From an archive of material of the writer George Hutchinson relating to his time in Mass-Observation (M-O) - a profile of the 1941 Hornsey election far right 'independent' candidate Noel Pemberton Billing, who in an earlier incarnation in his journal, Vigilante, published a homophobic article, "The Cult of the Clitoris" which resulted in a sensational libel trial. Much on Wikipedia about him and the trial and his friend Lord Alfred Douglas. It is covered in Philip Hoare's Oscar Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the Most Outrageous Trial of the Century (1999)
In this report 'inv' = investigator. Note PB's odd clothes--a remarkable collar with points more than six inches long held together by an Air Force brooch. No tie and the monocle lead coming from the tie (see photo.) Also M-O notes his accent (that one would expect to be of the Terry Thomas school) but which was in fact Cockney. He stood on a policy of aerial reprisals against Nazi Germany but only received a quarter of the vote and the Tory candidate Charles Challen was returned.
HORNSEY BY-ELECTION G. H. 28.5.41
The Independent Candidate.
This report is largely based on daily conversation with and observation of the candidate since last Friday (May 23). It should be read in conjunction with Tudor Jenkins' article in the Evening Standard of May 22, the last page of the candidate’s election address, and CG Gray’s Introduction to his book Defence Against the Night Bomber. (A summary of this book will be submitted later).
Noel Pemberton Billing is 61 years of age–he was born in 1880, in Hampstead. His father was Charles Eardley Billing, of Birmingham–an iron founder. His mother was Annie Amelia Claridge, of Coventry. It appears, therefore, that he is not legally entitled to use the hyphenated surname Pemberton-Billing. That he does so usually–but not always–is, however, quite consistent with his character, as this report will demonstrate. Oh his birthplace and boyhood he told inv: 'I was born just outside this constituency–in Finchley Road, Hampstead. I went to school at Craven College, Hampstead–and if I give Winston Churchill as much trouble as I gave my headmaster he’s in for a lot. You can get the rest in Who’s Who.
Who’s Who, however, provides little information, but the last page of his election address is devoted to a biography sufficient for M-O’s purposes.
Pemberton Billing is married. According to Who’s Who his first wife, whom he married in 1903, died in 1923. His present wife–to whom Who’s Who does not refer–is probably 45 years of age, a pleasant, plump cheeked, rather stout woman who invariably wears a fur coat. He has two addresses–25, Chesterfield House, Park Lane, W., and Halliford Court, Walton-on-Thames.
He describes himself as a research engineer.
Pemberton Billing is well over six feet in height, an erect, impressive figure who very much resembles Conrad Veidt. His short smooth grey hair is brushed straight back and parted in the middle. His cheeks are tanned. He has a distinct–but not disagreeably pronounced–Cockney accent, although, as inv has noted in an earlier report, this is not noticeable except in private conversation. Outdoors and on the political platform he invariably wears a monocle: in the semi-privacy of his Committee Rooms he rarely does, although he occasionally wears horn-rimmed glasses. The candidate dressed elegantly. Throughout inv’s association with him he has worn a double-breasted blue pin-stripe suit, grey suede shoes, cream shirt and collar–a remarkable collar with points more than six inches long held together by an Air Force brooch. No tie. He is always bareheaded, and inv has never seen him wearing the astrakhan coat that lies in the back of his yellow, black-hooded Rolls coupe.
Pemberton Billing is a man of great personality. He’s affable, helpful, an interesting conversationalist. But he is no time waster. He is always ready to answer questions fully and satisfactorily–and having answered, to resume work. Sitting behind his desk in his Committee Rooms, his manner indicates the efficient showman. For always he is the showman. Inv used to work for Carl Brisson, whose understanding of theatrical publicity and professional showmanship is acknowledged to be exceptionally great. Pemberton Billing reminds him irresistibly of Brisson. The monocle, the collar, the brooch; the bright open car; the smiles and hand-waving to the passers-by; the loudspeaker announcements that herald his approach; the hyphenated surname to which he is not entitled–they are all the signs of the show man. Pemberton Billing is a picturesque campaigner, flamboyant, theatrical, equipped, as Sir Ian Fraser expressed it, 'with all the paraphernalia of advertising.'
Decision to contest Hornsey:
Of his decision to enter the by-election he told inv: ' I chose Hornsey because Hornsey became vacant. The election was announced and I chose Hornsey for the same reason that I shall choose Timbuktoo, too, if I lose, until I find one sufficiently loyal to put country before political parties. And I’ll do the same job as I did in the last war–and that’s political history. It's action, not rhetoric, that is going to win this war. The Germans aren’t frightened of our mouths, but they are frightened of our bombs. The more ink we spill in trying to win this war, the more blood we shall have to spill to win it.'
Of his organisation: 'There’s myself as candidate and agent and six friends. I don’t believe in over-organisation–that’s a tip the government might take. I don’t believe in over-staffing–that’s a tip the government might take. I don’t believe in a multiplicity of minor efforts: I believe in one major effort. All of those are tips the government might with advantage take.'
Pemberton Billing expects to be returned. On May 23 inv asked ‘Do you expect to be returned?’ He replied, 'I definitely do.” On two subsequent occasions he has, spontaneously, expressed similar convictions–viz:
May 26–'I think we’ve got the seat. I think we’ve got it.'
May 27–'it’s five to four on me.' And, later, 'I think it’s about fifty-fifty.'
May 28–'I think we’ve got it. Seventy percent of the people are taking our bills. It’s a fundamental rule never to take the opponents literature. If Labour vote will carry it.'
In view of Pemberton Billing’s statement that he will contest further by-elections if he is unsuccessful in this, it is interesting to note that in response to inv’s reference to the election pending at West Edinburgh Mrs. Pemberton Billing replied 'Where? Edinburgh? Oh, that’s too far away.'