COMPANION

Charles Neil

Charles Alexander Neil (1916–58), British teacher of the Technique, who developed his own version of the Alexander Technique and started the Isobel Cripps Centre (1948-1958).

Life

Charles Neil suffered from severe asthmatic attacks which the Technique alleviated to a great extent. He trained 1933–36 and left Ashley Place in 1937 to teach on his own.[1] [2]

Re-Education Centre, Dame Isobel Cripps Centre

After the war, in which he served in India, he set up the Re-Education Centre in Holland Park (c. 1947) together with Eric de Peyer, who had also trained with Alexander.

The Centre became the Dame Isobel Cripps Centre December 1948 when Dame Isobel Cripps became a patron of the centre.[3]

Dame Isobel and Sir Stafford Cripps had until then been pupils of Alexander. The centre was a not-for-profit, and was dependent upon membership fees, voluntary subscriptions and donations.[4]

A 1951 letter calling for donations announced special new projects, among them a research fund, a fund to assist those of limited means, and a special fund for asthmatic children.[5]

Method

Charles Neil developed and taught his own postural relaxation method. There are no comprehensive descriptions of what it consisted of, but probably the best description is his booklet ‘Poise and Relaxation’ (c. 1958), published as a BMA Family Doctor Booklet.[6]

Training course

Charles Neil started a training course in his method, and some of his trainees switched to the Alexander Technique, among them Joan Murray, Alex Murray, and Rivka Cohen.[7]

Disassociation with Alexander

Charles Neil obtained much publicity for his work, but the blurring between the Alexander Technique and Charles Neil’s own method caused confusion. For example, writing: ‘A demonstration was given this afternoon by Mr Charle Neil, the principal of the Isobel Cripps Centre, of the methods of relaxation which Mr F. M. Alexander has been teaching for so many years.’[8] Following some of newspaper or magazine articles featuring Charles Neil’s centre and method, Alexander and other teachers would write letters, pointing out that Charles Neil did not teach the F. M. Alexander Technique. Charles Neil would reply, agreeing, and stating he is teaching his own development of the Technique.

Charles Neil’s relationship with Alexander ended when the Cripps' switched allegiance to Neil. There are some newspaper notices on Charles Neil teaching Sir Stafford in Zurich, e.g. ‘Walking tuition for Sir S. Cripps’, ‘He’s teaching Cripps to walk again’.

Moshe Feldenkrais

There is some evidence that Charles Neil and Moshe Feldenkrais exchanged work.

  • ‘Interview with Mia Segal’ relates the similarities and differences between Feldenkrais’s and Neil’s work; Mia Segal had work with both Feldenkrais and Charles Neil [misspelled as ‘Neal’ in the article].[9]

Ben-Gurion

Newspapers reported that Ben-Gurion had improved from lessons from Charles Neil in 1958. Charles Neil, however, wrote a correction, saying he had only given Ben-Gurion one lesson while visiting Israel in April 1958, and that the real credit for the improvement in Ben-Gurion’s health must go ‘to my friend and colleague, Mr Moshe Feldenkrais, who has given the Prime Minister very many lessons, using a method largely based on mine (which, in turn, is a development of the method I learned from the late F. M. Alexander) but with many modifications.’[10]

Writings

  • Charles Neil wrote a letter on the Alexander Technique in Time & Tide 1938.[11]
  • He published a pamphlet advertising himself as teacher of the Technique, ‘The Place of Posture in Health’.[12]
  • A flyer ‘A new approach to physical education’ is probably post-1948.[13]
  • An article, ‘Posture at work’, was published in Nursing Times 1957 and as a reprint.[14]
  • A BMA ‘Family Doctor Booklet’ called ‘Poise and Relaxation’ by Charles Neil was published in the 1950s.[15]
  • In a letter in The New Statesman Charles Neil complained about New Statesman’s obituary of F. M. Alexander.[16]

In addition there are some short published letters (see ‘Disassociation with Alexander’ above.)

Audio recording

This an audio recording of Charles Neil talking through how to relax lying down followed by the ‘morning exercise’. The date is unknown but it is assumed it was recorded in the 1950s.

Video

There is some video footage of Charles Neil with fellow training course trainees in Marjorie Barstow’s home footage, published in the DVD ‘F. M. Alexander 1949-1950’.[17]

Charles Neil features in two British Pathé newsreels in 1950 and 1953 (links to YouTube).

Descriptions

  • A 1959 article, ‘The Work of Charles Neil’, describes Charles Neil’s work.[18]
  • Eric De Peyer worked with Charles Neil for some time and some of de Peyer’s pamphlets may indirectly describe the work at the Isobel Cripps Centre.
  • Dr Graham Fagg, who worked with Charles Neil, wrote a book – Posture, Poise and Positive Health – on his own explorations and discoveries of improving posture.[19]
  • Alex Murray has compiled some descriptions plus his own memoirs in the booklet ‘Charles Alexander Neal (Neil) 1917-1958’.[20] It was made available as an online PDF under the title ‘Charles A. Neil – Recollections’.[21]
  • Charles Neil is mentioned in interviews with Walter Carrington.[22] [23]

Charles Neil at the front door to Ashley Place, c. 1932–34. (Still from Marjorie Barstow’s film footage.[24])

See also Eric De Peyer.

References

[1] Charles Neil letter to Walter Carrington, 24 December 1948. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[2] Charles Neil letter to Vibete Starcke, 14 February 1949. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[3] Flyer ‘The Isobel Cripps Centre’, undated. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[4] Flyer ‘The Isobel Cripps Centre’, undated. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[5] Isobel Cripps Centre letter to Marie Ney, 19 July 1951. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[6] ‘Poise and Relaxation’ by Charles Neil (BMA, undated, 1955?). Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[7] Alex Murray, personal correspondence, 25 September 2015.
[8] ‘Our London correspondence’ by Private Wire in The Manchester Guardian, 2 April 1952, p. 6.
[9] ‘Interview with Mia Segal’ by Thomas Hanna in Bone, Breath and Gesture edited by Don Hanlon Johnson (North Atlantic Books, 1995), pp. 111–36.
[10] Charles Neil letter to The Evening Standard, 28 July 1958. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[11] Charles Neil, ‘The Alexander Method’ in Time & Tide 1 January 1938, reproduced in A Means To An End – Articles and Letters on the Alexander Technique 1909–1955 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2015), pp. 275-276.
[12] Charles Neil, ‘The Place of Posture in Health’, pamphlet, undated, probably pre-1941. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[13] ‘A New Approach to Physical Education’ by Charles Neil, undated, post-1948. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[14] ‘Posture at Work’, reprint from Nursing Times, 4 January 1957, by Charles Neil. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[15] ‘Poise and Relaxation’ by Charles Neil (BMA, undated, 1955?). Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[16] ‘F. M. Alexander’ by Charles Neil in The New Statesman and Nation, 22 October 1955.
[17] F. M. Alexander 1949-50 DVD narrated by Walter Carrington (Mouritz, 2010).
[18] ‘The Work of Charles Neil’ by Robert Taylor in The Inquirer, 6 June 1959. Walter Carrington Educational Trust Archives.
[19] Posture, Poise and Positive Health by Grahame Fagg (Capella Archive, 2006).
[20] ‘Charles Alexander Neal (Neil) 1917-1958’ by Alexander Murray (author, 2011), booklet.
[21] ‘Charles A. Neil – Recollections’ by Alexander Murray (Mouritz, 2019), online PDF. https://mouritz.co.uk/260.libraryitems.html.
[22] Explaining the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2004), pp. 88-89.
[23] Personally Speaking by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2001 [1986]), pp. 9, 41.
[24] F. M. Alexander 1949-50 DVD narrated by Walter Carrington (Mouritz, 2010).