As is common with many people finding themselves in middle age, with somewhat more time to spare after the most demanding initial stages of raising a family, I developed in interest in my family’s history. As a child, family visits were somewhat tiresome necessities, more for parents’ benefit than children’s, but I did manage to retain some snippets of information that was inevitably discussed among older family members about ancestors at the time. When I later applied myself to the research in a systematic way, I concentrated on my male line, the Risdon name, and was able to accumulate a fair amount of material to take this back to 1803, which doesn’t sound very far, but that encompasses 5 generations before me, and official records are somewhat patchy before 1837; I was very lucky to encounter a few ‘old hands’ who were most helpful, both in general and specifically with my name. For more details, please check out my Personal pages.

Having reached something of an impasse however, I decided to print a short template questionnaire, which I sent out speculatively to as many of the addresses as seemed viable from a book published by one of the many companies that were set up in the 1980s to capitalise on the boom in family history research. I was quite gratified by how many replies I received, using the expedient incentive of a stamped self-addressed envelope; however, I was also somewhat disappointed that several potential contacts, who were suggested by family anecdotal information, did not reply. However, one gentleman, who turned out to be a direct relative, then living in Weston super Mare, Somerset, did reply, and set me on what could be described without hyperbole as a fateful course. Leonard Risdon was my grandfather’s nephew, and we began corresponding (this was long before the widespread use of email). He told me of another relative, his uncle (so my grandfather’s younger brother, hence my grand uncle), Wilfred Risdon, who had attained some notoriety in the family, thereby qualifying him as the proverbial ‘black sheep’, of whom all familes seem to have at least one.

Unfortunately, Wilfred Risdon died in 1967, when I was only 12 years old, so although it would have been physically possible to meet him, the opportunity never arose, which is probably more the result of a combination of the aforementioned dubious (whether undeserved or not) reputation, and my family’s (although also probably not uncommon, to be fair) somewhat parochial attitude to visiting relatives, than the fact that he had lived in London, only 100 miles, give or take, from where I lived, but still a not inconsiderable obstacle in the straitened postwar years, for all of my parents’ adult lives. I am not aware that he ever visited any of my close family in the provinces (although his grandson, Gary, from Toronto, does relate in the book {see below} that Wilfred and his wife did visit Cornwall in the early 1960s), but he probably considered, with some justification it has to be said, that he might not have been welcome; my grandfather certainly knew about him (about which I discovered quite a lot in the course of my research), and would have had his own views, but I am given to understand that Wilfred was regarded as something of an embarrassment by his close relatives. Of course, all this, and the fact that Len (as he was generally known) mentioned to me early on that Wilfred had worked with Oswald Mosley in the British Union of Fascists, and had gone on to rise to the very top in the administration of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, only served to make him for me a suitable case for further investigation!

At first, I wasn’t sure what sort of ‘end product’ I wanted, but I focused my family history research almost exclusively on Wilfred, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many sources of information there were about him, which led me to suppose that he must have been relatively well-known, in his own lifetime, at least, certainly in the circles in which he moved. My research was given something of a boost in 1999, when I saw in the monthly magazine to which I then subscribed, an invitation to submit details of potentially ‘interesting’ ancestors, for a series of programmes the BBC was planning to show to mark the turn of the millenium in 2000. I sent in details of Wilfred and my great great grandfather, Edward Risdon, something of a bad lot himself, who committed suicide rather gruesomely in 1862. The researchers chose Wilfred, obviously because of the association with one of the, if not the, major taboos of the 20th century, Fascism.

Wilfred Risdon, ILP MDO, in 1929

Wilfred Risdon in 1929, ILP MDO

Predictably, although the programme’s producers were eminently pleasant and very accommodating people, they were hoping to persuade me of Wilfred’s perfidy in engaging with this demonstrably pernicious pre-second world war movement (in the process rather overlooking Wilfred’s background as a Socialist, and his continued belief in the rightness of socialism, albeit later with a nationalistic flavour), but I preferred to remain non-commital. Unfortunately, the programme with my piece was never transmitted (about which more details on my Personal pages), but the producers did send me a rough cut of the piece on videotape, and passed on details of contributors who had provided information, which was most helpful.

After some intervening years and a life-change (something of an involuntary midlife crisis!), I met someone who very quickly became a close friend, and he was very interested in Wilfred’s story; in the course of many discussions, he was able to persuade me to put aside my reservations about my ability for writing a biography, so I applied myself to the task. By the end of 2013, the book was complete, but then the question of a publisher needed to be tackled: I knew very little about conventional publishing, but I absolutely did not relish trying to find an agent (with associated fees) and/or a publisher, and convince them of the worth of my project, so I looked at self-publishing which, by this time, with current technology had become a viable proposition. I decided on the name Wilfred Books, primarily to publish the biography, and set about obtaining an ISBN which, although not obligatory, would make it a ‘legitimate’ book.

In England, these can’t be obtained on an individual basis so, given that I had nine numbers to play with (after the first print edition of the book; shown here, left), the obvious thing to do was to consider publishing additional titles, either about Wilfred Risdon, or subjects related to his life and work, but also publications not directly related to him. However, digital (download) book editions also need their own number, so this needs to be taken into account. The intention is, therefore, to build a ‘stable’ of suitable books: not exclusively, but probably predominantly non-fiction. In this regard, I am certainly willing to consider unsolicited suggestions, so if you are interested in publishing your own work, but you have no appetite for all the work involved in doing it yourself, then email me with some details, and I will happily advise you whether I think I could publish your book. I am a strong advocate of localism, and luckily I was able to find a small local printer who is able to give me a good deal for short print runs, rather than one of the online corporates. However, I will also be making the maximum possible use of the potential presented by digital download technology.

Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles now exists in 2 media, a 718 page print version (product code WB01), which costs £15, plus postage and packaging, and downloadable digital versions, which cost £5, in all the popular formats: PDF (product code WB02), ePub (product code WB03) and Kindle versions (product code WB04), in both popular formats (.mobi & .azw3). The ePub version can be read on mobile devices, like iPads & iPhones running iOS, using the iBooks app, and on a wide range of other platforms, like notebook & desktop computers, using applications like Adobe Digital Editions®. All non-account purchasers are given a reward code with each purchase, so the above prices are subject to a discount for successful redemption of a reward code from a previous purchase. For details, please go to the Wilfred Books About page. Over the course of time, new titles will be added to the catalogue of Wilfred Books, so please check in regularly!

If you would like to sample Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles before buying it in either medium, you can read an excerpt from three significant chapters: chapter one, chapter three, or chapter thirteen, and the most recent reviews of the book are shown on this page here on the Wilfred Books site.