Wilfred Bion (1897 – 1979) Part I

Pictured: Bion as father of the bride in Los Angeles, 1968

My post of 23/2/19 mentioned Powell and Pressburger’s 1944 film A Canterbury Tale, described by Xan Brooks as “a thing of such fragile, broken glory…(whose)…rambling detours lead to the richest, wildest rabbit holes of all.”. Its stars included Sheila Sim, who married fellow actor Richard Attenborough in January 1945.

Sim’s character, Alison, who has been assigned Land Girl duties in wartime, is subject to an attack by the “Glue Man” when she arrives in the local village. On the farm, she finds that another of the girls there, Fee Baker, was similarly assaulted. Fee, whose boyfriend is away at war, tells Alison that she wouldn’t go out dancing again with a soldier (which was the cause of her being out in the blackout) for a hundred pounds. Fee comments:

“Do ya think his family like me goin’ out with strange soldiers? But a girl must live.”.

Fee Baker was played by Elizabeth Kittrick “Betty” Jardine (born 1903).

Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, DSO, was born under the British Raj in 1897. He served as a tank commander in the First World War. At some time in the late 1920s, Bion was briefly engaged before his fiancée became attached to another man.

Following the war, Bion studied History, then Medicine (with a view to becoming a psychoanalyst), before spending seven years in psychotherapeutic training at the Tavistock Clinic. Despite considering in retrospect that this experience had its limitations, he valued the fruitful contact it brought him with Samuel Beckett, who was in analysis with Bion from early 1934 to late 1935.

In 1938 Bion began a training analysis with John Rickman, prematurely terminated by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Bion recorded in summer 1939:

“So I could go for two or three weeks to Church Farm, Happisburgh, in Norfolk, with a party of friends including actor John Glyn Jones and actress Betty Jardine. That at least was a success: Glyn Jones was extremely amusing; Betty Jardine, whom I had seen in The Corn is Green as Bessy Watty and also at the Players Theatre, was not so amusing, nor as attractive as I had expected, but was likeable. She was obviously a very fine actress.”

In 1940, Bion was recommissioned as a lieutenant in the RAMC. His duties took him to Northfield Military Hospital, where his pioneering work in group dynamics led ultimately to the publication in 1961 of his Experiences in Groups. This was quickly to become a touchstone work for applications of group theory in a wide variety of fields.

Wilfred and Betty married in 1943, and she conceived the following year. Bion was in Normandy when Betty gave birth to a baby girl on 28th February, 1945. Three days later, Betty died from a pulmonary embolism. It took a week to locate Bion and break the news to him.

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