About this Archive
(1917-2014) fighter pilot, writer, Marxist
William Franklin ‘Tex’ Ash was born in Dallas, Texas on 30 November 1917. His father was an unsuccessful door-to-door salesman. Ash attended Highland Park High School (class of 1934) and worked at a series of jobs until he saved up enough money to attend university. He gained a Liberal Arts BA degree from the University of Texas (Austin) in 1938, but work in Depression-era Texas was hard to come by so Ash became a migrant worker, travelling by railroad to wherever work could be found.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Ash crossed the US border into Canada so he could enlist with the Royal Canadian Air Force — a move which cost him his US citizenship. After training, Ash arrived in Britain in 1941 and saw action flying Spitfires over occupied France. Shot down in 1942, he was held prisoner for the next three years, during which time he made several escape attempts – leading him later to be identified as one of the inspirations for the character played by Steve McQueen in the 1963 film ‘The Great Escape’. Ash was awarded the MBE (military division) in 1946 and ended the war as a flight lieutenant.
After the war he became a naturalised British citizen and went to Balliol College, Oxford, reading for a degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). He then worked for the BBC’s External Services in the newly independent India. Increasingly far left politically, he was fired by the BBC in the late 1950s, though he continued to work as a freelance script editor for the Radio Drama Department. From the early 1960s to the late 1990s Ash wrote a series of well-received novels.
In 1968 after the Communist Party rejected his application for membership, he co-founded the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPBML) with the trade unionist Reg Birch and others. He wrote several non-fiction works including Pickaxe and Rifle: the Story of the Albanian People (1974) and Marxist Morality (1988). He also wrote hundreds of articles and editorials for the CPBML newspaper, The Worker.
In the 1980s Ash served as literary manager of the tiny Soho Poly Theatre, was chair of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, and continued to work in radio drama. In 1985 he produced the acclaimed textbook The Way to Write Radio Drama, considered authoritative on the subject for the next 20 years and more.
In 2005 Ash’s wartime memoir Under the Wire (written with Brendan Foley) became a bestseller. Throughout his life he remained in close contact with many of the most significant political and philosophical thinkers and artists, internationally, of his day, as reflected in his writings and correspondence.
Ash died 26 April 2014 in London
Scope and Content
Papers of American-born British novelist, playwright, writer, Marxist and Second World War flying ace William Franklin Ash, including:
- Original drafts of plays, novels, BBC radio dramatisations and adaptations, 1961-1998
- Cassette recordings of BBC radio dramas written or adapted by Ash, 1984-1999
- Original drafts of non-fiction works, 1964-2007
- Correspondence with publishers, literary agents and bookshops, 1988-2002
- Publishers’ blurbs and advertising copy for Ash’s work; press reviews of his novels and non-fiction, 1965-2006
- Papers regarding the Writers’ Guild and contributions to The Writers’ Newsletter, 1986-2000
- Balliol College, Oxford memorabilia, 1963-2002
Family and early life ephemera including photographs, correspondence and mementoes of Highland Park High School, Dallas, Texas, 1934-1995
- Photos of Ash in his Spitfire and at POW camp, 1941-1945
- Press interviews with Ash regarding his politics and Second World Wartime experiences, 1998-2006
- Papers regarding Ash’s involvement with the RAF ex-POW Association, Spitfire Society, Royal British Legion, Canadian Fighter Pilots Association and Battle of Britain Memorial Trust, 1999-2006
- Correspondence and ephemera with the BBC, 1954-1993
- Papers regarding Ash’s time as India and Pakistan correspondent for the BBC, 1950-1994
- Correspondence with fellow writers and political theorists including Tony Benn, Terry Eagleton, Bertell Ollman, Kenneth Neill Cameron and Louis Althusser regarding contemporary political topics such as Albania, Vietnam, China, anti-imperialism, 1965-2001
- Press clippings and ephemera regarding trade unionism and the miners’ strike, 1984
- Articles and editorials for The Worker, the journal of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPBML), 1968-1984
- Documents regarding CPBML visit to China, 1970-1971
- Papers, reports, draft articles and documents regarding Marxist theory and the workings of the CPBML, 1968-2000
- Course material for educational projects led by Ash on Communism and on writing for radio, 1974-1995. Correspondence, papers and brochures regarding RAFTA (Royal Air Force Theatrical Association) and the BBC Studio Amateur Dramatic Group, 1987-1992
- Writings on the media and privatisation of public utilities and changes to the BBC, 1990-2005
- Papers and ephemera regarding London Media Workshop and Writers’ conferences, 1980-1998
Soho Theatre Company correspondence, 1995-1996
Christmas cards, birthday cards and other personal ephemera, 1996-2010
- Appointment diaries, 2007-2012
- Booklet produced for Ash’s remembrance service at the time of his death, 2014.