Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles

Short extracts from the book

Chapter one:

Wilfred Risdon was born on January 28th, 1896, in a modest, but respectable, working class district of the city of Bath, Somerset, the last of 12 children [2 of whom died in infancy] to Edward George Fouracres Risdon, a bespoke boot and shoe maker, and Louisa who, as well as raising all these children was, at various times, a boot & shoe machinist. She was 4 or 5 years older than Edward and born in Exeter, ..... see more

Chapter three:

Creating a completely new political party, not just realigning a disparate collection of disgruntled Members [realistically, an ever-present feature of British politics] and allowing them to coalesce into a noisy group [but as yet ineffective, as had generally been the case hitherto] of like mind, was a radical step, and sent shockwaves emanating through the British Establishment; there had been previous attempts at similar undertakings ..... see more

Chapter thirteen:

In general terms, Wilfred’s war was very quiet; luckily [for him; not for the unfortunate victims] ‘The Blitz’ started on a Saturday, September 7th 1940, so it is probable that he will have been at home, and the damage was concentrated on the central part of the capital [1]. Although Victoria Street was at the heart of the city, it appears to have escaped virtually unscathed [2]; one minor incident was noted ..... see more

Synopsis of the book:

Wilfred Risdon was born at the tail end of Queen Victoria’s reign, but he lived into the ‘space age’, so his life was full of contrasts and conflicts. In succession, but undeniably connected, the phases of his life focused on Jesus, [James] Maxton, [Oswald] Mosley and [Robert] Lawson Tait. The young zealot turned coal miner was sucked into the horror of a world war, but he served his fellow man with medical care rather than doling out death; at the end of the conflict, after a short spell in Germany with the British Army of Occupation, materialistic internationalism soon lost its appeal for the idealistic Socialist, and in 1924 he threw in his lot with the apolitical maverick Mosley, working expertly in the fields of propaganda, industrial relations and electoral practice. Sixteen years later, another war saw him locked up, like many others in 1940, without charge or trial, under the infamous Defence Regulation 18B[1A] for three months. When released, he was able to return to his final, but perhaps most fervent, area of humanitarian care: working to abolish the obscene practices of permanent research, for scientific purposes, masquerading in the guise of ‘medical’ progress, on living animals.

This is the true story of a man who refused to be bound by convention, if that meant accepting the status quo of the lower orders knowing their place, financial slavery, freedom of speech only for those in ‘authority’, and the unquestioning acceptance of unspeakable cruelty to animals. Despite the unavoidable opprobrium, he was a valued lieutenant for Mosley, and thereafter rose to become Secretary of the most prestigious animal welfare organisation in Britain: the National Anti-Vivisection Society. Yet his work goes virtually unrecognised: this book, which is now available in both print and digital versions [PDF or ePub format] sets out to redress that omission.

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Most recent reviews of the book:

Dvacate stoleti,, 2015 (excerpt)

… Despite his interesting life, and despite the fact that he played an important part in the history of Britain’s largest and only relevant fascist movement, as well as in anti-vivisection movements, it is likely that only a relatively small number of people have ever heard very much about him; the historiography certainly lacks any kind of rudimentary work concerning the life and work of Wilfred Risdon. In fact, he is not even included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This is probably partly because of his “black sheep status” arising from his involvement with fascism, and partly because of the baffling ignorance of historians. …

Jon L. Risdon, author of this book, and Wilfred Risdon’s great nephew, set out “to redress that omission” and it is indeed a successful attempt. Risdon’s work provides an exhaustive compendium of meticulously assembled data about Wilfred Risdon’s life and work. In this extensively researched book, Risdon describes the history of political organisations through the lens of one man. While he focuses on the narrative of one individual, he provides us with new and interesting insights into the workings of several organisations with which Wilfred was involved. …

… He set out to write a biography of Wilfred Risdon and he succeeded in that. The book gives us a complete picture of a passionate and tireless campaigner and political activist who during his life worked with some of the most interesting men and women in British history. It contains a mass of new information and gives us an interesting insight into the existence and work of several organisations. Risdon’s grasp of the topic at hand is excellent, the work is perfectly readable and, in contrast with significant sections of much of the preceding scholarship, is objective and without judgements. Jon Risdon has written a book which makes a valuable contribution to Anglophone historiography, and, after decades of ignorance, has put Wilfred Risdon on the map of British history.

copyright© 2015 Jakub Drábik, Prague, 2015

Professor John Field, 2015

Wilfred Risdon was a Labour Party organiser, a leading member of the British Union of Fascists, a prominent animal welfare campaigner, and a bit of a writer and artist. Never reaching in the front ranks of British politics, Risdon was nevertheless a significant player, whose organisational skills and firm principles meant that he was never far from the action. Jon Risdon weaves together the disparate threads of this remarkable life in a book that is clearly written, meticulously researched, and always alert to the wider implications of his subject.

copyright© 2015 John Field: Professor Emeritus at the University of Stirling

Nigel Ward, 2015

As a lifelong reader, of catholic tastes and voracious appetite, I have read my share of biographies of relatively obscure twentieth-century figures, many of which suffer from a paucity of detail and a failure to exhaust the subtler nuances of life on the periphery of front-page news. Jon Risdon’s “Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles” deserves great credit for the meticulousness with which the author has gathered material from every stratum of social and political life. The copious chapter-notes provide yet greater depth for readers with a more than general interest. For me, the special merit of this work is the extent to which its subject, Wilfred ‘Bill’ Risdon, emerges – despite the opposing impressions created on the one hand by his close association with what many still view as British Nazism, and, on the other, his consuming compassion for animals – as a humanist and a man of deeply considered moral convictions.

“Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles” is more than a biography; it is an even-handed work of reference made eminently readable by the articulacy of the author and the logic of the internal structure that he has ensured permeates every page. A fine collection of monochrome photographs completes a very worthwhile volume.

copyright© March 2015 Nigel Ward: Composer, filmmaker & political commentator

“Reading the biography of Wilfred Risdon”, Hilda Kean, 2014

“Wilfred Risdon’s life embraced many key moments of political activism in Britain during the twentieth century. … Yet this interesting man is not included within the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography … nor is he in the Dictionary of Labour Biography. This extensively researched book by Risdon’s nephew aims to redress Wilfred’s omission from such histories. His very detailed and careful reading of material related to the ILP, BUF and NAVS gives us new insights into the working of these organisations. … The book is extensively footnoted enabling the reader to follow up their particular interests. … Any open-minded reader with an interest in a range of political activity in the twentieth century would find much to think about in this book. The subject deserves to be more widely known — and understood.”

copyright© Hilda Kean, blog, 2014, February 16. Reading the biography of Wilfred Risdon: Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles by J L Risdon

“A true Champion of the Underdog”, Jeffrey Wallder, 2014

“A major new biography has been published about one of the least known leading officials of British Union … His curriculum vitae is superbly brought to life by J. L. Risdon who spent over ten years researching every aspect of his great uncle’s life with a degree of thoroughness that puts many professional biographers to shame. … the author has left no boulder unturned in his quest to reveal the true character and achievements of the man he clearly respects. The footnotes at the end of each chapter rival the chapter they refer to for both interest and length. … Readers of biography will enjoy this book for three reasons: it captures the excitement of Wilfred Risdon’s life and times; the author achieves a degree of professional detachment that prevents it becoming a work of political propaganda either for or against — and at only £19.25 for over 700 pages it is certainly excellent value!”

copyright© Jeffrey Wallder, Comrade (Newsletter of Friends of O.M.), No.66, May 2014

Robert Edwards, 2014

“I think Wilfred’s greatest achievement in his life was his involvement in animal welfare organisations … Previously, he was involved in the now-defunct London & Provincial Anti-Vivisection Society (LPAVS) and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), at one time a member of its Council. … Wilfred was a deeply religious man and this shines through in every phase of his life. In British Union, he stood up for the ordinary worker, as much as he did when in the Labour Party. All the articles that Jon reproduces on the pages of this enthralling book demonstrates this so clearly. This book is completely different to the plethora of books on the Mosley movement in the last ten or so years. This book drives deeper and gives us the full picture without judgements. Wilfred ‘Bill’ Risdon would be intensely proud of his grand nephew.”

copyright© Robert Edwards 2014, European Socialist Action No 51 British Union and animal welfare