Tag Archives: 1950s

95. A Letter to the Lancet: the story of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War

On 20 January 1951, at the height of the Korean War, seven distinguished doctors published a letter in the Lancet expressing concern about the arms race, the impact of arms spending on healthcare (“each pound spent on bombs means … more dead babies now”) and the apathetic drift towards another world war.

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

Signatories to letter of 20 Jan 1951 in the Lancet

The signatories (Richard Doll, Alfred Esterman, Ian Gilliland, Horace Joules, Duncan Leys,  Lionel Penrose, and Martin Pollock) argued that doctors could use their unique expertise and authority to work towards disarmament:

“We appeal to all our fellow doctors who think there may yet be an alternative to merely providing treatment for casualties ; we ask them to join us, in the spirit of our chosen profession of healing, in doing all in their power to halt preparation for war …”

The letter provoked many responses, to the Lancet and privately.  Not all agreed with its perspective.  Doll et al. summed up and tried to refute those arguments in a further letter in February.

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Typescript of first paragraph of letter to the Lancet 17 February 1951

Some respondents had argued that war and peace were political matters which should not be discussed in a medical journal.  The seven profoundly disagreed: “Doctors have a social responsibility as well as a personal one to their patients ; they have an ethical tradition and an international allegiance.  War is a symptom of mental ill health.  Its results include wounds and disease.  Doctors are therefore properly concerned in preventing it”.

The February letter called for a forum to discuss how doctors could put these ideas into action.  The resulting event, held in London on 16 March and chaired by Dr Joules, was attended by 130 doctors and led to the founding of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW).

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Detail from cover of MAPW Journal June 1983

Over its forty year lifespan, MAPW brought the expertise and authority of doctors and, later, other medical professionals to many issues via its publications, conferences and advocacy: nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, radiation, terrorism, the medical needs of developing countries, even expressing concern about the bellicose lyrics of national anthems.  It was explicitly politically independent, though accused of being a communist front and proscribed by the Labour Party during the 1950s.

In 1992, MAPW merged with the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW), which had been founded in 1980. A merger had been discussed since the mid-1980s but, as Dr Alex Poteliakhoff observed in a position paper in 1990 “the changing international and global scene, namely the collapse of the cold war, hesitant moves towards nuclear disarmament” and increased public concern about environment and quality of life meant both organisations needed to rethink their missions to survive and be useful.

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Medact logo, from press release of April 1992

Given their long-term collaboration on joint conferences and projects such as the Medical Educational Trust (not to mention shared office and fax machine!), a merger made sense.   The result was Medact, which continues to bring together health professionals working for a “fairer, better and safer world”.

I decided to write about medical campaigners this week as I recently learned that the Wellcome Library plan to catalogue the substantial and hitherto inaccessible MCANW and Medact archives they hold.   I look forward to working with the Wellcome to promote the distinctive archives of medical professional campaigns to researchers in many disciplines.

Sources: quotations and images from MAPW Archive (references H2, M3, M10.  Note that we are about to release a new edition of the Archive catalogue).  I am indebted also to Physicians and the Peace Movement, by Nick Lewer (Cass, 1992) and many published and unpublished articles in the Archive concerning the history of the association.

Postscript (18 December 2013): the catalogue of this Archive is now online as part of our Quick Wins programme.  Find it on the MAPW webpage in PDF and Word format.


91. Barbed Wire and Curfew Passes: a Friend reports on Cyprus, 1958

“If I was looking for trouble, here it is”, Quaker activist and academic Eric Baker wrote from the increasingly tense city of Nicosia in Cyprus on the 12 June 1958. In a series of letters circulated by the Friends Peace Committee, Baker told of “barbed wire, curfew passes, security checks and a heat that blisters the road under your feet”.

Eric Baker's press identity card as representative of The Friend, Cyprus 1958 or 1959 Cwl EB 1E press cardThis week’s Objects are Baker’s press identity card, which accredited him as a journalist for Quaker journal The Friend, and his curfew pass, which allowed him to travel during curfew hours.  Baker did indeed write about Cyprus for The Friend and other magazines and newspapers, but accreditation mainly served to enable him to travel more freely than would otherwise be the case.

Baker was really in Cyprus to investigate the situation and see whether Friends might be able to assist.   He was sent by the Friends Peace Committee, who were increasingly concerned at the growing violence on the island.

Baker (1920-1976) had been a pacifist since childhood, joined the Society of Friends while at School and registered as a conscientious objector during the Second World War.  At the time he went to Cyprus he was General Secretary of the National Peace Council.  The evidence in the Eric Baker Archive suggests that Baker was ideal for the mission, being analytical, tactful, experienced and able to communicate with people from all sides.  He apparently knew Cyprus well and had travelled there before.

Curfew pass for Eric Baker, Cyprus 1958 or 1959.  Hotel des Gourmets Nicosia.  Cwl EB 1E curfew pass

Baker spent several weeks in Cyprus during June and July 1958, mainly in Nicosia as it proved impossible to travel because of increased curfews.  He met Sir Hugh Foot, the Governor, and his deputy, commissioners in charge of prisons, welfare and labour, educationalists and diplomats, and a small group of refugees.  Eric Baker concluded that the situation was extraordinarily confused, featuring multiple conflicts: “Right wing against Left wing Greeks, Right wing v. Left wing Turks, Greeks v Turks and both against the British”.  In answer to the question he went to consider, he concluded that there was little that Friends could do to help at the present time, other than to watch in case opportunities arose to offer assistance.

Eric Baker visited Cyprus on behalf of the Committee again in 1959 as part of a trip which also took in Greece, Turkey, Malta and a private visit to see the work of Danilo Dolci in Sicily.  He returned to a now-independent Cyprus in 1967 and to the divided island in 1975, with Michael Harbottle.  The Eric Baker Archive is full of rich and detailed material on all these activities: articles, reports and letters by Baker, and extensive correspondence with all sides.  The Archive also reflects Baker’s later work in campaigning for prisoners of conscience and the end of torture, notably his role in the founding of  Amnesty (later Amnesty International) by Peter Benenson in 1961.

Note on sources: quotations from circular letters from Eric Baker Archive, Cwl EB 1/L.  The two cards are from file Cwl EB 1/E.  They are undated, so we cannot be sure whether they date from the 1958 or 1959 visit or both.

55. Whatever Happened to Mr Mothergill? J.B. Priestley’s Lost City of Bradford

In 1958, J.B. Priestley revisited his home city, Bradford, to make Lost City, a documentary for the BBC.

Telegram from Richard Cawston to Mavis Dean congratulating her on Lost City PRI19_9

Telegram from Richard Cawston to Mavis Dean congratulating her on Lost City (archive ref PRI19/9)

Here we see details from a telegram sent by the producer, Richard Cawston, to Mavis Dean, a local journalist and musician who accompanies Priestley in the film as he revisits his old haunts.

Arriving at Forster Square railway station, Priestley tells journalists gathered to speak to this returning celebrity, “You might say that, to me, it’s a lost city and perhaps I’ve come here to find it.”  We see his teenage home in Saltburn Place, where he wrote the juvenilia, and the Swan Arcade, where he worked as a clerk in a wool office.  We encounter the bandstand in Lister Park, theatre and music-hall, plus a  glimpse of modern teenagers dancing at St George’s Hall.

Priestley’s memories, like his novels and plays of pre-War Bradford, are full of colour, vivid characters and exuberant life: but the black and white film makes the city appear grim and sunless.  The Arcade is a place of shadows, where Priestley’s footsteps echo.  There is an underlying sense of sadness.  The title of this piece comes from a scene in which Priestley in his hotel room tries to telephone various people he knew in Bradford: not surprisingly, they have all died or been “poorly for months”.  There is a deeper loss: as Priestley tells Mavis Dean, “Half the young men who were boys when I was a boy in this town were killed in one morning in 1916”: the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

To Priestley the lost city was the Bradford of his boyhood and youth.  He could never recapture this: the friends he grew up with who were part of this world were gone.  He had moved away and everything had changed.  As highlighted in the Objects, Priestley’s memories of lost Bradford, and feelings about nostalgia and the workings of time underlie most of his greatest writing: An Inspector Calls, Bright Day, Margin Released et al.

J.B. Priestley, late 1950s (archive ref PRI 21/11/8)

J.B. Priestley, late 1950s (archive ref PRI 21/11/8)

However, the film caused confusion and controversy in Bradford.  The title and the way the city was portrayed caused offence: people became defensive, arguing he had no right to criticise because he had moved away.   This is part of a long story of resentment and misunderstanding between Priestley and some Bradfordians, which explains why it took so long for the city to honour his achievements (he was made a Freeman of the City in 1973): the story is told in  Peter Holdsworth’s The Rebel Tyke (1994).

The city Priestley visited would also soon be lost.  Sweeping new plans for the city centre were afoot which would destroy much of the surviving fabric, most regrettably the Swan Arcade.

Postscript May 2015.  When I wrote this piece, the film could be seen online via a BBC webpage.  The articles on the page are still of interest, but unfortunately the film and photo links on the page are broken.  Lost City can be seen via the Media Museum and Yorkshire Film Archive, but I can’t currently find it available to view online.  I will post details if it becomes available in future.  Sorry about that!

43. Journey Down a Rainbow: the Priestleys’ New World Honeymoon

In 1954, J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes, who had married the previous year, took a kind of literary honeymoon: the result, this book, Journey down a Rainbow (1955).

Cover of Journey Down a Rainbow

Cover of Journey Down a Rainbow

The couple wanted to explore the impact of technology on society.  A visit to the South-West United States would allow them to contrast the people of the pueblos in New Mexico, who still preserved “much of their ancient culture … living more or less as they always did” , with Texans, “the latest men”, living in the most technologically advanced society which represented “a pattern to which all our urban Western civilisation is beginning to conform”.

The Priestleys travelled together to Kansas City, then went their separate ways, he to Dallas, she to Alberquerque.  Jacquetta explored the remaining pueblo society of New Mexico, Priestley to the booming Texas of Cold War, oil, and mass markets.   The book reproduces their letters, with chapters alternating between their experiences.

Jacquetta had the better time: her strong visual sense delighted in pottery and weaving, her love of the deep past responded to the power of the cave sites and ritual dancing.  J.B. did not find his trip as congenial.  However, it did draw out some of his most significant writing of the 1950s, as he described what he called Admass i.e. consumer society: materialism driven by mass communications, advertising and salesmanship, at its most obvious in the places he visited.  Jacquetta too contrasted the frenzy of unnecessary shopping in New York with the moving experience in a museum of seeing beautiful woven patterns created from dog hairs by a prehistoric woman, “living as humbly as a badger”.

The Priestleys during the 1950s

The Priestleys during the 1950s (archive ref: HAW 18/5/17)

The couple were joyfully reunited in Santa Fe, where they shared their adventures: “We talked and talked, had a drink or two and talked, prepared dinner and talked, ate the dinner and talked.  Afterwards we went out to feel the icy breath of night on our cheeks, to see the huge glitter of stars …”   Journey remains one of their most interesting works, full of thought-provoking ideas even more relevant to 21st century societies,  and is a perfect introduction to each of them as writers.

39. Figure in the Landscape: Jacquetta Hawkes and Barbara Hepworth

In 1953, Jacquetta Hawkes wrote the words for Figures in a Landscape, a short documentary film about the sculptor Barbara Hepworth.  The film was directed and photographed by Dudley Shaw Ashton for the British Film Institute; Cecil Day-Lewis spoke Jacquetta’s words.  Jacquetta’s Archive in Special Collections includes a file (HAW 4/8) of correspondence and drafts of the script, showing how it developed.

Detail of annotated typescript draft of Figures script by Jacquetta Hawkes (HAW 4/8/6)

Detail of annotated typescript draft of Figures script by Jacquetta Hawkes (HAW 4/8/6)

Figures was intended to be experimental, introducing modern sculpture by showing the influences on the artist.  Hepworth was born in Wakefield but now lived in St Ives in Cornwall.  The film explores the relationship between her work and the landscape she now made her home.  It depicts her sculptures against the sea and rock that inspired her.  Hepworth is shown at work in her beautiful studio-garden, overlooked by the clock tower and surrounded by colourful semi-tropical plants.

The script reads like a poem, distilling the ideas of A Land (Object 5) about stones and time and civilisation.   First Jacquetta introduces Cornwall, “a horn of rock” and talks about the shaping of its rocks over a “million million years” by wind and sea.  Then man’s relationship with the land and the stones is uncovered, pagans using “stones for dancing and stones for dying”, followed by the building of chapels, mining, boating.  Finally we meet Barbara Hepworth, who arrives from the “cool grey north” and captures this land in new ways, “the carver cuts deeper with her seeing eye”.

The film is an intriguing piece, dominated by Priaulx Rainier’s distinctive score.  It gives a fascinating picture of Cornwall in the early 1950s and above all of Hepworth at work, strong and capable as  she engages with the stone and wood of Jacquetta’s poem.  Fortunately, the BFI make the film readily available to the public.  An extract can be seen on Youtube (embedded above), and the entire film via the BFI mediatheques.