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  • Charles Drazin

A Hopeful Young Man: Lindsay Anderson after the Landslide Labour Victory of 1945

It was August 1945.  Ten years later Lindsay Anderson, the principal inspiration behind the Free Cinema, would become known to the world as one of a new generation of “Angry Young Men", but that summer he was much more a hopeful young man. In Europe Nazi Germany had been defeated and the people of Britain had just voted for a radical Labour government which promised to “win the Peace for the People”.

Only twenty-two years old, Lindsay was an intelligence officer working at the Wireless Experimental Centre in Delhi – an overseas outpost of Bletchley Park. He had a lot of time on his hands, which – mostly stuck on a base that he described as a “sterile no man’s land” –  he spent reading ferociously and writing letters to family and friends, who included his old teacher at Cheltenham School, Paul Bloomfield, an important mentor for him.

It was perhaps the last great age of the letter. For five long years, the war had scattered people to the four corners. There were no emails, no Skype and no mobile phones. The only practical way to keep in touch across vast distances was pen and paper. These circumstances facilitated the kind of serious reflection that the digital age has since eroded with its endless clickbait diversions.

In a letter to Paul that Lindsay dated 2 August 1945, he admitted to feeling a little hurt that a short story he had submitted to the Cornhill Magazine had been rejected, although he conceded that it had been turned down “most charmingly after some considerable lapse of time” (today it would be futile even to expect the courtesy of a reply):  “I suppose it wasn’t very expert; and yet one feels it did have something to say, something to express that puts it, for all its immaturity, in a class above Miss Bowen’s elegant but not very significant stories”. Miss Bowen was Elizabeth Bowen, then one of Britain’s most well-known novelists and short story writers. The rejection was a lesson for Lindsay in the tyranny of the literary star system, which could be just as excluding as the one that operated in the movies.

But what was wonderful about this particular letter to Paul was its optimism: it contained an idealistic young man’s faith that there really was a chance now to change the world for the better, even if it turned out to be a vanishingly fleeting moment. Only a few days later an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. A terrifying new chapter for humanity had begun.

Today of all days – on the anniversary of that landmark 1945 election, and on the first day of a new Labour government  – at least we can set out hoping for the very best, since there is no reason yet to be disillusioned. It is certainly a good time to share a couple of pages from Lindsay’s letter to his old teacher – a letter that he wrote when he too was hoping for the very best and had yet to be disappointed.

The “Gavin” that Lindsay mentions in the last paragraph as belonging to a time “a few years back when we were all a bit younger and sweeter than we are now” was his Cheltenham schoolfriend Gavin Lambert, who would go on to edit Sight and Sound in the 1950s before moving to Hollywood to become a screenwriter.

Meanwhile Lindsay would go on to direct a handful of films that, with a memorable combination of poetry, intelligence and humour, offered a strikingly perceptive commentary on post-war Britain, charting the progress of a country that he felt never lived up to the promise of that summer of 1945.

But today, away with all doubts! May the new government in Britain point the way to a successful Terrestial Civilisation!!

2 commenti

Shinta Fukuda
Shinta Fukuda
06 lug


I realised, from that picture of Paul, that Graham Crowden's "alive" History teacher character was very much informed by Paul Bloomfield:

"Do you have an opinion?"

Thanks, a great little entry. Continue as you mean to proceed!

— Alex Anderson

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Shinta Fukuda
Shinta Fukuda
06 lug

What a wonderful resonant title to see, immediately after the UK election! What a breath of fresh air!

"A Hopeful Young Man: Lindsay Anderson after the Landslide Labour Victory of 1945"

Your fresh-air writing has also brought their pictures to life; Lindsay as a hopeful young thinker, Paul Bloomfield in his pedagogical prime. You can see what an alive and inspiring teacher, and wartime housemaster he must have been, suddenly appearing at Cheltenham. (Continued...)

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