Tag Archives: Literature
From time to time the HV Morton blog has featured articles of general literary interest, not necessarily directly connected with Morton himself. There follows one such piece from high-flying, motorbike riding, whiskey drinking, international photo journalist Jim Leggett, a long-standing member of the HV Morton Society formerly of Glasgow (a Scottish city to the west of Edinburgh), now resident in the US of A!
In all seriousness, we are privileged to have this contribution from such an experienced and accomplished journalist on a fascinating, little known subject.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England.
I was in the remarkable old Tennessee town of Franklin covering the Southern Whiskey Society annual event. During my explorations I discovered this historic building, a survivor of the historic Battle of Franklin, one of the most decisive in Civil War history, more details of which are covered on an adjacent plaque:
Old Factory Store
In 1799 Franklin founder Abram Maury sold lot 20 to Joseph McBride. By 1825 Dyer Pearl, Thomas Parkes and Joseph L Campbell operated a steam powered cotton and grist mill on East Margin and owned lot 20 upon which was built a brick store in the Greek revival style, complete with 4 distinctive Doric columns supporting a Grecian pediment. Other antebellum owners included Anderson and Baldwin (1833), Plunkett & Parkes (1843). On December 12 1862 U.S. Brig. Gen. David Stanley ordered the machinery at the factory and the stones of the grist mill destroyed but he spared the factory store after taking four wagon loads of flour and a wagon full of whiskey.
Williamson County Historical Society 2005
I was delighted when bookseller Joel Tomlin introduced me to the magic of gold leaf hidden images, not the least of which are said to have been of erotic subject matter in some ancient volumes! You can find detailed history on the art, legend, and prolific usage of fore-edge painting on the internet, so I will not try to explain better than you will find there.
One can imagine relaxing, secluded in this comfortable chair, a glass of Tennessee whiskey in hand, with unlimited time to pursue literary inspiration among the vast collection of mostly Southern history books Joel Tomlin has accumulated in this modern-day Old Curiosity Shop. I even pulled out three volumes entitled “Old and New Edinburgh”, 1863, by James Grant of which I possess numbers two and three, volume one having been presented to acquaintance Sean Connery, who has it at his Bahamian home!
As in the steps of Morton, I always seek the untold story, this being the kind of discovery Morton himself would have elaborated on in great detail. Indeed, I plan to get it into my next yarn for American Whiskey Magazine.
I am sending other photographs of similar gold leaf images trusting Mortonites may be as enchanted by the discovery as I was!
Indeed something new every day!
Methuen, London, 2004. 248 pages with illustrations, notes and index. Also now available in paperback. From major booksellers and on-line through Amazon UK, etc.
The first and most important thing to say about Michael Bartholomew’s “In Search of HV Morton” is that this is an excellent read. The text flows, it is accessible and, unlike some biographies, it has a good structure and narrative. The reader is taken from Morton’s childhood, cycling around the lanes of Warwickshire and discovering a passion for place and history through his journalistic career, finding his niche as the foremost travel writer of his time and then, finally his gradual disillusionment as England began to take a different direction from the country he had known and loved.
Early in the work Bartholemew takes time to explain the distinction between the droll, urbane narrator of his tales (‘HV’ Morton) and the real man (‘Harry’ Morton) behind the books. Morton’s contemporaneous diary writings are contrasted with his works of literature throughout as a device to move through Morton’s life and explore the motivation behind both narrator and author. Any reader coming to this work hoping to read about the simple, solitary, companionable traveller of Morton’s books is in for a disappointment. Like the top rate journalist he was, Morton knew how to deliver precisely what his audience wanted and went to great lengths to maintain the illusion and charm of his books by keeping a low public profile. Fortunately for us (and perhaps less so for the reputation of ‘HV’) Morton left a large number of notes in the form of diaries and half written memoirs which formed the basis for much of Batholomew’s book, enabling his story to be told.
This account of the life of Morton is even handed and largely non-judgemental (despite the occasional spin placed on some of Bartholemew’s words by other reviewers).
Bartholemew obviously admires Morton’s talents as a master of descriptive prose and he presents Morton’s questionable political views as more naive and simplistic rather than anything more sinister; ‘more prejudice than politics’. Morton’s womanising and racism are presented, mostly in the form of extracts from his diary, and the reader is left to judge for him or her self. We are told of a man who, while privately contemptuous of the direction Britain was taking at times, was prepared to put his talents to work, on occasion for no financial return, to support the governmnent in its efforts during the war. Morton wasn’t without a social conscience and his 1933 social commentary “What I saw in the slums” is compared favourably with the better known “Road to Wigan Pier” by George Orwell; Bartholomew suggests that Morton’s depiction of women in the slums is ‘just as powerful and… less patronising’ than Orwell’s. We are told of Morton’s quiet bravery – castigating himself in his diary on the one hand for his cowardly feelings during the London blitz yet, despite his fear, going into the city to cover stories for his paper. At a time in Britain’s history when invasion appears imminent Morton writes about the distinct possiblility of being killed defending his village against the Nazi foe while at the same time is enraged as his gardener is enlisted into the armed forces.
This book is a sympathetic, ‘warts and all’ portrayal of the real man behind the public persona; above all it is a balanced account. It is direct and unstinting, delivering praise and criticism alike where they are due. By the conclusion any Morton admirer will be the better for having read it and will have an understanding of the real depth behind both ‘HV’ and ‘Harry’.
HV Morton was in the habit of using caricatures of certain groups of individuals as foils for his carefree narrator, enabling him to make a point in a lighthearted way, in keeping with the nature of his travelogues. The travelling salesman came in for a bit of stick on occasions, as did the ‘yokel’. But one of his favourites was the hapless American Tourist. Morton would paint him as naive and well-meaning, camera in hand, shutter clicking and uttering phrases such as ‘gee’ and ‘say, mister’. He would generally have daughters with names like Maisie, who would refer to him as ‘Dad!’ Well, that’s the male version certainly; of the female version, HVM was generally more complimentary. These unsuspecting individuals would provide ample opportunity for Morton’s traveller to expound fulsomely on a variety of topics as the reader pictures with amusement his assumed look of Old World superiority, the Tourist looking on, basking in his erudition.
However, in the years between the wars when Morton was writing about the British Isles, the world was growing steadily smaller. His books were such great successes in his mother-country, inevitably the lure of the even more lucrative American market began to exert its pull in a way that must have been difficult to resist. Morton was approached by North American publishers, with a view to expanding his readership (and his bank-balance) on the other side of the pond and the first US edition of “In Search of England” appeared as early as 1928 from publishers including the National Travel Club, and McBride, both of New York, and later Dodd, Mead and Co., also of New York.
But what to do about all those references to the American Tourist? All very amusing to a homespun readership certainly, but how would his irreverence be taken in the United States, already well on its way to supplanting the British Empire as the global superpower to be reckoned with? One can only imagine the mental gymnastics which must have gone on and the negotiations which must have been had prior to the publication of the first US edition.
We can get an insight into the thought process from the introduction Morton wrote to a 1935 revised US edition of “In Search of England”, published by Dodd, Mead and Co. and featured below for your interest. It seems at one point he considered expunging the offending references altogether but in the end decided that a bit of ‘context’ in the introduction might do the job instead. This introduction makes fascinating reading – never has back-pedalling been undertaken so elegantly. As you read it you will see that Morton has apparently always thought of the American Tourist as ‘loveable’ and ‘part of the English scene’ and he explains how he really misses them, now that the post-First World War travel boom was over.
And well might Maisie’s ‘Dad’ have responded, ‘Pull the other one, Limey!’
The cover of my Dodd, Mead and Co. edition of “In Search of England”
‘Introduction to the Revised Edition
‘WHEN Messrs. Dodd, Mead and Company asked me to revise for the United States this new edition of “In Search of England”, I was faced with the task of reading the book. I had no idea, when I wrote it some years ago, that the book would become a best-seller.
In fact, I never thought of such things. I just wanted to put down on paper the day-to-day impressions of a high-spirited journey over the roads and through the lanes of England. But, in the inexplicable way these things happen, “In Search of England”, with no assistance from the critics, began to sell all over the English-speaking world.
‘Reading it again at the request of Mr. Dodd, I am delighted to discover that it possesses two of the qualities by which I judge a book of travel: it deals sincerely with the unchanging and abiding things, and it is flavoured, but not too highly, by the time in which it was written.
‘This brings me to the only serious criticism I have received from readers in the United States. These criticisms are always the same. “Why,” I am asked, “do you draw such revolting Americans? All Americans are not vulgar. All Americans are not Babbitts. No Americans talk the kind of slang you put into their mouths.” And so forth.
‘I have received so many letters in this strain that my first reaction to Mr. Dodd’s revised edition was the desire to cut out every American in the book. But, as my pen hovered over these “guys,” I could not bring myself to do it. They are part of the English scene as it was when the book was written.
‘I went in search of England during that brief, golden age after the War when the Rue de Rivoli was an American possession, and when every English cathedral city received its daily quota of visiting Americans. These travellers were drawn very largely from a type that had never before strayed so far from home. Money had suddenly come their way and they were out to see the world. They did talk slang, and they did observe a lovable naivete which is faithfully reproduced here and there in these pages. For instance, the man encountered in Peterborough, who was making a cultural tour of Europe, could not be met with anywhere to-day, but he was an interesting phenomenon during the post-war travel boom. Therefore I ask my readers to understand that I am not setting up characters in any way typical of a nation, and if I were writing this book to-day not one of these people would appear in it, because they have ceased to brighten the rural life of England; much, I confess, to England’s regret.
‘But the England of these pages is still the England of to-day. The changes that have taken place are purely superficial. No Cornish farmer now listens to radio from London with a primitive valve set, and the old Mauretania has ceased to slip into Plymouth Sound.
‘Nevertheless the ancient background of the picture is unaltered. Jack Blandiver still kicks up his heels against the bell in Wells Cathedral, and Hadrian’s Wall still runs its solitary course into the mists of the northern fells.’
H. V. M., London, 1935.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
(this article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.195 on 3rd December 2015)
(This post was originally distributed as HV Morton Society Snippets – No.202)
Grizedale Hall in the Lake District (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
A couple of months ago I received a most surprising communication:
Greetings from America!
I am a U-Boat researcher (www.U-35.com) and years ago came into possession of a Daily Herald article by Morton: H. V. Morton Visits The “U-Boat Hotel” Guests.
I gather that Morton collected these articles into book/pamphlet form for publication, as this topic is included in one of his books. I have attached an article which I gather was written in November 1939, as it refers to “ten weeks of war” – so the officers of “my” U-Boat (U-35) were not incarcerated yet; they arrived at Grizedale in December.
I would like to make one request – please place this article on the website for all to enjoy. There is a strong worldwide interest in U-Boats, and a recognition of “U-Boat Hotel” as Grizedale Hall. My own great-uncle and fellow officers of U-35 were housed at Grizedale before being transported to Canada in 1940. When U-Boat researchers look for “U-Boat Hotel” it would be wonderful to find and reference the text and photos of Morton’s wonderful article on your website.
Thanks in advance for considering, Hans Mair
What an unexpected treasure – Hans had attached photographs of the article in question. They were yellowed with age and a little faded but still legible enough to get a transcript done, which I have included, with copies of the original pictures, below.
The original newspaper article was expanded by Morton and included in his 1942 work “I Saw Two Englands” as section 2 of Chapter 9 (p 256 in my 1943 fourth edition). Having sight of the original article is exciting enough, but to have a connection through it with a relative of one of the submarine crew who were detained there (albeit not until after Morton’s visit) is doubly so. I would urge you to visit Hans’s U-35 website for even more detail. His writing gives a true insight into the lives of submariners in the German Navy during the Second World-War, in particular the crew of the U-35, their capture and imprisonment – and their chivalry.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
[Hand written note reads: Grizedale Hall, Lake District]
H.V. Morton Visits the “U-boat Hotel” Guests
H. V. MORTON AT “U-BOAT HOTEL”
HERE is an absorbing news story. It takes you inside a prison camp “Somewhere in Britain” where German U-boat officers are detained.
H. V. Morton has written it as one of his great series which the “Daily Herald” is publishing daily.
By H.V. Morton
The “DOOR KEEPER” on duty at the entrance to the “U-boat Hotel”
I wanted to see the captured German submarine officers.
I wanted to find out how we are treating them, what kind of men they are, what they do with themselves, and if they are grateful to us, or at least to fate, for having literally fished them out of the jaws of death.
The officer commanding the district gave me an introduction to the commandant of the prison camp and I set off to motor 50 miles into a wilderness—a beautiful wilderness whose solitude deepened as I went on.
The German prisoners captured during 10 weeks of war do not include one army officer, N.C.O. or private. They are all either U-boat officers and men rescued at sea or crews of raiding aircraft shot down over our coasts or in our territorial waters. Their numbers continue to increase. Men are sent to one camp, officers to another.
As in the last war large country houses have been taken over to accommodate the officers, and the first one to be occupied — the Donington Hall of this war—was the place to which I was journeying. I cannnot tell you its name. but it is known in all the villages round about as “The U-boat Hotel.” It is in the heart of a district familiar to the more adventurous kind of hiker, cyclist and lover of untamed nature, and I went on for many a mile without meeting a soul.
I felt I must at last be getting near, and this became a certainty as turning the corner of a lane I was obliged to pull up to allow a remarkable procession to pass. It was led by a mounted policeman. He rode in this remote solitude as if he were patrolling Whitehall. Behind marched several old soldiers wearing the ribbons of the last war and armed with rifles and fixed bayonets. Marching four abreast came about 20 young men laughing and joking in German as they strode between a line of guards.
Most of them were bare-headed, all of them wore strangely assorted clothing. I was to learn that some of it belonged to British naval officers who had rescued them from the sea. Many wore the leather trousers that German submarine officers wear on duty, and these garments had been supplemented by civilian coats and waistcoats.
The procession ended with more armed guards and a British Officer [here a hand-written note reads “Captain J.C. Derlien MC”].
In the orderly room to whch I was conducted by a sentry the colonel in command of “The U-boat Hotel” was telephoning to a dentist in a distant town arranging for the teeth of six Germans to be stopped.
“If I am allowed to have heard that conversation” I said, “might I say that six seems a high proportion to require dental treatment?”
“Many of the U-boats were in position two months before the war broke out,” replied the Colonel, “and I suppose even a U-boat officer puts off going to the dentist as long as possible!
(continued on Page Four, Column Three)
[here a line is missing from the scan, but the same section in “I Saw Two Engands” reads: “Anyhow, the fact remains that their… ]
… teeth are in a bad way, I shall send them to the dentist with an armed guard in a motor-lorry”
The colonel had been through the last war and was on the Reserve List when called up to organise “The U-boat Hotel” He the ideal man for the job, a bachelor who likes living in the depths of the country, a humorous, humane disciplinarian who is resolved to make his captives as comfortable as regulations will allow.
He has under him five officers and about 150 men of the National Defence Corps, all old soldiers, and several of them, by some ironic twist of destiny, once British prisoners of war in Germany! The officers and guards live in the estate cottages and in the barns and the stables, while the Germans live in the more spectacular surroundings of the hall itself.
Before we went to the hall we had a look at the quarters in which the guards are living. A canteen is being fitted up in an old coach house. Coke stoves are being installed in barns and stables where the men sleep. These old soldiers appeared delighted to be back in khaki. I thought that perhaps their wives would not be too pleased to see how gaily they have taken to the old life! As we walked past their beds and looked at the kits neatly set out on the blankets I noticed that above every bed had been placed a picture of the King or Queen.
A German prisoner of war reading beside a log fire at the “U-boat Hotel”
* * *
We now approached the hall itself. A huge country house in the Edwardian-Tudor style that was empty when war broke out and has been empty, I think, for two or three years. It is the kind of house in which few people except orphans or committees can afford to live nowadays. It once belonged to a wealthy shipowner. It has been surrounded by a double system of barbed wire entanglements. Armed guards patrol the place day and night and high look-out platforms have been erected all round it on which sentries are posted. A circle of powerful electric lights illuminates the hall and its grounds after nightfall. The Germans sleep in dormitories, formerly the best bedrooms, and as more prisoners arrive more rooms are opened up. They sleep on comfortable iron bedsteads and box mattresses and have an adequate supply of warm blankets.
Men who are rescued from the sea rarely have any possessions, so the officers have had to be provided with razors, soap, shaving brushes and other articles, which are to be seen; neatly arranged above each bed. Their possessions will grow, no doubt, as their captivity lengthens and as parcels are received from Germany.
At the moment they have no money, but arrangements for an Anglo-German prisoners-of-war finance scheme are going through with, I believe, the help of the Dutch Government, which is acting as go-between. When this scheme is complete English money will go to Germany for our prisoners and German money will come over here for Germans. Lack of money, of course, means no cigarettes, but the British officers have supplied cigarettes at their own expense.
Picture of Hitler
The huge panelled dining-room on the ground floor, in which the shipowner once entertained his guests, is the German common-room. It is simply furnished with a few chairs and a ping-pong table. The only decoration is a photograph of Hitler shooting out his arm in salute.
“Every prisoner is a hundred per cent. Nazi.” said the Colonel.
“At first, when addressed by an officer, they would come to attention and give the Nazi salute with a ‘Heil Hitler.’ But we have stopped that, and they don’t attempt to do it now.”
“What do they do all day?”
“They play cards and ping-pong. The Bishop of —– has sent us a lot of German books, I hope, as time goes on to be able to organise other amusements for them, so that they won’t get too bored.”
A serving hatch from the dining-hall communicates with a large up-to-date kitchen. Four German naval ratings who had been submarine cooks, have been detailed to look, after the officers. They receive ordinary military rations—exactly the same food as that in the British Officers’ mess—and this the German cooks are allowed to prepare as they like, or rather as their officers like!
While we were looking at the bathrooms upstairs we heard the tramp of approaching feet and saw the Germans returning from their morning exercise. The sentries sloped arms. The gates in the barbed wire were hastily unlocked and the young men passed inside.
“See that young fellow, the third in the last file,” said the commandant, “He’s a submarine lieutenant—a mere boy—and he sobbed his heart out the first night because he is now of no further use to the Fatherland.”
We went downstairs into the dining-room, where the Germans were now gathered. They sprang stiffly to attention until the commandant told them to relax. A sentry stood at the door with a rifle and fixed bayonet. The young men gathered round the commandant and talked freely to him in excellent English, and I could see that they liked him. I think these young fellows also respected the long row of ribbons on his chest.
* * *
After lunching with the British officers in their mess I noticed with interest that they were all reading “The Escaping Club,” by AJ Evans, an admirable account of British prisoners in Germany during the last war. I was told that the commandant had suggested it was their, duty to study the psychology of war captivity.
“It is impossible for men captured in war not to dream of escape,” I was told.
“No matter how awful the horrors from which they’ve escaped and how sure the knowledge that they are safe, the boredom, the lack of news, the very fact of being held against their wills in enemy country makes any risk and even a return to danger seem worth while.”
A veteran was sitting near the stove solemnly adding to the art gallery. He had a pile of old “Sketches” and “Tatlers” and a pair of scissors. I watched him at work, gloomily passing over film stars and dancers; but whenever he came across a picture of the King or Queen he made a pause of sombre satisfaction and dug the scissors into the page. It will be a loyal and regal barn when he has finished with it!
It was surprising to realise that such average-looking young fellows—just the kind of young men one might have met at any Anglo-German party in London before the war—were the men who have launched torpedoes against our ships and have attempted to make a mess of the Forth Bridge.
But “the enemy,” when he is not actually trying to kill you, is always a surprising sight!
I have known a number of Nazis and have been impressed and irritated by them on many occasions. I have always found that on the essential doctrines of their faith it is impossible to argue; for a non-Nazi to talk politics to a Nazi provokes precisely the same kind of mental deadlock as that between an atheist and a devout Catholic.
I had no need to look twice at the German officers to see that they carry their faith into captivity. They have been fished out of the sea or picked up from the land positively bursting with love and homage for their almost divine leader; and nothing can convince them at this moment that Germany can fail to win the war.
by Kenneth Fields
Perhaps the most important milestone in HV Morton’s writing career was his period at the Daily Express during the early twenties. His colourful articles on the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb had put his name on the front page of the newspaper for the first time, and this quickly established him as a star journalist. Fortunately we have a number of fascinating personal observations of him at this period from the writings of his colleagues.
The following is taken from “It Might Have Been You” (Chapman and Hall, 1938), the autobiography of Collie Knox (1897 – 1977). Collie Knox had joined the staff in the news room at the Express in 1926 in a junior position, after a short but eventful military career. He recalls that ‘In those days the offices in the Express looked out on Shoe Lane, a dingy little street from which came sounds of hammering most of the waking hours.’
‘… Often when I was in a tussle with some refractory copy and Wilkins was demanding how much longer I’d be, such gods as H.V. Morton and Hannen Swaffer descended from their thrones and entered the news room. With longing eyes I gazed at them. For here indeed were names with which to conjure. They were in receipt of more money per week than I earned in a year….. Would I ever be like them? Would anyone ever nudge his – or indeed her – neighbour and whisper, “That’s Collie Knox, you know”? My copy was forgotten and I followed these men with envious eyes as they stood surveying the room. Lords of all they surveyed.
‘Harry Morton is a wonderful writer. He has the gift of description tremendously developed. He will attend a national ceremony with every other newspaper star writer, and will notice that a shy little woman in black with a medal ribbon pinned on her breast is sobbing in a corner. While the other writers will concentrate on the obvious highlights, the pomp and splendour, Harry Morton will hang his story on the little woman in black. Instantly she will stand out as the central figure and she will live before the reader.
‘I remember once Morton was sent to write the experiences of a man who had climbed to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. When I read his description the next day in the paper I literally felt giddy… so vivid is his power of writing.
‘His books sell in millions, and he is unequalled in his own field. He remains the same quiet, charming man. Unspoiled. I knew that Baxter had a few tussles with H.V. If he did not think that a story was worthy of his time or his talent, he would refuse to go out on it. Baxter once said that he would rather deal with a temperamental prima donna than with H.V. when he was in that mood. But Baxter was eminently capable of dealing with any prima donna. He could wheedle a cork out of a bottle.‘
After six years at the Daily Express Collie Knox moved to the Daily Mail where he established himself as a popular columnist, musical lyricist and a patriotic writer during the Second World War. In his anthology, “For Ever England” (Cassell –1943), he includes an extract from the postscript of HVM’s “I Saw Two Englands” (Methuen -1942) which he named The Vigil Splendid. This outstanding example of HVM’s descriptive writing vividly explains what it was like to live in England during the Battle of Britain.
With best wishes,
This article was originally distributed on 21 November 2015 as HVM Society Snippets – No.194
I would like to wish all members of the HV Morton Society and all readers of the HV Morton blog all the best for the festive season – have a Happy Christmas and a very Good New-Year.
This year I have chosen a section, kindly suggested by a fellow Mortonite, from HVM’s 1933 “A London year” (which was a revision of his original 1926 “The London Year” – note the subtly different title). It is among the best of Morton’s prose, a touching depiction of Christmas day, with suggestions of the hard times which had befallen London and the rest of the world between the writing of the two editions. There is also a clue to what made Morton different from others of his calling and how he achieved his intimate style and popularity – namely his knack of always looking for the humanity in any story.
Christmas Day in London
by HV Morton
A hush more peculiar, more significant and deeper than any hush of the year, falls over London. But it is merely a superficial hush. Actually it is one of the noisiest days in the whole year. Early in the morning the rigid and apparently silent streets are loud with the blowing of tin trumpets, the hooting of toy horns, the beating of kettle-drums, the winding of springs and the explosion of crackers. To the homeless wanderer, however, to whom all hearts turn on this day, London must appear to be wrapped in a self-contained silence. Self-contained it certainly is, for this is the only day in the year on which London has no public life.
The big hotels, in order to keep their doors open, must transform themselves into children’s parties and reproduce on an embarrassing and expensive scale the atmosphere that exists so simply and so beautifully in millions of little homes. Sometimes young reporters, torn from the bosoms of their families, are sent out on a cold unhappy tour of London on Christmas Day. And they all tell the same story. Bald old men, who ought to know better, are wearing paper caps in the Ritz. The Chelsea Pensioners are eating plum pudding. Patients in hospitals lie in garlanded wards. The homeless are herded in an atmosphere which is described as ‘jolly’. That is all that we have ever been able to extract from the most earnest and willing of explorers.
But I can never understand why the earnest young reporter takes the trouble to explore London in search of Christmas. He would do far better if he just stood outside the nearest house and described the lit interior seen through a gap in the curtains: the holly, the mistletoe, the bright children’s faces, the older faces on which Christmas has painted a brief, exceptional carelessness.
It is a day that never changes. It is the one day in the whole year in which London, splitting up into millions of self-contained family groups, is at peace with itself.
[A LONDON YEAR (1933) §4 pp 207-209]
With best wishes once again for a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year – Slainte Mhor!
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
This article was first issued as HVM Society Snippets – No.174 on 11 November 2014
This summer, I was browsing (yet again) in a secondhand bookshop, and found a delightful volume of Paul Gallico short stories (famous of course for “The Snow Goose”). In this book, he reproduced some of his best magazine stories, and also had written an interesting preface to each one, telling how the story came to be created.
One such story was called “Thief is an Ugly Word”, (produced in Cosmopolitan during the Second World War). The story told how the Nazis, to fund their war effort, turned to peddling stolen art, mostly using Fascist sympathisers in Argentina. There was truth behind the story, and Gallico explains how the truth came to be spelt out in this fashion:
“During the war (in America) there was created at the behest of Washington, the most astonishing propaganda agency which met in New York, called the Writers’ War Board. . . its function was simple and easy to understand. When the psychological warfare boffins in Washington needed a writing job of any kind, the problem was dumped into the lap of the War Board in New York which found the right author in the shortest possible time and got the job done. This would be in the guise of short stories, novelettes, newspaper articles or even circulars and pamphlets. It worked . . .Propaganda in fiction is useful only when the characters and the story are thoroughly beguiling, interesting, or exciting and entertaining. [He goes on to say that the story must be good or else the nugget of information you are conveying won’t get through – like “sugarcoating the pill”.]
“If this strikes you as a devious way to go about an exposee and if you might be inclined to say that a factual and documented article . . . might have been more effective, you would be wrong. It is a fact, startling perhaps in its implications, that fiction has a far greater propaganda value and gains far more credence amongst readers than actuality. I need refer you only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the results it achieved. A truth becomes far more vivid and active and lives in people’s minds to a much greater extent when fictionalised than when presented merely as fact. People like to be told a story.”
From the collection “Confessions of a Story-Teller“, published in 1961.
This reminded me of Morton and his one fictional work “I, James Blunt”. For those who haven’t read it, it is a diary of an ordinary man living in Nazi England, after Germany has won the war. It grimly describes day-to-day life including living in fear that someone with a grouse against you may turn you over to the authorities – which is what happens to James Blunt in the story. It’s about the only work of Morton’s that I don’t particularly want to re-read and re-re-read.
But was this written in the same way as Gallico’s tale?
Kenneth Fields, HVM Society historian, writes in his book “The Life of an Enchanted Traveller” that the Ministry of Information did the job of the American Writers War Board.
“Its many separate divisions included a Home Intelligence Unit that prepared reports on the morale of the civilian population, a Films Division and a Literary and Editorial Division that produced a range of booklets about the war. The Authors’ Section was housed in the University College buildings in Gower Street, Bloomsbury and for a period its head was novelist Graham Greene who worked alongside fellow writer Malcolm Muggeridge. With academic scepticism they both believed their work was of little importance and found the Ministry to be generally inefficient.
“However in spite of these misgivings Greene continued to take his duties seriously. One of his schemes involved approaching a number of well-known politicians and writers to ask if they would use their talents in writing a series of patriotic pamphlets and books. These famous names included E. M. Delafield, Herbert Morrison, Vernon Bartlett, Dorothy Sayers, Howard Spring and H.V. Morton.”
It was as a result of his work for this Division, that Morton was chosen, along with Howard Spring, to write up the account of Churchill’s summit with Eisenhower which you will find in his book “Atlantic Meeting”.
I agree with Gallico that fiction makes for powerful propaganda. Morton has the Union Jack banned, Waterloo Station becomes Goebbels Station, (names of British victories being erased from history), houses crumbling and the suicide rate soaring. The Hitler Youth Movement is planned to be rolled out in schools. Children will be educated in German. All this carefully written to stiffen the morale of the British public.
Morton finishes his sombre novella with these words, “Fortunately the Diary of James Blunt will remain fiction as long as England condemns complacency and bring to times of good news the same high courage and resolution which inspire and unite her in her darkest hours.”
As we remember those darkest hours, and those who fell in them, and those who did not fall, but fought on with that same courage and resolution – may we also spare a thought for those who fought Fascism with the weapons at their command – the typewriter and the pen.
With best wishes,
George V’s impressive coronation portrait
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
Some time ago I received the following email from journalist and editor, Peter Dron, a regular reader of the HV Morton blog, who has a real eye for literary detail:
Hello Mr Taylor,
I am reading a 2006 edition of “In Search of England” and I am puzzled by a passage in Chapter Ten, in which Morton stops at Oakham Castle in Rutland. He is referring to the tradition which obliges members of the nobility passing through the town to pay a “tax” of a horseshoe. Various kings and queens were among those who had paid this tribute:
“The tragedy of Oakham Castle is that King George V never paid the tax.
“’If only we could have got him!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s!”’”
This book was supposedly published in 1927, when of course George V was King and the Prince of Wales was that buffoon who later became the Duke of Windsor. Can you cast any light on this mystery?
With best wishes,
As always with matters-royal, I feel confusion about dates, especially at that difficult time for the nation. So I reminded myself, courtesy of Wikipedia, that George V ruled from 1910 to 1936 (having succeeded Edward VII). He himself, was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII (formerly Prince of Wales – the buffon!), who ruled from 20 January 1936 to 11 December 1936. Following his abdication he was succeeded by his brother, George VI, (formerly Duke of York) who ruled from 11 December 1936 to 6 February 1952.
Given that many of the sections in “In Search of England” were originally written as newspaper columns prior to 1927 (when the book was published) but none would have been published any later; the passage quoted seems to make for strange reading.
The future Edward VIII in 1932
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
The Prince of Wales, who became the king mentioned in the excerpt can’t have been either Edward VIII or George VI as these both came to the throne after 1927 (and anyway, George VI was never Prince of Wales)
So that leaves us with George V himself, who would have been king during the writing of all the sections of the book and had been Prince of Wales from 1901 to 1910. I wondered whether HVM could have been referring to George V in both sentences, thus:
“‘If only we could have got him [i.e. George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [i.e. George V again] came here, as Prince of Wales [between 1901 and 1910], he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s! [i.e. Edward VII]”’”
That explanation would certainly be factually possible but it is clumsy, and spoils the sense and flow of the paragraph and would suggest that both George V and his father Edward VII both managed to avoid the “tax”.
Alternatively, could this have been a tall tale from a wily caretaker spinning a plausible-sounding story to the tourists over the years in return for acclaim (and the occasional tip!). Another, more mundane, possibility was this might simply have been an error, in a rather complicated passage, which was never corrected.
I love a mystery, so I dug out some of my various editions of “In Search of England” and had a look. And pretty soon my search bore fruit!
I compared the relevant passage in both a 1927 edition and a 1965 edition (ironically using a horseshoe as a paperweight) and they read as follows (with my annotations):
The 1965 edition reads as Peter’s original quote:
“’If only we could have got him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [Edward VIII] came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked around and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’”
Whereas the original, 1927, edition reads:
“’If only we could get him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! As soon as the Prince of Wales [the future Edward VIII] came in here he looked round and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’ We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!”
At last I could relax! It seems that HVM (or, more likely, an editor) went back, some time during the brief reign of Edward VIII, and changed the passage in question to fit the prevailing position. The removal of the last sentence “We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!” is interesting in its own right – was this done at the same time, or after the abdication when its meaning and interpretation would have become so complicated (was it Edward VIII or the (by then) late George V to which it referred?) as to make it hardly worth the bother?
The editor in question obviously didn’t consider how confusing this would make the reading of the passage to future generations who otherwise might have been perfectly happy with it, knowing when the book was published!
Members may be interested to read another HVM blog article, “Call me a cab”, inspired by Peter Dron, about a little known piece of London architectural heritage.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
This article was originally circulated as HVM Literary Notes – No.126 on 20 July 2014