately was lost to the ages. However we still have several by him. The family favourite was his painting of Hanwell Castle, a place we rented from Professor Buxton back in 1975, being a large family from the States.

At one point, I was tempted to title this biography ‘Dear Mr Stone’ in recognition of Jago’s marketing genius in getting one of his paintings hung in the home of the most powerful man in the western world. 1976 marked the bicentenary of American Independence when the rebels had declared themselves free from their colonial masters in London. The United States of America was born. Jago by now had discovered the lucrative market offered by the United States Airforce (USAF) base at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, a fifty-minute drive away from Hellidon. All the elite aircrew were billeted in attractive properties within the surrounding villages - and such homes were just waiting for a talented artist to come and offer to paint. It was in this business context that Jago painted his picture of George Washington’s ancestral home, Sulgrave Manor house in south Northamptonshire, a twenty-five-minute drive away. It had been built by the 1st president’s great grandfather, Lawrence Washington, in the mid-16th century. Jago presented his painting to President Ford in 1976 through the agency of the American embassy in London – hence the letter of thanks that begins: ‘Dear Mr Stone’. In a further tweak of the market, Jago produced at least one acknowledged copy of the original gift and sold it to a USAF Lieutenant-Colonel, John "Adam" Adamski, stationed in England.  

By way of a postscript, I would add that yesterday I got an email from Owain Meredith, the archivist at the National Library of Wales who guided me to the Harlech TV interview with Jago in 1969, advising me that he had found another interview featuring Jago, this time in 1983. Sign up for the Jago newsletter using this link to get the latest on what promises to be a brilliant discovery!