Jim Haynes — Edinburgh legend, Traverse Theatre co-founder, 1962 Writers Conference producer, champion of the counter-culture and avant-garde dies in Paris aged 87
James Almand Haynes, known affectionately around the globe as “Jim”, died peacefully in Paris, 6 January 2021.
Born in 1933 in Haynesville, Louisiana, Haynes was destined for an artistically-driven, international life. Early on, his precocious literary influences included Langston Hughes, Henry Miller and Dorothy Parker. During World War II, after moving to Shreveport, his mother opened the family household to a steady stream of international airmen and guests that would later influence Haynes’s Bohemian lifestyle of unlocked doors, open friendships, and creative ideas.
For two years the family lived in San Tomé, while his father worked for the oil companies during the Venezuelan oil boom. Back home, his young adulthood consisted of a stint in the Boy Scouts, a first attempt at publishing — The Treetop News, high-schooling at the Georgia Military Academy, and a valiant-yet failed attempt at Louisiana State University.
In 1956 Haynes found himself in the United States Air Force stationed at a listening post in Kirknewton, just outside Edinburgh, Scotland. After a while, he obtained permission from his commanding officer to attend classes at Edinburgh University in exchange for taking permanent night shifts at the base. In 1957 he attended his first Edinburgh International Festival and became friends with Richard and Ann Demarco. By 1959, he’d begun travelling extensively through Spain, France and attended classes at the university of Barcelona. The same year, he obtained further permission for early release from the military, and opened ‘The Paperback’ at George Square – the first paperback-only bookshop in Scotland and the UK. The launch attracted a litany of literary figures, including publisher John Calder, which began a fifty-nine year friendship, and coupled with the Demarcos, would change the face of British theatre and the Scottish literary scene.
The Paperback was equal parts bookshop, coffee house and salon, and similar to The Partisan in London. The shop quickly became a hub for all things art and avant-garde. The Paperback contributed heavily to what is now the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest performing arts festival in the world, even acting as an early Fringe Box Office. The coffee and tea were free, music softly played in the background — highly unusual then, but all critical elements of book retailing today.
On a literary front, The Paperback hosted international readings by the likes of Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, and was frequented by artist/musician/poet Tom McGrath, who later described the atmosphere as “an absolutely great feeling of what the art scene could be.” The lively shop was also frequented by droves of Edinburgh University students, businesspeople and professionals alike — among them the chairman of the Bank of Scotland and Scottish photographer Alan Daiches, who took the now-infamous image of the burning of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, at the hands of a former church missionary.
In his memoir Pursuit, Calder later described The Paperback as a “£50 a hovel-like junk shop” and Haynes as having an “excellent memory for the names of authors and publishers, the titles of books and even their prices.” Haynes filled the shelves with not only the usual mass-market titles, but also the American ‘Egghead’ imprints as well, such as the Evergreen series of publisher Barney Rosset. Evergeen featured writers like Samuel Beckett, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Tom Stoppard, Susan Sontag and Malcom X — a far cry from the conservative canons of other Edinburgh bookshops at the time. The eclectic scene at The Paperback was arguably on-par with City Lights Books in San Francisco and Better Books in London — and Haynes an unsuspecting contemporary of respective proprietors Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Tony Godwin. Via The Paperback, Scotland suddenly found itself among the forerunners of the international avant-garde scenes.
In August 1962, Haynes, Calder and Sonia Orwell organised the first Edinburgh International Writers Conference which featured a cacophony of literateurs such as William Burroughs, Arthur Geddes, Hugh MacDiarmid, Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, and Muriel Spark. The event lasted for 5 days, and drew an unprecedented crowd to fill the 2,300 seats at McEwen Hall.
In the climate of a strengthening Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament following the Aldermaston march of 1958, the international writers assembled and debated writing in the contexts of East-West relations, South African Apartheid, oppression, censorship, propaganda, sexuality & homosexuality, and how such issues transcended international borders. The Writers’ Conference was a resounding success and triumph for the Scottish scene, attracting widespread media coverage and furthering a debate on censorship in British publishing. While fundamentally different with authors discussing ideas as opposed to promoting books, the 1962 conference is routinely credited as a model for the current Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Going from strength to strength, in 1963 Haynes and Calder, along with Richard Demarco and others, founded the Traverse Theatre Club. The Traverse notoriously began with an accidental stabbing of an actress during its second performance of Sartre’s No Exit, and was under constant surveillance by authorities for open depictions of homosexuality — illegal at the time in Calvinist Scotland — and other progressive themes in modern plays. Also operating under the dark cloud of American anti-communist activities coupled with Frank Buchman’s puritanical Moral Rearmament movement — which had once praised Hitler and Nehru, and aligned itself with religious extremists such as the ‘Free and Wee’ Church of Scotland sects — The Traverse mounted a real counter-culture challenge to the parochial status quo.
Drawing on the momentum of the Writers’ Conference, Haynes, Calder, and Kenneth Dewey — along with theatre titans like Kenneth Tynan, Charles Lewsen, Joan Littlewood and Glasgow artist Mark Boyle — brought forth a 1963 International Drama Conference which saw even greater attendance and scandal when a ‘Happening’ was performed featuring a nude onstage in front of the Lord Harewood, the Queen’s cousin, and then Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Festival. The Happening was a further protest at censorship, resulting in a prosecution of Calder and the model who had appeared nude, but all were exonerated and the judge in the case delivered a rebuke to those who had brought the proceedings.
Key to Jim Haynes’s success was his ability to reach people en masse. Calder described Haynes’s demeanour as a “casual and easy friendliness” with an “openness and charm that made him many friends — who retired with an address book of tens of thousands of names and only politicians or public entertainers could possibly know more people than Jim.”
In The Traverse Theatre Story, Joyce McMillan documents Tom Mitchell, another Traverse founding member turned Rugby League manager, recalling how “Jim would meet people at the door, and make them feel marvellous for being there” and Scottish Arts Council Director and drama critic Ronald Mavor describing “Jim’s greatest gift was to believe anything possible and, by gentle enthusiasm, to keep everybody’s daft notions alive until, as often as not, they took shape. Everybody went to the Traverse, and Jim would introduce you to Timothy Leary, the Lord Provost, and a man who was growing blue carrots in the interval between acts.”
Under Haynes’s artistic direction 1964-66, The Traverse brought forth enigmatic productions of work such as C.P. Taylor’s Happy Days Are Here Again, Fernando Arrabal’s Orisons, James Saunders’ Next Time I’ll Sing to You, Tom Wright’s Robert Burns monologue There Was a Man, Saul Bellow’s The Wen and Orange Soufflé — with the British premiere of the Brecht/Weil musical Happy End, and Paul Ableman’s Green Julia which quickly received London transfers.
During Haynes’s tenure The Traverse boasted at least 30 world premieres — 25 of them Traverse productions, and one by the Children’s Theatre Workshop, of which Haynes was a major enthusiast. Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre still thrives, and focuses on Haynes’s original concept of bringing forth new playwrights and their work.
In 1966, after a controversial departure from The Traverse, Minister of the Arts Jennie Lee brought Haynes, to launch the ‘London Traverse’ at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre, Holborn. The project began in a very troubled economy and two years before the Theatres Act dissolved Lord Chamberlain’s heavy hand of censorship. Despite ample funding from the powerful Lord Goodman and a West End transfer of Joe Orton’s Loot, it didn’t work. Haynes found it stifling: “we couldn’t even put up posters […] it was fixed and very difficult” and felt more shop-keep than producer.
Haynes then opened the London Drury Lane Arts Lab in 1967 — fuelled by a blossoming, frenzied counter-culture and insatiable public appetite for something new. The notorious yet short-lived Arts Lab delivered in abundance: David Bowie composed in it, Roelof Louw’s Soul City Pyramid of Oranges now at Tate Modern, first exhibited there. The International Times & Time OUT publications flourished there. Beat poet Ted Joans, Mama Cass, Leonard Cohen, Dick Gregory, the Rolling Stones; John “Hoppy” Hopkins, Kenneth Tynan and Barry Miles were among the devotees. Films too hot for British eyes — Warhol’s ‘Chelsea Girls’, Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’ and Shirley Clarke’s ground-breaking ‘A Portrait of Jason’ debuted; artists from John Lennon & Yoko Ono to Jeff Nuttall exhibited.
The Arts Lab’s contributions to theatre are also significant. It held the first feminist show produced in London — Jane Arden’s Vagina Rex, and Heathcote Williams’s The Local Stigmatic (a BBC commission). Richard Crane (who went on to become the National Theatre’s first resident playwright) had a successful run of his play The Girl with No Arms.
David Hare, Howard Brenton and Tony Bicât’s ‘Portable Theatre’, staged its first ever production ‘Inside Out’, and Steven Berkoff performed his first solo show at the Arts Lab. Even more significant were the hundreds of small shows, such as Jeff Nuttall and Mark Long’s ‘The People Show’ which remains in production today.
Except for membership fees, small donations from Berkoff, and a £5k cheque slipped to Haynes in Paris by a mysterious oil heiress — the Drury Lane Arts Lab received no funding. However, the successes were great, the people came. A 60s counter-culture hotbed, the Arts Lab arguably contributed to and was influenced by broader movements like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and anti-Vietnam War efforts. Alongside others like the Institute for Contemporary Arts, these counter-culture centres contributed to the dissolution of the Lord Chamberlain’s office and brought an end to arts censorship in Britain. The original arts lab was also a model for dozens of other new labs around the country, and was a ‘sister’ venue to LaMama in New York City, which still operates today.
In 1969, Haynes relocated to Paris to teach sexual politics at the newly created University of Paris 8 Bois de Vincennes, founded two publishing companies – Almonde Editions and Handshake Editions, and subsequently published several notable authors such as BEAT Poet Ted Joans, and a provocative collection of essays on sexual politics curated by Jeanne Pasle-Green. In addition, Haynes wrote and published over fourteen of his own titles — including Thanks For Coming! (Faber) and Traverse Plays (Penguin) in addition to his popular cult titles such as Everything Is! and Workers of the World Unite and Stop Working! (Handshake).
Haynes furthered his experimental counter-culture pursuits with oddities such as the Wet Dream Film Festival in Amsterdam and SUCK Magazine. He co-created “World Passports” with activist Garry Davis in the 1970s, issuing them to “World Citizens” upon request — as a form of protest to border controls. Recorder in hand, Haynes created an audio-magazine publication called The Cassette Gazette — an assertible forbear to the contemporary podcast — featuring interviews with the likes of Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski and James Baldwin.
Over the past forty years, Haynes also became infamous for his weekly Sunday dinners in Paris — catering to tens of thousands and sparking many friendships, love affairs, long term relationships and even as Jim claimed, some children. Jim’s dinners were also featured in an international ad campaign for After Eight dinner mints. Along with the publication of cookbooks, food articles and immense press coverage, Haynes earned the unofficial title ‘Godfather of Social Networking.’ Until recently, due to health concerns, Haynes was a regular at the Edinburgh Festivals each August, and earlier the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Cannes Film Festival and Prague Writers Festival — among many others.
In February, 2016 Haynes placed his entire archive of correspondence, personal journals, books, films, recordings, manuscripts, artwork and diaries permanently in the special collections at Edinburgh Napier University. In August of that year, the ‘Jim Haynes Living Archives’ were officially launched, along with the publication of his last book World Citizen At Home In Paris (Polwarth/Napier). Since then, the university has been actively cataloguing and preserving the prodigious trove of Scottish and international artistic cultural history.
In June, 2018, Haynes joined his predecessor and long-time friend John Calder in being awarded an honorary doctorate by Edinburgh Napier University. A series of Jim Haynes Living Archive commemorative and on-going learning events are in planning stages, and the first doctoral research on the Haynes archive is expected late 2021.
Haynes’s unique approach to life — a search for joy, love and creativity, seems to grow in relevance. Edinburgh Napier is committed to preserving and making the enormous legacy of Jim Haynes available to all in the way he lived: with an open door, a hug, smile and a “Thanks for Coming”.
thanks to Angela Bartie who contributed.