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Churchill's JB Priestley memos revealed by BBC documentary
A television documentary claims to have unearthed new evidence that Bradford writer JB Priestley was sacked by Winston Churchill for his broadcasts to the nation during the Second World War.
Inside Out, on BBC1 at 7.30pm today, examines memos between Churchill and his Information Minister, Duff Cooper, which refer to Priestley’s weekly postscript broadcasts in which he came close to criticising Churchill’s management of the war. Priestley left the series suddenly, and it has long been suspected that Churchill had him fired.
While Churchill was regarded as “the voice of the nation”, Priestley (pictured) was “the voice of the people”, who boosted morale during the war years with his weekly Sunday night BBC broadcasts.
The documentary says that although Churchill and Priestley both used language to “stir hearts and unite the British people”, they clashed on the kind of Britain they wanted after the war.
Bradford historian and political analyst Dr Richard North tells Inside Out that in more than 20 programmes in 1940 and a further six in 1941, Priestley became increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Conservative government.
The Inside Out team visited the Churchill Archive at the University of Cambridge and found a document which could help confirm that Churchill took a keen interest in Priestley’s broadcasts, becoming increasingly irritated with him.
The programme also features footage of the Priestley archives at the University of Bradford, with one newspaper article quoting Priestley as saying “we are not all in the same war” when finding himself being obstructed.
A letter to him from the Ministry of Information appears to blame the BBC for him being taken off the air, while a letter from the BBC blames the Ministry of Information.
However, in the programme, Priestley’s stepson Nicolas Hawkes says he can find no evidence that Churchill influenced the decision to fire his stepfather, despite Priestley having believed it himself. “I presume to know better than him – I’ve been through all the records in the BBC archives,” he says.