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Why we need to re-discover Kipling

December 03, 2018

Swati Singh. author of The Secret History of the Jungle Book, writes: 

From as long as memory serves me, I remember being a reader, a voracious reader of almost anything that I could lay my hands on. This love for reading was inculcated in a home where both my parents were continuously engaged in creative discussions on almost every topic under the sun. It also helped that, being something of an introvert, I always found the best company in books which faithfully transported me to a make-believe world where I could be a silent observer of life’s goings on.

My father, teaching English in the local college of the small town India I belong to, and a young mother determined to pursue her studies rudely cut short by early marriage and kids, meant that the atmosphere of my home was continuously charged with an environment of learning that only a fortunate few are blessed with. I was introduced to the classics of nineteenth century British literature at a very young age and read all that our personal library and the public library of my father’s college could offer. It was in these early circumstances of my life that the seeds of my writing were sown.

Kipling happened to me by accident. I was familiar with Kim as the only work by Kipling worth being read, a consequence of Kipling’s ‘imperial’ notoriety which banishes him completely from the Indian academic scene except in his one Indian novel which fetched him the Nobel for Literature. I had seen The Jungle Book, and not read it. It is important to consider this, as I discovered in the course of my work that The Jungle Book I had known was worlds apart from what Kipling had written.

When I took up my research I was actually keen on working on the women diaspora writers of India, a topic that has fascinated me with its living reality of the women in modern India. It was my excellent guide, Professor Joya Chakravarty (Dept. Of English, University of Rajasthan) who actually asked me to look back to the classics of British Literature and think of Rudyard Kipling. I must admit that I took up this writer a little hesitantly, unaware of the treasure trove of writing that was to overwhelm me.

In the course of my research I have been struck with the extremes of hostility and admiration that Kipling has inspired in his readers down the ages. It struck me as to how Kipling was being denounced on the one hand as a writer of the Empire and on the other hand being acclaimed as one of the greatest writers of children’s literature.

As I navigate through Kipling’s troubled legacy in my research, I remain aware that Kipling sadly remains forbidden territory still, and is yet to be discovered by a vast majority of our world. The magic of Kipling’s writing still remains in the shadows and the world loses out on one of the greatest story tellers of all times.

Through The Secret History of the Jungle Book, and in my own humble way, I attempt to reintroduce the writer and his most famous work to the lay reader as also to the student of literature with an alternative approach to the universal sensibility of Kipling’s writing. I believe the time is ripe to reintroduce Kipling to our academic institutions and to re-read him without the prejudices of the past. My purpose is served if my work inspires even a few people to take up and read Rudyard Kipling once again.

You can buy The Secret History of the Jungle Book for kindle here. and in paperback here.

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Why the climate contrarians lost the argument

November 19, 2018

This post is taken from Richard Black’s new book Denied, published today…

This is the story of a coup-d’état that failed. A coup against science, against the will of peoples from the Arctic to the Equator, against nature itself. A coup attempt that, although it has failed, may have damaged the interests of future generations and the only planet that humanity is ever likely to inhabit.

The story takes place on a Planet Earth that is becoming increasingly turbulent. The last four years have been the hottest since record-keeping began. Mountain glaciers that store drinking water for more than a billion people are melting away, slowly in the Himalayas, faster in the Andes. Arctic summer sea ice is locked in a death spiral that terminates in about 30-40 years’ time, with melting permafrost set to release more warming gases into the atmosphere. Birds, insects, frogs and fish are moving away from the equator towards the poles and up mountain slopes to escape rising temperatures; sometimes, they cannot escape. Ocean water is changing from alkaline towards acidic faster than some marine life can stand. More and more often storms, heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires show the fingerprints of climate change, making them more frequent, longer-lasting or more intense.

This is the real world in 2018. And it concerns citizens. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the world’s population expresses concern, even alarm, on climate change. Governments and businesses are responding – quickly enough to have brought about earlier in this decade a three-year plateauing of carbon emissions unforeseen by anyone.

This is a world, then, in which nature, business, culture and discourse are being shaped by climate change. Laws are being written, investments shifted, behaviour changed and popular movements started, all in the name of responding to climate change. Most notably, virtually every government has accepted the scientific reality of man-made climate change and agreed that its main cause – the burning of fossil fuels – has to stop, on a timescale of decades.

However – on this same turbulently warming planet, there exists a parallel reality – far smaller, but influential way beyond its scale. Here, climate change does not exist. Or it does, but it is less serious than any number of other issues. Or it is serious, but the cure is worse than the disease, and the better option is just to deal with the impacts as they arise. Sometimes all three of these are held to be true simultaneously. In this world, scientists are fraudsters, ordinary folk do not care about climate change and detest renewable energy, poor countries will burn coal forever, and measures to trade in fossil fuels for a clean energy economy will return developed societies to the Stone Age.

Despite contending from time to time that they have no platform, the inhabitants of this unreal world have been remarkably effective at getting their arguments heard in high places. Their beliefs have been debated in parliaments and declaimed in courts. In places, their proponents have dominated the media commentariat. Now, their highest profile recruit ever, Donald Trump, sits on the throne of the world’s most powerful nation, dismissing climate change with the same casual mien with which he questions why the US admits non-white people. As a result, some Unrealists claim that they have won. Trump will turn back the clock on coal and oil, they say. He will nuke international climate change treaties and build a wall against the human tide of public opinion – and the rest of the world will have no option but to follow.

Were this true, it would be the most Pyrrhic of victories. There would be little enough to celebrate in ushering in a world where, science indicates, yields of staple crops are likely to fall even as the number of hungry mouths increases, where natural miracles like coral reefs wither and die, where rising seas threaten the integrity of capital city after capital city.

Fortunately, it is not true. In the real world, the Unrealists, the contrarians, have lost the argument. In China, in India, in western Europe, across the Pacific, even in the US itself, seismic shifts are taking place that are moving society away from untrammelled fossil fuel use towards a future of clean energy, smart tech, electric cars and, accordingly, healthier lives. Existential concern about the impacts of climate change is one driver – alongside, now, simple economics, and competition to own the industries of the near future rather than those of the recent past.

In the real world, investors now put more money into electricity generation from wind and sun than from coal and gas – and renewable energy is or soon will be cheaper than the old alternatives in virtually every nation. In the real world, governments increasingly take the view that tackling climate change will be good for their economies. Military top brass plan for a greater risk of conflict if it is not tackled, doctors scan the horizon for the advent of new disease epidemics, religious leaders highlight increasing pressures on the world’s poor, businesses analyse climate risks to their supply chains, wealth funds withdraw their money from coal-connected companies, and young Britons see climate change as a more important issue than crime.

Ten years ago, the picture was far less clear. Then, the network of contrarians had much to say and much to ask that was useful. They probed the practices of science in a way that led to positive reforms. They queried journalism, forcing those of us involved in it to be more precise and more rigorous in our reporting.

Yet if a week is a long time in politics, a decade can bring a sea-change in both scientific understanding and economic realities. The integrity of climate science emerged intact from the many inquiries into it. Whereas the pace of global warming appeared to have stalled for a while, it has since accelerated again with a vengeance – and science now understands much more clearly why such accelerations and decelerations occur. Nation after nation, led by the UK, has shown that it is perfectly possible to grow an economy and reduce carbon emissions simultaneously.

The side-benefits of adopting clean technologies in electricity generation and motoring are clearer than ever. Public support for clean energy, in the UK and elsewhere, is startlingly high. And despite Donald Trump’s as yet unfulfilled promise to withdraw, the Paris Agreement shows unequivocally that the vast majority of governments see a transition to a clean energy economy as being in their national interest.

To sum it up, you could say that the events of the last decade have proven contrarians wrong on all of their core arguments. And you would be almost entirely right.

You can read Denied in paperback and on kindle.

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Happy 80th anniversary, Munich Crisis!

September 29, 2018

Here’s the main point: this weekend marks the eightieth anniversary of the Munich crisis, the moment when the UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain gave away a chunk of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany – with some slightly unwilling help from the French.

As it turns out, by flying to meet Hitler and Mussolini in Munich on 29 September, Chamberlain also unwittingly caused the cancellation of an army plot to kill Hitler – when the team was armed and in position and waiting for their order to storm the Chancellery.

I have three reasons for being interested in these events. First, my great-aunt, Shiela Grant Duff, was Observer correspondent in Prague until shortly before them. The Observer was an appeasement newspaper in those days, so she had resigned a few months before.

Second, my book Munich 1938 came out some months ago. It was intended to make the case that this was the great British mistake of the twentieth century, for a new generation that never knew the arguments.

Third and finally, because of the article I wrote for the Guardian today, where I compared Munich with the Salzburg summit, and – by implication – Chamberlain with Theresa May. It was one of those pieces where the arguments flew around in the comments ‘below the line’. It is worth reading that section alone for a cross-section of views – worrying perhaps that Chamberlain gets rather too much support in my view.

There is one parallel between them: both approached their defining European summit with a bullish disregard for reality, which led in very different ways to a critical crossroads for Europe.

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Time to think a little more ambitiously

September 04, 2018

David Boyle writes:

I watched the recent film Their Finest last weekend, with Bill Nighy and my favourite actress, Gemma Arterton, and very much enjoyed it. I am fascinated by the wartime media (and wrote about it in my book V for Victory). It is a romantic comedy set around a film set, as the writing team struggle to make sense of a new script about Dunkirk, within a whole range of new constraints imposed by one authority after another.

My complaint was that as boy and girl finally kissed, he was killed by a falling gantry. It was a desperate plot device that emerged neither from events nor characters – a little like the famous cheat where Thomas Hardy condemns Tess of the d’Urbervilles because she slips the letter, not just under her lover’s door, but under the carpet as well.

What was particularly irritating about their disposal of the hero in Their Finest was that the reason was obvious. It was the only way the heroine could end the film as a confident, independent young woman, earning own living/washing own knickers – which is the only ending currently acceptable to the zeitgeist.

And I thought they might, we might, aspire to being just a little more ambitious, and a little braver.
I thought of this again in the light of an unusually trenchant piece of criticism I received, anonymously of course, on the end of one of my blogs, suggesting that I should blog rather less and should never, ever, use the word I.

I’ve been lucky enough to avoid most online abuse (except of course when I write for the Guardian, where monsters live below the line). The first accusation is definitely correct – but perhaps should have been levelled at me in 2013/14, when I was blogging seven days a week. Even so, probably still right.

But I wanted to take issue with the second complaint. The reason I blog so much in the first person is not because I am obsessed with myself (though I am, of course!). It is because I want to relate my opinions to the lived experience of an individual.

I also think, when you say something in public, you have some responsibility to explain why you believe it and to link yourself to it in some way. Personally (again), I have a horror of bland, objective opinion which tries to pretend it came down from heaven, ready-formed.

What is the connection with Their Finest? It is that we deserve better of ourselves than to fall back on the ex-cathedra platitudes which everyone believes. We should dare to think just a little different.

Get a free copy of my medieval Brexit thriller on pdf when you sign up for the newsletter of The Real Press. 
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The old order is crumbling – what should we do next?

July 31, 2018

I went to the Social Liberal Forum conference last weekend and found it completely transformed – no more endless whingeing but real debate about big ideas for the future. They really had made the transition, as the Greens used to say, from opposition to proposition.

Anyone who has read my political blogs will know is how I believe the left needs to gear itself up: concentrate on the ideas; cut out the off-putting rage. See also John Harris on this.

I was there to talk about tackling monopoly and the future of liberal economics. It was refreshing. For me, at least.

But I have also been wondering, over the past week, how the transition I have been predicting for some reason would come about.

I’ve argued before that there is a four-decade cycle of central ideas in the UK. We had to change policy suddenly in 1940 when we withdrew spectacularly from the French alliance at Dunkirk, but the body of economic ideas which we needed to adopt were there waiting patiently, thanks as much as anyone else to Keynes.

Then came 1979 and another shift. If you read the cabinet papers of the period (as I have), it is clear that Margaret Thatcher herself had few ideas about what she wanted to do apart from helping homeowners (read more in my book Broke), but the revolution had been brewed by Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe and their young apparachiks, meeting in Howe’s flat in Vauxhall every Tuesday evening for some years before.

So, thanks to Trump and Brexit, the old order is now staggering again, and is probably fatally wounded, but neither administration in the USA or UK appears to have much idea about what to do instead. So where, I am asking myself, is the new philosophy going to emerge from?

There is no body of knowledge, or techniques, waiting in the corner of the Treasury ready to be picked up and enacted. As far as I know. Nor do we have long. Yes, there are ideas – but the Treasury’s waiting room is empty.

It seems likely that the markets will crash again in October (you read it here first, though the latest issue of Fortune carries the headline ‘The end is near!’). Trump is too backward to know what to do. So is the current UK government.

Otherwise, there is the exhausted remains of market fundamentalism, residing at the IEA and Cato Institute. There is the equally exhausted reheated thinking from 1945 wafting about. Neither is really going to cut the mustard, as they say.

Probably the only internationally recognised body of economic ideas which would stand the scrutiny are the ideas around inclusive growth – but these have mainly taken root in cities on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than governments.

It maybe that radicals and centrists would serve the future better, not by endlessly refighting the Brexit argument – but by making sure we have a body of ideas ready for when the roof falls in, sometime next year I expect. As I say, we don’t have very long.

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Jeremy Thorpe: why I believed in him at the time

June 10, 2018

David Boyle writes:

I watched the Thorpe scandal on the BBC series A Very English Scandal with a great deal of emotion. In fact, at the end of the last programme, I found myself in tears – and I’ve been wondering why ever since.

It was, of course, brilliantly directed, written and acted – and also brilliantly evocative of a period when I was first politically aware.

I remember vividly poring over the blow-by-blow accounts of the trial in the Telegraph in my friend Stuart’s room in college (I still have the cuttings somewhere).

That was before I knew Thorpe himself, many years later. He and Marion were very kind to me. He was also still a purveyor of the Liberal, and now the Lib Dem, besetting sin – policy wheezes designed to attract attention, but with virtually no content.

And admire him as I did, especially in those trial days – and I joined the party only weeks before the trial – that was the Thorpe problem: brilliant razzmatazz, genuine Liberal convictions, but no coherent programme.

I’m not sure if I was weeping for myself or for my party. Or indeed for Thorpe and Scott, who both seem to me – and the series portrayed this even-handedly – the victims of forces beyond themselves.

As I appear to be the only person on earth to remember what the late 1970s felt like, I feel some responsibility to explain what it seemed like at the time.

It certainly was hardly an easy time to be a Liberal (it was the pillow-biting that did it). I remember convincing myself, after reading the detailed account of Norman Scott’s meltdown during the trial – not included in the BBC drama – that his affair with Thorpe was a fantasy, though realising that Thorpe may, even so, be guilty of incitement to murder, along the lines of Henry II and Thomas Becket.

It was a period of complex conspiracy theories – now long forgotten – and so here are three to explain some of the background.

  1. The Apartheid Connection. It was widely believed that the acquittal of Peter Hain, then Young Liberal chair, on a charge of theft, was despite a plot to bring about a case of mistaken identity engineered by the South African secret service. Hain and Thorpe were two of the most prominent anti-Apartheid activists in the UK, so it seemed likely to us at the time that the Scott affair had some South African links too. That was, unfortunately, also what led us to dismiss the allegations made public by RAP about Cyril Smith.
  2. The Harold Wilson connection. It was strange, as I remember it, that the trial of Andrew Newton, the would-be assassin, took place on the same day as Wilson announced his resignation and Princess Anne announced her divorce. Wilson was connected because he had secretly contacted two Sunday Times journalists, told them he would guide them to a big story, and then got irritated because instead he had guided them to the Thorpe Affair, which they then failed to look behind. You can read what they found in The Pencourt File.
  3. The intelligence connection. What was Wilson’s real story? It seems likely that it was his conviction that the intelligence services were plotting against him. You can read more on this in The Wilson Plot. And here we find ourselves at the heart of the real conspiracy theory, during this strange period of private armies. In 1987, the Sunday Times reported on the 1975 plot to borrow the QE2, put Wilson and his cabinet aboard and take over the government. You can read a little about this shadowy affair, by members of the establishment and the military, here. Those involved, as the Sunday Times did not report, were also linked to the bid to make Margaret Thatcher leader of the opposition that same year.

I have long since abandoned the hope that maybe Thorpe was innocent. But equally I don’t think the Scandal series was quite accurate in its portrayal of a politician protected by the establishment. Of course, Thorpe was protected, but only because they had already thrown him to the wolves to distract from the real story.

Or have I myself become victim to the conspiracy mania that the 1970s seems to have generated?

Please sign up for our regular newsletter and we will send you a pdf or epub version of David Boyle’s medieval Brexit thriller The Remains of the Way.

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May 1968, the Liberals and community politics

May 09, 2018

David Boyle writes…

The Real Press specialises in history, but we also publish the occasional self-help or how-to-do-it guide. One of these was Fourth to Firstwhich was part history of a Norfolk County Council election and part guide to winning using updated community politics techniques. It struck me that we should have a closer look at where community politics came from originally. Hence this blog.

I turned ten in May 1968. I remember how upset I was at all the Paris students breaking up the pavements to throw stones at the police. I was clearly not a very radical little boy.

Fifty years on, it does give us a chance to take another look at the heady mix of angry student radicals, community organising, hippies tuning in and dropping out, plus the civil rights movement in the the big US cities and the divided cities of Northern Ireland. It was hard to make sense of it at the time, and almost as hard now.

It was also in some ways the culmination of an equally wild and heady mixture of narratives, including the self-help movement, the anarchic street theatre, adventure playground and city farm movements, the first seeds of community protest, and the whole bundle of revolts against conventional institutions and politics of right and left.

It is a mixture that is known really only as the ‘counterculture’. It didn’t mean that you had to throw flagstones at the police to be part of it, but the counterculture was in revolt against the technocratic thinking that brought us the whole gamut of monstrosities posing as progress – high rise flats, nuclear missiles, the Vietnam War, urban motorways and so on.

Like TV channels in those days, there were only three mainstream political parties. And looking back, it seems to me that the Liberal Revival (1958-2015) was an expression of this same critique of conventional progress. If so, that was largely because of the thoughtful positioning of Jo Grimond.

And therein lies the tragedy. There were powerful forces pulling both ways in the party during those years – those who wanted to embrace the countercultural critique more wholeheartedly, and those who distrusted it and wanted the party to remain a conventional subset of the corporate establishment.

There were counterculture victories. The emergence of community politics owed itself directly to the aftermath of 1968. But sadly the counterculture has petered out inside the Lib Dems, and has become so much part of the background noise that nobody really notices it any more.

Consequently, those at the heart of the 1968 revolt were looking for independence – or were inner-directed, to use the jargon of the 1980s – so wholeheartedly that they backed Margaret Thatcher in 1979, who provided something rather different. Rather like the hero of Malcolm Bradbury’s campus revolt novel The History Man.

It seems to me that the opportunity is still there, not completely filled by the Greens: the Conservative commitment to independence is misleading, and Labour is not interested. The Lib Dems won’t fill it either with conventional soft left Fabianism – the counterculture was also in revolt against Labour welfarism – or with conventional yellow-tinged establishment thinking either.

Will they seize the day? They certainly will not do without looking a little closer at their own history, as I have tried to help them do here.

You can read our new version of community politics in Steffan and Freya Aquarone’s book Fourth to First here.

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Man, it’s sweary! Simon Zec on his poems…

May 03, 2018

Web diary by Simon Zec..

1 May 2018

After months of fallowness, within two days, I’d written two more poems.

All it took was to get a book published. It’s re-inspired me.

And tonight, I went out to an evening organised by the bookshop and listened to other people’s poems and music and words and it was lovely.

I was introduced to a couple of people as a poet and a bard and someone else recognised me from a while ago and remembered my mattress poem.

Last time I met her, she asked where she could get a copy and I had nothing to offer. Now I could say she can get it online and hopefully soon in the Steyning bookshop. It’s all very surreal.

Apparently now I have sold ten copies. That’s double figures. So not only am I a poet, I’m a published poet, who has sales of over ten.

Sara from the bookshop reiterated the offer of having a book launch. It seems a self indulgent thing to do, but it may never happen again.

I might get a poem out of it at least.

So, in my first week as a published poet, it’s all been very exciting. And tomorrow, hopefully, I get to look at a print edition of my book. That feels like a really cool thing to happen, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to play it anywhere near cool.

3 May 2018

The book arrived yesterday and I got to hold in my hand my own copy. Decidedly weird. One slight error with the book but easily amended. Also making these first few copies extra rare!

I self consciously, self absorbedly read it.

Man, it’s sweary.

I mean, I know I’m sweary, but in a book it really comes across.

Chatting to my partner, we realised it might be problematic for the kids to read it.

I think I intentionally put in some of the more personal stuff that I don’t often share. When I wrote them, I wasn’t really planning to publish them.

Now they are out there and the (over ten) people who’ve bought the book (mainly/only friends) also get to see the stuff I didn’t think would ever see the light of day.

Now I have the problem of how to deal with letting the kids see the side of me that they don’t need to know about.

Past drug taking, calling my dad the worst word. They will see it eventually and I suppose I will have to deal with it somehow.

I’m amazed by all the people buying the book. Some really nice feedback so far. But no one is really going slag it off, certainly not to my face.

As a countenance to wandering around behaving like a poet and self promoting, in the past two days, in the real world, I got soaked to my skin and had to pick up a rotting carcass of a hedgehog. The smell was retchingly bad. The two different lives couldn’t be further from each other!

Simon Zec’s poems are published in the new Real Press book Death of the Suburb, available on kindle and as a paperback – at the moment only from Amazon but soon also from here. See this title on our website here.

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However you organise UK railways, the Treasury always wins

April 22, 2018

David Boyle writes:

I never went inter-railing, as so many of my friends did in the 1970s, but I have now to mark the imminent arrival of my sixtieth birthday.  So I went with my children and family, and the trip included Rome, Venice and Vienna, and – my goodness – was I didactic. I’m surprised they never throttled me.

As those who have read my short book about the Southern Rail fiasco will know (Cancelled!), I have recently found myself rather unexpectedly involved in the railway debate. The latest incarnation of this is on the new Financial Times TV report on rail privatisation, which – unusually for television – includes some definite facts which I didn’t know already. There I am in a disturbingly pink scarf.

But travelling around Europe by rail has given me a new perspective on the debate. The trains were not just on time, they were also comfortable, well-designed. And, they were also designed for human beings, unlike the new Southern and Thameslink trains, which look as if they have been designed to be hosed down after use.

The days when Laurence Olivier caught the Brighton Belle, and ate kippers all the way home after an opening night. Never mind the incessant lateness, the constant breakdowns, the sheer incompetence – it is the technocratic transformation of human trains to trucks that really upsets me.

I keep on being asked why. Why is it so bad in Sussex compared to continental rail travel?

Is it primarily because they are nationalised, integrated systems? Because that is the current solution being touted by the Labour Party.

I find myself explaining two peculiarities of the Govia franchise which better explain what has gone wrong. The first is the dysfunctional contract, whereby Govia only gets 3 per cent of the takings, and nothing they can do will make them more of a profit.

The second is that – because of the contract – the dead hand of the Treasury is hugely influential. This is ironic, because under both the current system, and the nationalised solution that Labour proposes, our trains  are run more or less directly by Treasury mandarins. Don’t let us pretend that anything about the current system has much to do with privatisation in any sense of the word.

And there you have what, to my mind, is the biggest threat to humane public services – direct control by the Treasury. Inflexible, technocratic, inhumane, they provide precisely the oversight that privatisation was designed to end – and yet…

 

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Why the BBC finds the truth about their wartime role embarrassing

January 16, 2018

David Boyle writes…

If the period portrayed in the film Darkest Hour is the founding myth of the modern British state, it also provides a kind of mythic justification for the BBC – for pretty much everything. And we can listen to the BBC’s Ed Stourton weaving it again on Radio 4, in last week’s Book of the Week, his own Auntie’s War.

It goes like this. The commitment to truth in the news led to huge respect, not just at home but across Europe. From a dull, preachy, rather puritanical radio station among so many, it became a beacon of hope.

This was largely true, but the real question is: who was primarily responsible for it? Because, like all the official BBC histories, this one sidesteps the real issue – the furious struggle in and around the BBC over wartime broadcasting to Europe, and the role of the controversial figure in charge, Noel Newsome.

As director of European broadcasts, Newsome led what is still the biggest broadcasting operation ever mounted, in 25 different languages for a total of just over 25 hours a day, across three wavelengths.

It was he who set out the strategy to use news as a weapon on war – it had to be not just true but also recognisably British.

Newsome and his deputy, Douglas Ritchie, presided over the V for Victory campaign, designed to foment a spirit of resistance in occupied Europe – so successful that Joseph Goebbels tried to organise his own V campaign to subvert it. Find out more in my book V for Victory.

And it was Newsome who, frustrated with the pettifogging delays of the BBC bureaucracy, persuaded the Foreign Office to take control of the European Service from the BBC. In practice, he came under the control of the diplomat Ivone Kirkpatrick, the man who had just interviewed Rudolf Hess after his unexpected flight to the UK, and “Kirk” let Newsome get on with the job. Stourton’s book tells the story with great atmosphere and names Newsome and Ritchie properly. But even in the book, he does not get to the real reasons why the BBC is still so nervous about it.

There was postwar embarrassment at the BBC about the V for Victory campaign and its instructions for sabotage, assassination and industrial action in the sort of style that would later be used for making Christmas decorations or collecting silver paper for the lifeboats.

But it seems likely that it was the bid for independence from the BBC which was never forgiven by Auntie. Newsome was sacked by the BBC at the end of the war and remains almost unmentioned in the official BBC histories.

“There were giants in Bush House at that time, and battles of giants,” wrote a member of his staff, Maurice Latey, later eastern Europe editor. “At the centre the massive figure of Noel Newsome … engaged in epic contests with Hugh Greene, in charge of German broadcasts – six or seven feet of quiet implacable determination beside a basilisk stare – and the late Darsie Gillie, in charge of French broadcasts, six or seven feet of gesticulating vehemence which earned him the nick-name of ‘the semaphore’.”

The two-hour BBC epic to celebrate 50 years from VE Day in 1995, a two-part documentary called What Did You Do in the War Auntie?, devoted just seven minutes to the European Service. Only a few of the Colonel Britton broadcasts by Ritchie, or Newsome’s The Man in the Street broadcasts, remain in the BBC’s archives.

Newsome had to wait for the historian Asa Briggs, in his mammoth history of broadcasting in the UK in 1970, to give him his place as “the central figure in the organisation … and the most industrious, lively and imaginative of all its wartime recruits”.

I never met Newsome (full disclosure: he married a relative of mine). He died in 1976. But it was Newsome and Ritchie who really created the myth of the BBC, by using news as a weapon – not quite what the myth suggests – with all the resources of culture and music and humour.

Hitler’s propaganda chief Goebbels warned in 1944: “There is one way in which the British, despite the narrowness of their political thinking, are ahead of us – they know that news can be a weapon and are experts in its strategy.” (This quotation is disputed: it may have been a Stuttgart reporter at the same date).

So they seem to have been right. It is time they took their full places in the history books. See this one: V for Victory.

This post first appeared in the Guardian

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