Propaganda means spreading
ideas and opinions. Some of these
opinions may be true; others may be false.
The aim is the same - to get people to believe them.
Every government does it in wartime. It
gets people to think what it wants them to think.
Aylett, The Home Front (1988)
school textbook for Key Stage 3 pupils.
Propaganda is a sort of advertising. In
wartime, governments use propaganda to persuade
people to support the war. Their propaganda is
Fiona Reynoldson, Propaganda (1991).
Fiona Reynoldson, Propaganda (1991).
book for younger children
BBC at War - Homefront programming - includes
As soon as the war began, the government
formed the Ministry of Information to regulate all the
news and propaganda. At its height, 3000
people worked for the MoI
At first, it was not very successful.
It recruited authors to write leaflets, but some of them
were not very good at it. Agatha Christie
refused to do it because she felt she could only write
what she believed. Loudspeaker vans did not
get the message across to enough people.
Leaflets dropped into Germany were full of grammatical
and spelling errors.
early poster - to join the ATS - had to be withdrawn
because the drawing of the woman was thought to be too
sexy. Another early poster - 'Your courage,
your cheerfulness ... will bring us victory' - just
annoyed people because it seemed
like 'them' and 'us'; why, people asked, should they work
so the government can win the war?
As the war went on, however, the MoI
improved. A huge opinion survey - called
Mass Observation - kept track of people's opinions
and feelings, and the MoI learned what to do to
influence people properly.
One technique - which came as a bit of a
surprise - was to tell people bad news as well as good.
People believed what they heard when it was not all good,
and the MoI found that people could cope with setbacks.
Another early MoI
failure. The poster did not persuade mothers
to leave their children in the country - in fact, it
reminded them of how much they wanted to bring their
children back home.
The government used a number of
different methods to control people's thoughts and
Censorship is stopping certain types of
• Certain pieces of news
were not broadcast because the MoI thought they would
damage morale (e.g. the government covered up
reports of ships sunk by Japanese kamikaze pilots).
• Certain photos were
banned (e.g. those showing dead children, and one of a
bomb which had broken through into an Underground
• The Communist newspaper
The Daily Worker was banned in 1941 because it
opposed the war.
• Soldiers' letters were
censored to delete all mention of times and places.
• Early in the war, the MoI
kept the invention of radar secret - instead, it said
that RAF pilots had been eating carrots and could see in the dark.
The MoI had the right to control the BBC - although it
never did; the BBC voluntarily controlled the flow of
information in a sensible way. In 1939,
the BBC was expanded to 23 transmitters and 4233
• The BBC broadcast the news.
It avoided comment, and just gave the facts.
BBC newsreaders were expected always to remain calm,
and they had to dress smartly, even though they were
on the wireless! All over Europe, people
listened in because they believed the BBC.
• In September 1939, the
BBC started to broadcast Tommy Handley's comedy programme:
It's That Man Again! (ITMA).
Comedy was found to be a wonderful way of keeping up
• In June 1940, JB
Priestley began his very popular Postscripts
programme - inspirational talks immediately after the
news: for example, after the withdrawal from Dunkirk,
he gave a talk which more than anything else helped to
create the 'myth' of Dunkirk as an heroic success
• In 1940, the programme
Music While You Work was launched - it helped
keep production workers cheerful.
• The Kitchen Front
suggested recipes for mothers struggling to cope with
developed the habit of starting the news by saying:
'Here is the news; and this is [e.g. Alvar Lidell]
reading it' which newsreaders still do today.
did this so that listeners would come to be able to
recognise their voice - and therefore would be able to
tell if it was a fake enemy broadcast.
I wonder how many of you feel as I do
about this great Battle and evacuation of
Dunkirk.... When apparently all was lost, so much
was gloriously retrieved....
What strikes me about it is how typically English it
is.... And to my mind what was most
characteristically English about it was the part
played not by the warships but by the little
pleasure-steamers. We've known them and
laughed at them, these fussy little steamers, all
our lives. These 'Brighton Belles' and
'Brighton Queens' left that innocent foolish world
of theirs to sail into the inferno, to defy bombs,
shells, magnetic mines, torpedoes, machine-gun fire
- to rescue our soldiers.
JB Priestley, Postcripts (5 June 1940)
different kinds of poster - from silly cartoons such
as 'Dr Carrot' and 'Potato Pete' to high art such as
'Ruby Loftus cutting a breech-ring' - were produced,
but the most successful were the humorous 'Careless
Talk Costs Lives' posters produced by Kenneth Bird ('Fougasse').
Here are some examples of posters from
just one short walk I counted 48 official posters
... on hoardings, shelters, buildings, including
ones to tell you to eat National Wholemeal Bread,
not to waste food, to keep your children in the
country, to know where the rest centre is, how to
behave in an air raid shelter, to look out in the
black-out, to look out for poison gas, to carry your
gas mask always, to join the ATS, to fall in with
the fire bomb fighters, to register for Civil
Defence duties, to help build a plane, to recruit
for the Air Training Corps, to save for Victory.
of the public interviewed by Mass Observation.
'Potato Pete' tried
to persuade housewives to use potatoes instead of bread.
'Just a Good
Afternoon's Work' This poster was designed to encourage
women to become part-time workers.
The 'squanderbug' -
covered in swastikas - tried to get people to waste
their ration tokens.
Ruby Loftus cutting a
breech-ring; a painting by Dame Laura Knight.
A 21-year-old woman from Newport, Wales, Ruby was a
skilled machinist in a weapons factory. The
painting was used as a recruiting poster.
4. Churchill's speeches
Inspired people. What few
people know is that Churchill was too busy to record
the speeches for the BBC, and many of them were
recorded by an impressionist.
We shall go on
to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight
on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing
confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall
defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall
fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing
grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the
streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never
Speech by Winston
Churchill, 4th June 1940
5. Booklets and
Pamphlets were published on many
practical topics, such as gardening.
However, the government also published
factual accounts of the war effort. One of
these was especially successful: Front Line 1940-1
told the story of the Civil Defence Services during
the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. It
contained many facts and figures, and carefully
selected photos, which had just the right balance to
make people determined, without demoralising them.
A German bomber brought down in a Midland farmyard' - a
typical picture from the booklet: Roof Over Britain:
The official story of the AA defences 1939-42
(published by the government and sold for 9d - about 4p)
'Going to the movies' was a major part
of people's recreational time, and the film-makers
produced films about heroism and patriotism such as:
In Which We Serve (1943) - the heroic story of
the ship HMS Torrin, sunk by a torpedo.
Henry V (1944) included the British victory
against the odds at Agincourt, and the stirring speech
St Crispin's Day".
Other films amused people, or provided
romances which allowed them to 'escape' the worries
and hardships of life.
Also at the cinema, newsreels, often
accompanied by stirring words and heroic music,
provided images of the fighting, or reminders of what
people were fighting for. One especially
powerful film was Target for Tonight - the
story of a bombing raid over Germany.
playing Henry V, stirs his soldiers to heroism by his
famous 'St Crispin's Day' speech.
7. Black Propaganda
'Black Propaganda' is where the
government aims messages at the enemy population, trying
to confuse or demoralise them.
the most well-known example of this was William Joyce,
who broadcast 'news' from Germany every night, telling
the British people that the war was hopeless and that
they were being defeated. His posh,
sing-song accent - 'This is Jarmany calling' - led
people to nickname him Lord Haw-Haw.
Although it was forbidden, some 6 million people tuned
in to hear him every night - mainly to have a laugh at
his accent and exaggerated claims.
The British, however, also set up the
Political Warfare Executive (PWE) which published 'black
• they dropped a regular
36-page mini-magazine, with lots of interesting reading
... plus anti-Nazi messages!
• they dropped 'Down With
• the journalist Sefton
Delmar ran a bogus 'German' radio programme Gustav
Siegfried Eins which pretended to be anti-British,
but also attacked Hitler. The BBC monitored
foreign radio broadcasts, so the MoI experts could make
the programme sound very convincing. The
Nazis were so worried that they made listening to it an
offence carrying the death penalty.