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This article is taken from PN Review 50, Volume 12 Number 6, July - August 1986.

'To Advise the Minister': Authors and Propaganda in Wartime Alan Munton

At the outbreak of war in 1939, proposals were put forward at the Ministry of Information to set up a committee of authors to advise on ways in which writers might carry out propaganda. It is possible to follow in detail the course of events, for the papers are held at the Public Record Office among the Ministry of Information files (INF 1/229). After four months' discussion no Authors' Committee was set up; but the attempt to do so raises all kinds of questions about the role of writers in a time of national crisis. For this was one of those rare occasions when the relations between the State and the community of writers come sharply into focus.

On 5 September 1939 Sir Hugh Walpole wrote to Lord Macmillan, the Minister, saying that he had worked at the Ministry of Information under Beaverbrook in 1918, and was now 'like everyone else most anxious to do useful work'. It was two days after the declaration of war. Walpole was one of the best-known writers of the time; his forty-two novels and collections of stories, together with a huge output of journalism, had made him both rich and influential. For this reason he was listened to. Concerning English writers he claimed: 'I know them all and their works as well as anyone in England'. This letter initiated much consultation. First Humbert Wolfe, the poet and civil servant, was approached; then Geoffrey Faber, chairman of Faber and Faber; meanwhile, civil ...

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