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20200703
20200703In 1940, with Britain fearing invasion, an anonymous book appeared. Its attack on the government's 'guilty men' caused uproar. Eight years on, Phil Tinline explores the benefits and pitfalls of naming and blaming, then and now.

In late May 1940, as reporters got back to Fleet Street with the first interviews with survivors of the Dunkirk evacuation, three journalists - one of them the young Michael Foot - met on the roof of the Express building in Fleet Street. They decided they had to find a way to attack the ministers who had sent "heroes" into battle without "a fair chance".

They planned to hammer out a book, and publish it anonymously. Guilty Men was written in four days, and rushed it into print in less than a month.

It caused outrage for its denunciation of the ministers charged with failing to prepare sufficiently for war, and was promptly banned by the main bookshops. This was great free publicity. By the end of the year, it had sold 200,000 copies.

The book was so successful it kicked off a series of attacks on the old guard which ran through the war. It did not succeed in driving the Guilty Men from office. But it was crucial to establishing the idea that the 1930s was a time of government failure and timidity, driven by budgetary austerity, which brought the country to the brink of disaster - with ordinary people on the front lines paying the price.

Yet there is a twist – the book was far too lenient on the journalists' boss, Lord Beaverbrook, and on left-wing anti-war sentiment in the 1930s, in which Foot himself played a part. And for decades, it has been attacked by historians as unfair and simplistic.

So, Phil asks, should Guilty Men just remind us that polemics are a vital way to call out those who have done great harm, and to get rid of old thinking? Or should it also warn us that they can land too much blame on some, let others off the hook - and don’t necessarily help us avoid repeating our mistakes?

Phil explores how this played out in the Brexit debate - and how it might now play out as we process the impact of Covid-19.

Contributors include: Ruth Dudley Edwards, Peter Oborne, Anthony Seldon, Dominic Frisby, Steve Fielding

Presenter/ Producer: Phil Tinline

In 1940, an attack on the 'guilty' in government caused uproar. What can it tell us today?

2020070320200727 (R4)In 1940, with Britain fearing invasion, an anonymous book appeared. Its attack on the government's 'guilty men' caused uproar. Eighty years on, Phil Tinline explores the benefits and pitfalls of naming and blaming, then and now.

In late May 1940, as reporters got back to Fleet Street with the first interviews with survivors of the Dunkirk evacuation, three journalists - one of them the young Michael Foot - met on the roof of the Express building in Fleet Street. They decided they had to find a way to attack the ministers who had sent "heroes" into battle without "a fair chance".

They planned to hammer out a book, and publish it anonymously. Guilty Men was written in four days, and rushed it into print in less than a month.

It caused outrage for its denunciation of the ministers charged with failing to prepare sufficiently for war - and sold over 200,000 copies.

It was crucial to establishing the idea that the 1930s was a time of government failure and timidity, driven by budgetary austerity, which brought the country to the brink of disaster - with ordinary people on the front lines paying the price.

Yet there is a twist – the book was far too lenient on the journalists' boss, Lord Beaverbrook, and on left-wing anti-war sentiment in the 1930s, in which Foot himself played a part. And for decades, it has been attacked by historians as unfair and simplistic.

So, Phil asks, should Guilty Men just remind us that polemics are a vital way to call out those who have done great harm, and to get rid of old thinking? Or should it also warn us that they can land too much blame on some, let others off the hook - and don’t necessarily help us avoid repeating our mistakes?

Phil explores how this played out in the Brexit debate - and how it might now play out as we process the impact of Covid-19.

Contributors include: Ruth Dudley Edwards, Peter Oborne, Anthony Seldon, Dominic Frisby, Steve Fielding, Alan Allport

Presenter/ Producer: Phil Tinline

In 1940, an attack on the 'guilty' in government caused uproar. What can it tell us today?