OBITUARY:Ernest Borneman

Martin Green
Tuesday 13 June 1995 23:02

Ernest Borneman had an extraordinarily varied career, which spanned the study of jazz and other forms of music, the cinema, literary criticism and aesthetics, children's sexuality and prehistoric society. He was the author of a great number of books in his native German, as well as in English, among these latter being an appreciation of jazz, a thriller and three novels.

My knowledge of Ernest Borneman goes back to my childhood in the 1930s, when we lived in adjacent houses in Heathcote Street, a cul-de-sac off the Gray's Inn Road. I spent the first five years of my life here from 1932, while Ernest, a refugee from Hitler's Nazi Germany while still at school, was attending the School of African and Oriental Studies at London University. It was during this period that he wrote a thriller set in a film studio, The Face on the Cutting Room Floor.

Written under the pseudonym Cameron McCabe, it was published in 1937 by Victor Gollancz, who had accepted the typescript in person from Borneman when he turned up unbidden at his office in Henrietta Street. The book was given a mixed reception on publication, even getting a notice in Night and Day from Sir Herbert Read: "This thriller is cunningly constructed on the formula of the Hegelian triad - thesis, antithesis, synthesis . . ."

In 1940, Borneman was rounded up as an enemy alien, taken to a camp at Huyton, near Liverpool, and then to internment in Canada aboard the Ettrick (the preceding ship in the convoy, the Andora Star, being sunk en route). Here he was confined for over a year before being released to work under John Grierson for Canada's National Film Board. While in Canada he became a British subject and married Eva Geisal, who bore him a son.

After the war he went to Paris to work for the film section of Unesco, where he met Orson Welles, who asked him to work for him on a film of the Odyssey.

He returned to live in England for a number of years and was then invited back to Germany by the Federal Government in 1960 to build up and take charge of the Federal television network. This was wound up the following year when the German Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government had no right to start a television network.

He then took up residence in Austria, turning his energies into various research projects on the borderland between anthropology, psychoanalysis and sexology, leading to teaching posts in universities at Salzburg in Austria and Marburg in Germany.

His numerous publications in this area include Lexikon der Liebe (1968), Enzyklopadie von der Sexualitat (1970) and Sexuallexicon (1984).

Late last year, I received a letter from Dr Sigrid Standow asking me if I would like to make a contribution to a festschrift she was collecting to celebrate Borneman's 80th birthday on 12 April. I sent off a poem I had written about my childhood memories of Heathcote Street. In April I duly received a copy of Ein Luderlichtes Leben ("A Wayward Life"). On the cover of this is a photograph of Dr Standow, naked, posing before the besuited figure of Borneman - I understand from his last letters to me that it was the emotional parting of the two of them that contributed to his decision to take his own life.

Martin Green

Ernest Borneman, writer and sexologist: born Berlin 14 April 1915; married 1947 Eva Geisal (died 1987; one son); died Scharten, Austria 4 June 1995.

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