“Heading for Hell” – Time Magazine – June 1950 [Cyril ‘Brains Trust’ Joad, Randolph Churchill, Oxford Union ‘American’ Debate, Sir Robin ‘Question Time’ Day]

“Grand Inquisitor, Memoirs” by Sir Robin Day. Copyright 1989. Reprinted by kind permission of the Estate of Robin Day

“Sir Robin Day – Grand Inquisitor – Memoirs” – Weidenfeld & Nicolson [1989] – Chapter 4 ‘Oxford’s Golden Age’ – Pages 37 to 39

Photograph by Robin Day [between pages 96 & 97] – “The author in 1950 as President of the Oxford Union seated between the two guest speakers, Professor C.E.M. Joad (left) and Randolph Churchill (right). (Standing third from left is William Rees-Mogg, sixth from left is Stanley Booth-Clibborn and second from right is Jeremy Thorpe.)

During the latter part of my time at Oxford I had my first experience of journalism. I even earned some money to supplement my government grant. The political journalist Honor Balfour, who was then on the London bureau staff of Time magazine, asked me to be their Oxford ‘stringer’. news about eccentric dons, scholarly disputes or undergraduate pranks – these might tickle Time‘s fancy.

Any material from me, if it ever appeared, would be rewritten in Timese and ruthlessly cut. But on one occasion a story based on my report ran for a column and a half. It concerned a stormy Oxford Union debate over which I presided in June 1950. My eyewitness material was extensively used, but with much additional decoration in typical Time style:

Heading for Hell?

In 1933, sparked by Guest Speaker Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad, a bearded posturing professional pundit, the famed old Oxford Union voted 275 to 153 ‘that under no circumstances will we fight for King and Country’. When graduate members, led by Winston Churchill’s choleric son Randolph, tried to expunge this from the record, they were swamped 750 to 138. In his history of World War II, Winston Churchill sombrely wrote: It was easy to laugh off such an episode in England, but in Germany, in Russia, in Italy, in Japan, the idea of a decadent, degenerate Britain took deep root and swayed many calculations.

Last week ex-pacifist Joad and Randolph Churchill squared off over another provocative Union resolution: ‘That this House regrets the influence exercised by the US as the dominant power among the democratic nations.’

‘Money is the sole American standard of value,’ said Joad. ‘The nations are heading for hell and it is America which is leading us there….[American influence] corrupts, infects and pollutes whatever it touches.’ Angry shouts of ‘Shame’ greeted Joad’s remark, ‘What a genius the Americans have for coming into a war late, on the winning side.’

Other shouts drowned out Randolph when he said, ‘Back the professor comes after 17 years, with his rotten advice, trying to lure yet another generation along the wrong path.’ Union President Robin Day rang the bell for silence, but Randolph soon brought another uproar by saying, ‘It may be just a joke for the professor, this third-class Socrates,* but he is corrupting, infecting and polluting the good relations between Britain and the US….’

But when the shouting had died down, and the vote was taken, Joad had won again, 224 to 179.* 

That asterisk after ‘third-class Socrates’ was for a footnote explaining Randolph’s jibe, proudly rehearsed to me over dinner, which was intended as an allusion to Joad’s court conviction for travelling on the railways without the necessary ticket.

For his contribution to that report, Times‘s Oxford stringer received fifteen guineas, a fee which was not to be sneezed at in 1950.

* Time, 1950


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