Claud Cockburn

Claud Cockburn



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Claud Cockburn, the only son of Henry Cockburn, was born at the British embassy in Peking (Beijing) on 12th April 1904. His father was Chinese secretary in the diplomatic service and later consul-general in Korea. Claud was the great-grandson of Henry Cockburn, the famous Scottish lawyer.

In 1908 he was sent to Scotland with his Chinese nanny to be cared for by his grandmother. His father retired from the diplomatic service in 1909 and eventually settled near Tring, Hertfordshire. Cockburn was sent to Berkhamsted School where Charles Greene was headmaster. He became a close friend of the headmaster's son Graham Greene. According to Richard Ingrams, the boys "shared a liking for mischief-making and adventure stories, especially the yarns of John Buchan, in which brilliant but corrupted villains seek to overthrow the established order from within."

Cockburn went to Keble College where he associated with Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton. He also did some teaching in his vacation. According to one of his students, Hugh Carleton Greene, he was the most brilliant teacher he ever encountered. Cockburn also edited the university newspaper, Isis. He obtained second classes in classical honour moderations (1924) and literae humaniores (1926).

In 1926 he won a travelling scholarship from Queen's College. He went to Berlin, where he was mentored by Norman Ebbutt, who worked for The Times. Ebbutt told him "you will write for the newspaper, and we will get as many pieces of yours in as we can, although naturally it will be necessary to pretend that I have sent them". While researching these articles he made important contacts, including Gustav Stresemann and Wolfgang zu Putlitz.

Eventually, Ebbutt told his editor, Geoffrey Dawson, about the talents of Cockburn. Dawson cabled Cockburn: "Return at once. Job waiting." Cockburn was assigned to the Foreign Editorial Room at the newspaper. He really wanted to work in the United States. After making repeated requests he was sent to work at the newspaper's bureau in New York City. He arrived in July 1929 and later that year reported on the Wall Street Crash. A friend who knew him well later commented: "Cockburn was a man of great charm, modest, unassuming, and possessed of a schoolboyish zest for life. His appearance was donnish and with his deep bass voice he spoke in staccato bursts."

Cockburn went to interview Al Capone in Chicago. Guarded by Jack 'Machine Gun' McGurn, Capone told him: "Listen, don't get the idea I'm one of those goddamn radicals... Don't get the idea I'm knocking the American system. My rackets are run on strictly American lines. Capitalism, call it what you like, give to each and every one of us a great opportunity if only we seize it with both hands and make the most of it." He was later asked by his editor why he never sent the article in for publication. Cockburn replied that "Capone's remarks were in essence identical with editorials of The Times itself, and he doubted whether the paper would be pleased to see itself in agreement with the most infamous racketeer in Chicago."

The Great Depression had a dramatic impact on Cockburn's political opinions. He now considered himself a Marxist and after marrying the left-wing American journalist Hope Hale, he moved even further to the left. Hope later wrote of Cockburn: "I wanted what a woman has traditionally asked of a lover going off to war - his qualities and his heritage." She was attracted to him for his "charm, gaiety, mischief and wit" and the way he made people laugh. But privately with her, she added, he would talk seriously about how "we could sweep away all these disgraces at once and build a new society that would rule them out forever". Hope gave birth to Claudia Cockburn but the marriage did not last.

In the summer of 1932 Cockburn decided to resign from The Times for political reasons. The editor, Geoffrey Dawson, replied: "It was foolish to give up working for The Times simply on account of one's political views... The Times was a vehicle which could be used by people of the most varied opinions... For myself, I have always regarded The Times as something of an organ of the Left... Though never, I hope, of the extreme Left... It does seem rather bad luck that you of all people should go red on us."

Cockburn now spent time in Berlin where he met Willi Münzenberg. The historian, Norman Rose, has pointed out: "Willi Münzenberg... one of the founders of the German Communist Party... Münzenberg was a propagandist of genuis. Adept in public relations, a fiery and irresistible public speaker, a gifted fund-raiser and a masterful organizer, he made converts from all sections of society... Dubbed as the 'Red Hearst', Münzenberg raised up media empires... that encompassed a publishing house, book clubs, newspapers, magazines, and the financing of movies (including some of Eisenstein's) and plays."

Cockburn now returned to London where he intended to start up his own business. He had originally got the idea while working in New York City where he saw for the first time a mimeograph machine. He later recalled: "A mimeograph machine is one of the few remaining weapons which still gives small and comparatively poor organizations a sporting chance in a scrap with large and wealthy ones."

This impression was reinforced in Germany where he had seen supporters of Kurt von Schleicher using mimeograph machines to produce political propaganda. Cockburn had also been inspired by the French satirical paper Le Canard Enchainé. He considered it "the best-informed publication in France" and although some of it was "in execrable taste" it carried no advertisements, received no subsidies, and still broke "a little better than even". Cockburn was also attracted to the way it exposed government corruption. Something that Cockburn was keen on doing in Britain.

Cockburn had decided to call his newsletter, The Week. As Richard Ingrams has explained: "Started on a capital of £50 provided by his Oxford friend Benvenuto Sheard, the paper, which was all his own work, was produced in a one-room office at 34 Victoria Street, and was obtainable only by subscription. Although he relied on information supplied by a number of foreign correspondents including Negley Farson (Chicago Daily News) and Paul Scheffer (Berliner Tageblatt), it was his own journalistic flair which gave the paper its unique influence. Cockburn was not an orthodox journalist. He pooh-poohed the notion of facts as if they were nuggets of gold waiting to be unearthed. It was, he believed, the inspiration of the journalist which supplied the story. Speculation, rumour, even guesswork, were all part of the process and an inspired phrase was worth reams of cautious analysis."

The first issue of the newsletter appeared on Wednesday, 29th March 1933. As Norman Rose has pointed out: "It was preceded by scenes of great editorial confusion. The actual production of the paper was left until Wednesday morning in order, Claud argued, to pre-empt the existing weeklies with as much hot ness as possible. Claud wrote the entire issue - a modest three pages of foolscap - and cut the stencils, touching up the material as he progressed, a routine that excluded any prospect of efficiency... The Week finally emerged in what would become its distinctive format, smudgy in appearance, lively in content." The first edition had as its lead story "Black-Brown-Fascist Plan". It told of how Benito Mussolini had sponsored a four-power arrangement to regulate the affairs of Europe. It revealed that a definite proposal had been forwarded to London and Warsaw that envisaged granting concessions to Germany in the Polish Corridor while compensating Poland with a slice of Russian Ukraine."

Cockburn relied on other journalists to supply most of his information. These were those stories that their own newspaper would not print. Important contacts included Frederick Kuh, Negley Farson, Paul Scheffer and Stefan Litauer. Another source was the secretary of Franz Von Papen. According to Jessica Mitford: "In the early thirties Claud Cockburn founded and wrote a mimeographed political muckraking journal called The Week which, in the period immediately preceding the war, had become extraordinarily influential. The Week was packed with riveting inside stories garnered from undercover sources throughout Europe - at one time, Claud's principal informant in Berlin (his Deep Throat, so to speak) was secretary to Herr von Papen, a member of Hitler's cabinet."

A close friend, Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, claimed that many of the stories that appeared in The Week had already reached him in the "form of rumour" but unable to confirm their veracity, he would not risk publishing them. Cockburn did publish them. He once pointed out: "How can one tell truth from rumour in less than perhaps fifty years?" Cockburn was warned that this approach could get him into a lot of trouble. John Wheeler-Bennett warned him that very soon he would be "either quite famous or in gaol." Richard Ingrams has admitted: "In other hands it might have been a fatal approach, but Cockburn had great flair, and although many stories in The Week were fanciful, there was enough important information to win it an influence out of all proportion to its circulation."

James Pettifer has argued: "The Week... was almost exclusively concerned with the life of the ruling classes in the different European countries, and exposing inner machinations to a wider public, but they remained conspiracies that took place in drawing-rooms, in banks, in clubs and in the officers' messes... The Week... soon became famous for its exposure of the machinations of the Conservative government in the later years of the decade. More than anything else published at the time, The Week brought home to its subscribers the nature of Appeasement, and how a dominant section of the Conservative Party was assisting the foreign policy of the fascist dictators"

Cockburn was soon being monitored by MI5. In a report written on 2nd November 1933, an agent went to see Cockburn and claimed he wanted to write for The Week. He later reported: "He swallowed my story and asked for an article, which I shall prepare today. He is either very crafty or very gullible, for he invited me to have a boozing evening with him, which I cannot unfortunately afford to do, and therefore invented an appointment." A report written the following year states: "I am informed that so much is thought of the ability of F. Claud Cockburn that he could return to the staff of The Times any day he wished, if he would keep his work to the desired policy of this newspaper."

Cockburn's main target was those members of the ruling elite who were proponents of appeasement. He relied on people within the corridors of power for his information. One source was probably Robert Vansittart, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Vansittart became his leading opponent in the Foreign Office. He wrote on 6th May: "The present regime in Germany will, on past and present form, loose off another European war just so soon as it feels strong enough … we are considering very crude people, who have very few ideas in their noddles but brute force and militarism."

Vansittart worked very closely with Admiral Hugh Sinclair, the head of MI6, and Vernon Kell, the head of MI5. According to Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009): "Robert Vansittart, permanent under secretary at the Foreign Office, was much more interested in intelligence than his political masters were... He dined regularly with Sinclair, was also in (less frequent) touch with Kell, and built up what became known as his own private detective agency collecting German intelligence. More than any other Whitehall mandarin, Vansittart stood for rearmament and opposition to appeasement."

Robert Vansittart also recruited his own spies. This included Jona von Ustinov, a German journalist working in London. However, his most important spy was Wolfgang zu Putlitz, First Secretary at the German Embassy, and a friend of Cockburn from the time he worked in Berlin in the 1920s. Putlitz later recalled: "I would unburden myself of all the dirty schemes and secrets which I encountered as part of my daily routine at the Embassy. By this means I was able to lighten my conscience by the feeling that I was really helping to damage the Nazi cause for I knew Ustinov was in touch with Vansittart, who could use these facts to influence British policy." Putlitz insisted that the only way to deal with Adolf Hitler was to stand firm.

Using the name Frank Pitcairn, Cockburn also contributed to the Daily Worker. As he explained in his autobiography, In Time of Trouble (1957): "It was at about this time (September 1934) that Mr Pollitt, Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, whom I had never met, was suddenly announced on the telephone - would I, he asked, take the next train, in twenty minutes or half an hour, and report a mine disaster at Gresford, North Wales. Why? Because he had a feeling that there was a lot more in it than met the eye. But why I in particular? Well, because, it seemed, Mr Pollitt - who was worrying at the time about what he believed to be a lack of'reader appeal' in the Daily Worker - had been reading The Week and thought I might do a good job."

Cockburn wrote a great deal in The Week about what became known as the Cliveden Set. The leaders of this group, Nancy Astor and her husband, Waldorf Astor, held regular weekend parties at their home Cliveden, a large estate in Buckinghamshire on the River Thames. Those who attended included Philip Henry Kerr (11th Marquess of Lothian), Edward Wood (1st Earl of Halifax), Geoffrey Dawson, Samuel Hoare, Lionel Curtis, Nevile Henderson, Robert Brand and Edward Algernon Fitzroy. Most members of the group were supporters of a close relationship with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. The group included several influential people. Astor owned The Observer, Dawson was editor of The Times, Hoare was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Halifax was a minister of the government who would later become foreign secretary and Fitzroy was Speaker of the Commons.

In 1935 a Colonel Valentine Vivian, the head of counter-espionage at MI6, wrote to Captain Guy Liddell at MI5 saying he had sent MI6's man in Berlin to talk to Norman Ebbutt, who had worked with him at The Times in the 1920s. The agent reported the conversation: "Ebbutt has the highest opinion of Claud Cockburn's honesty and admires him for feeding on the crust of an idealist when he could obtain a fat appointment by being untrue to himself... Ebbutt says The Week has a large circulation among businessmen in the City. He gets his copy regularly. He very much regrets that Claud Cockburn has now completely fallen to the mad idea that all Imperialists dream of nothing but the destruction of Russia."

Norman Rose, the author of The Cliveden Set (2000) has pointed out: "Lothian, Dawson, Brand, Curtis and the Astors - formed a close-knit band, on intimate terms with each other for most of their adult life. Here indeed was a consortium of like-minded people, actively engaged in public life, close to the inner circles of power, intimate with Cabinet ministers, and who met periodically at Cliveden or at 4 St James Square (or occasionally at other venues). Nor can there be any doubt that, broadly speaking, they supported - with one notable exception - the government's attempts to reach an agreement with Hitler's Germany, or that their opinions, propagated with vigour, were condemned by many as embarrassingly pro-German."

On 17th June, 1936, Claud Cockburn, produced an article called "The Best People's Front" in his anti-fascist newsletter, The Week. He argued that a group that he called the Astor network, were having a strong influence over the foreign policies of the British government. He pointed out that members of this group controlled The Times and The Observer and had attained an "extraordinary position of concentrated power" and had become "one of the most important supports of German influence". Over the next year he continually reported on what was said at weekends at Cliveden.

Claud Cockburn later admitted in his autobiography, I Claud (1967) that most of his information came from Vladimir Poliakoff, the diplomatic correspondent of The Times. As his editor, Geoffrey Dawson, was a member of the Cliveden Set, and would obviously not allow it to be published in his own newspaper, he gave it to Cockburn instead. Cockburn also revealed that Poliakoff received much of his information from "anti-Nazi factions in the British and French Foreign Offices... and were thus first-rate, and the stories that came from them had that particular zip and zing which you get from official sources only when a savage intra-mural departmental fight is going on." He also admitted that Winston Churchill and his supporters were also providing him with "inside information".

On a visit to the United States Anthony Eden was amazed when he discovered the impact on public opinion of articles on the Cliveden Set in The Week was having in the country. A horrified Eden reported to Stanly Baldwin that "Nancy Astor and her Cliveden Set has done much damage, and 90 per cent of the US is firmly persuaded that you (Baldwin) and I are the only Tories who are not fascists in disguise."

Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, asked him to cover the Spanish Civil War for the Daily Worker. When he arrived in Spain he joined the Fifth Regiment so that he could report the war as an ordinary soldier. While in Spain he published Reporter in Spain. Cockburn was attacked by George Orwell in his book Homage to Catalonia. In the book he accused Cockburn of being under the control of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Orwell was particularly critical of the way Cockburn reported the May Riots in Barcelona.

In the spring of 1937, Sir Vernon Kell, the head of MI6 wrote a note to a diplomat at the American Embassy saying: "Cockburn is a man whose intelligence and wide variety of contacts make him a formidable factor on the side of Communism." Kell complained that The Week was full of gross inaccuracies and was written from a left-wing point of view, but admitted that on occasions "he is quite well informed and by intelligent anticipation gets quite close to the truth". Kell was also concerned about some accurate reports that appeared in The Week about King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.

In November, 1937, Neville Chamberlain sent Lord Halifax in secret to meet Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering in Germany. In his diary, Lord Halifax records how he told Hitler: "Although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he (Hitler) had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping Communism out of his country." This was a reference to the fact that Hitler had banned the Communist Party (KPD) in Germany and placed its leaders in Concentration Camps. Halifax had told Hitler: "On all these matters (Danzig, Austria, Czechoslovakia)..." the British government "were not necessarily concerned to stand for the status quo as today... If reasonable settlements could be reached with... those primarily concerned we certainly had no desire to block."

The story was leaked to the journalist Vladimir Poliakoff. On 13th November 1937 the Evening Standard reported the likely deal between the two countries: "Hitler is ready, if he receives the slightest encouragement, to offer to Great Britain a ten-year truce in the colonial issue... In return... Hitler would expect the British Government to leave him a free hand in Central Europe". On 17th November, Claude Cockburn reported in The Week, that the deal had been first moulded "into usable diplomatic shape" at Cliveden that for years has "exercised so powerful an influence on the course of British policy."

It was claimed that the circulation of The Week reached 40,000 at the height of its fame. Cockburn pointed out it was read by important people: "Foreign Ministers of eleven nations, all the embassies and legations in London, all diplomatic correspondents of the principal newspapers stationed in London, the leading banking and brokerage houses in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and New York, a dozen members of the United States Senate, twenty or thirty members of the House of Representatives, about fifty members of the House of Commons and a hundred or so in the House of Lords, King Edward VIII, the secretaries of most of the leading Trade Unions, Charlie Chaplin and the Nizam of Hyderabad." Other readers included Léon Blum, William Borah, Joseph Goebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's ambassador in London, who called for its suppression because of its anti-Nazi stance.

January 1938 Robert Vansittart was "kicked upstairs, assuming the high-sounding, but politically meaningless, title of chief diplomatic adviser to the government". His replacement was Alexander Cadogan, a member of the Cliveden Set. When Anthony Eden resigned as Foreign Secretary on 25th February, 1938, he was replaced by another Cliveden regular, Lord Halifax. Cockburn argued that the "appeasement coup" had been organised by the Cliveden Set. He later added that Halifax was "the representative of Cliveden and Printing House Square rather than of more official quarters."

On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the government suppressed The Daily Worker and The Week, although they were both later allowed to resume publication once the Soviet Union became one of the allies. According to his biographer, Richard Ingrams: "The new situation, which conferred respectability on the communists, was not to Cockburn's liking, and his Marxist fervour began to wane. He was further influenced by an interview with Charles de Gaulle in Algeria in 1943, in which the general suggested that his loyalty to the communist movement might perhaps be ‘somewhat romantic’. Following the Labour victory in 1945 he became convinced that the communists were ineffective as a political force."

In 1947 Cockburn moved to Ireland with his second wife, Patricia Byron Cockburn, but continued to contribute to various newspapers and journals. This included Punch Magazine and Private Eye and in 1963 he played a role in the downfall of John Profumo. He also produced a weekly column for the Irish Times. He also published several books including Aspects of English History (1957), The Devil's Decade (1973), Union Power (1976) and Cockburn Sums Up (1981). Cockburn also published three volumes of autobiography, In Time of Trouble (1956), Crossing the Line (1958) and View From the West (1967).

Claud Cockburn survived attacks of tuberculosis, cancer, duodenal ulcers, and emphysema before he died on 15th December 1981 in St Finbarr's Hospital, Cork.

Oddly - or perhaps not so oddly, because I have always liked Americans, and the sort of man that likes Americans is liable to like Russians - a prominent light in my part of the gloom was my old friend Mr Vladimir Poliakoff, formerly diplomatic correspondent of The Times. (It was he who had first, perhaps inadvertently, provided the information which ultimately led to the discovery - or invention, as some said - by The Week, of the famous - or notorious, as some said - 'Cliveden Set')...

He had a house in a square in South Kensington and there I used to drink Russian tea or vodka with him, or walk round and round the gardens while he exercised his two small Afghan hounds and talked to me derisively, in his harsh Slavonic accents, of the international situation. Even when he later brought a libel action against me our walks and talks continued amicably.

Being a supporter of what was called "the Vansittart line" the notion that by a friendly policy towards Mussolini it might be possible to split the Axis and isolate Hitler - he was fervent in denunciation of those powerful personalities in England who, on the contrary, saw in Hitler a bulwark and potential crusader against Bolshevism and thought friendship with the Nazis both possible and desirable. The vigour of his campaigns and intrigues against such elements was naturally heightened by his knowledge that some of them lost no opportunity to convince everyone that he himself was a hired agent of Mussolini.

His sources of information from anti-Nazi factions in the British and French Foreign Offices were thus first-rate, and the stories that came from them had that particular zip and zing which you get from official sources only when a savage intra-mural departmental fight is going on.

I rushed about between London, Paris and Brussels, supplementing and checking such stories from other sources. Vigorous anti-Nazis in the City, too, and on the so-called Churchillian wing of the Conservative Party were also very ready with "inside information".

At length I thought I had enough and more than enough to write in The Week a longish "think piece" about the nature and aims of those in high places who were working, sincerely perhaps, but as it seemed to me disastrously, for the 'appeasement' of Adolf Hitler. There were, of course, several references to gatherings at the Astors' Thames-side house at Cliveden. When I published the story, absolutely nothing happened. It made about as loud a bang as a crumpet falling on a carpet. A few weeks later, I ran the whole thing again, in slightly different words, and with similar result.

And then about a month later I did it a third time. There were only trivial additions to the facts already published but the tone was a little sharper. But it happened that this time it occurred to me to head the whole story "The Cliveden Set" and to use this phrase several times in the text. The thing went off like a rocket.

I think it was Reynolds News, three days later, which first picked up the phrase from The Week, but within a couple of weeks it had been printed in dozens of newspapers, and within six had been used in almost every leading newspaper of the Western world. Up and down the British Isles, across and across the United States, anti-Nazi orators shouted it from hundreds of platforms. No anti-Fascist rally in Madison Square Garden or Trafalgar Square was complete without a denunciation of the Cliveden Set.

In those days, if you saw cameramen patrolling St James's Square at lunchtime or dusk, you could be nearly sure they were there to get a picture of the Cliveden Set going in or out of the Astors' London house. Geoffrey Dawson, then editor of The Times, and a prominent member of the "Set", comments petulantly on this nuisance in his diary. If you talked to American special correspondents, what they wanted to know all about was the Cliveden Set. Senators made speeches about it, and in those London cabarets where libel didn't matter, songsters made songs about it. People who wanted to explain everything by something, and were ashamed to say "sunspots", said "Cliveden Set".

And throughout it all the members of the Cliveden Set, furiously, wearily or derisively, maintained that they were not members because there simply was not any Cliveden Set to be a member of. It was a myth.

And the fact was that, however it started, it presently became a myth. Within a year or so, the Cliveden Set had ceased to represent, in anybody's mind, a particular group of individuals. It had become the symbol of a tendency, of a set of ideas, of a certain condition in, as it were, the State of Denmark. It had acquired a powerful and alarming significance for people who could hardly have named three of those who frequented Cliveden. The phrase went marching on because it first had dramatized, and now summarized, a whole vague body of suspicions and fears.

Occasionally, moderate-minded intermediaries who felt the story was stirring up dangerous thoughts urged me to tone it down in some way curb the monster I had set loose. I had to reply that in the first place I thought the picture essentially a true one, doing more good than harm. In the second place, even supposing that, contrary to my own convictions, I were to get the B.B.C. to permit me to announce personally to the listening millions that the story had no foundation, that I had invented it, no one would pay the slightest attention. People would come to the conclusion that I had been nobbled by the Cliveden Set.

I was certainly taken aback by the wild improbabilities which some correspondents were writing about the Cliveden Set. It looked as though quite a lot of people were getting involved, were being branded as subtly scheming political intriguers, who would not have known a plot if you handed it to them on a skewer, and quite possibly had gone to Cliveden simply for a good dinner. But then, I reflected, if one is as ignorant of political goings-on as some of them claim to be, is it very wise, even for a very good dinner, to go at all?

My father Claud Cockburn once said that the report that God was on the side of the big battalions was propaganda put about by big-battalion commanders to demoralise their opponents. He saw the rich and powerful as highly vulnerable to journalistic guerrilla warfare of a type largely invented by himself. In 1933, he founded The Week, a radical anti-fascist newsletter, on a capital of £40 after resigning from his job as the New York correspondent of The Times. Its aggressive style and hard-hitting content was very similar to that of Private Eye.

He observed from the start that MI5 was keeping a close eye on his activities. He rightly assumed that they opened his mail and listened to his telephone calls. I remembered him telling me this years later when I was researching a memoir of my childhood. I wrote to the director of MI5 asking for my father's file. It was placed in the National Archives in Kew in 2004. It turned out to be 26 volumes long....

Claud's prediction is in keeping with a mischievous habit he had of telling people who were trying to pump him, or whom he simply found boring, that war or revolution were likely within days. On one occasion an outraged woman wrote to some contact at MI5 saying she had sat next to Claud at dinner and he had predicted imminent revolution, starting in the Brigade of Guards.

It was at about this time (September 1934) that Mr Pollitt, Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, whom I had never met, was suddenly announced on the telephone - would I, he asked, take the next train, in twenty minutes or half an hour, and report a mine disaster at Gresford, North Wales. But why I in particular? Well, because, it seemed, Mr Pollitt - who was worrying at the time about what he believed to be a lack of'reader appeal' in the Daily Worker - had been reading The Week and thought I might do a good job.

On 12th July 1936 gunmen in a touring car nosed slowly through sparse traffic under the arc lamps of a Madrid street, opened fire with a sub-machine-gun at the defenceless back of a man standing chatting on his doorstep, and roared off among the tram-lines, leaving him dying in a puddle of his young blood on the pavement.

That in a manner of speaking was the Sarajevo of the Spanish war. The young man they killed was Jose Castillo, Lieutenant of Assault Guards. I never saw Castillo, but afterwards I heard all sorts of people speak of him with a kind of urgency and heartbreak, as though it were impossible that you too should not have known, and therefore loved, so fine a young man.

In a corps which in the five years of its existence had already acquired a high military reputation, Castillo was already

distinguished, and already loved, by men who are not very easy pleased nor easy fooled.

In the working-class districts of Madrid he was equally well known and liked. He was declared a gallant and patriotic young officer, as dauntless a defender of the Republic as you could wish to see, and a man - as a Madrid workman said to me afterwards - "who made the culture and the progress we were after seem more real to us".

From the main streets you could already hear quite clearly the machine-gun and rifle fire at the front.

Already shells began to drop within the city itself. Already you could see that Madrid was after all going to be the first of the dozen or so big European capitals to learn that "the menace of Fascism and war" is not a phrase or a far-off threat, but a peril so near that you turn the corner of your own street and see the gaping bodies of a dozen innocent women lying among scattered milk cans and bits of Fascist bombs, turning the familiar pavement red with their gushing blood.

There were others besides the defenders of Madrid who realised that, too.

Men in Warsaw, in London, in Brussels, Belgrade, Berne, Paris, Lyons, Budapest, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Copenhagen. All over Europe men who understood that "the house next door is already on fire" were already on the way to put their experience of war, their enthusiasm and their understandings at the disposal of the Spanish people who themselves in the months and years before the Fascist attack had so often thrown all their energies into the cause of international solidarity on behalf of the oppressed and the prisoners of the Fascist dictatorships in Germany, Hungary and Yugoslavia.

It was no mere "gesture of solidarity" that these men - the future members of the International Brigade - were being called upon to carry out.

The position of the armies on the Madrid fronts was such that it was obvious that the hopes of victory must to a large extent depend first on the amount of material that could be got to the front before the German and Italian war machines smashed their way through, and secondly, on the speed with which the defending force of the People's Army could be raised to the level of a modern infantry force, capable of fighting in the modern manner.

When the church bells ring in Malaga that means the Italian and German aeroplanes are coming over. While I was there they came twice and three times a day. The horror of the civilian bombing is even worse in Malaga than in Madrid. The place is so small and so terribly exposed.

When the bells begin ringing and you see people who have been working in the harbour or in the market place, or elsewhere in the open, run in crowds, you know that they are literally running a race against death.

But the houses in Malaga are mostly low and rather flimsy, and without cellars. Where the cliffs come down to the edge of the town, the people make for the rocks and caves in which those who can reach them take refuge. Others rush bounding up the hillside above the town.

Those in the town, with an air of infinite weariness, wait behind the piles of sandbags which have been set up in front of

the doorways of the apartment blocks. Though they are not safe from bombs falling on the houses, they are relatively protected from an explosion in the street and from the bullets of the machine-guns.

Sometimes you can see the aeroplane machine-gunner working the gun as the plane swoops along above the street.

If you were to imagine, however, that this terribly hammered town is in a state of panic you would be wrong. Nothing I have seen in this war has impressed me more than the power of the Spanish people's resistance to attack than the attitude of the people as seen in Malaga.

Claud Cockburn, the former Times reporter, editor of The Week, and Daily Worker correspondent (under the name of Frank Pitcairn) who had been one of the first to fight in Spain, contributed his own remarkable abilities to this campaign of propaganda and distortion. Willi Munzenberg's henchman, Otto Katz, suggested to Cockburn that the Republic needed news that would have "a clear psychological impact." The English journalist then proceeded to concoct a story of a revolt against Franco in Morocco. He wrote unapologetically, "In the end it emerged as one of the most factual, inspiring and yet sober pieces of war reporting I ever saw, and the night editors loved it."

Examples of this kind of travesty are numerous. Peter Kerrigan, himself reporting for the Daily Worker, took Harry Pollitt to task for a false story the British party leader had planted. According to the CPGB organ, Kerrigan heroically swam the Ebro bearing crucial reports. Kerrigan said Pollitt knew this was "a phony story," and, moreover, "there was already too much butter in (The Daily Worker)." On October 18, 1938, Pollitt again angered Kerrigan as arrangements were being made for welcoming the British Battalion home. He told Pollitt that the Daily Worker's report that the battalion was at the strength of 1,000 was "incredible." "This phony figure of 1,000 in the battalion ... you must know [to be] wrong." And, more pragmatically, "The boys' reaction here was very bad when they saw it." Thinking of the Daily Worker, Orwell said, "I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed." Remembering his experience with the POUM, "I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories." He concluded by writing, "I saw ... history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various party lines.

"That is the stage on which the first act of the world war drama is being played," said a doctor of the militia to me today, pointing down to the Valley of the Jarama as we lay on a hill in long, thyme-scented grass.

I had driven out from Madrid along the Valencia road, turning off along a mule track about ten miles from the city. The track carried us into the heart of the hills, along whose seemingly deserted slopes reverberated the booming of guns.

At last we came to a little hollow in whose shelter stood two ambulance cars.

"This is the place," said the army doctor with me, and getting out he told us to follow. Imitating my guide, I crawled up the slope to the summit and there we lay prone with our nostrils buried in the thyme and our eyes fixed on the field of battle.

This was Valley of the Jarama, that stream whose name, beside that of the Manzanares, is now being written with letters of blood in imperishable annals of humanity's fight for liberty. Beyond the stream were our lines facing the long forbidding ridge of Redondo, now held by enemy.

A week ago, in the most powerful drive since the battle for Madrid began, the rebels advanced along the ridge, and now from the bluff at the northern end their fire commands the Valencia road and compels the convoys of lorries carrying precious food to Madrid to make a detour to the north.

But the mercenary troops of international Fascism, despite repeated attempts, have not yet set their feet on the road; between them and their goal stand the men of the young Republican Army, determined that just as the Manzanares defied Franco when he tried to storm Madrid, so shall the Jarama defy him as he tries to starve it.

Through field-glasses we could see bands of rebel troops move along the ridge.

"This morning we saw a priest among them," said the doctor. "He was carrying a machine-gun, but as soon as our men opened fire he scurried off and took cover behind a boulder. Most of his companions over there seem to be Moors.

"At night the Moors steal down the hillside and crawl towards our lines. Then, when they are quite near, they jump up, and uttering fiendish cries to frighten our men, rush forward. But our lads are not frightened, and in many cases those wild cries of the Moors have been their last."

A mule with two stretchers strapped to its saddle was grazing in the hollow. "That's how we bring in our wounded," the doctor explained. "Two men at a time. They have to be carried across the bridge which spans the Jarama and up this side of the valley to where we are, all under enemy fire. Today we have brought in between sixty and seventy. Ten were dead."

Seriously wounded men, if they survive that nightmare ride on the mule across the valley of death, are treated in one of the ambulances which are equipped with an operating-table.

Thousands of loudspeakers, set up in every public place in the towns and villages of Republican Spain, in the trenches all along the battlefront of the Republic, brought the message of the Communist Party at this fateful hour, straight to the soldiers and the struggling people of this hard-pressed hard-fighting Republic.

The speakers were Valdes, former Councillor of Public Works in the Catalan government, Uribe, Minister of Agriculture in the government of Spain, Diaz, Secretary of the Communist Party of Spain, Pasionaria, and Hemandez, Minister of Education.

Then, as now, in the forefront of everything stand the Fascist menace to Bilbao and Catalonia.

There is a specially dangerous feature about the situation in Catalonia. We know now that the German and Italian agents, who poured into Barcelona ostensibly in order to "prepare" the notorious 'Congress of the Fourth International', had one big task. It was this:

They were - in co-operation with the local Trotskyists - to prepare a situation of disorder and bloodshed, in which it would be possible for the Germans and Italians to declare that they were "unable to exercise naval control on the Catalan coasts effectively" because of "the disorder prevailing in Barcelona", and were, therefore, "unable to do otherwise" than land forces in Barcelona.

In other words, what was being prepared was a situation in which the Italian and German governments could land troops or marines quite openly on the Catalan coasts, declaring that they were doing so "in order to preserve order".

That was the aim. Probably that is still the aim. The instrument for all this lay ready to hand for the Germans and Italians in the shape of the Trotskyist organisation known as the POUM.

The POUM, acting in cooperation with well-known criminal elements, and with certain other deluded persons in the anarchist organisations, planned, organised and led the attack in the rearguard, accurately timed to coincide with the attack on the front at Bilbao.

In the past, the leaders of the POUM have frequently sought to deny their complicity as agents of a Fascist cause against the People's Front. This time they are convicted out of their own mouths as clearly as their allies, operating in the Soviet Union, who confessed to the crimes of espionage, sabotage, and attempted murder against the government of the Soviet Union.

Copies of La Batalla, issued on and after 2 May, and the leaflets issued by the POUM before and during the killings in Barcelona, set down the position in cold print.

In the plainest terms the POUM declares it is the enemy of the People's Government. In the plainest terms it calls upon its followers to turn their arms in the same direction as the Fascists, namely, against the government of the People's Front and the anti-fascist fighters.

900 dead and 2,500 wounded is the figure officially given by Diaz as the total in terms of human slaughter of the POUM attack in Barcelona.

It was not, by any means, Diaz pointed out, the first of such attacks. Why was it, for instance, that at the moment of the big Italian drive at Guadalajara, the Trotskyists and their deluded anarchist friends attempted a similar rising in another district? Why was it that the same thing happened two months before at the time of the heavy Fascist attack at Jarama, when, while Spaniards and Englishmen, and honest anti-fascists of every nation in Europe, were being killed holding Arganda Bridge the Trotskyist swine suddenly produced their arms 200 kilometres from the front, and attacked in the rear?

Tomorrow the antifascist forces of the Republic will start rounding up all those scores of concealed weapons which ought to be at the front and are not.

The decree ordering this action affects the whole of the Republic. It is, however, in Catalonia that its effects are likely to be the most interesting and important.

With it, the struggle to "put Catalonia on a war footing", which has been going on for months and was resisted with open violence by the POUM and its friends in the first week of May, enters a new phase.

This weekend may well be a turning-point. If the decree is successfully carried out it means:

First: That the groups led by the POUM who rose against the government last week will lose their main source of strength, namely, their arms.

Second: That, as a result of this, their ability to hamper by terrorism the efforts of the antifascist workers to get the war factories on to a satisfactory basis will be sharply reduced.

Third: That the arms at present hidden will be available for use on the front, where they are badly needed.

Fourth: That in future those who steal arms from the front or steal arms in transit to the front will be liable to immediate arrest and trial as ally of the fascist enemy.

Included in the weapons which have to be turned in are rifles, carbines, machine-guns, machine-pistols, trench mortars, field guns, armoured cars, hand-grenades, and all other sorts of bombs.

The list gives you an idea of the sort of armaments accumulated by the Fascist conspirators and brought into the open for the first time last week.

A tremendous dust was kicked up in the foreign antifascist press, but, as usual only one side of the case has had anything like a hearing. As a result the Barcelona fighting has been represented as an insurrection by disloyal Anarchists and Trotskyists who were "stabbing the Spanish Government in the back" and so forth. The issue was not quite so simple as that. Undoubtedly when you are at war with a deadly enemy it is better not to begin fighting among yourselves - but it is worth remembering that it takes two to make a quarrel and that people do not begin building barricades unless they have received samething that they regard as a provocation.

In the Communist and pro-Communist press the entire blame for the Barcelona fighting was laid upon the P.O.U.M. The affair was represented not as a spontaneous outbreak, but as a deliberate, planned insurrection against the Government, engineered solely by the P.O.U.M. with the aid of a few misguided 'uncontrollables'. More than this, it was definitely a Fascist plot, carried out under Fascist orders with the idea of starting civil war in the rear and thus paralysing the Government. The P.O.U.M. was 'Franco's Fifth Column' - a 'Trotskyist' organization working in league with the Fascists.

In the early thirties Claud Cockburn founded and wrote a mimeographed political muckraking journal called The Week which, in the period immediately preceding the war, had become extraordinarily influential. The Week was packed with riveting inside stories garnered from undercover sources throughout Europe - at one time, Claud's principal informant in Berlin (his Deep Throat, so to speak) was secretary to Herr von Papen, a member of Hitler's cabinet. Claud had coined the phrase 'Cliveden Set' to describe the powerful clique of Nazi appeasers whose frequent meeting place was Cliveden, Lady Astor's house, a sobriquet that first appeared in The Week and subsequently became a catchword used in the English and American press from the Daily Express to Time magazine.

If I were asked who are the two greatest journalists of the twentieth century, my answer would be G.K. Chesterton and Claud Cockbum. Both are more than journalists: both produced at least one novel which will be rediscovered with delight, I believe, in every generation - The Man who was Thursday and Ballantyne's Folly. Both are manic characters, writing with what some sad fellows may find even an excess of high spirits. Perhaps Claud Cockbum will prove to have been more influential, for he discovered the influence that can be wielded by a mimeographed news-sheet.


Life and work

Cockburn was born in Beijing, China, on 12 April 1904, the son of Henry Cockburn, a British Consul General, and wife Elizabeth Gordon (née Stevenson). His paternal great-grandfather was Scottish judge/biographer Henry Cockburn, Lord Cockburn.

Cockburn was educated at Berkhamsted School, Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, and Keble College, Oxford, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. He became a journalist with The Times and worked as a foreign correspondent in Germany and the United States before resigning in 1933 to start his own newsletter, The Week. There is a story that, during his spell as a sub-editor on The Times, Cockburn and colleagues had a competition to devise the most accurate yet boring headline. Cockburn claimed [6] the honours with "Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many dead". No copy of The Times featuring this headline has been located, although it did appear in Not the Times, a spoof version of the newspaper produced by several journalists at The Times in 1979 during the paper's year-long absence due to an industrial dispute. [7]

Under the name Frank Pitcairn, Cockburn contributed to the British communist newspaper, the Daily Worker. In 1936, Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, asked him to cover the Spanish Civil War. He joined the Fifth Regiment to report the war as a soldier. While in Spain, he published Reporter in Spain. In the late 1930s, Cockburn published a private newspaper The Week that was highly critical of Neville Chamberlain and was secretly subsidized by the Soviet government. [8] Cockburn maintained in the 1960s that much of the information in The Week was leaked to him by Sir Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office. [8] At the same time, Cockburn claimed that MI5 was spying on him because of The Week but the British historian D.C. Watt argued that it was more likely that, if anyone was spying on Cockburn, it was the Special Branch of Scotland Yard who were less experienced in this work than MI5. [8] Cockburn was an opponent of appeasement before the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. In a 1937 article in The Week, Cockburn coined the term Cliveden set to describe what he alleged to be an upper-class pro-German group that exercised influence behind the scenes. The Week ceased publication shortly after the war began. Much of the information that The Week printed was false and was designed to serve the needs of Soviet foreign policy by planting rumours that served Moscow's interests. [9] Watt used as an example the claim The Week made in February–March 1939 that German troops were concentrating in Klagenfurt for an invasion of Yugoslavia, which Watt pointed out was a completely false claim with no basis in reality. [9]

Cockburn was attacked by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia (1938). Orwell accused Cockburn of being under the control of the Communist Party and was critical of the way Cockburn reported the Barcelona May Days. According to the editor of a volume of his writings on Spain, Cockburn formed a personal relationship with Mikhail Koltsov, "then the foreign editor of Pravda and, in Cockburn's view, 'the confidant and mouthpiece and direct agent of Stalin in Spain'".

In 1947, Cockburn moved to Ireland and lived at Ardmore, County Waterford, and continued to contribute to newspapers and journals, including a weekly column for The Irish Times. In the Irish Times he famously stated that "Wherever there is a stink in international affairs, you will find that Henry Kissinger has recently visited".

Among his novels were Beat the Devil (originally under the pseudonym James Helvick), The Horses, Ballantyne's Folly, [10] and Jericho Road. Beat the Devil was made into a 1953 film by director John Huston, who paid Cockburn £3,000 for the rights to the book and screenplay. Cockburn collaborated with Huston on the early drafts of the script, but the credit went to Truman Capote. [11] The title was later used by Cockburn's son Alexander for his regular column in The Nation.

He published Bestseller, an exploration of English popular fiction, Aspects of English History (1957), The Devil's Decade (1973), his history of the 1930s, and Union Power (1976).

His first volume of memoirs was published as In Time of Trouble (1956) in the UK and as A Discord of Trumpets in the U.S.. This was followed by Crossing the Line (1958), and A View from the West (1961). Revised, these were published by Penguin as I, Claud. in 1967. Again revised and shortened, with a new chapter, they were republished as Cockburn Sums Up shortly before he died.


Claud Cockburn Net Worth

His net worth has been growing significantly in 2019-2020. So, how much is Claud Cockburn worth at the age of 77 years old? Claud Cockburn’s income source is mostly from being a successful Writer. He is from China. We have estimated Claud Cockburn’s net worth, money, salary, income, and assets.

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Claud Cockburn Social Network

Timeline

His second partner was Jean Ross who served as Christopher Isherwood’s model for Sally Bowles in his “Berlin Stories,” the original source for Cabaret (1972).

He had been living in some obscurity in Ireland for several years when, in the summer of 1963, he was asked to guest-edit one issue of the satirical fortnightly magazine, “Private Eye”, in London. (The then editor of the magazine, Christopher Booker, was going on his honeymoon). Cockburn took some persuading, but agreed to do the one edition of “Private Eye” – and in it he contrived to name the head of MI6, hitherto a top secret to allege (accurately) that Lady Dorothy Macmillan, the wife of the then Prime Minister, had been an adulteress to list the suspected lovers of the Duchess of Argyll, who was then going through a sensational divorce to suggest that one of them, a prominent Member of Parliament, had paid over £2000 to have a photograph which was used in these divorce proceedings altered, so that his face could not be seen and to run a detailed story strongly hinting that a 60-year-old artist named Hal Woolf had died as a result of injuries sustained whilst in police custody. This last story had been ignored by all the daily newspapers, and, as a direct result of Cockburn’s piece, an inquiry was launched into the death. In later years, Cockburn was a regular “Private Eye” columnist.

In the early 1950s, he was living in Ireland in an old house with a leaky roof which he could not afford to have repaired. To raise the money, he left several copies of his novel “Beat The Devil” at strategic places in a country house where he was a weekend guest, knowing that one of the other guests, John Huston, was a film director. Sure enough, Huston began to read the novel over the weekend and had made an informal offer for the film rights before the weekend was over. This money paid for the roof-repair.

Resigned in 1933 to found his own news-sheet The Week, which acheived notoriety. Fought on Republican side in Spanish civil war, and was diplomatic correspondent for the Daily Worker.

Educated at Universities of Oxford, Budapest & Berlin. Became New York & Washington correspondent for The Times newspaper in 1929.


Claud Cockburn: My father, the MI5 suspect

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My father Claud Cockburn once said that the report that God was on the side of the big battalions was propaganda put about by big-battalion commanders to demoralise their opponents. He saw the rich and powerful as highly vulnerable to journalistic guerrilla warfare of a type largely invented by himself. In 1933, he founded The Week, a radical anti-fascist newsletter, on a capital of £40 after resigning from his job as the New York correspondent of The Times. Its aggressive style and hard-hitting content was very similar to that of Private Eye.

My father Claud Cockburn once said that the report that God was on the side of the big battalions was propaganda put about by big-battalion commanders to demoralise their opponents. He saw the rich and powerful as highly vulnerable to journalistic guerrilla warfare of a type largely invented by himself. In 1933, he founded The Week, a radical anti-fascist newsletter, on a capital of £40 after resigning from his job as the New York correspondent of The Times. Its aggressive style and hard-hitting content was very similar to that of Private Eye.

He observed from the start that MI5 was keeping a close eye on his activities. He rightly assumed that they opened his mail and listened to his telephone calls. I remembered him telling me this years later when I was researching a memoir of my childhood. I wrote to the director of MI5 asking for my father's file. It was placed in the National Archives in Kew in 2004. It turned out to be 26 volumes long.

It begins with a trip Claud and Graham Greene took as students to the Rhineland, then occupied by British and French forces, in 1924. The purpose was to study local conditions and write about them on their return. They were regarded with suspicion by British intelligence because they failed to obtain visas and carried a letter of introduction from the German Foreign Office in Berlin to the German authorities in Cologne. "Both [men] appear to be authors," wrote an intelligence officer dubiously.

The MI5 files are packed with information, often absurdly detailed and compiled with immense labour by intelligence officers, policemen, informants and other agencies. Useless though this plodding accumulation of facts may have been for any practical purpose, it gives a unique portrait of Claud's life, which would have been impossible to emulate even if he and his friends had been meticulous diarists. No piece of trivia is too irrelevant.

Here, for instance, is the account of a Special Branch man, who refers to himself as "the Watcher", following my father on 30 March 1940 when he took my mother, then Mrs Patricia Byron, on a visit to Tring in Hertfordshire, where he had partly been brought up, and nearby Berkhamsted, where he went to school. The policeman, who calls every public house a "P.H.", evidently had no idea of the reason for the trip.

"On Saturday, 30th March, Cockburn left home at noon, and after visiting the 'Adam & Eve' P.H. walked to St James's Park Station where he telephoned and examined a map of the Green Line Coach Service. At 12.20pm he entered the 'Feathers' P.H., remaining till 12.55pm. He then returned home. At 2.15pm he left with the young woman believed to be Mrs Patricia Byron with whom he had been seen before at 84, Buckingham Gate. They went to the Victoria Coaching Station, and then the Green Line Coach Station, Eccleston Bridge, and they travelled by the 2.34pm coach and alighted just before reaching Tring. They then climbed a hill and entered a wood close to Lord Rothschild's Estate."

At this point, our Watcher was forced to drop out owing to the risk of detection, but at 6pm the couple were picked up having tea in the "Rose & Crown Inn" in Tring. "At 6.30pm they left and travelled by bus to Berkhamsted, arriving at 6.50pm. They walked around town, and along the canal tow path, and eventually reached the 'King's Arms' P.H. where they entered at 7.10pm. At 8.15pm they left and boarded an 8.20pm Green Line Coach, but alighted at Watford, where they entered another P.H. at 8.50pm where they remained till 9.10pm then walked to Watford Town Station, and traveled by the 9.25pm train for St James's Park Station, changing at Charing Cross, and then walked to 84, Buckingham Gate where they entered at 10.40pm.

"It may be stated that Cockburn is a heavy drinker of whiskey.

"Description of his woman companion (believed Byron): age 26 height 5'2" slim build dark rather long hair sharp features cultured voice dressed in blue costume and brown coat black low heeled shoes no hat.

"Observation continuing as circumstances permit."

Comment on the staggering amount my father could drink - my mother stuck to gin-and-tonic and was a far more moderate consumer - is a recurring feature in these MI5 reports. On occasion, they record hopefully that he has become a full-time alcoholic. Sometimes there is a tone of strong disapproval. In February 1951, after he visited London from Ireland, a memo noted: "It was learnt that he was an extremely unpopular guest at the Park Lane Hotel where in particular his behaviour in the Bar caused umbrage both to the management and customers."

He always drank heavily, but he had a naturally strong constitution. When he was medically examined for military service in 1943 he was found to be in perfect health, notes another MI5 paper. He smoked several packs of cigarettes a day yet he survived TB in both lungs, cancer of the throat and other ailments to die at the age of 77 in 1981.

Some of the phone intercepts, transcribed regardless of who was on the phone or what they were talking about, carry a touching sense of intimacy. In June 1948, for instance, Claud was talking to Patricia when "Claud's small son [my brother Alexander, aged seven] then came to the 'phone and particularly requested his father to get home early as he wanted him to read a book nurse had bought him about Christopher Robin. Claud told him he thought he couldn't read it that evening as he had friends coming but promised to read the following day."

The analysis by MI5 and Foreign Office officials was generally shallow, but their hunger for information was unending. This ensured the survival of interesting titbits. There is an intercepted telegram from Claud in 1937 reading "MINE IMPEDES PROGRESS" after the ship he was on struck a mine off the Spanish coast. Four years later, in the summer of 1941, my mother, heavily pregnant, was staying in Ross-shire in Scotland. She wrote to Claud, according to a letter copied by MI5, saying that "she feels depressed and is expecting her baby in two months' time. Thanks him for speaking to her over the phone, and begs him to do so again, as often as he can."

Curious episodes in my father's memoir are sometimes confirmed. In the early days of The Week, he complained he was troubled by enthusiastic people proffering help he did not need. A man from Vancouver said he could get lots of advertising and was generally instructive on the business of launching a newsletter. Claud recalled in his autobiography: "He stayed with us, in fact, throughout the launching of the paper and for three weeks after it had begun to come out, but then he went out of his mind just outside the Army and Navy stores where he knelt on the pavement one morning, addressing me as his Brother in the Sun."

In fact, an MI5 memo on "Claud Cockburn and The Week", composed soon after the newsletter was launched in the spring of 1933, noted that "T.B.F. Sheard, shown as manager, was no longer employed. He had a particularly sharp bout of what is known as 'financial irresponsibility', in the course of which he removed the funds." What's more, Benvenuto Sheard was an Oxford friend who had loaned Claud the £40 to start The Week.

MI5 knew about all this because they intercepted and copied a begging letter from Claud to Nancy Cunard asking her to make up the shortfall in funds. The letter reads: "Dear Nancy the following has happened. Sheard (Manager of The Week) has had a complete breakdown, break up, preceded as I now find by a short but peculiarly sharp burst of what is called 'financial irresponsibility.' I.E. he k v has got away with the entire funds, accumulated during the first four issues." Another official minute mentions that Sheard, after "a brainstorm", had even written to King George V, whom he asked "to interest his influential friends" on behalf of the paper.

The official tone is often snooty. At one point a memo remarks: "He is also known to have associations with many far from desirable elements in the lower walks of journalistic life." This is combined with high respect for his abilities: "I think it is only reasonable to state that COCKBURN is a man whose intelligence and capability, combined with his Left Wing tendencies and an unscrupulous nature, make him a formidable factor with which to reckon."

A three-page résumé of his career written in 1934 by a Special Branch inspector, though it contains some mistakes, came to broadly the same conclusion. The inspector writes: "I am informed that so much is thought of the ability of F. Claud COCKBURN that he could return to the staff of The Times any day he wished, if he would keep his work to the desired policy of this newspaper."

To find out what was happening at The Week, two casual MI5 agents posing as would-be contributors visited the office at different times. It must have been a comic scene. Neither agent can have been very convincing. They had to pretend, still puffing after the climb up the endless stairs to The Week's tiny office at 34 Victoria Street, that they had dropped by almost on a whim to see the editor. The first informer did not even succeed in this and saw only the two secretaries. They told him Claud was not in and only dropped by occasionally. The agent was a little aggrieved by these irregular office hours. He reported tetchily to his controller that "it seems remarkable that the editor of this paper should only visit his editorial offices for only half an hour a day".

A second informant did get to see Claud, on 2 November 1933. He said: "He swallowed my story and asked for an article, which I shall prepare today. He is either very crafty or very gullible, for he invited me to have a boozing evening with him, which I cannot unfortunately afford to do, and therefore invented an appointment." Five days later, the first agent had tea with my father: "He told me he thought war very imminent, so much so that 'if I polish my S.B. (Sam Browne) belt for Armistice Day I shan't need to polish it again for mobilisation.' He thinks the Far East the likeliest spot."

Claud's prediction is in keeping with a mischievous habit he had of telling people who were trying to pump him, or whom he simply found boring, that war or revolution were likely within days. On one occasion an outraged woman wrote to some contact at MI5 saying she had sat next to Claud at dinner and he had predicted imminent revolution, starting in the Brigade of Guards.

Not all security inquiries were so footling. In 1935, Col Valentine Vivian, the head of counter-espionage at MI6, wrote to Captain Liddell at MI5 saying he had sent MI6's man in Berlin to talk to Norman Ebbutt, the correspondent of The Times. The agent reported the conversation: "Ebbutt has the highest opinion of COCKBURN's honesty and admires him for feeding on the crust of an idealist when he could obtain a fat appointment by being untrue to himself. Ebbutt says The Week has a large circulation among businessmen in the City. He gets his copy regularly. He very much regrets that COCKBURN has now completely fallen to the mad idea that all Imperialists dream of nothing but the destruction of Russia."

Once Claud became publicly identified with the Communists, MI5 officials seem relieved that they are no longer dealing with an unknown political quantity. References to him are generally respectful. In the spring of 1937, Colonel Sir Vernon Kell wrote a note to a diplomat at the American Embassy saying: "Cockburn is a man whose intelligence and wide variety of contacts make him a formidable factor on the side of Communism." He complained that The Week was full of gross inaccuracies and was written from a left-wing point of view, but admitted that on occasions "he is quite well informed and by intelligent anticipation gets quite close to the truth". At the end of the previous year, a memo sent to MI5 noted that the circulation of the newsletter had risen sharply because of an article "dealing with the relationship between His Majesty the King and Mrs E. Simpson".

My father's delicate steps out of the Communist Party and move to Ireland confused both MI5 and the party. In 1949, the Communist leaders worried that he was about to repeat the conversion of Douglas Hyde, a veteran party member, to Roman Catholicism. The Daily Express called Harry Pollitt, the general secretary of the party, enquiring if Claud was still a party member. An agitated Pollitt soon afterwards had a comic conversation with another party leader called Johnnie Campbell. The phone intercept reads: "Harry says his fear is the Catholic business. Johnnie says he has not much to fear on that. 'She' (?) is a member of the Protestant Ascendancy [my mother]. The old Protestant. Ireland families. For them to go Catholic is almost as bad as a South American Senator marrying a negress."

During all this time, the machinery of surveillance rolled on. Every time Claud travelled between Ireland and Britain, the Special Branch conducted a "discreet search" of their luggage and reported to MI5.

The last volume of the enormous file on my father ends in 1953. The overall impression of 20 years of industrious chronicling of his activities by MI5 is that a clear picture of my father's character and activities is submerged in a vast accumulation of details. There is a failure to distinguish between the important and the trivial, between the reliable and unreliable. It is as if intelligence officials found reassurance in the sheer bulk of the information they acquired. In their defence, it could be said that they did not put this information to any very sinister use such as arresting or interning him, as they could have done in the early years of the war.

And what did the Communists think of my father, about whose abilities MI5 wrote such laudatory reviews? Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been possible to look at the Comintern files in the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History in Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street in Moscow. The documents on Claud are sparse compared to the great archive compiled by British intelligence. But they do contain one surprising disclosure which my father would have found amusing and ironical.

At the same moment that Sir Vernon Kell, the head of MI5, was telling the Americans that Claud "was a formidable factor on the side of Communism", the Comintern chiefs in the Soviet Union were trying to sack him. His crimes were deviations from the party line and the belief in Moscow that he had cut a crucial part of an interview given by Stalin. "We know him from the negative point of view," wrote a Comintern official in Moscow, called Bilov, in a secret memo on Claud written on 25 May 1937.

These were ominous words at a moment when the great purges were gathering steam across the Soviet Union and far smaller or non-existent errors had fatal results for their supposed perpetrators. Bilov goes on to explain that "in the middle of 1936 we suggested to the English Communist Party to sack Cockburn from the senior editorial management as one of the people responsible for the systematic appearance of different types of 'mistakes' of a purely provocative character on the pages of the Daily Worker."

From the beginning, the party was a little bewildered by its recruit, though it swiftly recognised his effectiveness. In 1936-37, party officials in London working for the Comintern, supposedly uniting all Communist parties, wrote a series of reports about him to the Moscow leadership. They contained admiring comments. One said: "He is held to be one of Fleet Street's cleverest journalists." Another noted his ability to reveal Cabinet changes before they were announced: "He is in touch with bankers and other elements in close touch with what goes on in the bourgeois camp and Government circles." But the reports have the edgy tone of inquisitors looking for heretics in the ranks.

There were more specific criticisms. One report reads: "The mistakes recently made in the Daily Worker on the question of the Chinese students' agitation and the omission of a vital part of Comrade Stalin's interview with Ron Howard are to be attributed in the first place to Cockburn." Of these deviations, the only one that seemed to matter was the sub-editing of Stalin's words, since another Soviet official was still complaining about it 10 years later.

'The Broken Boy' by Patrick Cockburn is published on 2 June (Jonathan Cape, £15.99)


Peak Newsletter? That Was 80 Years Ago

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By the time Claud Cockburn resigned from his post as foreign correspondent for The Times of London, he’d grown sick of the newspaper’s conservative streak. But even as a freelancer, he continued to struggle with what he saw as the media’s complacency toward the rise of ultra-nationalist movements around the world. So he tried a new approach: He’d start a newsletter, and make himself a brand.

Cockburn’s first issue went out to subscribers in March 1933.

Produced from his one-room London office on a mimeograph machine, The Week would be unafraid to attack extremists such as Mussolini. His subscriber list started at just seven, but it soon grew to include even Charlie Chaplin and King Edward VII, among many others. In one of Cockburn’s biggest scoops, in June 1936, The Week broke the story that “a Fascist putsch by the higher ranks of the army officers” was underway in Spain. A month later, as predicted, a coup set the stage for the fascist leader Francisco Franco to come to power.

Cockburn was among a crop of journalists during the mid-20th century who turned their back on traditional media and used the mimeograph to go directly to their readers. If that sounds familiar, it's because we’ve lately seen the rise of staff-journalists-turned-newsletter-writers, such as Emily Atkin (formerly of The New Republic, now Heated), Judd Legum (formerly of ThinkProgress, now Popular Information), and, most recently, Casey Newton (formerly of the Verge, now Platformer). These writers have leveraged paid subscriptions on personal platforms to report and write full-time for a private audience. Many publications are hailing our arrival at this moment of Peak Newsletter. But they’re forgetting Cockburn and his colleagues.

In the 1930s, as today, the shift to newsletters arose amidst a crisis of confidence in the newspaper industry and was enabled by the spread of new technology. Though the first mimeograph had been licensed at the end of the 19th century, a mass-produced version of the machine ballooned in popularity around World War II. Now, regular people could become their own publishers for a one-time cost of just $50 to $100—equivalent to about $500 to $1,000 in today’s dollars. Radical poets like Allen Ginsburg used mimeographs to sell chapbooks, while genre aficionados relied on them to print science-fiction fanzines. Mimeographs also fueled the growth of marginalized communities: Some of the earliest gay publications, like the 1950s lesbian newsletter The Ladder, ran on the machine.

But there was another reason that media newsletters started to take off around the 1940s. At the time, public trust in mainstream media was wavering. Newspapers were making good money, but they were also increasingly turning into a monopoly. From 1923 to 1943, the number of US towns with at least two daily papers dropped from 502 to 137, according to media historian Victor Pickard’s book America’s Battle for Media Democracy. Congress threatened to investigate.

At the time, the popular perception was that newspapers were a bastion of conservative, not liberal, politics, driven by the interests of big business. By the end of the 1930s, many papers were fiercely opposed to the New Deal and to labor organizing, stances that would alienate large numbers of readers. As Pickard shows, the growing market consolidation, paired with these ideological concerns, led thousands of Americans in the 1940s to pack panels with titles like “Is the American Press Really Free?”

It also pushed some of the nation’s leading journalists to publish independently. In 1940 an entrepreneurial Chicago Tribune journalist named George Seldes quit his job to launch a newsletter. Newspapers, Seldes said, were “on the side of the free enterprise profits at public expense.” Like Claud Cockburn before him, Seldes wanted to print the stories that he felt the mainstream press had ignored. He called his publication In Fact, and labeled it “an Antidote for Falsehood in the Daily Press.”

In Fact was a 4-page news sheet written almost entirely by Seldes, and it sold for two cents. Seldes attacked newspapers that took ad money from tobacco companies and failed to report on the health risks of cigarettes. He went after strike-breakers. He reported on the FBI’s surveillance of unions (and drew FBI attention of his own). At its peak, 176,000 people were reading In Fact—including Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and “approximately 20 senators,” according to The Washington Post.

In some ways, Seldes brought Cockburn’s newsletter model to the American mainstream. “The tendency of reporters to leave their job and strike out on their own to report, I think Seldes is a really important figure in that,” said A. J. Bauer, a media professor at NYU.

In Fact certainly influenced Seldes’ friend, the leftist journalist I. F. Stone. Stone had left a job at the New York Post in 1939, and joined the staff of The Nation the next year. He bounced between jobs throughout the 1940s, including short stints at left-leaning papers like PM and The New York Star. Both publications quickly folded. Left-wing media was struggling, but Stone insisted to a friend he was “going to keep on fighting if I have to crank out a paper on a mimeograph machine in the cellar.” Which, by 1953, is what he did. I.F. Stone’s Weekly would be published for 20 years, earning 70,000 subscribers and a spot on NYU’s top works of journalism of the 20th century.

Neither Stone nor Seldes built audiences entirely on their own. Left-wing newsstands and bookstores carried their newsletters, says Bauer, and unions bought subscriptions for their members. Seldes was particularly reliant on the labor movement, and he paid the price when the Red Scare frightened unions out of associating with him. He ceased publication of In Fact in 1950, after its subscriber count had plummeted to just 40,000.

Still, the mid-century newsletter boom was not limited to the Left. Joseph P. Kamp, a conservative writer whom a US senator once described as a “veteran pamphleteer of extreme right-wing causes,” bootstrapped a newsletter called Headlines, and What's Behind Them in 1938. A typical article from 1948 detailed the investigation into what Kamp described as a Communist infiltration of the YMCA. Headlines saw an ideological successor in the conspiratorial Counterattack, launched by a trio of former FBI agents with a mimeograph machine in 1947. Another ex-FBI agent, Dan Smoot, started publishing the Dan Smoot Report in 1957.

In the 1930s, as today, the shift to newsletters arose amidst a crisis of confidence in the newspaper industry, and was enabled by the spread of new technology.

So what happened to newsletters between then and now? They never really died. In the 1970s, conservative activists like Ayn Rand and Phyllis Schlafly each had their own—and press reports suggested in 1979 that newsletters were “booming” in Washington, DC.

But the swashbuckling early days of Cockburn and Seldes were over: Newsletters had gone corporate. Trade associations cranked them out, as did big publishers like McGraw Hill. Staff journalists at newspapers and magazines also started newsletters about specialty topics, like energy policy, for their parent companies. Going it alone was hard. About one-third of independent newsletters failed every year.

The distribution system that had given rise to In Fact—a network of unions, bookstores, and niche newsstands—had faded by this time. The 1970s wave relied on direct mailings, a tough market to crack without resources and there was much less room for working journalists to go into solo publishing.

These days, companies like Substack are offering a new way out. For now, the platforms let readers find and discover new publications with ease, and they make starting up a newsletter even cheaper than renting a mimeograph ever was. But the context has shifted, too. The journalism crisis of the 1940s was ideological, not financial: When Seldes left the Tribune, the industry was booming and he could easily have found another job, says Bauer. He chose to leave anyway, because he wanted to report the news in his own way. In 2020, with the business of journalism in free fall, Substack’s allure has as much to do with generating steady income as finding editorial freedom.


Claud Cockburn: Pioneer of The Mainstream Media

Conservatives today locate the origins of the “mainstream media” in the Watergate and Vietnam era when every reporter since has wanted to have the presidency-toppling effect of a Woodward and Bernstein. But from Watergate on, the presidencies that reporters have wanted toppled have been exclusively Republican ones.

Much of this partisanship had to do with the inclusion of New Leftist ideologues, ironically once anti-establishment toward the press, burrowing into the profession and the academia that trains future journalists.

Conservatives are certainly correct that the profession today is dominated by leftists who never left the late sixties, where objectivity was an obstacle to their political goals and thus jettisoned and these propaganda techniques continue today by the journalists who leftist academics indoctrinate as college students.

But conservatives are off the mark as to when the mainstream media came into being. It wasn’t an after-effect of the Vietnam era but rather, it emerged thirty years before in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). This conflict pitted a legally-elected Soviet-funded leftist government against a military rebellion headed by General Francisco Franco, who in turn was funded by Adolf Hitler.

George Orwell, who fought on the Loyalist side during the conflict, located the emergence of this new mainstream media in Loyalist Spain. Of what was for him a new journalistic entity, Orwell wrote:

“History stopped in 1936…in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.”

Not only did Orwell attack journalists for echoing the Communist Party assertion that “troops who had fault bravely [were]…cowards and traitors,” but also in their reportage of “great battles…where there had been one.”

As such, Orwell originated the comment used today by conservatives by recording his experience of seeing “history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.'”

But despite the plethora of journalists doing this, he singled out one in particular. It wasn’t Martha Gellhorn (who was up front about her intention to write biased stories by stating “F-ck objectivity”) or her then-lover Ernest Hemingway who defended the charges by the Stalinist secret police (after Spain, he sought a relationship with the Soviet secret police) that those executed were “fascist spies” that compelled Orwell to blow the whistle on such lies in his low-selling expose, Homage To Catalonia (1938).

Instead, Orwell focused his ire on a dodgy British Communist-agitprop merchant named Claud Cockburn.

Today, Cockburn has been lauded as the “greatest radical journalist of all time” (as stated in a New York Times obituary) a fearless reporter whose means (relying on unconfirmed rumors and gossip) justified his ends (outing the pro-Hitler sympathies of the British upper class) in the 1930s.

But even this revealed Cockburn’s love of propaganda over investigative journalism for by and large the pro-Hitler upper class was upfront about their Hitler sympathies, and thus these beliefs could have been easily and objectively reported by Cockburn.

To his credit, Cockburn never disguised his pro-Stalinism. In his autobiography, written thirty years after Spain, he refused to directly condemn Stalin for Soviet repressions or the dictator’s 1939 military partnership with Hitler, whose joint invasion of Poland from the East by the Soviets and the Nazis from the West started World War II. Cockburn was so radical that he wanted to write his Daily Worker column about the Spanish Civil War under his own name rather than the pseudonym “Frank Pitcairn.”

Nevertheless, Cockburn exemplified partisan journalism which peddled the Manichean pro-Soviet propaganda of the Civil War being about “heroic democrats” battling “fascists” (in addition to military hardware, Hitler also supplied Franco with Luftwaffe pilots).

In this capacity, Cockburn invented whole cloth an imaginary battle that horrified Orwell.

He fulfilled the orders given to him by Communists to write up an “eyewitness” account of a battle that never took place in which Franco’s loyal Moors engaged in an enormous revolt against the general. Cockburn tried to ‘authenticate’ this report with street names and buildings where the fictitious battle took place.

It should be said that this fiction was designed to get needed arms for the Loyalists from their other benefactor, France. Cockburn’s “mutiny” convinced the French that the Franco troops situated on France’s border were weak, and thus sent guns previously stalled to the Loyalists.

Such an imaginary tactic was justified by Cockburn in his 1967 biography as the very type of necessary disinformation used by British intelligence during World War II.

This comparison was appropriate as Cockburn was more than a mere journalist, and in fact served as a spy for the Soviets. Cockburn was associated with a Soviet spy masquerading as a journalist named Mikhail Koltsov, who Cockburn tellingly called the “confidant and mouthpiece and direct agent of Stalin in Spain.”

As such, Koltsov was a doctrinaire opponent of honest reporting, once castigating the inconveniently honest journalist Louis Fischer’s factual reporting as having “done more harm than thirty British M.P. working for Franco. You, as the French say, have lost an excellent opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”

Cockburn echoed these demands for journalistic silence on any inconvenient facts for the good of the Loyalist cause. Regarding the pro-Loyalist poet W.H. Auden, Cockburn wanted him to blindly follow such orders:

“What we really wanted him for was go to the front, write some pieces saying hurrah for the Republic, and then go way and write some poems, also saying hurrah for the Republic.”

To further fulfill such demands required Cockburn to invent a fictitious “fascist fifth column” revolt by the POUM, the military unit his hated George Orwell belonged to in order to justify the mass arrests of these “traitors” against the Loyalist government. In camouflaging what was in essence an attempted frame-up and execution by Stalin on the lines of his murderous Purge Trials, Cockburn had to do a balancing act of both showing the traitorous intent of these “fascists” as well as how unpopular they were with the “anti-fascist” populace of Spain. He did so with obvious contradictory statements, claiming that these “traitors” both seized a large amount of arms by which to overthrow the Loyalist government, while at the same time representing a minuscule portion of a population who supported the arrests en masse.

But unfortunately for Cockburn, Orwell witnessed the bravery and authentic anti-fascism of those he shared the front-line battles with, and hence knew were unworthy of arrest and execution in addition, Orwell, while on leave, witnessed the “street battles,” and invalidated Cockburn’s propaganda by showing there was no large amount of arms seized by the POUM, and that it was the Stalinists who instigated the battle.

Worse, with one example, he exposed the Stalinist arrests of his comrades on trumped-up charges followed by necessary “anti-fascist” executions with the fate of Bob Smille a 22-year old Englishman who shared a trench with Orwell and risked his life in several battles against Franco’s troops.

Hence Orwell knew Smille’s arrest by the Stalinists was a frame-up, and learned that Smille’s supposed death from appendicitis while in Stalinist custody was a lie in reality, Smille died from brutal kicks to his stomach from his captors.

Cockburn, by his example, not only transformed Orwell, from an anti-Stalinist figure willing to put his sentiments on hold for the good of the Republic (Orwell initially agreed with the Party line that the war must be won first before a revolution could be carried out and tried to join the Stalinist-controlled International Brigades right before the POUM repression), but also affected literary history as well.

For Cockburn’s falsifying history furnished, along the police state heresy hunts in Spain, the raw materials for Orwell’s interpretation of Big Brother.


The Week, 1933-1946

This online collection contains all issues of the leftist newsletter The Week, edited and published by Claud Cockburn between 1933-1946. Over 600 issues (3,559 pages) are available as full-text searchable PDFs.

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the 1930s, but one extremely cynical observer of the world at its worst was usually right on the essentials, even if he did tend to err on the side of hyperbole. That man was 'the journalist’s journalist’, Claud Cockburn, who left The Times of London in 1933 to found, edit and write The Week, a closely informed, extraordinarily prescient newsletter that serves both as a roadmap through the 1930s and served its contemporaries as a warning of the horrors in store.

From Whitehall to Kasumigaseki to the Kremlin - some said from the Kremlin. From Cliveden to the Commons to the Reichstag, Claud Cockburn’s The Week brewed a potent mixture of informed gossip and brutal fact from a network of concerned diplomatic, military and journalistic insiders gathered during his years on The Times of London and on the far left.

Cockburn, Beijing born and the son of a British diplomat, took the pulse of the 1930s and gave his diagnosis in The Week. As he saw it, the clouds of war were gathering and no amount of appeasement would see them off, and few disagreed. Typed up, mimeographed and stapled in a dingy London attic, Claud Cockburn's brown-buff coloured six-page weekly was initially mailed to no more than a few thousand subscribers, but from its first issue of 29 March 1933 its influence soon grew out of all proportion to its circulation.

By its 4th edition in late April 1933, the circulation of The Week had not only trebled it had become essential reading in the London bureau of every national daily and news agency in the world. The subscription list included the legations and embassies of every nation represented in London and soon in Washington, and would soon extend to Tokyo and Nanjin. In the City of London, The Week’s subscribers included all the major British banks and merchant banks, and the representative foreign banks of mercantile powers the world over.

For all its casual amateurishness, its snickering asides and shoestring budget, The Week told the movers and players of its day exactly how little they thought of each other, exposing the fairweather alliances of the 1930s and the utter futility of gentlemanly undertakings. Dismissed, denied and praised to the skies as much by its contemporaries as by its successors, Claud Cockburn's The Week is as essential reading in our day as it was in its heyday.


Claud Cockburn

Francis Claud Cockburn of Brook Lodge, Youghal, County Cork, Munster, Ireland ( /ˈko⢫ərn/ KOH-bərn 12 April 1904 – 15 December 1981) was a British journalist. He was a well known proponent of communism. His saying, "believe nothing until it has been officially denied" is widely quoted in journalistic studies. He was the second cousin, once removed, of novelists Alec Waugh and Evelyn Waugh.

Cockburn was born in Beijing, China on 12 April 1904, the son of Henry Cockburn, a British Consul General, and wife Elizabeth Gordon (nພ Stevenson). His paternal great-grandfather was Scottish judge/biographer Henry Cockburn, Lord Cockburn.

Cockburn was educated at Berkhamsted School, Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, and Keble College, University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He became a journalist with The Times and worked as a foreign correspondent in Germany and the United States before resigning in 1933 to start his own newsletter, The Week. There is a story that during his spell as a sub-editor on The Times, Cockburn and colleagues had a competition to devise the most accurate yet boring headline. Cockburn claimed the honours with "Small Earthquake in Chile. Not many Dead." However, this is apocryphal no copy of The Times featuring this headline has been located.

Under the name Frank Pitcairn, Cockburn contributed to the British communist newspaper, the Daily Worker. In 1936, Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, asked him to cover the Spanish Civil War. He joined the Fifth Regiment to report the war as a soldier. While in Spain, he published Reporter in Spain. In the late 1930s, Cockburn published a private newspaper The Week that was highly critical of Neville Chamberlain and was secretly subsidized by the Soviet government[5] Cockburn maintained in the 1960s that much of the information in The Week was leaked to him by Sir Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office.[5] At the same time, Cockburn claimed that MI5 was spying on him because of The Week, but the British historian D.C. Watt argued that it was more likely that if anyone was spying on Cockburn, it was the Special Branch of Scotland Yard who were less experienced in this work than MI5.[5] Cockburn was an opponent of appeasement before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In a 1937 article in The Week, Cockburn coined the term Cliveden set to describe what he alleged to be an upper-class pro-German group that excerised influence behind the scenes. The Week ceased publication shortly after the war began. Much of the information that The Week printed was false and was designed to serve the needs of Soviet foreign policy by planting rumours that served Moscow's interests.[6] Watt used as an example the claim that The Week made in February-March 1939 that German troops were concentrating in Klagenfurt for an invasion of Yugoslavia, which Watt pointed out was a completely false claim with no basis in reality.

Cockburn was attacked by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia (1938). Orwell accused Cockburn of being under the control of the Communist Party and was critical of the way Cockburn reported the Barcelona May Days. According to the editor of a volume of his writings on Spain, Cockburn formed a personal relationship with Mikhail Koltsov, "then the foreign editor of Pravda and, in Cockburn's view, 'the confidant and mouthpiece and direct agent of Stalin in Spain'."

In 1947, Cockburn moved to Ireland and lived at Ardmore, County Waterford, and continued to contribute to newspapers and journals, including a weekly column for The Irish Times. In the Irish Times he famously stated that "Wherever there is a stink in international affairs, you will find that Henry Kissinger has recently visited."

Among his novels were The Horses, Ballantyne's Folly, Jericho Road, and Beat the Devil (originally under the pseudonym James Helvick), which was made into a film directed by John Huston with script credit to Truman Capote (the title was later used by Cockburn's son Alexander for his regular column in The Nation).

He published Bestseller, an exploration of English popular fiction, Aspects of English History (1957), The Devil's Decade (1973), his history of the 1930s, and Union Power (1976).

His first volume of memoirs was published as In Time of Trouble (1956) in the UK and as A Discord of Trumpets in the U.S.. This was followed by Crossing the Line (1958), and A View from the West (1961). Revised, these were published by Penguin as I Claud in 1967. Again revised and shortened, with a new chapter, they were republished as Cockburn Sums Up shortly before he died.

Claud Cockburn married three times: to Hope Hale Davis, with whom he fathered Claudia Cockburn Flanders (wife of Michael Flanders) to Jean Ross (part model for Christopher Isherwood's Sally Bowles of Cabaret fame), with whom he fathered Sarah Caudwell Cockburn, author of detective stories and in 1940 to Patricia Byron (nພ Patricia Evangeline Anne Arbuthnot (17 March 1914 - 6 October 1989), married firstly on 10 October 1933 to Arthur Cecil Byron, son of Cecil Byron, by whom she had a son Darrell Byron, who died in Ireland aged two, divorcing in 1940, daughter of Major John Bernard Arbuthnot and Olive Blake)[7], who wrote the book The Years of the Week and also wrote an autobiography, Figure of Eight, with whom he fathered Alexander, Andrew (husband of Leslie Cockburn), and Patrick, all three of whom are also journalists. His granddaughters include RadioNation host Laura Flanders, BBC Economics editor Stephanie Flanders, and actress Olivia Wilde.


The Wonder Rabbi and Other Stories

Claud Cockburn was an upper-class Communist, firstly London correspondent for Pravda then during World War Two a full-time journalist for the Daily Worker . He evidently felt no enmity toward Jews whatever, which makes his observations about them all the more striking. His accounts also contain some interesting advance perceptions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Claud Cockburn, Sefton Delmer and the Wonder Rabbi

I had loved that neck of the east European woods too. Mr Sefton Delmer (who worked for the Daily Express ) and his wife once – about Munich time – drove me down there from Prague, and we saw a man like Moses tending calves. One of the calves leaped a ditch and got itself struck by the car. It looked poorly, but we ran to and fro with our hats, getting water in them from the roadside ditch and throwing it over the calf’s head. The patriarch looked on in sorrow and scepticism.

‘Poor calf,’ we said, fondling its ears.

‘Not the calf is poor,’ said the patriarch, ‘I am poor.’

We hardly knew it then, but it was the last smell of the old-time eastern European brew any of us were going to get for a long time. At Uzhorod we even talked to a ‘Wonder Rabbi’ – a rabbi who worked miracles. Before him there had been a more famous wonder-rabbi at Uzhorod, who, as a result of a vision, had defeated the Russians when they were sweeping in on the place in 1915.

The wonder-rabbi we met was his son-in-law, had come from somewhere in Poland and married into the business. As son-in-law of the Destroyer of the Cossacks he had prestige too. Also he deserved it, because though Mr Delmer and I visited him at fairly short notice, when we got there he had a copy of the Daily Express on his desk. It had been rushed in during the twenty-four hours between our request for audience and our arrival. It was the first copy of the Daily Express ever seen in Uzhorod. But the rabbi was at pains to tell us that he read the Express carefully every day. His favourite newspaper.

The courteous trouble taken made us, in our turn, feel very polite, very gentle. Nevertheless I had to say to him, ‘Do you, in fact, work miracles?’

He fluttered a white hand and very gently sagged a splendid black beard.

‘I mean’ – I said, or Mr Delmer said – ‘the people here most certainly suppose that you work miracles.’

‘The common people,’ said the rabbi, ‘have a tendency to superstition. Also they tend to confound the material with the spiritual. They see a man a rabbi learned a profound student of the Talmud a holy man, in fact! So they think "the spirituality of such a man must be expressed in some unusual material powers". So they believe I can work material miracles.’

‘And your own attitude to this mistaken tendency? You take steps to counter and expose such false conceptions?’ ‘You would do well to remember,’ said the rabbi stroking his beard, and looking with an air of interest at the Daily Express , ‘that every false conception contains, nevertheless, a kernel of truth.’ (pp. 9-10)

Was Poliakoff a Jew?

Oddly – or perhaps not so oddly, because I have always liked Americans, and the sort of man that likes Americans is liable to like Russians – a prominent light in my part of the gloom was my old friend Mr Vladimir Poliakoff, formerly diplomatic correspondent of The Times . (It was he who had first, perhaps inadvertently, provided the information which ultimately led to the discovery – or invention, as some said – by The Week , of the famous – or notorious, as some said – ‘Cliveden set.’)

With the head of a Slav generalissimo, and a get-up vaguely suggestive of Homburg about 1906, this Vladimir Poliakoff strode and occasionally tiptoed around and about the diplomatic world of the twenties and thirties like a panther, which duller features deem merely picturesque or bizarre until they note what a turn of speed he has. Among his other notable qualities was an infinite capacity for taking pains to do everyone, from ambassadors to train conductors, small but unforgettable favours. A colleague, who regarded the very existence of Poliakoff with jealous disapproval, declared that there was not a foreign secretary in Europe whose mistress’s dog had not been smuggled across one or other frontier by Poliakoff.

I met him for the first time in 1929 when I was tenuously attached to The Times office in Paris. The atmosphere in the office on that day was sulphurous. The chief correspondent, on calling to see the Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been informed by the chef de cabinet that ‘Your chief has just been with the Minister for an hour.’ The correspondent was at first merely amazed that the editor should have come over from London without informing the office. Later, to his disgust, he learned that the supposed ‘chief’ was the peripatetic Mr Poliakoff on a quick trip to Paris. By virtue of a certain manner he had, he was quite often taken by foreign statesmen to be the ‘man behind’ everything from Printing House Square to Whitehall, and his sincere denials merely confirmed their belief.

Furthermore, the assistant correspondent had been apprised by friends in London that Poliakoff was accustomed to refer to him slightingly as ‘the office boy with the silk moustache.’ As a result of all this, the chief correspondent shut himself up in his room, his assistant put on his hat and walked out, growling, and I, to my alarm, was left alone with the internationally distinguished Poliakoff. I saw him examining me with attention, and feared he would ask me high diplomatic questions which I should be unable to answer, and thus become discredited.

He said, ‘What you have is the grippe. Your temperature – I am not accustomed to be wrong about such things – is a little over a hundred.’ Astonished, I admitted that this was precisely the case. The tails of his grey morning coat flapping suddenly behind him, he bounded from the sofa.

‘A-ha!’ he shouted. ‘I am the one to cure that. A special remedy. Ordinary ones are futile. I proceed at once to the chemist on the corner to give my instructions. Relax. I shall return.’ In ten minutes he was back and, seating himself beside me, took from his tail pocket a small clear-glass bottle from which he poured a few drops of liquid on to a huge silk handkerchief. ‘Breathe deeply. Inhale the remedy of Poliakoff.’ He had his arm round my shoulder and held the handkerchief to my nose with the air of a field-marshal succouring a stricken private. The result was immediately beneficial. But I noticed too that the smell and general effect were exactly those produced by a well-known, widely advertised popular remedy, the name of which I have forgotten. I was sufficiently curious to inquire later from the corner chemist whether a certain gentleman – Poliakoff was easy to describe and unforgettable – had, a little earlier, bought a bottle of this well-known product and arranged for it to be specially decanted into a plain bottle. Such had, the chemist said, been the case.

I found this little manoeuvre, this taking of so much trouble to please, both impressive and endearing, and years later, when I had left The Times , was delighted to renew acquaintance with Mr Poliakoff at some diplomatic reception in London or Paris. (pp. 16-17)

‘Monsieur Bob’ Hints at the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

We used, in that strange spring before der Pakt and the war which we all erroneously thought was going to be the end of everyone, to take, sometimes, the pleasant air of Touraine, in the company of a man whose real name I have never known nor asked – he was called simply Monsieur Bob. His parents were wine-growing peasants in Touraine, and he himself – I have been told, and I think it is true – was an officer of some French cavalry regiment which was attached (either as guard or demonstration) to the French Embassy in Russia at the time of the revolution.

Whether it was cavalry or not, the fact was that when the showdown came – when the French were supposed to rush at the revolting proletariat – this young officer refused to order them so to do. Indeed he ordered them, and they seem to have acted with vehemence, to assault the other lot – the Reds. At any rate, whatever it was he did was heinous, and he was sentenced to death in France, should he ever return to the jurisdiction. In the end there was an armistice on that sort of thing – I suppose as a result of the Franco-Soviet Pact (these things always seem of life-and-death importance at the time and afterwards you forget what on earth the sequence really was). So there he was in France, a gentle, dapper little man cocking a Touraine peasant’s eye at the Comintern of which he was a principal agent.

I had met him a couple of years before in Spain, where he had arrived suddenly on a tour of inspection. I had expected someone grim who probably would weigh me in the balance and find me much wanting. I took a terrible chance by recommending to him – a Tourangeois – a certain Catalan wine I had discovered, telling him that it was as good as a medium-grade French claret. Fortunately, for he was a fastidious little man, he thought so too, and we became friends over the first bottle.

Occasionally, when there was time, he would drive me and one or two other wine-lovers such as Kisch, down to his parents’ vineyard. They were a gnarled old couple, looking as though they had been toiling in that vineyard since about the time of Voltaire. And although neither of them had ever been farther from home than Tours, they thought their son’s sensational and even bizarre career quite a natural thing to happen in the world. On account of their almost rigorous hospitality, after a couple of hours at their farm-house one lived in a golden haze. They would open a bottle of their wine, give you a glass and ask what you thought of it.

You drank and commented admiringly – and it really was very good.

The old man would look at you as though he had found himself entertaining an escaped lunatic.

‘Good? You think that good? But my dear sir, forgive me for asking, but where have you been all your life? Now permit me to draw your attention to this bottle. You will see the difference.’

You drank a glass or two of the next bottle, and you did see the difference and said so.

‘Wonderful? You can find that wonderful? Good, yes, I agree. But not wonderful. Now nearer to being wonderful is this.’

Bottle after bottle was opened on a deliciously ascending scale, until the peak of the sublime was reached. Once, ignorantly, I remarked of the last, the most sublime bottle of all, that it must fetch an enormous price in Paris. My host jumped as though at an indecent suggestion.

‘Sell that to Paris? My dear sir. That is our best wine. We can’t sell that. We drink it ourselves.’

It was during one of these golden interludes that Monsieur Bob first sought to convey to me, with infinite discretion, the possibility, theoretical as yet, of something in the nature of a German-Soviet Pact. To most of us at that time the notion was both outrageous and incredible. And if rumours were heard, we supposed them to have been put about by reactionary agents.

‘But if,’ said Monsieur Bob, sighing deeply and stroking the stem of his wineglass, ‘the British simply do not want to come to a serious agreement with Moscow?’ (This must, I suppose, have been in late May or early June.) ‘Suppose,’ he said, ‘that le patron’ (it was the way Stalin was always referred to at that time), ‘suppose le patron – on the basis, you understand, of information received – believes that secretly the British still hope to come to an agreement with Hitler themselves? An agreement which will send him eastwards instead of westwards? What do you think le patron would do? What could he do, except perhaps turn the tables on them and buy a little time for Russia by sending him westwards first, en attendant the real battle in the east?’

‘But good God – an agreement with Hitler? With that aggressor and murderer, the leader and organizer, after all, my dear Bob, of anti-communism everywhere?’

‘Are all Scotsmen,’ asked Monsieur Bob, oddly echoing Poliakoff, ‘somewhat romantic? I would draw your attention to the fact that we are talking about serious international politics. But of course nothing of the kind may ever happen. Perhaps London will all at once come to its senses. I have great faith – perhaps it is I who am now being romantic – in English common sense. Perhaps’ – and it was a phrase you heard over and over again in Paris at the time – ‘perhaps they will send for Churchill and put an end to all this fooling about.’

Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was the fact that Patricia was due to come over to Paris in a day or two – for whatever reason, I paid at the time too little attention to this conversation in which, as I saw later, my friend Bob was seeking to offer me, from his own inside position, a cautious preview of the possible shape of things to come. So that when, a good many weeks later, the first unmistakable indications that der Pakt was going to be a reality came, soon after midnight, over the tickertape at the Savoy Hotel in London, I was almost as startled as anyone else. (pp. 34-36)

Announcement of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: ‘AII the Isms have become Wasms’

The idea that the whole thing had been reduced to an absolute farce was, with more or less justification, according to your viewpoint, the first reaction of millions of honest Britons to the news that ‘hammer’ Molotov and champagne merchant Ribbentrop were together in Moscow, arranging to be friends for evermore. Witty, encouraging and inaccurate to the last, the British Foreign Office spokesman said, ‘AII the Isms are Wasms.’

No one old enough to have been politically conscious at that time is likely to forget the bubble of passions, the frantic accusations and counter-accusations, the ‘agonizing re-appraisals,’ the reaffirmations of faith, the hubbub of emotions, which thereupon broke out. And, of course, people too young to have been there must by now find a lot of the excitement irrelevant and incomprehensible. It was real enough that night. (p. 39)

Winston Churchill and Bernard Baruch. A Gaullist Murder in Duke Street

At that time the Gaullists were far from popular in London – partly because they were still less popular in Washington, where President Roosevelt took the view that, in terms of Rooseveltian philosophy, the relatively small de Gaulle bottle must be marked ‘dangerous, to be taken only under American doctor’s directions’ like the much bigger bottle in which Roosevelt thought he smelled the inveterate imperialism and colonialism of Winston Churchill. The much over-simplified impression one had at the time was that Mr Churchill, who had his own troubles with Mr Roosevelt – not to mention the general and real undesirability of doing anything which might be difficult to explain to Mr Bernard Baruch – saw no good reason to compromise British policies by getting their name too closely linked with that of General de Gaulle.

Liberals and Socialists in France and England were suspicious of the General too. Indeed, I suppose that if you made up a composite figure of every available element that would annoy, discompose, and arouse the suspicions of an orthodox English Labour Party leader, the General would have about filled the bill. He may have made, from time to time, some enthusiastic speech about democracy or the century of the common man, but, if so, I do not recall it. And the omission was a serious political mistake. It was one which M. Laguerre and myself did our best to repair. We were not much assisted by the attitude and actions of the members of his entourage. There was a group – in organizations of such a kind there always is such a group – which felt that what other members of the organization did not know would not hurt those members. It was the kind of group which can never grasp the difference between that sort of killing which the public is going to think is murder, and the sort which the public can be induced to accept as a form of national defence.

As a result of this attitude, a man became murdered in Duke Street. The people responsible believed – I personally have always thought that they were right in so believing – that this supposed loyal adherent of the Free French was in reality a Nazi spy. The victim, after death, was strung up in this room in Duke Street and the police were supposed to believe that he had hanged himself.

The police found it difficult to understand why a man should savagely beat himself up before stringing himself up. Also, since it was the ordinary police who had been called in to view the body of the alleged suicide, the case had been automatically placed on the conveyor-belt of the ‘due processes of law’

It was the sort of point which ‘the group’ was liable to overlook. Perhaps they would have been more careful about it if they had not misunderstood – and who shall blame them? – the nuances of the British political scene. They did not evidently understand that in British political life it is almost essential to be a Christian even when you are an atheist. ‘Being a Christian’ in this sense means that, though you may proclaim total disbelief in the doctrines of the Church, you must at the same time indicate that you are in favour of Christian ‘ethical values’

To sneer at this as hypocrisy is cheap. There is hypocrisy in it, certainly. But, when the people across the street are running up their extermination chambers and getting to take torture for granted, this sort of hypocrisy has a value. Wilde said hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Such tributes, and the recognition that they ought to be paid, have a civilizing influence.

Being, in this sense, Christian, British public opinion – and more particularly Left opinion – is implacably opposed to war. When, after announcing its opposition, the Left, as in the last two world conflicts, finds itself vigorously supporting a war, it understandably prefers that it shall not have its nose rubbed in the facts of war more than is absolutely necessary. It requires, for instance, that if in the interests of the war effort a man has to be done to death in Duke Street, the murderer shall wear kid gloves and leave no finger-prints. Enemy agents, like the ex-husband of the heroine of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , are not murdered, they become shot.

A disclosure that the Gaullists considered it natural and reasonable to murder a man in a back room in Duke Street on the ground that they thought him an enemy agent was going to be meat and drink to de Gaulle’s enemies. Liberals and Labour people were going to react with horror on general principles. And a lot of other people who would have thought nothing of doing the same thing in similar circumstances were going to exploit what one of them once deliciously described to me as the ‘layman’s reaction’ zestfully for their own purposes.

The case has always fascinated me as being one of those affairs which have effects similar to that which imminent drowning is supposed to have, except that in these cases it is not the past which is projected in a sudden illuminating flash, but the present. By just watching the reactions of people – of those, that is, who knew or guessed the truth of what had happened – you could acquire a detailed geographical survey of the mind and face of political Britain, a sketch of trends and tendencies you could not have got from innumerable ‘public opinion polls’ Characteristically completing the picture, the group simply could not see why, once the body was literally on view, the British authorities could not dispense with an inquest, or else instruct the loll police to say that the man had been picked up dead in the street, or tell any other story of the kind which would avoid any type of political unpleasantness. Indeed it was one of those episodes which helped to convince the Gaullists that the British Intelligence Service – for whose assistance in burying the matter quietly they immediately applied – was positively working against them.

Otherwise why was not an agent sent round to arrange for people, if they had to appear in public, to say the right thing? On est trahi. Although I did not think so at the time, I have been told that, within the limits of English legality – which were far from satisfactory to the French – the best that could be done was done. But although, by skilful use of the security regulations, the barest minimum of fact got published in the newspapers, the story circulated widely by word of mouth, and André Laguerre, with such assistance as I could offer, had to work overtime trying to keep the General’s picture among the political pin-up favourites of the public at large.

Things would have been easier for us if it had been true, as was so widely asserted, that the General had no sense of humour. He was represented as an austerely unbending, rigid type of man who ‘joked with deeficulty’ – who could not, it was said, joke at all. To suppose so was to misjudge him seriously. In my estimation, at least, he could not resist a joke even when to play it was obviously against his best interests. Most of his jokes were about as harmless as a hand-grenade after the pin has been taken out. (pp. 79-82)

De Gaulle’s Sense of Humour

At one time the Free French employed in London – much in the way that people employ hard-up peeresses to lead their daughters round the season – a highly connected but quite broke socialite to run a sort of salon for them. She gave lunch parties and dinner parties where loyal Free Frenchmen met English men and women of influence. (M. d’Astier de la Vigerie, who used to parachute, near-suicidally, in and out of France like a ping-pong ball, told me once of attending a dinner of this kind when an English cabinet minister and his wife were present. They were not unaware of the heroic doings of M. de la Vigerie. ‘Are you,’ the Minister’s wife inquired, ‘planning to return to France soon?’ M. de la Vigerie, hardly able to believe his ears on hearing this fantastic indiscretion, replied to the general effect that that was as might be. Undiscouraged, the ministress pursued her investigation. Would he, as and when he dropped from the skies into occupied France, be going anywhere near Bourges? Thinking, ‘Good God, are these people having a war or not?’ Vigerie replied that all things were possible. ‘If,’ said the minister’s wife, ‘you do happen to be in Bourges, I wish you would make a point of looking up two old servants of ours who returned there when we left France just before the invasion. I should like to let them know that my husband and myself are quite all right. You see, they may be anxious about us.’)

After a while, it was decided for some reason or other that the salon-runner was not really earning her keep. I have forgotten whether the reason was that things were going so well for the Free French that she had become redundant, or were going so badly that even a good salon was not going to make much difference. It was decided to sack her. But de Gaulle’s closest advisers were worried – she was a woman still of potential influence the thing must be done with the utmost discretion. ‘Discretion, General,’ they said, and de Gaulle contrived to look as though discretion were his middle name.

They cooked up the idea of a little tea-party at Carlton Gardens where the General and one or two of the discreet advisers were discreetly to break the news that, great as this lady’s services had been to the Cause, the Cause with the utmost regret was compelled, temporarily it was to be hoped, to relinquish them. The discreet, sighing with relief at the fact that things were going to go so smoothly, waited for her arrival. She was announced. De Gaulle, uncoiling suddenly from his chair like a long worm with a steel spring in it, strode beaming across the room to greet her.

‘A-ha! Madame,’ he said, ‘the first thing I want to tell you is that you’re sacked.’

Even months later he recalled with pleasure the expression on the faces of the discreet advisers at that moment. (pp. 83-84)

Why the Nazis Locked Up Jews

Naturally it was not without a great deal of trouble, and noble assistance from the National Union of Journalists, 90 per cent of whose members detested what I said but took a fine Voltairean attitude about my right to say it, that when (after the fighting men had driven the Germans and Italians out of North Africa) it was agreed that a party of diplomatic correspondents should be allowed to visit the scene, I was permitted to make one of their number. I have it on what I consider good authority that Mr Bracken – despite all – took a determined attitude about this, and insisted that to exclude me would be a picayune sort of politics. If it is true, I owe him a debt of gratitude. And of course if not, not.

However, when we got to Algiers – we had been there I think about twenty-four hours – two rather disconcerting things happened. The leadership of the prewar Communist Party of France, a great parcel of ex-MPs who had just been let out of jail and seemed to have heard of nothing since August 1939, made it clear to me that in their view Communist policy in London towards de Gaulle had been grossly mistaken – the man was a menace, an anti-democrat, and an embryo dictator. They seemed, indeed, to be contemplating some kind of alliance – or perhaps they already had such an alliance – with the Giraudists. And I could not escape the discouraging impression that, because the assassin of Admiral Darlan had been a Royalist extremist of the Right, they disapproved even of that act.

The other upset to my schedule occurred when I was summoned to the relevant British authority – the Information people, I suppose, but I no longer recall who actually acted in the matter – and informed that I was expelled from North Africa and must take myself off within twenty-four hours. An aircraft would have a seat for me at Maison Blanche on the morrow.

It seemed a sad thing to have come all this way and have to return so soon. And I must confess that I was a good deal influenced by considerations other than those of political and joumalistic achievement. The sun was wonderfully hot, and after the war years in London Algiers danced in the sun like a dream come true. I made up my mind that whatever happened I really could not quit the scene so soon.

Moreover it was apparent to me that whereas the British had allowed me in, and were quite prepared for me to stay, the Americans were having an early attack of those security jitters which later developed into neuroses really harmful to those otherwise vigorous and healthy people, and had taken fright. They were in fact raising Cain with the British for having allowed me to become airborne Africa-wards in the first place. One more example, they were saying, of the sloppy British way of doing things. And the British were, at that moment, in no position certainly at least in no mood – to make an issue of it, and find themselves quarrelling with their great and good friends over the case of a Communist diplomatic correspondent.

It seemed best not to be, for the moment, an issue in fact, to disappear. I took refuge in the house of an elderly and heroic Jewish doctor – a man who before the allied landings had risked his life over and over again in big and small (but continuous and relentless) actions against the collaborationists and the Germans and the Italians, and in whose house a part of the planning of the landings had actually been carried out. He was not only old but lame. When his big house was full of hidden conspirators he had been used to spend hours and hours, from dawn onward, limping wearily from market to market so as to buy food for a dozen young fighting men without attracting undue attention by the quantities he bought. I can think of no one I have ever known who, in his courage, physical endurance, skill and cunning in the face of enemy attack, and ability calmly to cultivate his cultural garden when he had a moment free from the threat of torture, was superior to that man.

It was in his house that the assassination of Darlan had been planned, and the assassin had been hidden there for some time before the act took place. There had been, as there always is in such affairs, some sort of muddle and, although I naturally did not ask questions about it, I gathered that somebody had, as the saying goes, jumped the gun – the thing had not been supposed to happen in exactly that way or at exactly that time. However, as I say, this is simply an impression I gained indirectly in the doctor’s house.

It was a fine house to lie low in – several exits available and a favourable concierge. My notion was that, by keeping out of the way and not making myself into any sort of test case between the mutually embittered British and American authorities, I could probably avoid being physically thrown out of North Africa for at least a while, and at the same time – that house being the kind of house it was – could probably, in the ordinary course of conversation with the characters who stayed or visited there, find out more about what was really going on than I could have hoped to do in any other way. (pp. 84-86)

Birth of the United Nations. Media-Inspired Religiosity

Early in 1945, I found myself on a ship packed with diplomats with hundreds of expectant mothers, brides of Canadian soldiery now being suddenly removed, by some War Office whim, to their new homes with scores of journalists of numerous nationalities with a sprinkle of expert intellectual mechanics from the garages where Anglo-American relations go for repairs and with the customary number of professional spies – some masquerading as diplomats, others as journalists. The world being what it is, I dare say some of the expectant mothers were doing part-time espionage in order to defray the high cost of childbirth.

The journalists, the diplomats, the experts and the spies were all bound for the foundation meeting of the United Nations at San Francisco.

The vessel was quite large – around 20,000 tons, as I recall – but because most of the accommodation was required for the mothers-to-be, the rest of us were somewhat confined. The only ‘public room’ available to us was a small, perpetually crowded saloon. Otherwise, you could lie on your bunk listening to the repeated explosion of depth charges from the destroyers protecting our convoy (for it seemed that at this eleventh hour of the war the German submarines were seeking to put on a worth-while finale to their show), and wondering what chance one would have if one of the submarines got through and the cry was raised ‘women and embryos first.’

A voyage which might otherwise have been almost intolerably tedious was transformed into a pleasure chiefly by the accomplishments and charm of Sir John Balfour, who had been British Minister in the Embassy at Moscow, and was now being transferred to the same position in the Embassy at Washington. His impersonations of Stalin and Molotov were in themselves enough to take anyone’s mind off torpedoes and a shortage of whisky. I reminded him of how, years and years before, when I was a student in Budapest and he was Second Secretary at the Legation there, we used to play a game (his own invention, I believe) which might be described as a kind of literary Consequences. I have forgotten just how it was played, except that it involved inventing the title of a book, inventing a suitable name for the author of such a book, and writing a long review of this non-existent work.

This game we now revived, and for hours on end four or five of us sat at a table in the comer of the saloon, scribbling and passing our sheets from hand to hand in the manner of consequences. (‘The Odious Paradox’ was one of our titles. ‘Now this, obviously,’ remarked Balfour, ‘must be a biography of Claud.’) The amusement of the game was enormously enhanced by its effect upon the spies who hung around the table with flapping ears and bulging eyes. The scene, they obviously felt, must mean something, must have some kind of international significance. How could it be otherwise than significant than to have there, huddled round the corner table of that rolling saloon, writing notes to one another, concentrating deeply or bursting into incomprehensible laughter, the new British Minister to Washington the diplomatic correspondents of The Times , the Daily Mail a notorious Communist Mr Cecil King, the effective controller of the Daily Mirror and Professor Catkin, who was believed by many to be on a secret mission from the Vatican to the State Department.

The spies’ nerves were fraying fast. Day after day they crept nearer and nearer, breathing down our necks. At length Balfour, not a man to tolerate much intrusion, jerked round suddenly, his cigarette in its exceptionally long holder aiming like a lethal weapon at the peering eye of some Spanish or Swedish sleuth.

Startled and embarrassed, the sleuth stuttered out something about natural interest, just wondered what we were doing, whether it was a new game, or what? ‘We are engaged,’ said Balfour, ‘in writing imaginary reviews of imaginary books.’

The sleuth tottered away, wounded. You could see that he felt his intelligence had been abominably insulted. Surely, he felt, they could have had the courtesy to invent a more credible lie than that?

We were in mid ocean, celebrating, indeed, my forty-first birthday, when President Roosevelt died.

There were no Americans aboard, and the grave, perhaps momentous, event and its possible consequences were discussed and analysed gravely but calmly, like any other important and sudden occurrence. The experience of these last few days at sea, before we eluded the last submarine and ran safely into the harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia, served, by contrast, to intensify its tremendous, explosive impact on the United States at that critical moment of its history. In England, as I have remarked before, it takes nothing much less than a major air-raid or a general strike to produce any immediately perceptible change in the social atmosphere. But the United States lives more externally, more expressively. In the electric streets of Chicago, in the gossip-laden muddle of a barber-shop, or the chillingly streamlined and flamboyant luxury of a millionaires’ club on a sky-scraper, no one could escape for a moment the awareness of this as an eve of great decisions. One was aware too – and a good many of the European visitors were more than a little scared by it – of the vast, dynamic confusion of American politics. Some of those who were confronted with it for the first time had the air of a person who has come to seek advice and support from an immensely rich and immensely respected uncle, and finds the old rip half drunk and boxing with the butler.

The journey of our special train across the Middle West, still (to anyone who feels strongly about people and history) one of the most exciting regions of the earth, was at times almost intolerably moving.

Our heavily laden special had some sort of notice prominently displayed on its sides, indicating that it was taking people to the foundation meeting of the United Nations. In a natural way, the emotions aroused among Americans by the death of Roosevelt and the impending birth of the United Nations had fused in the public mind. From towns and lonely villages all across the plains and prairies, people would come out to line the tracks, standing there with the flags still flying half-mast for Roosevelt on the buildings behind them, and their eyes fixed on this train with extraordinary intensity, as though it were part of the technical apparatus for the performance of a miracle. Often, when we stopped at what seemed to be absolutely nowhere, small crowds of farmers with their families would suddenly materialize, and on several occasions I saw a man or woman solemnly touch the train, the way a person might touch a talisman.

Then I remembered how, many years before, when Dr Einstein first crossed the United States, the papers had carried stories of people who had come for miles just to touch the train in which the savant was travelling. In New York such people were derided. Since they knew nothing of higher mathematics, they must be the victims of hysteria. (In one place, it is true, a group of women were reported to have believed that if they could but touch Einstein’s coat, their children’s sicknesses would be cured. The same sort of thing, the late Michael Arlen once told me, happened to him when he visited the United States after the almost unprecedented success of The Green Hat . In his case it was buttons that people seemed to want, believing that a button from the clothing of such a man would be a charm and talisman – any button: jacket, waistcoat or fly.)

The attitude to Einstein still seemed to me a good omen. Naturally one might prefer that people should not be superstitious or hysterical at all. Just for the moment, at any rate, it cannot be denied that these tendencies exist. It was in my mind that if the people are going to be hysterical and superstitious about film-stars and dictators, it is at least somewhat encouraging – a movement of an inch or so in the right direction, than which no more can be realistically expected – that some of them some of the time should feel the same way about a man because they believe him to be the greatest thinker, the most learned sage, of the epoch.

Now people of this kind looked into the club car of our train, and one was disconcertingly aware that, in this normal collection of the competent and the half-crazy, the idealistic and the hard-boiled, the neurotic and the humdrum and the drunk, those people outside were seeing a powerful instrument for the securing of world peace. (pp. 98-101)

The Nature of the Tribe

At two o’clock on an icy morning the central station at Sofia seemed like an uncomfortable end of the world. Bugs bit like stinging hornets, lice surged from the floor, much of it covered by sleeping peasants. There was no sign of any transport to the centre of the town. Nobody present, it seemed, could speak anything but Bulgarian. I got very weary of bending over snoozing men in woolly caps and jabbering at them in German until they shook their heads and dropped off to sleep again.

Then Patricia said, ‘There are three men in felt hats. They look like our last hope.’ I approached the group, who, by the mere fact of wearing hats, achieved an almost cosmopolitan appearance. I tried German: no dice. French: total incomprehension. English: shaking of hats. Despairing and feeling a little mad, I addressed them in Spanish. Their eyes lit up. They understood, and replied in what was certainly intelligible as a form of Spanish – though a very strange form.

Volubly, their olive-coloured hands flying and fluttering, their dark eyes dancing, they gave us all needed information, volunteered to telephone for a taxi-cab. While we waited for it, I remarked that it was rather odd to find Spaniards here. They explained. They were not Spaniards but, one of them said, ‘Our family used to live in Spain before they moved to Turkey. Now we are moving to Bulgaria.’

Thinking that perhaps they had been ‘displaced’ from Spain by the upheaval of the civil war, I asked how long it had been since their family lived there. He said it was approximately five hundred years. I did some quick reckoning and realized that their move had been made under the pressure not of Generalissimo Franco, but of Ferdinand and Isabella. They were the descendants of the Marrano Jews – Jews who had, in the centuries before Ferdinand and Isabella, renounced Judaism for Christianity, hoping thus to live and prosper in Spain. It had done them no good. They were routed out by the Inquisition and expelled just like those who had never bothered to get converted. But their language remained a kind of Spanish Yiddish. He spoke of these events as though they had occurred a couple of years ago. How long, after all, sub specie aeternitatis, is five hundred years? They planned to live now by selling sewing-machines. (pp. 142-143)

From Claud Cockburn, Crossing the Line , MacGibbon & Lee, 1958


Family

Claud Cockburn married three times: all three of his wives were also journalists.

  1. to Hope Hale Davis with whom he fathered Claudia Cockburn Flanders (wife of Michael Flanders)
  2. to Jean Ross (model for Christopher Isherwood's Sally Bowles of Cabaret fame) with whom he fathered Sarah Caudwell Cockburn, author of detective stories
  3. to Patricia Byron in 1940 (née Patricia Evangeline Anne Arbuthnot (17 March 1914 – 6 October 1989), daughter of Major John Bernard Arbuthnot and Olive Blake, [12] (author of The Years of the Week and Figure of Eight) with whom he fathered Alexander, Andrew (husband of Leslie Cockburn), and Patrick.

His granddaughters include RadioNation host Laura Flanders, BBC Economics editor Stephanie Flanders, and actress Olivia Wilde. [13]


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