Alec (Alexander) Baron

Alexander Baron was born in Stoke Newington, Hackney, in 1917 and died in 1999. He attended Hackney Downs School between 1928 and 1934.  A political activist on the left in the 1930s, he fought at the D Day landings and later in Italy, producing several of the finest novels of the Second World War.  He subsequently wrote several novels about his love of London life and its people after the war, and later cast a loving but mordant eye on Jewish life as it transmigrated from the East End to the northern suburbs in the cult novel, The Lowlife. He was a consummate writer whose reputation is now enjoying a serious revival.

Alexander Baron

Alexander Baron c 1952

Baron’s father was Barnet Bernstein, a Polish-Jewish immigrant to Britain who settled in the East End of London in 1908 and later worked as a master furrier. Baron was born in Maidenhead, where his mother Fanny had been evacuated during Zeppelin raids. The family soon returned to London, and Baron was raised in the Hackney district of London. He attended Hackney Downs School.

During the 1930s, with his schoolfriend Ted Willis, Baron was a leading activist and organiser of the Labour League of Youth (at that time aligned with the Communist Party), campaigning against the fascists in the streets of the East End and editing the Young Communist League (UK) magazine Challenge. Baron became increasingly disillusioned with far left politics as he spoke to International Brigade fighters returning from the Spanish Civil War. He ceased to work for the Communist Party after the Hitler–Stalin Pact of August 1939, and finally broke with the communists immediately after the war.[1]

Baron served in the Pioneer Corps of the British Army during World War II, and was among the first Allied troops to be landed in Sicily, Italy and on D-Day. Between 1943 and late 1944, he experienced fierce fighting in the Italian campaign, Normandy and in Northern France and Belgium. In 1945 he was transferred as an Instructor to a British Army training camp in Ireland, where he received a serious head injury and was hospitalised for over six months.

Following the success of his very first novel, Baron embarked on a profession as a full-time author. Baron’s wartime experiences formed the basis for his 3 very popular war novels (for a list of his works, see below). Other themes of his books were London life, politics, class, relations in between ladies and guys, and the relationship between the individual and society.

While he continued to compose novels, in the 1950s Baron wrote screenplays for Hollywood, and by the 1960s he had ended up being a regular author on BBC’s Play for Today. He composed numerous episodes of the A Family at War series: ‘The Breach in the Dyke’ (1970), ‘Brothers in War’ (1970), ‘A Lesson in War’ (1970), ‘Believed Killed’ (1971), ‘The Lost Ones’ (1971), and ‘Two Fathers’ (1972). For a detailed list of his film and television work, please see his IMDB entry.

In 1991, Baron was elected an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, in acknowledgment of his contribution to the historic and social understanding of East London. [5]
Baron’s personal documents are held in the archives of the University of Reading.His wartime letters and unpublished memoirs were utilized by the historian Sean Longden for his book To the Victor the Spoils, a social history of the British Army in between D Day and VE Day. Baron has actually likewise been the topic of essays by Iain Sinclair and Ken Worpole.

Considering that Baron died in December 1999 his stories have actually been republished several times, testifying to a strong rebirth of interest amongst in his work among the reading public as well as among critics and academics. These consist of Baron’s first book, the war novel From the City, From the Plough (Black Spring Press, 2010); his cult novel about the London underworld of the early 1960s, The Lowlife (Harvill, 2001; Black Spring Press, 2010; equated into Spanish as “Jugador”, La Bestia Equilátera, 2012), which was pointed out in Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming as a literary antecedent of punk; King Dido (Five Leaves, 2009), a story of the violent rise and fall of an East End London hard in Edwardian England; Rosie Hogarth (Five Leaves, 2010); and his second war novel There’s No Home, the story of a love affair in between a British soldier and Sicilian female during a lull in the strong combating of the Italian campaign (Sort Of Books, 2011; Chinese edition released by Hunan Art and Literature Publishing House, 2013). Baron’s third work based upon his wartime experiences, The Human Kind, was republished by Black Spring Press in Autumn 2011. His novel about a Jewish RAF officer’s return to post-war London, With Hope, Farewell (1952), and his semi-autobiographical account of a boy’s political coming-of-age “The In-Between Time” (1071) are both arranged for re-issue by Five Leaves Press in 2015.

Following the success of his first novel, Baron embarked on a career as a full-time author. Baron’s wartime experiences formed the basis for his three very popular war stories (for a list of his works, see below). While he continued to write stories, in the 1950s Baron composed movie scripts for Hollywood, and by the 1960s he had actually ended up being a routine author on BBC’s Play for Today. Because Baron passed away in December 1999 his stories have been republished numerous times, affirming to a strong resurgence of interest amongst in his work among the reading public as well as amongst critics and academics. These include Baron’s first book, the war novel From the City, From the Plough (Black Spring Press, 2010); his cult novel about the London underworld of the early 1960s, The Lowlife (Harvill, 2001; Black Spring Press, 2010; translated into Spanish as “Jugador”, La Bestia Equilátera, 2012), which was cited in Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming as a literary antecedent of punk; King Dido (Five Leaves, 2009), a story of the violent increase and fall of an East End London hard in Edwardian England; Rosie Hogarth (Five Leaves, 2010); and his second war novel There’s No Home, the story of a love affair between a British soldier and Sicilian woman during a lull in the strong fighting of the Italian project (Sort Of Books, 2011; Chinese edition released by Hunan Art and Literature Publishing House, 2013).

At this event, Alexander Baron’s son, Nick Baron, novelists Anthony Cartwright & John Williams, along with writer and social critic Ken Worpole discuss the revival of literary interest in Alexander Baron, five of whose most important novels are back in print again, with another due in October 2011:

King Dido                                        Five Leaves Press
Rosie Hogarth                                Five Leaves Press

From the City, From the Plough - Alexander Baron

From the City, From the Plough – Alexander Baron

From the City,                                From the Plough-Black Spring Books

Baron’s first novel, published in 1948 – and viewed by many as his best. It’s the story, told from the infantry soldier’s perspective, of D-Day. In the summer of 1944, a battalion of the Wessex Regiment waits patiently and nervously, close to the south coast, for the order to embark. The novel follows these soldiers – some, as the title suggests, city wide boys and others from the farms – as they travel to Normandy, suffer devastating casualties as they land, and then fight their way across France.It’s a taut and powerful novel, which won wide acclaim and huge sales. Baron borrows from his own role in the D-Day landing and then fighting inland – though it would be wrong to regard this as autobiographical. This is the first of three war novels. The next, There’s No Home, is again based in part on Baron’s own war service, this time in Sicily in 1943.

‘I went through two campaigns between July 1943 and December 1944’, Baron wrote in later life. ‘I have written three books about the lives of men and women in the war. I made use in these books of my own experiences as well as of scenes that I witnessed and stories that others told to me.’

The writer V.S. Pritchett described From the City as the ‘only war book that has conveyed any sense of reality to me. Often touching, often funny, sometimes tragic and in the battle scenes. precise and without hysteria.’


The Lowlife                                     Black Spring Books
There’s No Home                          Sort Of Books
The Human Kind                       Black Spring Press (due October 2011)