When people think of J B Priestley they probably think of the statue outside the National Media Museum, the man with the Bulldog Drummond aspect, top coat blown back.

He was the curmudgeonly old Bradfordian who supported the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament, wrote a few famous novels and plays, chatted to the nation on the wireless about Bradford pie shops, and had his picture drawn by David Hockney in 1973.

Bradford-based historian and political researcher Richard North says there is a lot more to Priestley than that.

One of the many intriguing points he makes in his forthcoming book The Many, Not The Few: The Stolen History Of The Battle Of Britain, is the importance of Priestley’s role as a political broadcaster during the war. That he was, in fact, a towering figure, a rival to Winston Churchill.

As wartime Prime Minister, Churchill’s job was multi-faceted – he had to win the war of hearts and minds in his own cross-party Cabinet, win the war of words to keep the country together during the worst moments of 1940, including the fall of France, the retreat from Dunkirk, the Nazi economic blockade and the extensive bombing of Britain, and try to bring the Americans in to join the Allied cause.

“But there was also the party-political dimension, one which cast Churchill as the leader of the Conservative Party, pitted against the Left Wing which was challenging him for power after the war,” says Richard North in the last chapter of his book.

J B Priestley, with a Sunday night audience of between ten and 14 million for his Postscript broadcasts, was calling for a statement of war aims that went beyond fighting to win – what happened afterwards to the men and women doing the fighting was just as important.

Richard North says Churchill rejected the idea of making such a statement, and thereby acknowledging “the right of the people to have a say in the management of the war, and then the peace, the very essence of the Left’s platform.”

To help his cause, Churchill redefined the battle for Britain as the Battle of Britain, characterised by “the gallant young men in their flying machines dashing to the rescue of the passive many. By creating that myth, Churchill found the means by which he could justify his own political creed.”

On the other side of this narrative was J B Priestley, offering the public a rival political philosophy as well as another figure for their affections.

“Largely written out of contemporary histories, he was hugely influential... He represented the people doing the fighting and suffering. They were entitled to dictate how the war was fought and were earning the right to a ‘noble future’.

“How well Priestley had captured the public mood was identified by Michael Foot. In his biography of Labour MP Aneurin Bevin, he noted that the huge response to the Postscripts was evidence of the spirit of the age. Publishers were finding they could sell vast numbers of books on political and sociological topics. Soldiers were reading in their camp beds and airmen at their depots...”

In his broadcast on July 14, 1940, for example, Priestley told the BBC’s Home Service listeners: “We’re not fighting to restore the past – it was the past which brought us to this heavy hour – but we are fighting to...create a noble future for all our species.”

The following Sunday he spoke again of the need to go forward “and really plan and build up a nobler world...in which ordinary, decent folk can not only find justice and security but beauty and delight.” This, he said, “is our real war aim”.

On August 4, Priestley said: “We must not only summon our armed forces, wave our flags and sing our national anthems, but we must go deeper and by an almost mystical act of will, hold to our faith and hope.”

As though in response to this call for greater democractic accountability, on August 20, 1940, Churchill delivered his “Never in the field of human conflict” speech, which memorably emphasised the debt the many owed to the few in RAF Fighter Command.

On March 16, 1941, Priestley, under attack from Conservatives, dedicated his talk to merchant seaman, saying: “We owe them something more than sentimental speeches, made at a time when our lives depend on their skill and courage and sense of duty. We owe these men a square deal...”

That was Priestley’s last Postscript. In his 2008 book Priestley’s Wars, which Richard North acknowledges in his bibliography, Ilkley-based author Neil Hanson suggests that Churchill had a hand in blocking Priestley’s weekly talks.

He said: “There is no smoking gun, but it’s known that Winston Churchill disapproved and made the director general of the BBC aware of his disapproval. Priestley admired Churchill, but they had different ideas. Priestley said we should have homes fit for heroes. Churchill said ‘We’ll talk about that after the war’.”

On March 28, 1941, ten days after Postscript was dropped, the Air Ministry produced the official account of the Battle of Britain, referring exclusively to the part played by the RAF. By July 1942, sales of more than six million were being claimed, although like the claims for German planes shot down, sales figures may have been exaggerated.

On September 8, 1941, Priestley replied by producing his short book Out Of The People, his “programme for social and political reform, and for a better world for the ordinary man”.

Churchill won the war of words, as he had to. And even though he lost the 1945 General Election, he was back in 10 Downing Street in 1951. On Battle of Britain Day that year he broadcast to the nation from the BBC.

“Had it not been for those young men whose daring and devotion cast a glittering shield between us and our foe, we should none of us be sitting at rest in our homes this Sunday evening, as members of an unconquered and, as we believe, unconquerable nation.”

His triumph was complete.