A recent enquiry brought the name ‘Alan Peters’ to our attention. While our customer knew that Peters was a pseudonym for a Leeds-based author of the 1930s and 40s, he was keen to know the writer’s real name. The only information he could provide was that the author was a doctor of some description – and this tantalising fragment sent us on a journey to find out more about this intriguing figure.
What we discovered was that Peters’ real name was almost certainly ‘Dr. Isaac Hipshon’ – and that he was, in his time, a prominent and very well-respected literary name in the Leeds Jewish community, though now largely forgotten. Using our collection of the nationally-circulated Jewish Chronicle newspaper, we found that Hipshon graduated from Leeds University with a medical degree in 1920, lived for many years on Harehills Lane and had a medical practice on York Road in the Burmantofts area of the city. Our digital collection of archived photographs shows an image, from 1938, of that practice.
By 1932 Hipshon’s burgeoning literary aspirations had found expression in a series of articles in the Yorkshire Evening Post. These articles, all broadly focused on medical subjects, were anonymously-published – causing much rumour among Leeds doctors as to who was really behind them. An example of one such article can be seen below.
That same year Dr Hipshon published his first novel, The Secret Formula and followed that in 1933 with a thriller Who Killed the Doctors, which the Jewish Chronicle described – incredibly – as having been written in 24-hours. At this point Hipshon became drawn to the theatre and, as another time-bound experiment, wrote a three-act play in three days. After sending it off to a dramatic agent he was advised to continue writing for the stage. All these – and future – works were published under the name “Alan Peters”. Why this name was chosen is now, sadly, lost to history.
Hipshon was successful in his new guise as a pseudonymous playwright. In March 1936, two of his plays, “The Miracle of Lodz” and “Hatikvah” – performed by the Leeds Jewish Institute and the Bradford Jewish Dramatic Society respectively – finished first and second in the Manchester Jewish Drama Festival. An article in the Jewish Chronicle a month later found Dr Hipshon attending a celebration of this success, during which he urged members of the two societies to write plays on Jewish themes. That was only one of many times throughout the 1930s that Hipshon could be found attending performances of his plays, or giving speeches about drama to Jewish societies: later articles report him in Harrogate, Bradford, Sunderland and Birmingham.
The Doctor’s most famous work seems to be the one title now held at the Local and Family History library: By Their Deeds. A novel re-written from an original play and published in 1946, By Their Deeds was a searing examination of the ‘Nazi Revolution’ of 1933 and its impact upon an inter-related group of characters, including a middle-class German family and a Jewish scientist. Addressing the deep human cost of the many compromises necessary to maintain life – and a semblance of liberty – under such a regime, the play was sufficiently controversial that two Lord Chamberlains prevented it being staged in the mid-1930s. This seems to have been the play referred to in one Jewish Chronicle article as ‘Who Made the Iron Grow?’ – and then subsequently re-named ‘Whither Liberty?’ after Hipshon made modifications to escape censorship restrictions. Other plays written by the Doctor included ‘Tumbledown Dick’, ‘Poison Cup’, ‘Miriam’ and ‘The Exam’. Sadly, that is where the trail ends: no copies of those plays, or his earlier novels, can be found.
We would dearly like to find out more about Dr Isaac Hipshon – his life and, especially, his work. If any readers can provide us with any further information – or, better still, copies of his plays or novels – we would be delighted to hear from them!
5 Comments Add yours
Fascinating to read about my grandfather on your blog. Well done on your research but the name is very rare – in fact unique to our family – so any contact and we would have been very happy to provide you with information and photographs. Also we could have explained why he used the name Alan Peters! (It was his son’s name). Keep up the excellent work.
Hi Mark, thank you very much for your comment! I can see now that contacting your family would have been a very good idea (but not something that crossed my mind at the time of writing) – I’ve since had contact from four members of the Hipshons (including yourself) as a result of writing this article and have been discussing possible opportunities for the library to find out more about your grandfather. Any information you can provide is very much appreciated as we feel that Isaac deserves to be far more widely known than he is right now – we were absolutely fascinated when his story was brought to our attention by a customer. Please e-mail me at LocalAndFamilyHistory@leeds.gov.uk if you want to continue the conversation.
I might have a small amount of information for you. My mother, recently deceased, knew Dr Hipshon, his wife and his children. She and her family were very good friends with them. I have a photograph him and I when I was a baby! I have a copy of By Their Deeds which was my mother’s.
I would be fascinated to hear more and to share the little I know.
Thank you very much for your comment (and apologies for the delay in responding!). I would love to hear your memories of Dr Hipshon, as we still have only a very limited amount of information about him. You can e-mail me at email@example.com, or call on 01132 478290.