COMPANION

Beaumont Alexander vs. Margaret Goldie

This 1960 court case revolved around the right of teachers of the Alexander Technique who were no longer teaching at Ashley Place to use the name ‘Alexander Technique’.

In July 1958 the plaintiffs

Beaumont Alexander, Ivy Lilian Ada Johnson, John Graham Vicary, and Practitioners of the F. M. Alexander Technique Ltd.

issued a writ against

Ellen Avery Margaret Goldie, Janet Irene Stewart, Walter Hadrian Marshall Carrington, John Skinner and The Use of the Self Ltd. (the defendants)

Background

When F. M. Alexander died in October 1955, the teachers who worked at his home and teaching practice, 16 Ashley Place, London SW1, continued to teach there (privately and running the teacher training course) until F. M. Alexander’s Estate was wound up, and this had been agreed by the Estate. The teachers were Margaret Goldie, Irene Stewart, Walter Carrington, and John Skinner (the defendants). Beaumont Alexander – F. M. Alexander’s youngest brother, as co-executor and trustee to Alexander’s will and estate – brought in Patrick Macdonald to take over the running of Ashley Place when the defendants left Ashley Place in April 1956. (Ivy Lilian Ada Johnson, Beaumont Alexander’s wife, had by the time of the court action become a trustee of the Estate.) The Defendants set up a teaching practice in 5 Bainbridge Street, WC1, and used the name ‘The Use of the Self Ltd.’ as a business name. A settlement between Beaumont Alexander and the Defendants regarding the transfer of the business was agreed by a contract of 16 October 1957.

The 1958 Writ

The Writ issued against the Defendants. The two fundamental issues were ‘passing-off’ and breach of contract.

The case was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, 28 January 1960. By the time the case came to court the allegations of ‘passing-off’ had been dropped. The alleged breach of contract consisted of the Defendants

1. using a letter-heading with ‘F. Matthias Alexander Technique’ in the top left hand corner with the Defendants’ names underneath.

2. using a brass plate at the entrance stating  ‘F. Matthias Alexander Technique’.

The Justice accepted the evidence by the Defendants that by using the name ‘F. Matthias Alexander Technique’ they were merely describing the subject matter of their business and did not intend it to describe a business name which could be confused in the mind of the general public with the name of the business at 16, Ashley Place.

The Justice dismissed the action with costs.

A contemporary summary of the case is found in a letter to Louise Morgan of 31 January 1960. The following is a copy and therefore not signed, and it is not certain who the author was, but most likely Walter Carrington or John Skinner.

Dear Miss Morgan,

Very many thanks for your wire. We are all very happy now as you may imagine. To give you short details of the affair, when F.M. died he left Margaret Goldie and Beaumont Alexander as co-executors. Complicated administration proceedings were started, involving us, but these were compromised by an agreement whereby, amongst other things, Margaret Goldie resigned as executor and we undertook not to use the name “F. Matthias Alexander” as a business or company name, with the proviso that we could call ourselves “teachers of the F.M.A. technique”. This appeared to settle everything and we hoped that in future we should all be go our own sweet way.

However, in 1958, we were served with writs and a new case – the present one – was started. I won’t go into all the details here but from the Statement of Claim it appeared that we had to defend ourselves on 13 points – various things that we were alleged to have done before the compromise of the Administration proceedings, breach of the agreement and “passing off”.

On the first day of the trial the other side (Mayson Q.C.) agreed that he could not revive matters prior to the Compromise, thus leaving the issues of Breach and Passing-off. On the second day it appeared that certain important documents had not been disclosed and even their lawyers were much in the dark as to who actually owned various rights and properties. When Goldie resigned Beaumont appointed his mother-in-law co-trustee and they sold the “business” to his wife. She registered “Alexander Foundation (Prop. Mrs. J. Alexander)” as a business name and a company “Practitioners of the F.M.A. Technique” was formed (with Macdonald as a director) to conduct the “business” on lease from her. But the documents were not clear or not available in Court and Beaumont fainted in the witness box under cross-examination by our man, Dillon. Four witnesses, including Mrs. A. Macdonald finally went in the box and started to give formal evidence.

The next morning they came to Court and said they would abandon “passing off”. This just left the issue of Breach. Macdonald gave no more evidence for them but was cross-examined briefly. Then I went into the box for no more than 15 minutes and both sides made final speeches. Judgement was given at 2 p.m. and the Judge (Russell) found no Breach and awarded us costs.

I have not seen the text of the Judgement yet, I’ve only heard it in Court but I don’t think there is much scope for appeal. It is estimated that they will have to pay over £2,000. Our expenses, additional to the costs that they will pay, will amount to no more than £300.

In the course of the action they gave up all claim to a monopoly in the technique or in the right to train and qualify teachers. We are therefore free to continue as we have been doing and it should put an end to the matter. It would appear that Mrs. A. owns the copyright of the books and they will therefore be able to advertise themselves exclusively there, but we can’t help that! We can now go ahead with our plans.

Later I will try and let you see the judgement and also give more details but just now I have many letter to write and many plans to make!

Thank you so very much for all your help and support.[1]

Later reports of the case are concerned with Patrick Macdonald’s involvement. Max Alexander gave a lecture to NASTAT (now AmSAT) in which he mentioned the case and Patrick Macdonald’s support for Beaumont Alexander.[2]

In STATNews (and later reported in Direction[3] vol. 2, no. 5, insert p. 12) Shoshana Kaminitz wrote that she had been told that Patrick Macdonald was instrumental in bringing the court case to an end.[4] Jean Fischer contested this view, pointing out that Macdonald had signed an affidavit in 1958, supporting Beaumont Alexander in his action against the defendants and stating, among other things, that he had instructed three people go make inquires under assumed names to the teaching practice run by the defendants in order to establish that they were using the name of F. Matthias Alexander. In addition there are several letters from Macdonald to the solicitor of the defendants which demonstrates his committed involvement.[5] [6] Shoshana Kaminitz replied, suggesting that Macdonald was not practical and competent regarding management and administration, and that Macdonald’s relationship with Beaumont Alexander was not easy.[7] [8]

Jeroen Staring provides a brief summary of the case in his Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869–1955.[9]

Documents

Various papers relating to the case are with the Walter Carrington Archives and the Ethel Webb & John Skinner Collection (now with Jean M. O. Fischer).

References

[1] Letter to Louise Morgan of 31 January 1960.
[2] ‘Max Alexander’s lifetime with the Technique’ by Max Alexander, NASTAT News issue no. 19, Winter 1993, pp. 4–9.
[3] ‘STATNews Roundup’ in Direction vol. 2, no. 5, insert p. 12.
[4] Letter by Shoshana Kaminitz in STATNews vol. 4, issue 16, September 1996, p. 5.
[5] Letter ‘Macdonald’s role’ by Jean M. O. Fischer in in STATNews vol. 4, issue 19, September 1997, pp. 3-4.
[6] Letter ‘Macdonald is guilty’ by Jean M. O. Fischer in Direction vol. 2, no. 6, p. 32.
[7] Letter ‘Macdonald’s role (reply)’ by Shoshana Kaminitz in STATNews vol. 4, issue 20, January 1998, p. 5.
[8] Letter ‘Macdonald is not guilty’ by Shoshana Kaminitz in Direction vol. 2, no. 6, p. 33.
[9] Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869–1955 Vol. 1 – The Origins and History of the Alexander Technique by Jeroen Staring (Integral, 2005), pp. 270–71.
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