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Orwell's son to visit house on Jura where 1984 was written

George Orwell's only son is to lead an emotional pilgrimage today to the remote house on Jura where his father wrote 1984 more than 60 years ago.

ISLAND RETREAT: Richard Blair has not been back to the family's island house in 20 years, and has fond memories of his time there. Picture: Getty
ISLAND RETREAT: Richard Blair has not been back to the family's island house in 20 years, and has fond memories of his time there. Picture: Getty

Richard Blair, who was adopted by the author and his wife Eileen as a baby, will accompany a group of fans to the property, where he will read extracts from his father's work.

The trip will be an especially personal and important one for Mr Blair, who has not been back to the house, Barnhill on the far north of the island, for more than 20 years. He remembers his time at the house in the late 1940s as happy and free, although he was nearly killed in a boating accident there and his father was also terribly ill with tuberculosis.

Mr Blair, 70, will be joined on the trip by fans of his father's work who have travelled from all over the world to take part in the Jura visit. They will gather at Barnhill, where Mr Blair will read Orwell's best-known poem The Italian Soldier Shook My Hand, with its famous line "No bomb that ever burst/Shatters the crystal spirit".

As he prepared to leave the mainland yesterday, Mr Blair said he expected it would be an emotional moment reading his father's words in the place he loved. Mr Blair remembers Barnhill as a rugged and remote place - Orwell described it as "extremely un-get-atable" - but said it was the perfect place for his father at a critical point in his life.

"He wanted to get away from London, which he found very grey, and he had the genesis of 1984 in his mind," says Mr Blair. "He wanted to sit down and write a serious book and living in London he couldn't get away from other people who wanted him to do reviews and so forth."

Despite the fact Barnhill can only easily be reached by boat and has no electricity, Mr Blair believes it suited his father.

"Although in many ways it was remote and bloody awful for his health, it also suited him," he said. "He didn't wear a hair shirt, but comfort didn't seem to bother him too much - as long as had a fire and supply of tobacco."

Mr Blair joined Orwell in Jura after the death of his mother in 1945 during a hysterectomy operation. He says he was given a lot of freedom by his father and was expected to look after himself much of the time.

"I do remember a few specific things like trying to light a disgusting old pipe filled with my father's old cigarette ends and being violently sick," he says.

He also remembers another more dangerous episode in 1947, when he and his father almost drowned. Their boat capsized at Corryvreckan and after sheltering on a rock they were rescued by a passing fisherman.

Mr Blair, who is now patron of The Orwell Society, which organised this weekend's trip, says his father was focused on writing 1984 but was also an involved dad.

"He was very much hands-on whenever possible, although he was suffering from tuberculosis and he knew he was. After my adoption he knew he was probably infectious so he was very aware of trying not to pass the TB over to me .

"So he had this dilemma of keeping me at arm's length and yet wanting to be a normal dad. For me, it didn't really impinge - so long as I was watered and fed and had the freedom to do what I wanted to, I was quite happy."

In all 23 people are taking this weekend's trip, including Orwell admirers from San Francisco, New York, England and Scotland. One of those who will be going is Quentin Kopp from Sheffield, who as well as being a fan of Orwell has a personal connection to him: his father Georges Kopp was Orwell's commander during the Spanish Civil War and features in Homage to Catalonia, his book about the conflict.

"From my early readings of Homage, I was an admirer of Orwell," said Mr Kopp. "He could express complicated concepts in a spare, easily accessible way. He wrote about what he saw- he went to Spain with no preconceived point of view and looked at it dispassionately."

Mr Kopp, 67, said he was also excited about the chance to see Barnhill, which is essentially unchanged from Orwell's time.

"There are few famous books that somebody can pin down and say that was where it was written," he said, "and because Orwell died young there's a mystique about the place."

Mr Blair, who was raised in Argyll and Bute after the death of his father in 1950 and now has a holiday home there, also acknowledges the special atmosphere of Barnhill and the book that was written there.

"What my father was writing about was the abuse of power, which has been written about since time immemorial, since Cain and Abel," he said. "But he was also writing about surveillance and CCTV. And that prediction was pretty much spot-on and will probably never change - the book will always be read as a warning.

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