by Ronald J. Jack
For years I had YANGTSE INCIDENT in my library, consulting it only at those moments when I was pursuing some subject or other involving the Royal Navy’s China Station, or perhaps some naval aspect of the Chinese Civil War. My copy had a life of its own, having once been the property of John Riseley-Pritchard, a sometime Formula One driver, sport pilot, partner in VIDAL SASSOON, and a convicted pedophile. I received it in 1987 as a token “Best Article” prize, in lieu of a writing fee.
Earl did camera work for several British illustrated magazines after the war, and had his work published in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (December 1946) but the money was slow and the couple returned briefly to Canada in 1947. His big break came in August 1949 with a job offer from JOHN BULL, Britain’s equivalent to the SATURDAY EVENING POST. When the ship’s company of H.M.S. AMETHYST returned in 1949 Earl was on hand to greet them and to interview as many crewmen who would talk, including the seniors officers. Before long, and with his employer’s permission he began work on a book and had a contract with George G. Harrap and Company. The publishers were known for generous license, allowing staff writers to spin off books from their assignments, and also frequently bought serial rights. Several famous British authors got their start creating books from magazine material. JOHN BULL, which published on Wednesdays, ran portions of YANGTSE INCIDENT as a six-part serial late in 1950.
… Just at midnight [Lt. Commander] Kerans saw what looked like the quick flash of an electric torch not far ahead. Then he heard an outlandish jumble of sound. As he came closer to the sound he realized that it was a large group of Chinese civilians, chattering in their sing-song tongue.
Because the film was low-budget, with no hope of recreating the tumultuous welcome AMETHYST received at Hong Kong, the Director did copy Lawrence Earl's dramatic story ending, the reading of Commander Kerans' triumphant signal: "HAVE REJOINED THE FLEET. AM SOUTH OF WOOSUNG. NO DAMAGE OR CASUALTIES. GOD SAVE THE KING."
The premiere showing of YANGSTE INCIDENT was held at the Plaza Theatre in London. The 1957 event was recorded by a British Pathe news cameraman and can be viewed on Youtube. [Watch Film]
What Lawrence Earl did do was write a radio play, based on his book YANGTSE INCIDENT, which was broadcast in England in 1960.