‘Highly readable and carefully researched’

Winnington’s highly readable and carefully researched biography rescues from historical neglect both an intelligent, creative, versatile, and appealing figure, the well-connected yet self-effacing Walter Fuller, and his no-less-remarkable sisters. It also sheds fascinating light on a surprising variety of networks – those of student politics, journalism, theatre, musical performance, peace activism, socialist campaigning, and radio broadcasting – on both sides of the Atlantic during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

Martin Ceadel, Professor of Politics, University of Oxford

 

‘Hands down the best account of this fascinating man’

Walter Fuller, though too little known today, left an indelible mark on the twentieth century Atlantic world. We are fortunate indeed to have Peter Winnington’s biography.

John Fabian Witt, Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law, Yale Law School

 

‘Highly recommended’

Steve Arnold, broadcasting historian and digitisation consultant at Radio Times (BBC), writes on the Radio Times Archive site,
‘I like to think of myself as an authority on the history of the magazine, but the research behind this fascinating volume has been so thorough that there are items new to me. Highly recommended.’

‘A unique picture of early 20th century England and America. . . .

 Well, cleverly, and entertainingly told. Never a moment’s pall’

Peter Winnington’s book uses diaries and letters to paint a fascinating and intimate portrait of two families from either side of the Atlantic, the Fullers and the Eastmans, who united in a common anti-war spirit.
The background is the revival of folksong. Under the management of their elder brother, Walter Fuller, three sisters from Dorset, England, sang their away across America to audiences as small as a household and as large as the Carnegie Hall, not to mention Presidents Taft and Wilson.

This book is a model of how history and biography should be written. It’s also a lesson in the fun to be had and, as legitimately, the lessons to be learned from history. The historical figures and events are all there, from Barrie’s Peter Pan, the sinking of the Titanic and the death of Scott of the Antarctic, to Tinsel Town’s Griffith and Charlie Chaplin, but they are always presented for their personal impact on the lives of Walter and his sisters. Spin and celebrity have no place in this book; a future president sits at a banquet beside Max Eastman ‘and they conversed almost without interruption for two or three hours’; Charlie Chaplin (‘the most highly-paid man in the world’) picks up small coins from the floor after a game of charades.

It’s a story with lots of telling detail like this, lots of interest, and lots of light moments. I burst out laughing more than once. Here’s Lord Reith at the BBC, his head scraping the lintel, warning the abstemious Walter Fuller, ‘Now remember; if I come into Savoy Hill one night and find the men playing cards and drinking whisky, I shan’t blame them for it. I shall blame you.’

With wars being waged on an hourly basis across the globe, one may be forgiven for forgetting that a century ago a few individuals thought differently and tried to stop the Great War. In a long letter to his sister Riss, Walter describes his plan for an Exhibition against War. Many of his ideas are now familiar from the misuse made of them in the 1930s by Hitler and Mussolini for their propaganda. It was an ambitious project but its core is never far from the surface, particularised by Walter’s internationalist perspective:

‘Then there would be a great plea for the Folk of the world. The quiet peaceful, unknown peasant, artisan class of all nations who never want war – we would show their arts and crafts – their songs, dances and drama.’

Walter Fuller’s career began and ended with magazine editing, first at Owens College (which became Manchester University), and finally with Radio Times at the newly formed BBC. Throughout, he stayed true to his early and heartfelt liberal ideals. It is all well, cleverly, and entertainingly told. Never a moment’s pall. — Gerard Neill

 

‘A terrific, encyclopaedic tour de force with a most human story at its heart’

This is such an enchanting book about such an engaging, sweet-natured man – and indeed family – that it was difficult to put down. I am not sure that I have ever read another book like it: one that manages to bring to life such a kaleidoscope of characters and yet keep the reader so focused on, and interested in, the central character and his sisters.

There is so much to comment on: the whole of the part about Walter chaperoning his sisters around the US on their singing tours is totally delightful, and the revelation of how Walter introduced the concept of civil liberties into the USA – like everyone else, I had always assumed that they originated there – warmed my patriotic heart.

I was also fascinated to learn about many things, including, for example, the virulence of the US campaign against those opposed to the war and the extraordinary, in some ways hilarious, very early days of broadcasting and of the BBC.

I was moved too by the precariousness of life in those days – how Walter’s father goes bankrupt (with no social security to fall back on, of course); the constant difficulty that Walter and Crystal, in particular, have in finding jobs that last – and the sad social strictures of the time which caused Basil to lead Riss into a childless marriage.

In the end, it is the poignant unfolding of the relationship between Walter and Crystal that moved me most about the book. Their need for each other and yet their inability to live together for any great length of time – either for pragmatic reasons or, more fundamentally, because they both needed what we would probably refer to today as ‘space’ – pulls at the heart, especially when one can guess, as the end of the book approaches, that Walter has not long to live. ‘For goodness’ sake,’ I kept telling them, ‘just take that job, don’t get on that boat, go and live together!’ and, of course, ‘please see more of your children!’ One feels somehow that, much as he surely loved his children, Walter – and perhaps Crystal too – was not made to be a day-in, day-out parent, either because he was too absorbed in his next idea or because he just needed more quiet than a family household would afford. And, of course, their deaths at such a relatively early age, following so quickly one upon the other, make for a heartrending conclusion.

This book is a terrific, encyclopaedic tour de force which manages to contain, at its centre, a most human story. — Jonathan Mardall


Price: Hardback £32, US$53, €39 (ISBN 978-2-9700654-2-5) — Softcover £25, US$42, €30.  ISBN 978-2-9700654-3-2