Introduction to the Website
As explained in the introduction to the current Yale University edition, this website is primarily a means of sharing the vast amount of research material I seem to have gathered over the past 40-odd years. The heart of the archive is the Nico Collection (several thousand letters, documents and photographs I bought from Nico Llewelyn Davies in 1980), the Mary Hodgson Collection, kindly donated by her niece in 1977, and the Peter Davies Collection – all his writings, including seven volumes of the Morgue, and his letters to JMB from the Western Front, donated by his son Rivvy in 1992. After scanning everything, all these collections were donated to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2004 and were subsequently sold at Sothebys to raise money for a new wing. But there’s a good deal of further “primary source material” in the form of extensive correspondence and hours of taped interviews between 1975-1980 with the (then) surviving dramatis personae of the saga: Gerrie Llewelyn Davies, Eiluned and Medina Lewis, Angela and Daphne du Maurier, Lord Boothby, Elisabeth Bergner and many others, including ten hours of audio tape with Nico himself.
Then there’s the secondary source material – stuff that can be found elsewhere and is therefore not technically unique to this collection. However, in the case of Barrie’s notebooks, although the originals are in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, housed at Yale, they remain unpublished. The BBC generously paid to have them all microfilmed on my behalf in 1976 (I wanted to use Barrie’s notes as voice-over in the TV trilogy as a way of letting the audience inside his mind). I already knew that JMB’s handwriting was almost illegible, but was determined to venture where no one had thus far trod (except possibly Denis Mackail, but he was under strict surveillance from Cynthia Asquith). Nico helped with some of the harder notebook scrawls, but even he was baffled at times, as indeed was Barrie himself who often gave up on attempts to read his own notes. Thus I spent the sweltering summer of 1976, buried in a dark basement with an enormous microfilm viewer, gradually transcribing every note I thought I might conceivably need, and wound up transcribing roughly two-thirds of all his notebooks. This was far more than could ever possibly be used in a single film (or biography, thank God), but it was time well spent as far as I was concerned – only through those interminable hours deciphering his spontaneous scribbles did I really come to know JMB.
The 'Fairy' Notes to Peter Pan I found in 1988, as a result of David Puttnam (while running Columbia/TriStar) asking me to write a screenplay of Peter Pan. For various copyright reasons the project never even made it to the script stage, but at least I got to make my first visit to Yale, and started sifting through uncharted regions in the vaults of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library - a bunker-like building on the Yale campus. The Head Librarian in those days was the much-loved Marjorie Wynne, with whom I spent many hours pouring over the originals of all those notebooks and letters I’d only ever seen on microfilm. In fact I thought I'd read their entire JMB collection, but no, it turned out there was more material still.
I knew from Denis Mackail's 1942 biography that in October 1903 "the fairy play was taking most of Barrie’s time - and with almost unbelievable thoroughness. There are nearly 500 notes on it in one continuous series, and almost as many again, on separate sheets, as the work went on." Roger Lancelyn Green searched for these notes in 1954 while compiling his Fifty Years of Peter Pan, the definitive history of the play to that date. He concluded that "Barrie’s notes have not survived from the end of 1902 till the middle of 1904, by which time the first draft of the play was written, and its revision called only for the most fragmentary notes." Janet Dunbar had also presumed them lost or destroyed -- and I suddenly realised that I was holding them in my hands.
Marjorie had the sheets enlarged, and I took them back to Wales and began deciphering. It was clear by now that the Columbia movie was going nowhere, but I was still fascinated to browse once again browse through Barrie's mind. And the more I transcribed, the more I found myself on his roller-coaster of thoughts and ideas as the play of Peter Pan began to take shape. A few of his words still remain indecipherable to my eyes, so that by gradually publishing them on the website, with the original reproduced alongside the transcript, anyone will be able to have a guess at the illegible words - and all feedback will be most gratefully received.
This site has been on the back burner of my mind ever since our family discovered the internet in 1995. My son Anno was just getting into the stride of his poetry and music, and saw the net as “one last chance for the small voice.” He had the idea of creating a site that would act as a forum for his art, and that of his friends. As I too saw the internet as the solution to my Barrie collection, we both sought the help of Nao Yoshino, a friend of Anno’s from the American School in London. But since republication of my book was still some years off, Anno’s KJD site took priority, and in August 2001, Nao and he hoisted it onto the net. Three months later, Anno was killed in Italy with Lee and Alberto, and the site immediately took on a function for which it was never designed: a forum for those far-flung friends and family who were grieving the loss of their boys. It also gave enormous comfort knowing that their songs - and Anno's words - were far from dead, as the KjD Remember page testifies. [For more on this, see Jessamy Calkin’s article in the Telegraph Magazine (May 3rd, 2003) at anno.co.uk]
The past eighteen months has been largely spent working on the Anno/KjD site, but in April we received funding from Universal Pictures, thanks to Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick, who are producing Peter Pan for Columbia/Tri-Star/Universal/et al. Thus the long process of scanning, transcribing, and uploading the database finally began in earnest. This will take many more months, but by Christmas 2004 we hope to have the full site up and running. It will consist of three levels: static, rotary, and database. Parts of the static are already up: a series of picture galleries, The Boy Castaways slide-show (and short movie, with Anno's "Isis" for music), the 400 'Fairy' notes for Peter Pan, as well as several audio/video clips and a few other goodies.
Andrew Birkin, 2003
2020 post-script: After 17 years of running the site on a programme built by Dafydd Brown back in 2001, I decided to revamp it using entirely new programming, undertaken by Tom Owen of North Coast. The transition is not without a few glitches, to be smoothed out over the coming months, and there is a huge amount of new material awaiting upload, which will hopefully be more or less complete by the end of this year.
One request. This site is entirely funded by private means, and is free for all to use. However, we ask that if that use is for commercial purposes, a donation be made, either towards the running of the site, or directly to Great Ormond Hospital for Sick Children.
Several recent biographies have exploited our database with barely an acknowledgement, let alone any kind of donation; nor have those authors shared any of their research with us. Perhaps it is naive to expect otherwise, but it seems contrary to the spirit of the internet, at least as originally envisioned in its early days.