The Returning Officer


James Pitman, grandson of Isaac Pitman - inventor of the most famous system of shorthand - was Tory MP for Bath (1945-64). In 1969 he published Alphabets and Reading: the Initial Teaching Alphabet, which aimed to change the way children, in particular dyslexics were taught to read in schools. The system enjoyed brief popularity but fell into disuse.

His Labour counterpart was Mont Follick, who once demonstrated a prototype rotating toothbrush to the House of Commons. He served as Labour MP for Loughborough (1945-55) and put forward private member's bills on simplified spelling in 1949 and 1953, the latter passing by 12 votes.

He had been a professor of English at the University of Madrid and in 1952 published The Twelve Republics, about South America. In the Commons the former home secretary Chuter Ede asked him if the book had been published in the simplified spelling system. Follick admitted that it had not.

This article first appeared in the 12 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The weaker sex