Tag Archives: Second World War

New catalogue: Archive of Michael Sayers

The catalogue of Irish-American writer Michael Sayers is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.

Chances are, Michael Sayers is a name you aren’t familiar with, and a brief glance at the catalogue might suggest that he is interesting because of the people he knew rather than in his own right. After all, being a correspondent of the likes of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and a former flatmate of Rayner Heppenstall and George Orwell is a pretty good claim to fame, right?

Early in his career, Sayers aspired to poetry and writing for theatre, but perhaps more interesting that his purely literary output was his work in journalism. Having arrived in New York in 1936 to work for renowned theatre designer Norman Bel Geddes, Sayers soon found himself writing articles for various left wing magazines, including Friday, PM and the anti-fascist newsletter The Hour. While he was working for The Hour, Sayers met journalist and the newsletter’s founder Albert E. Kahn. Kahn’s aim was to use The Hour as a vehicle for investigative journalism to counteract the pro-Nazi propaganda of organisations such as the German-American Bund and to expose acts of espionage and sabotage. He certainly found plenty of it – Kahn and Sayers collaborated on three books, two of which – Sabotage! The Secret War Against America (1942) and The Plot Against The Peace (1945) – dealt solely on the Nazi threat to the United States. Their third book, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia (1946) was an international best seller, though with its acceptance of the reasons behind the Moscow Purge trials probably put this book on the wrong side of history.

Books by Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn, from MS. 12451/83 and MS. 12451/84

Did everything end happily for Sayers and Kahn? Well… Not entirely. It probably comes as no surprise that both Sayers and Kahn had Communist sympathies, and their journalistic works brought them to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Both were blacklisted. Sayers left America and came back to Europe, living first in Britain, then France. Like many other blacklisted writers he was invited to write scripts for Sapphire Films, working on episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood under then name Michael Connor. Kahn and Sayers never worked together again. Judging by some of the correspondence in MS. 12451/7, it appears they had a disagreement over royalties, which seems like a suitably writer-y way to end a collaboration.


Lord Woolton’s papers – catalogue now online

Lord Woolton

Lord Woolton

Fred Marquis (1883-1964), Lord Woolton, was born to working class parents in Salford. Educated at Manchester Grammar School and Manchester University he pursued academic research into social issues whilst also working directly in social welfare in Liverpool’s docklands. After working for the government during the First World War, he joined the firm of Lewis’s and eventually rose to become its Chairman. His business acumen and knowledge of social issues, led to his appointment to the government in 1939, and he became Minister for Food, 4 Apr 1940. From the outset Woolton understood that as well as ensuring the nation’s food supply he had to retain the goodwill of the general public and keep up morale. In notes for his first speech he wrote, ‘He who touches the Nation’s food is courting trouble’.

Notes for his first speech as Minister for Food, Apr 1940

Notes for his first speech as Minister for Food, Apr 1940

He made communication a key aim and gave regular radio broadcasts directed towards housewives, who he called his ‘Kitchen Front’. His name was immortalized in the ‘Woolton Pie’, a meat-less pie, based on root vegetables with a pastry or potato topping.


Recipe for Woolton Pie from The Times, 26 Apr 1941.

Although he was a non-party government minister during the war, he was appointed Chairman of the Conservative Party in 1946 and is credited with reforming the party structure and aiding Churchill’s re-election in 1951.

His papers were given to the Bodleian Library in 1973 and the catalogue has recently been made available online. The papers can be consulted in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room in the Weston Library.