The fascinating and previously untold life of the man who took folksongs and civil liberties to the Americans and returned to England to edit Radio Times for the BBC. With 28 illustrations.
‘Highly readable and carefully researched’
— Martin Ceadel, Professor of Politics, University of Oxford
Laurence Bristow-Smith, also a biographer, writes:
‘This book is quite an extraordinary achievement. It is more creative than your average biography – because the author has identified, researched and pulled together a whole new subject area: one which nobody knows about but which had a huge bearing on cultural and political developments which shaped the twentieth century.’
In 1911, Walter Fuller (1881–1927), who had started out as a magazine editor
took three of his sisters across to America to sing folksongs. They were highly
successful, singing twice for President Woodrow Wilson. When
World War I broke out, Walter adapted folksongs as a means of social protest,
just as young people did in the 1960s. Believing that it would be far better for the
United States to mediate than to participate in the war, he produced pioneering peace
propaganda which in the end, however, only served as templates for the Creel Committee to
achieve the opposite aim: make the people of America want war.
This was a crucial moment for civil rights: after the US declared war on Germany, the least dissent was suppressed with incredible severity. Walter Fuller responded with the British concept of ‘civil liberties’ – which US citizens embraced to defend themselves against their own government. In 1920 Walter’s wife Crystal Eastman co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union, which is still active (because much needed) today. She also co-authored the Equal Rights Amendment.
In 1918 Walter Fuller returned to editing periodicals. After making the Freeman the greatest liberal US journal of its time, he headed home, where he was headhunted by the newly-formed BBC. There he helped shape its corporate image and began to edit Radio Times.
Reflecting Walter Fuller’s wide range of activities, this book contributes to the history of
• student representation and associations in Britain
• periodicals in Britain and America 1904–30
• the revival of folksong and its use for social protest 1912–17
• the anti-war war movement in the United States during WWI
• the development of propaganda, and
• the history of the BBC.
Along the way it provides
glimpses of numerous people, some famous, others less so. It contains more than
any other source (book or website) about Jessie Holliday, whose portraits of leading socialists
hang in the National Portrait Gallery in London; about Kathleen Wheeler, the English
sculptress who depicted with equal skill famous people and
famous horses; and about Walter’s sister Rosalind, who was awarded the OBE in 1968 for a
lifetime as a stage, film, and tv actress. Her partner was the pioneering
photographer Francis Bruguière, who showed the young Cecil Beaton his
technique for harmonizing subject and background in his portraits.
Numerous other figures play minor roles: Lord Bertrand Russell pops up in almost every chapter, King George V falls for an equestrian statue, and Prince Albert loses his virginity. Scott Fitzgerald has an affair with Rosalind during his engagement to Zelda, and she inspires him with the story that finances his wedding. Here too you will learn how John Barrymore, playing Hamlet on Broadway, communicated to Ophelia that he wanted to make love with her after the show. And on it goes: Virginia Woolf mis-spells a person’s name, T. S. Eliot gets stuck in the mud, Charlie Chaplin plays charades, and the folklorist Cecil Sharp discovers three ‘ludicrously lovely’ girls – Walter’s sisters, of course – who can sing folksongs better than anyone else.
G. Peter Winnington has already written an acclaimed biography of Mervyn Peake: Vast Alchemies (2000), re-issued in 2009 in an expanded and updated edition titled Mervyn Peake’s Vast Alchemies. His other books include Mervyn Peake: the Man and his Art, and a volume of criticism, The Voice of the Heart (both 2006).
In the opinion of the Times Literary Supplement, ‘Winnington is good not only as a biographer but as a critic too.’ Both Vast Alchemies and Mervyn Peake: the Man and his Art (dubbed ‘the most beautiful book in the world’ by a reader, and prized by collectors) were shortlisted for awards in the United States.
More about Peter Winnington here.
Price: Hardback £32, US$53, €39 (ISBN 978-2-9700654-2-5) — Softcover £25, US$42, €30. ISBN 978-2-9700654-3-2
Also on this site you will find documents and images that would not fit within the covers of the book.