Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): An Introduction

“Our lives do not begin and end by opening and closing like a book. Life could be likened more to a surging and trickling stream.”


This quote is befitting to Jack’s view on life and is reflected through his life story in his memoir. Jack portrays life as not being full of clear beginnings and endings. Instead he compares it to a passage or stream that ‘surges’ at some points when life is exhilarating and at other times ‘trickles’ when life is more simple. Jack’s life is truly interesting but I think as he got older he reflected on enjoying the simpler things in life during his old age.

Jack McQuoid was born on the 19th April 1910 in Liverpool. His parents were Irish and his grandfather (John McQuoid) was born into a middle-class society but upon the death of his grandfather, apparently being lost at sea, Jack’s father and grandmother (Mary Thompson) fell into the lowest depths of society struggling in extreme poverty. Jack’s father experienced the turmoil that comes along with being in poverty so he ensured Jack’s life did not encounter the same ordeals. This resulted in Jack’s parents deciding to move from Belfast to Liverpool as Jack’s father (James McQuoid) ‘…could see his chances of improving his social status’ (5). 

Jack had not a luxurious but comfortable lifestyle. He had a safe, happy childhood and never had to struggle in the way of some children he saw in West Derby begging on the streets.

I have enjoyed reading his memoir wondering where he will end up next. He has lived all over England and Northern Ireland as a child and teenager. Then at the young age of 20, he takes the perilous journey on his own to move to New York during the stock market crisis. Out of a pure whim he decides to carry on his journey to Pasadena, California from an address given to him by a stranger inside a matchbox.

6th February 1931, The Great Depression, Pasadena – California

His parents instil a passion for travel through their own desire to improve their social condition by moving from place to place. Jack does not seem to have had one fixed home throughout his childhood as he lives in Benton, Corbridge and Larne.

1910, The Angel Inn, Corbridge
1914, Whitley Bay (6 miles from Benton)

Jack lived during a turbulent time of war. His father fought in the first world war and Jack fought in the second world war. He spent the majority of his life in Belfast during The Troubles. Despite all of this Jack never let this bring him down. It seemed to have motivated him to live his life to the fullest.

Jack represents the desires of many people during this time who wished to travel and pursue their passions but were held back due to their fears of failure. These insecurities being that most people did not have the luxury to follow their dreams due to having an integral role in other people’s lives. Like Jack’s father he had to bring up his younger siblings so he had to provide a sufficient income to the household. Jack’s mother confided in him that his father had the same ambition of being an actor but decided against it as it was not considered a stable career. Jack goes on to pursue a thriving acting career on radio, television and theatre in his later life.

Jack’s memoir has been carefully thought out as he says that it has taken him many years of redrafting to finish it. He first mentions writing it in 1982 although, he has been writing diaries his entire life, so essentially he has been preparing himself for this memoir from an early age. The memoir is broken down into 17 chapters. They all progress consecutively from the start to the end of his life. His writing style is interesting as when he mentions an event that may have relevance on his later life he speaks about the link between these two events. His narration at times is conversational as he has the tendency to speak of current events at the time of his writing, ‘Perhaps not after tomorrow for tomorrow will be budget day, 1982.'(8) He intertwines both past and present in order to convey his thoughts to his readers.

The contents page of Jack’s memoir

Jack writes on a personal level as he explains his writing process to his readers. He explains his motives for his writings. As in the last chapter, he explains that it will be disjointed diary entries so that he does not confuse them from the sudden change of writing style. ‘As the year rushes to an end, the end of this autobiography takes on more the form of a diary with irregular entries.'(300) This combination of writing styles, from memoir to diary, is often how memoirists like Jack are able to portray their thoughts and memories together.

Despite writing in his later years of life, he is meticulous in his precision of recalling events as he always includes dates and full names of people who are involved within his 343-paged unpublished memoir. He goes so far as to provide photocopies of newspaper clippings and theatre leaflets at the end of his memoir as evidence.

Jack gives a title for his memoir, ‘One man in his time’. I believe this title reflected Jack’s own views of being one person in a huge world full of possibilities. Jack wrote 17 chapters all with individual titles. Each title gives an insight into a part of his life, from ‘Edwardian Twilight’ at the end of the Edwardian era, to ‘Multitude and Solitude’ when Jack contemplates his life journey in his later years of life. Jack referred back to his collection of diaries throughout his memoir as evidence of his actions so that his readers would believe his memoir as being true.

See Beti and Zoe’s introduction posts.

Next Post: Home and Family [Part 1]


McQuoid, Jack, ‘One Man in his Time’ pp.328, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

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