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Careless Talk: Tensions within British Domestic Propaganda during the Second World War

  • Jo Fox
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1 See, e.g., Garland’s cartoon on the European Single Currency in the Daily Telegraph, 13 February 1995 (British Cartoon Archive [BCA] NG5704); and Peter Mandelson’s close relationship with the press, Daily Telegraph, 22 May 2003 (BCA 65730); Dave Brown’s cartoon on Iraq in The Independent, 15 July 2005 (BCA 71889).

2 For example, the issue receives a brief mention in relation to the image of “dangerous women” in Rose, Sonya O., Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Wartime Britain, 1939–1945 (Oxford, 2003), 132. Angus Calder offers a cursory note on the Silent Column campaign in The Myth of the Blitz (London, 1991), 110, and his The People’s War (London, 1979), 136. The same is true of Gardiner, Juliet’s Wartime Britain (London, 2004), 239. The most surprising omission is in Smith, Malcolm’s Britain and 1940: History, Myth and Popular Memory (London, 2000). Given that the campaigns play a prominent role in official and unofficial sources (Home Intelligence Reports, Mass-Observation reports, minutes of the Home Publicity Sub-Committee and the Press) throughout 1940, it is difficult to understand why Smith fails to address the careless talk campaigns.

3 Yass, Marion, This Is Your War (London, 1983), 2125; McLaine, Ian, Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War II (London, 1979), 7484; Balfour, Michael, Propaganda in War, 1939–1945: Organizations, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany (London, 1979), 190–95; Freedman, Jean Rose, Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London (Lexington, 1999), 3480; Thurlow, Richard, “The Evolution of the Mythical British Fifth Column, 1939–46,” Twentieth Century British History 10, no. 4 (1999): 477–98. While Thurlow analyzed the fifth column “scare,” his interest lay not with the effect on propaganda and public opinion but on the evolution of the Security Services. Both Dawson, Elaine and Rafferty, Pauline, “‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’: A Case Study Examining the Operation of Information in British Domestic Posters of the Second World War,” New Review of Information and Library Research 7 (2001): 129–56; and Lewis, Bex, “Careless Talk Costs Lives: The Government’s Information Security Campaign on the Home Front,” Everyone’s War 15 (2007): 4449, offer a brief discussion of the poster art but do not go beyond this.

4 Rose, Which People’s War, 21.

6 Rose, Sonya, “Sex, Citizenship, and the Nation in World War II Britain,” American Historical Review 103, no. 4 (October 1998): 1175.

7 Minutes of the Committee on the Issue of Warnings against Discussion of Confidential Matters in Public Places, 8 November 1939, The National Archives (TNA): Records of the Cabinet Office (CAB) 67/2/38.

9 “Keep It Dark” poster issued in November 1939, TNA: Records created or inherited by the Central Office of Information, here the records of the Ministry of Information (INF) 2/95, “Warning: Be on Your Guard,” poster issued in December 1939, TNA: INF 2/95. See also Longmate, Norman, How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life during the Second World War (London, 1971), 96; and Lewis, “‘Careless Talk Costs Lives,’” 45.

10 Report from the Committee on the Issue of Warnings against Discussion of Confidential Matters in Public Places, to the War Cabinet, 13 March 1940, TNA: CAB 67/5/29.

11 The Times, 7 February 1940, 5.

12 Daily Mirror, 21 March 1940, 5. See also M-O Topic Collection (TC) 42 on this campaign, Mass-Observation Archive Online, Adam Matthew Education (hereafter M-O A).

13 File report (FR) 458, “MOI Shorts,” 25 October 1940, M-O A. The films were launched as part of the interdepartmental anti-gossip initiative, “Summary Report of an Inter-Departmental Meeting,” 7 March 1940, TNA: Home Office (HO) 144/21975. For scripts of the films, see TNA: INF 6/525, INF 6/56, and INF 6/57.

14 Home Morale Emergency Committee: Report to Policy Committee, 4 June 1940, TNA: INF 1/250; Home Intelligence Report, 1 June 1940, in Addison, Paul and Crang, Jeremy A., eds., Listening to Britain: Home Intelligence Reports on Britain’s Finest Hour, May to September 1940 (London, 2010), 63.

15 On the Weymouth Co-operative, see Daily Mirror, 29 May 1940, 4; on Southampton, see Daily Mirror, 6 June 1940, 4.

16 Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, xii.

17 Ibid., xv.

18 Ibid., xi and xiii.

19 These centers were Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Belfast, Cambridge, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Reading, Tunbridge Wells, and London. Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, x.

20 “The Work of the Home Intelligence Division, 1939–1944,” TNA: INF 1/290. Cited in Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, xiv. This is an important collection, since it makes the Home Intelligence Reports, including the RIO summaries, widely available for the first time. These supplement Mass-Observation sources and British Institute of Public Opinion polls, which are already accessible online. For a discussion of the reliability of the source, see xvii.

21 “The Work of the Home Intelligence Division, 1939–1944,” TNA: INF 1/290, quoted in Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, xiv.

23 See Hubble, Nick, Mass-Observation and Everyday Life: Culture, History, Theory (Basingstoke, 2006), 179–87.

24 Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, xiii.

25 Ibid., xi.

26 Home Intelligence Report, 24 May 1940 in Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, 31.

27 Mass-Observation also recorded a peak in fears of the fifth column and enemy agents in May, noting that in this period 30 percent of their diarists referred to them, whereas the figure for 1941 was just 2 percent. FR 773, “Comparative Report on War Diaries,” July 1941, M-O A.

28 FR 223, “General Report from Mass-Observation in Rumour,” 22 June 1940, M-O A.

29 For further details on spy literature, see FR 1035, “Spies in War Fiction,” 8 January 1941, M-O A. For details on spies in film, see Len England’s FR 57, “Film Report,” 17 March 1940, M-O A. The MOI also arranged lectures on spies and the fifth column—see FR 231, “A Ministry of Information Lecture in Worcester,” 28 June 1940, M-O A, and “Fifth Column,” 29 June 1940, TNA: INF 1/251. There are numerous reports on Lord Haw-Haw in Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain. See also BBC Listener Reports (LR), LR/98, “Hamburg Broadcast Propaganda,” 8 March 1940, R9/9/4, British Archives Online; FR 65, “Public and Private Opinion of Lord Haw Haw,” March 1940.

30 Home Morale Emergency Committee: Report to Policy Committee, 4 June 1940, TNA: INF 1/250.

31 Churchill to Lt.-Col. Jacob, 3 July 1940, TNA: Records of the Prime Minister’s Office (PREM) 4/ 37/9A; MOI Policy Committee minutes, 5 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/849; MOI Planning Committee minutes, 5 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/249.

32 MOI Policy Committee minutes, 5 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/849.

33 MOI Planning Committee minutes, 4 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/249.

34 MOI Planning Committee minutes, 8 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/249.

35 Note on ad hoc meeting between members of the MOI Planning Committee, Mr. Surrey Dane and Mr. Christiansen, 9 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/249.

36 Notes on Anti-Gossip Campaign, Kenneth Clark, Clark Papers, Tate Special Collections, 8812.1.4.275.

37 Rose, Nikolas, Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self (London, 1989), 26.

38 Daily Report on Morale, 26 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

39 Daily Report on Morale, 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264; Points from the Regions, 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

40 Report from London, Home Intelligence, n.d., ca. 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264; for speculation about invasion, fifth columnists, and parachutists, see, e.g., FR 539, “Note on Rumour,” 8 January 1941, M-O A.

41 John Anderson, confidential memorandum, 5 June 1940, TNA: PREM 4/39/9A.

42 The Times, 12 July 1940, 2. Author’s emphasis.

43 Picture Post, 27 July 1940.

44 Report from London, n.d., ca. 23 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

45 Calder, The Myth of the Blitz, 110.

46 There are many examples of negative reactions to enemy aliens, citing potential fifth column activity as a source of tension between Britons and enemy aliens. See, e.g., the Home Intelligence report of 6 June 1940 in Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, 85; FR 773, “Comparative Report on War Diaries,” July 1941, M-O A; FR 1630, “Various Indirects,” March 1943, M-O A. Forty-three percent of those questioned by the British Institute of Public Opinion (BIPO) in July 1940 thought that all enemy aliens, regardless of whether they presented a danger, should be interned (BIPO report 71, UK Data Archive).

47 Daily Report on Morale, 26 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264. Details of security prosecutions can be found in TNA: HO 144/21975 and PREM 37/9. See also Minutes of the Committee on the Issue of Warnings against Discussion of Confidential Matters in Public Places, 8 November 1939, TNA: CAB 67/2/38 for discussion of the Civil Defence Regulations.

48 For examples of publicity given to careless talk prosecutions, see The Times, 12 February 1941, 9; Manchester Guardian, 26 March 1942, 6; Daily Express, 8 April 1942, 3; Manchester Guardian, 9 June 1942, 3; 23 July 1942, 5; 10 December 1942, 3; Daily Express, 7 May 1943, 1; The Times, 1 May 1944, 2. Herbert Morrison confirmed in response to a question in the House of Commons on 16 December 1943 that, in the first nine months of 1943, fifty-four individuals were found guilty of breaching regulation 3 of the Defence Regulations. Of those, thirty-four were fined, thirteen imprisoned, and seven put on probation. House of Commons, 16 December 1943, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th ser., vol. 395 (1943–44), cols. 1672–73.

49 Manchester Guardian, 19 July 1940, 4.

50 Silent Column advertisement. For an example of this advertisement, see Manchester Guardian, 13 July 1940, 8.

51 Manchester Guardian, 24 July 1940, 4.

52 Points from the Regions, 23 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

53 Daily Report on Morale, 20 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

54 Points from the Regions, 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

55 See, e.g., Daily Report on Morale, 17 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

56 For further discussion of debates over citizenship and identity at war, see Rose, Which People’s War?; Weight, Richard and Beach, Abigail, eds., The Right to Belong: Citizenship and National Identity in Britain, 1930–1960 (London, 1998); and Rose, “Sex, Citizenship, and the Nation.”

57 See Freeden, Michael, “Civil Society and the Good Citizen: Competing Conceptions of Citizenship in Twentieth-Century Britain,” in Civil Society in British History: Ideas, Identities, Institutions, ed. Harris, Jose (Oxford, 2003), 290.

58 Daily Report on Morale, 20 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

59 Addison and Crang, Listening to Britain, xv. See also xv–xvi on “Cooper’s Snoopers.” Mass-Observation also reported extensively on the affair: FR 333, “Press Campaign against Duff Cooper,” August 1940, M-O A; FR 325, “Cooper’s Snoopers,” August 1940, M-O A; FR 336, “Cooper’s Snoopers,” August 1940, M-O A.

60 Daily Report on Morale, 17 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

61 Points from the Regions, 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

62 Daily Report on Morale, 17 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

63 Points from the Regions, 18 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

64 Report from London, n.d., ca. 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

65 Report from London, n.d., TNA: INF 1/264.

66 Daily Report on Morale, 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

67 FR 878, “What Does Britain Mean to You?” 23 September 1941, M-O A.

68 Ibid.

69 Rose, “Sex, Citizenship, and the Nation,” 1170; Freeden, “Civil Society.”

70 Harris, Jose, “War and Social History: Britain and the Home Front during the Second World War,” Contemporary European History 1, no. 1 (1992): o32.

71 FR 639, “Report on You’re Telling Me,” 5 April 1941, M-O A.

72 FR 878, “What Does Britain Mean to You?” 23 September 1941, M-O A.

73 Points from the Regions, 16 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

74 Daily Report on Morale, 16 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

75 Stanley Baldwin, On England (1926; 4th ed., London, 1938), 12–13.

76 Points from the Regions, 23 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

77 Daily Express, 24 July 1940, 4.

78 House of Commons, 23 July 1940, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th ser., vol. 363 (1939–40), col. 597–99.

79 Manchester Guardian, 24 July 1940, 4.

80 Ibid., 25 July 1940, 4.

81 MOI Planning Committee Minutes, 15 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/249.

82 MOI Planning Committee Minutes, 8 August 1940, TNA: INF 1/249.

83 Report from London, n.d., ca. 22 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/264.

84 Daily Express, 26 July 1940, 2.

85 Handwritten notes on anti-gossip campaigns, Tate Gallery Archive, Clark Papers, 8812.1.1.275, .

86 FR 448, “Report from Mass-Observation on Personification Processes,” 10 October 1940, M-O A.

87 FR 2, “Government Posters in Wartime,” October 1939, 87, 89–93, M-O A.

88 Daily Mirror, 23 August 1940, 10.

89 FR 448, “Report from Mass-Observation on Personification Processes,” 10 October 1940, M-O A. Emphasis in the original.

90 “Ministry of Information. Ten Minute Talks. Number 6. A Talk for Young People. How Chatter Helps Hitler,” TNA: INF 1/251.

91 Daily Mirror, 27 February 1940, 15.

92 Picture Post, 20 February 1943, 6.

93 The Times, 4 October 1941, 6.

94 The Times, 22 September 1942, 2.

95 Daily Mirror, 14 September 1942, 7.

96 Fougasse, … And the Gatepost (London, 1940), viii–xi.

97 Ibid., viii–xi.

98 “Fougasse Posters,” National Archives of Australia, Canberra: Records of the Department of Information, SP 112/1/426/4/2.

99 Fougasse, … And the Gatepost, viii–xi.

100 Press Conference Statement, MOI, 6 February 1940, TC 42, M-O A.

101 Yass, This Is Your War, 25.

102 Summary Report of an Inter-Departmental Meeting on Anti-Gossip, 7 March 1940, TNA: HO 144/21975.

103 FR 442, “Report from Mass-Observation on the Slogan ‘Be like Dad, Keep Mum,’” 7 October 1940, M-O A. This was also the case with the short film You’re Telling Me. FR 639, “Report on the Film You’re Telling Me,” 5 April 1941, M-O A.

104 Nottingham Journal, 11 March 1942. It is interesting to note the crossover between these campaigns, however. A number of careless talk posters, including those of the Fougasse series, can be seen in the background on Next of Kin. See Lant, Antonia, Blackout: Reinventing Women for Wartime British Cinema (Princeton, NJ, 1991), 37.

105 Next of Kin has been the subject of much scholarly discussion. See esp. Aldgate, Anthony and Richards, Jeffrey, Britain Can Take It (London, 1986), 96115; Coultass, Clive, “British Cinema and the Reality of War,” in Britain and the Cinema in the Second World War, ed. Taylor, Philip M. (New York, 1988), 84100.

106 Interview with Thorold Dickinson, January 1977, British Film Institute (BFI) Special Collections, Thorold Dickinson papers, box 48, item 1.

107 See, e.g., Daily Mirror, 16 July 1941, 4; Daily Express 9 February 1942, 2.

108 The Spectator, 22 May 1942.

109 FR 1342, “Next of Kin Film,” 7 July 1942, M-O A.

110 Interview with Thorold Dickinson, January 1977, BFI Special Collections, Thorold Dickinson papers, box 48, item 1.

111 FR 539, “Note on Rumour,” 8 January 1941, M-O A.

112 Home Morale Emergency Committee report to Policy Committee, 4 June 1940, TNA: INF 1/250.

113 Minutes, Home Planning Committee, 14 March 1940, TNA: INF 1/250.

114 Harris, “War and Social History,” 32.

115 Press book, Next of Kin, BFI. This was also a message that could be exported. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, commented on the release of the film in the United States, that German agents operating in the United States were “ordinary people.” Universal promotions book, Next of Kin, BFI Special Collections, Thorold Dickinson Collection, box 7, item 7.

116 On the MOI campaign, see “Fifth Column Tricks,” TNA: INF 1/333. Clothes and the Man (Analysis, 1941), AMY 136, Imperial War Museum Films Division.

117 Ministry of Information Speakers Notes, “The Fifth Column,” 29 June 1940, TNA: INF 1/251.

118 FR 878, “What Does Britain Mean to You?” 20 August 1941, M-O A.

119 Home Planning Committee Minutes, 5 May 1940, TNA: INF 1/249.

120 Thomas Burke, “Democracy in Being: In the Bar All Are Equal,” Preston Herald, 19 March 1943. Cited in Rose, “Which People’s War?” 4–5. This idea is also seen in Orwell, George, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (London, 1962), pt. 2.

121 On Guinness, see Minutes of Planning Committee, 23 September 1940, TNA: INF 1/249; on the Brewers’ Society, see MOI Summary Report of an Inter-Departmental Meeting on the Anti-Gossip Campaigns, 7 March 1940, TNA: HO 144/21975; and Note by the Minister of Information, “Committee on Issue of Warnings against Discussion of Confidential Matters in Public Places,” 13 March 1940, TNA: CAB 67/5/29.

122 MOI Summary Report of an Inter-Departmental Meeting on the Anti-Gossip Campaigns, 7 March 1940, TNA: HO 144/21975.

123 Letter from Wells to Waterfield, 23 April 1940, TNA: HO 144/21975.

124 Memo from Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis, 17 April 1940, TNA: HO 144/21975.

125 Letter from Wells to Waterfield, 23 April 1940, TNA: HO 144/21975.

126 Press book for Next of Kin (Dickinson, 1942), BFI.

127 Ibid. “Test of a Soldier” was available in a 15 inch by 10 inch size and “That Kind of Talk Sinks Ships” in a 30 inch by 20 inch and a 20 inch by 15 inch.

129 Lant, Blackout! 76–79.

130 Delano, Page Dougherty, “Making Up for War: Sexuality and Citizenship in Wartime Culture,” Feminist Studies 26, no. 1 (2000): 39.

131 Rose, “Sex, Citizenship, and the Nation,” 1166.

132 FR 1635, “Women in Public Houses,” 30 March 1943, M-O A.

133 Missed Date (Analysis Films, 1943), AMY 59, Imperial War Museum Films Division.

134 Delporte, Christian, “The Image and Myth of the Fifth Column during the Two World Wars,” in France at War in the 20th Century: Propaganda, Myth and Metaphor, ed. Holman, Valerie and Kelly, Debra (Oxford, 2000), 61. The reconfiguration of community areas and reflections upon the individual’s place within them was not simply a British phenomenon. Similar trends can be observed in anti-gossip propaganda on mainland Europe. Delporte observed of France that “far from calming fears, the image [of enemy infiltrators] strengthened them by bearing witness to the presence of enemy ears,” with French bistros and cafes, like the British pubs, normally “convivial institutions which favour conversation and exchanges” becoming potential sites of danger.

135 Daily Express, 1 May 1944, 1.

136 Aldgate and Richards, Britain Can Take It, 105.

137 Hush! Not a Word! (1943), AMY 56, Imperial War Museum Films Division, London.

138 Chatterbug (1943), DRA 465/01–02, Imperial War Museum, Films Division London.

139 Ibid.

140 Careless Talk shooting script, general release date 17 July 1944 (except Pathe and Paramount who released the film on 6 July 1944), TNA: INF 6/197.

141 Daily Mirror, 8 June 1944, 7.

142 Letter from Duff Cooper, 19 July 1940, TNA: INF 1/251.

143 Rose, “Sex, Citizenship, and the Nation,” 1173.

144 Harris, “War and Social History,” 32.

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