Leslie John Robinson (b.1929): Purpose and Audience.

The reason for writing a memoir can sometimes be detrimental to understanding why the authors have discussed these significant moments in their lives. In the case of Leslie John Robinson, this is undoubted. Leslie begins his memoir with a preface that explains the purpose behind his writing and how his work can help those relatives in the future. This is certainly unique compared to other memoirs. In other cases, the author has been ambiguous about their objectives and intended audience, leaving it up to the reader to adjudicate an explanation.

In an assertive tone, Leslie begins his preface by stating that ‘this book was written for a family, my family, particularly my daughter Jane and son Andrew and our brand- new grand- daughter Nanette’. Immediately this gives the impression that Leslie was a family man. The reasoning behind his memoir being the first thing he establishes shows a sense of pride towards his children and grandchild. He explains ‘the questions I would have liked to ask my parents had they lived longer’ are what he has tried to answer within the pages of his book. It is revealed here that Leslie wished to provide his children and grandchildren with a kind of Leslie John Robinson self- help book, something that they can refer back to in the coming years when people ask ‘”what kind of man was he?”’(preface).

Preface of Leslie John Robinson’s memoir.

It seems Leslie wished for himself and his story to be remembered as authentically as possible, to prevent others from receiving ‘twelve different answers’ when enquiring about his life and times. He writes that ‘we all see people through our own eyes, sometimes those eyes are bright and clear, at other times the vision is dull and blurred, but worst of all there are times when they are closed’ (preface). Interestingly, this suggests that Leslie did not want his story to be sordid by others’ opinions of him, so wrote this memoir to somewhat copyright his version of his life.

Leslie John Robinson’s memoir speaks to entertain with stories of his childhood, but also to educate his future family members about his experience of events such as The Great War and The Thetis Disaster. Ultimately, Leslie proudly represents the working- class man, showing a class consciousness and determination to justify how working- class individuals benefit society, particularly those that work for the military. In Social Class in the 21st Century (2015), Mike Savage notes that ‘during the early nineteenth century, as Britain industrialized, working class people came to be aware of their class identity, which led them to campaign for their interests’ (p.365). Savage goes on to explain that ‘the rise of the Labour movement’ ignited a ‘strong collective class consciousness on the part of the working class people determined to improve their position in society’ (p.365). This offers an insight into why Leslie places a lot of emphasis on his illustrious military and police career, addressing an important role within society for himself and for his family. The memoir notes how Leslie’s dad ‘went on to become a bricksetter’s labourer like his father’ (p.4), influencing him to aspire to achieve more in order to set a high benchmark for his children, highlighting his class identity and desire to establish a crucial role within his community.

Working- class men striking in 1936. (Photograph: Keystone/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images). Image sourced from inthesetimes.com

Overall, Leslie John Robinson displays a desire for his story to be passed on authentically, influencing his family but also others from working- class backgrounds. It can be assumed that Leslie wished for his work to be published due to the length of the text and also the glossary included at the end of the memoir.  In the preface he declares, ‘with this book, I give my view of my life and times, not a history of the years in which I have lived but my impressions of them’. Having his story be told exclusively from his viewpoint is something that Leslie speaks passionately about. It could be suggested that he felt that the only way others can learn about living through a working- class struggle is to read about life, unedited and from his viewpoint.

Bibliography:

  •  ‘Leslie John Robinson’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:671.
  • Robinson, Leslie John. ‘One Step at a Time’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection. 2:671.
  • Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. Penguin Books. Clays Ltd, Suffolk: 2015.

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