Mass Observation report Kings Norton 1941

From an archive of material of the writer George Hutchinson relating to his time in Mass-Observation (M-O) this includes 38  letters from Tom Harrisson (some slightly argumental.) Originally a reporter for the Yorkshire Post, Hutchinson was a volunteer observer and later became a paid 'wholetime investigator' and was conscripted into the Navy during this time. He later became a journalist and wrote biographies of Edward Heath & Harold Macmillan.

This is a classic M-O report, honest, opinionated, dispassionate and with an eye for the telling detail. Later we will put up an M-O profile of the 1941 Hornsey election  far right 'independent' candidate 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.



  A small, red-brick house, one of a long row in a working-class part of Selly Oak, is being used as Smith’s committee rooms. The address is 145, Dawlish Road.
  The tenant of the house is M, 45, D–Mr. Lacy, who served under Smith in the last war, and, learning of his decision to contest Kings Norton, immediately offered the use of his house as campaign headquarters.
  The house has two rooms downstairs, and probably 3 bedrooms. The front room is used as the office, and in the backroom the candidate and his helpers have occasional meals with the Lacy family.
  There is little office equipment. The only things that make this poorly furnished room, with its leather–upholstered sofa, cheap sideboards and two easy chairs, look anything like an office are a typewriter (of Danish make, incidentally) and a few box files.
  A number of crude notices are fastened to the window. They read: ‘VOTE FOR SMITH’, ‘ VOTE FOR SMITH: BOMB BERLIN’, ‘YOU CAN VOTE WITHOUT POLL CARD’’.

  Nominally, Mrs. Smith is the candidate’s election agent. But actually Mr Cronow is the election agent.
  Cronow is a tobacco manufacturers’ agent in Birmingham, a Manchester-born man. A tall, burly, vulgar, uneducated fellow, who smokes cigars and drives a nice car, and probably has a good bit of money.
  Smith and Cronow hadn’t met before nomination day. Their association came about like this. Cronow read about the reprisals candidate in the newspapers, and, himself a believer in the efficacy of reprisals, sent an express letter to Smith in Manchester the same day. Next day they spoke together on the phone, and when Smith arrived in Birmingham he was met by Cronow, who arranged accommodation for him in the house opposite his own at Hall Green. He placed himself and his car at the candidates disposal, and undoubtedly his energy, enthusiasm and knowledge of Birmingham and its people have been invaluable to Smith.
  Mr Michaelmore is about 55, of class C. He’s a Manchester man, and served with Smith and the last war. He lives near Smith. He looks after the routine office work–replying to letters, and so on.
  Smith brought someone else from Manchester, too–the local mid-wife–about 40, class C. She distributes literature as much as anything, but does odd jobs about the office, too.
  Mr. Lockyer is an aeronautical engineer, working in Birmingham. His home is in Worcester and he is well-known in the Midlands as a youth club worker. It is difficult to know what class group to put Lockyer in. His speech, manner and appearance indicate class V, but he appears to have a position of some importance in the aircraft industry and drives a Vauxhall car. Lockyer helps only at night, and spends most of his time driving through the streets with a loudspeaker telling people that Dr Smith is about to be in their midst.
  There are two other adult helpers- M, 45, C and F, 45, C. They help at night only, and give out leaflets, etc.

  The adult helpers are, therefore:
  Mr. and Mrs. Lacy
  Mr. Cronow (and his wife occasionally),
  Mr. Michaelmore,
  The Wythenseaw mid-wife,
  Mr Lockyer,
  And the 2 people whose name isn’t known.

  But only Cronow, Michaelmore and the midwife are full-time workers. Mrs. Smith can’t work a great deal because she has to look after the baby.
  In addition to the adult helpers, there are at night and number of children who distribute leaflets, etc. Two of them are the children of Lacy, and the others are probably their friends, for they live in the same street. There are about 8 of them altogether.

The ‘Machine’.
  There isn’t one. The whole campaign is amateur, unorganized, and wholly inadequate. The posters are crudely-written affairs, and no money at all has been spent on properly-written or printed posters. The handbills, too, are poorly printed.
  There is absolutely no plan of campaign. It is, as the Daily Mirror described it, ‘happy-go-lucky’. Smith goes where he wants when he wants–not as arranged beforehand. There are 3 cars: Lockyer’s, Smith’s and Cronow’s. [Ending is abrupt - may indicate a lost 4th page.]

One thought on “Mass Observation report Kings Norton 1941

  1. R. M. Healey

    I know Dawlish Road well. Today, all three bedrooms, plus the sitting room of no 145 would now be occupied by students of my former University.The sideboard might still be there, but something out of IKEA is a more likely replacement with all surfaces occupied by pizza cartons, Indian takeaway foil containers, coffee mugs and empty bottles of WKD.
    The postage stamp front garden, once so assiduously tended by Mr Lacy, is probably the resting place of much of the same sort of debris.
    But I shall check when I am next in Selly Oak.


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