Anthony Sampson archive open

— from Chrissie Webb

The Library’s one year project to catalogue the papers of Anthony Sampson (1926-2004), writer and journalist, is now complete.

Sampson read English at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating in 1950. Undecided on a career, he went to South Africa in 1951 as business manager for the black magazine, African Drum. Within weeks he was promoted to editor despite having no journalistic experience. He became immersed in black culture at an exciting time in Johannesburg, and made many friends including Trevor Huddleston, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Nadine Gordimer. He returned to England after four years but maintained a lifelong interest in South Africa, and in the anti-apartheid struggle. On his return he worked for the Observer as a journalist, under David Astor’s editorship. He reported on Harold Macmillan’s tour of Africa in 1960 and heard the ‘Wind of Change’ speech which disassociated Britain from the policy of apartheid. He was in South Africa at the end of the trial of Nelson Mandela and others in 1964, and advised Mandela on his defence speech. Many years later, after Mandela’s release, he wrote the authorised biography, Mandela (London, 1999).

He wrote over 20 books, mainly investigative journalism, but his major best-seller was the Anatomy of Britain (London, 1962), ‘a book about the workings of Britain – who runs it and how, how they got there, and how they are changing’. It was hugely popular, and five updates were published between 1965 and 2004.

In 1979-80 Sampson was editorial adviser to the ‘Brandt Commission’ on international development issues, working closely with Ted Heath, who later became a neighbour in Wiltshire. A few years later he was closely involved in the founding of the Social Democratic Party with friend and former fellow journalist, Shirley Williams.

Sampson’s correspondence and working papers provide intelligent writing, vivid insights, and first-hand experience of some key events of the 20th century, reflecting his wide-ranging interests throughout a full and varied career, The archive will be of interest to anyone studying late 20th century British politics; the workings of power through public institutions, private business and government; the politics of South Africa under the apartheid regime and after; and contemporary journalism and the history of journalism.

The papers can be consulted in the Bodleian’s Special Collections Reading Room and the catalogue can be viewed online: