Papers relating to Orwell's tax records have come to light,
including a document setting out the "service agreement"
made while Orwell was dying of tuberculosis in a sanatorium....
The agreement is unsigned.


Inland Revenue was keen to tax every penny from the estate,
licking its lips about the film rights to the books, the files show.

In a previous essay I explained how I was in the right place at the right time - England on a Sunday - and came across The Sunday Times newspaper article with the bombshell news that Orwell's accountant had been a crook, in cahoots with other entitites, to rob Orwell (and his estate) blind. See ORWELL A WRITER WRONGED.

The story described how Orwell left everything he owned to his wife, Sonia, and how his crooked accountant misled her into believing that Orwell had signed copyright and royalty control over to him through a company he'd formed named GOP - George Orwell Productions.

By the time Sonia got wise to the situation - after living in poverty in Paris where the accountant had told her she had to live to avoid going broke - the only thing she had to her name was a Kensington house she'd inherited from her second husband (whom she married a few years after Orwell died). She sold that property for 200,000 pounds and used the money to fight the crooked accountant and get Orwell's fortune back into the hands of his intended beneficiaries.

After winning the case Sonia died and left everything to Orwell's son who - when interviewed by The Sunday Times - didn't seem to hold much of a grudge against the accountant. You'd think he'd have been outraged at the travesty of justice inflicted on his father and indirectly on himself. He did have a few kind words for Sonia though, as without her having taken on the "tax man" he would not have inherited Orwell's monetary wealth.

The WORLD has been the beneficiary of Orwell's literary wealth, and for that we can all be grateful that words can't yet be taxed, only the books in which they're bound.

Now in the news today there's the incredible story that new documents have been found in the archives and the crooked accountant DID have a supposed contract that gave him control over George Orwell's estate. It isn't SIGNED mind you, but still - the legal authorities are saying - if it had been discovered previously, Sonia would have lost the case and Orwell's fortune would have stayed in the hands of the accountant and his cronies. How does an UNSIGNED contract vindicate the thieving accountant?

Anyway, that's the background for readers of the following story about the discovery of the unsigned contract. The powers-that-be are trying to spin the story as Orwell trying to screw the taxman instead of the taxman (and his emissaries) screwing Orwell.

It is kind of cute the tax evasion excuses Orwell came up with when trying to underplay the future money to be made off Animal Farm and 1984, ie "the books are just of topical interest...sales will dwindle fairly rapidly...friendly relations may be established with the USSR...Hollywood may find them too anti-communist and not want to offend the Soviet Union".


Orwell was just as much an opponent of the Capitalists as he was of the Communists and wanted to keep as much of his wealth out of their hands - and into his own hands - as possible.

In a 1944 book review of THE ROAD TO SERFDOM and THE MIRROR OF THE PAST Orwell said, "Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics."

Orwell had required the services of an accountant ever since making so much money from Animal Farm that the government was attempting to skin him alive, as they do to every other ordinary British citizen who happens to make it big. Afterall, those politician "pigs" at the trough - and their capitalist backers - live off the toils of others. No one knew that more than Orwell. That's what Animal Farm and 1984 are all about - ie the Communists joining with the Capitalists to put the screws to the Socialists (ie society, the people). ~ Jackie Jura


How dying Orwell avoided the clutches of the taxman
Ben Fenton, Telegraph, Sep 30, 2005

George Orwell, author and lifelong socialist, entered into a tax avoidance scheme on his deathbed as money began to flood in from the success of his final two books, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was seeking to escape the full weight of the Labour government's punishing surtax regime as all his royalties arrived in a short period and he feared leaving his widow and six-year-old son with a gigantic bill for death duties.

After Orwell died, his accountants underplayed the copyright value of those two great works, which between them have sold millions of copies in dozens of languages, by telling the Inland Revenue they were mere "topical bestsellers" with short sales lives.

They also diminished the taxman's expectations of the Orwell estate benefiting from the sale of film rights to both books with the bizarre reasoning that Hollywood might find them too anti-communist in tone and not want to offend the Soviet Union.

Papers relating to Orwell's tax records have only now come to light with the release at the National Archives in Kew of the Inland Revenue file for Eric Arthur Blair, the author's real name. The file includes the document setting out the "service agreement", made while Orwell was dying of tuberculosis in a small sanatorium at Cranham, near Gloucester, that was intended to protect him and his estate from the crippling surtax regime of the time.

It takes the form of the "minutes" of the first meeting of a company called George Orwell Productions Limited held on April 19, 1949, nine months before his death. Listed as present is only one name, "E. A. Blair" - Orwell himself.

The minutes have only one item on the agenda, the service agreement, which says: "In consideration of Mr Blair agreeing that all Fees, Royalties etc. received by him as Journalist, Author, Lecturer, Broadcaster etc. and that all the copyrights of all Books, Articles, Plays etc. written by him during the term of his employment are to be the property of the Company, IT WAS RESOLVED that the Company should employ Mr Blair for a period of Fifteen Years from the 6th April 1949 at a salary of Two thousand pounds (2,000) per annum plus such Bonus as may be voted each year at the discretion of the Board."

After consulting Jack Harrison, his accountant, Orwell paid himself the equivalent of a salary of about 126,000 at today's prices because it would attract relatively less tax than the lump sum expected from the royalties of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which turned out to be six times greater in the following tax year. He had ignored Harrison's advice to do this after the publication of Animal Farm in 1945 and paid crippling taxes in 1947 as a result. Now, with the success of Nineteen Eighty-Four assured, he seemed to have determined not to make the same mistake again.

The scheme was drawn up with the knowledge of both men that Orwell was unlikely to draw much more than a year's salary before his death. Orwell noted ironically at the bottom of the "minutes" that "the Assistant Secretary was instructed to write to Mr Blair confirming the above arrangement". Orwell referred to the riches that he earned only at the end of his life as "fairy gold" because he knew he could never spend it.

After Orwell's death at the University College Hospital in January 1950, Mr Harrison took on the Inland Revenue, which was keen to tax every penny from the estate. The file shows a detailed correspondence between the taxman and Orwell's lawyers.

In one question, the Revenue asks why the American copyright on Animal Farm has been valued at 500, relatively lower than a collection of essays Dickens, Dali and Others. "Your point is appreciated but its strength is somewhat diminished by reason of the fact that the demand for Animal Farm as a topical best-seller may, apart from any unexpected boost as a result of the deceased's death, be expected to be now exhausted." In fact, American sales of the book topped eight million by 1970, about the same as Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Of that masterpiece, the solicitors said that a professional copyright valuer believed sales would "dwindle fairly rapidly". "The fall from 4,528 sales in the six months ending 30.6.50 to 821 in the three months ending 31.10.50 supports his view and indicates that future sales will very rapidly decline," they told the taxman. The Revenue was also licking its lips about the film rights to the books, the files show, pointing out that Orwell must have recognised their value because he specifically mentioned them as a bequest in his will.

But the solicitors bent all logic to try to play down the value of the rights, the new documents show. "It should also be borne in mind here that the only books worthy of filming are Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm and are in a strongly anti-communist tone and would be regarded by film companies as an extremely risky proposition as, by the time that these films could be made and put on the market (which would take 2 or 3 years from the date of contract) friendly relations may have been established with the USSR and it would then be extremely difficult if not impossible to secure a showing of the films."

Both books were filmed twice in the 20th century and commercially successful.

DJ Taylor, a biographer of Orwell, said of the newly-discovered files: "It is very poignant that he only earned this money when he knew he was dying. "I would defend the man to the death, but I think in this case he was being quite nave because I don't think if he had really understood what was going on that he would have really approved of a scheme that cheated the state of income."

But Prof Peter Davison, the editor of the 20-volume Complete Works Of George Orwell, said that the author's motivation was easy to understand. "He was very worried about providing for his son, Richard, a boy who he could not even see for his last few months such was the fear of passing on the tuberculosis. "I think this shows that he was doing what he could to provide for his son."

Archive solves 25-year legal mystery
Orwell's wife sued tax accountant
Telegraph, Sep 30, 2005

The documents released at the National Archives may solve a 25-year-old legal mystery. In 1979, Sonia Orwell, who had married the author when both knew he was dying of tuberculosis, sued Jack Harrison, his accountant, saying that she had been swindled out of the copyrights of the author's works and millions of pounds in royalties.

Harrison defended himself vigorously, the case was eventually settled out of court and details were not made public until the past 18 months or so. The crux of the case was that Harrison claimed the existence of the "service agreement" signed by Orwell which handed all copyrights to the company George Orwell Productions, of which both Sonia and Harrison were directors.

However, he could not produce a document.

The National Archives file includes a note of a phone call to the Inland Revenue by a firm of solicitors acting for Harrison asking if they had a copy of the agreement because no other could be found. The taxman records in his memo that he looked through the file and on the strength of that said no, they did not have a copy of the agreement.

In fact, he was wrong. Although unsigned, the agreement is clearly present in the file. Had it been found in 1979, the court case might well have gone Harrison's way and Orwell's copyright, which his widow eventually bought for 200,000 in 1980, just before she died, might never have come to her and, through her, to the writer's adopted son, Richard, who holds them now.



Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~