A WRITER has uncovered the little-known story of a minister’s son who found worldwide fame with a novel set in the raunchy Bangkok dance halls of the fifties – before vanishing into obscurity.

Andrew Hicks has devoted years to researching the personal tales behind each member of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, a band of volunteers who brought medical supplies to the poorest regions of China in the 1940s.

Among them is Jack Jones, who penned the unit’s newsletters - and whose only novel, A Woman of Bangkok, went on to become a worldwide publishing phenomenon.

“I knew nothing about him and didn’t know what had become of him,” said Mr Hicks, 65, who stumbled across the book while living in Thailand.

“It seemed extraordinary to me that someone could write this book and then vanish.”

What he uncovered was the extraordinary tale of a minister’s son who broke free of a domineering father by escaping to the dance halls of Thailand.

Born Emrys Reynolds Jones in 1913, Jack grew up in Castleton Road, Walthamstow – and is thought to have picked up his nickname while a pupil of Trinity County School in Bounds Green Road, Wood Green.

“When he was at school I think he was a loner. Jack Jones, on your own – it’s rhyming slang,” said Mr Hicks, who lives in Hampshire.

“He wrote that he only got a place because of his name. The headmaster was called Emrys Jones too.”

His father, a Congregational minister, was keen for him to follow in his footsteps and enter the church – but the teenaged Jack had other ideas.

“Basically Jack rebelled against his father and wouldn’t have anything to do with the church and they had a massive clash,” said Mr Hicks.

“He dug his toes in and refused to do his final school exams and dropped out.”

Instead Jack devoted his time to poetry and speedway riding. When World War Two arrived, he refused to fight.

He worked the land until 1945, when he signed up to serve with the Quaker-run Friends’ Ambulance Unit, delivering medical supplies in China.

After six years with the unit, Jack moved to Bangkok and took up a post running a fleet of vehicles for UNICEF.

It was while on the road for work that he found inspiration to write his novel.

“By that time he wanted to have nothing to do with England anymore,” said Mr Hicks.

“He was travelling all over Thailand doing research for his novel - as it were.

“He took his typewriter with him and stayed in little seedy hotels and banged away on his typewriter.”

A Woman of Bangkok was published in London and New York in 1956 to critical acclaim – and huge controversy.

“It’s basically a love story between an Englishman who goes out to Bangkok and falls for a prostitute – for the time, it was very saucy,” said Mr Hicks.

The novel became a bestseller worldwide, banned in Australia and translated into several languages.

But Jack’s literary fame was fleeting . He went on to marry a Thai woman and the pair had seven children in ten years.

“That all probably stopped him writing – he basically suffered writer’s block,” said Mr Hicks.

“He was passionate that he wanted to be a poet and a writer, but providing for his family became extremely difficult.”

Jack spent the rest of his years scraping a living as a journalist and taking on transport contracts in Africa and the Far East. He died in 1984.

A Woman of Bangkok was republished in March by Monsoon Books.

  • Mr Hicks is currently seeking a publisher for his collection of Jack’s writings Jack Jones: The Lost Writings of a Heroic Nobody.
  • He also welcomes contact from family members of Jack Jones and can be contacted at arhicks56@hotmail.com.