A Letter for you Sir!

A simplified addressing system invented by J. P. De Fonseka in the 1940’s may have been the precursor to the email addressing protocols used today.


During my research into the work of J. P. De Fonseka, something that I kept on hearing often was about the literary giants he kept company with, and very particularly this amazing story about a letter / telegram / post card (differs from person to person) he received from George Bernard Shaw. The story goes like this.

Somewhere in the 1940’s J. P sent a letter to Shaw. Not the least bit bothered about writing the address, he simply wrote ‘G. B. Shaw, London’ and posted it. (And he didn’t even have mind-boggling Zip codes to remember). Not to be outdone, some time later Shaw wrote a reply addressed to ‘J. P. de Fonseka, Ceylon’, and that too was delivered, to his home off Havelock Road.

Email technologies of today owes so much to these pioneering experiments of ‘JP’. Sri Lanka could be proud that J. P. De Fonseka started it all half a century ago with his Simplified Addressing System. It very clearly caries the ‘protocol’ of present day email addresses, although without the now quite fashionable ‘@’ sign.

The letter has been with the family for some time, but seems lost now. My attempts to get at this letter, to be reproduced in this website, proved futile.

However some time later I found confirmation of this story in an article written by Noel F. Crusz, published in the book ‘Selected Essays and Verses of J. P. De Fonseka’. This article has been written after J.P.’s death in 1948, at the invitation of Hilaire Jansz the editor of the Ceylon Observer. Noel Crusz was a personal friend of J. P. De Fonseka. Crusz in his article titled ‘The Humour of Orthodoxy’ goes on to say the following.

‘J. P. had one obsession, the orthodox tradition that infiltrated everything up to the 20th Century. He addressed a letter to G. B. Shaw (without any address) and the letter reached Shaw. Shaw replied to J. P. de Fonseka, Ceylon, and the letter was delivered.’

Going through the other articles in the book it was not difficult to find the literary giants J. P. counted amongst his friends. Names mentioned in the book include, G. K Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, E. V. Lucas, Bernard Shaw, Robert Lynd, Sir Philip Gibbs, Maurice Baring, Eric Gill, A. P. Herbert, Walter de la Mare, Sir John Squire, Wilfred and Alice Maynell, and Francis Thompson among others. He also edited two of Chesterton’s Anthologies (collections of Essays).

Related Information:

Bernard Shaw Information Service Web Site 
            Includes quotations and information on plays, personal achievements, and political life.
            http://www.georgebernardshaw.net/