Lark Rise to Candleford as propaganda

Anyone who saw the recent BBC adaptation of Flora Thompson’s ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ might be surprised to see the first volume of her trilogy described in any sense as propaganda.   The stories, at least as portrayed by the BBC, are the gentlest type of social history of the English countryside, full of eccentric characters, inconsequential events and endless gossip.   They fitted perfectly the British taste for gentle dramas on a Sunday night.  But propaganda of a sort seems to be the right description for one series of paperbacks that included ‘Lark Rise’.

Guild Austrian A18 Lark Rise

The series of English language Continental Editions from Guild Books in early 1945 had been cut short after just 10 books, but it was quickly followed by two very similar series of German Editions and Austrian Editions.   On the face of it, this seems slightly odd.  If the Continental Series was not working well with potentially the whole European market to aim for, why try to replace it with two series aimed at much more limited markets?

The key to this seems to be the phrase found on the title page of just the first few Austrian Editions – ‘Published for the British Publishers Guild by ISB Political Division ACA (BE)’.   The ACA (BE) was the Allied Commission for Austria (British Element), and the ISB its Information Services Branch.   So this was not a purely commercial venture.  The books were effectively being published by the branch of the British Government that had partial responsibility for administering Austria in the wake of the Allied victory.  In a real sense they were propaganda.  The aim of the Information Services Branch was to spread information about the British way of life and about democracy, to counter the history of totalitarianism.  And ‘Lark Rise’ had its part to play in that.

The report of the American equivalent ISB in Austria shows a wide-ranging attempt to spread knowledge of American culture through newspapers, magazines, books, radio programmes, theatre, films and music.   They were certainly very conscious of the need to avoid all this looking like propaganda, but it was nonetheless a deliberate attempt to encourage particular values and a particular way of thinking.   For the Americans, the sale of  ‘Overseas Editions’ in both English and German was a key part of this, and for the Brits, the equivalent seems to have been the Guild Books editions.

Overseas Edition E16  Guild Austrian A12 The poacher

Propaganda American style … and British style

There were 21 Austrian Editions in total from Guild Books, of which only the first 9 referred to the ISB on the title page, although they almost certainly published the whole series, and the final book seems to have been printed on their own printing press.   Most of the books are undated, other than the dates in the printing history, which seem invariably to refer to previous editions with no reference to the current edition.   One book is dated 1947 and it seems likely that all were published between late 1945 and 1948.   They were sold initially at 3 Schillings, increasing to 6 Schillings for the last four volumes.   All books are brown, in varying shades, and all seem to have had dustwrappers in the same design as the book covers.   Like the Continental Editions, they are relatively well produced, on much better paper than was normal for paperbacks in Britain at the time.

The choice of books is relatively wide-ranging.   Arthur Koestler’s ‘Arrival and Departure’, which started the series, is a political novel, based on Koestler’s experiences as a Hungarian refugee and former Communist.  That book and Herbert Agar’s political analysis ‘A time for greatness’ could certainly be seen as propaganda of a sort.  But they were mixed in with other books that less easily fit this description.   Lytton Strachey’s biography of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ was the second book in the series, and there were other titles by C.S. Forester, H.E Bates and Somerset Maugham, as well as Flora Thompson.

Guild Austrian A1  Guild Austrian A21 The flower of grass

It’s also interesting to see that the choice of authors is not particularly nationalistic.   Although this is a series promoted by the British Element of the ACA, and runs alongside a separate US series of Overseas Editions, the authors include at least 4 Americans and others from Belgium, Hungary, India and Ireland.  British authors account for only just over half the books.  If this is propaganda for British culture, it’s fairly inclusive as well as very gentle.

I’ll come back to the Guild German series in a later post.

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Posted on October 25, 2014, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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