The British Empire Library

Beating About the Nigerian Bush

by James Maslen

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by A.H.M. Kirk-Greene (N. Nigeria 1950-1965)
James Maslen joined British-American Tobacco in 1929 and set sail for Lagos, after three years' training (pretty professional, when set beside the leisurely amateurism of that offered to his Colonial Service friends), to embark on what in his memoir he calls the life of "a commercially employed person in Nigeria, namely twenty-two years with the Nigerian Tobacco Company. His cabin companion, all 6 foot plus of him, turned out to be Nigel Cooke, a figure revered in the tin-mining community of the Plateau and father of a same-named, equally respected, and much-loved Resident in the 1950s. Yet, however salutary it may be to read about the life-style of colleagues in the private sector and reflect that we government officials were not the only pebbles on the colonial beach, why did I beg the Secretary of our Association to accept a review of a book that is neither about the Colonial Service nor by one of its members? For four sterling reasons, to which he willingly assented.

First, these recollections, of real interest in their own right, not only carry such relevant chapters as "The DO's Dictum'' and "White Man's Grave", all about colonial administrators, but the whole book is generously dedicated "To the Bush DO". It is, as Lord Grey puts it in his Foreword, a tribute to all those colonial servants who brought peace and progress to countless upcountry folk. Second, so many of us know J.H.M. and he us that we recognize a colleague (unfortunately mostly un-named) or a shared experience in every chapter. Third, this is not only an authentic account of life in Nigeria as it then was (sometimes almost unbelievable to younger readers) but it is a story told well, written without pretension, and hugely readable throughout. Finally, the book is wonderfully illustrated by his daughter Sally Pinhey, whose score of pen and ink drawings are brilliant. Oh, what would I give for an original Pinhey - say the ultra-emirate flattery of "Lion! May you live for ever!" (p .l4 3 ). . . please!

I know of no more givable present for ex-Nigeria friends (indeed, to any Old Coaster) than the Maslen memoir this Christmas. And if this Christmas has passed by the time this notice gets into print, there's already the next to be planning for.

British Empire Book
James Maslen
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