Evidence emerges that Churchill had Priestley sacked by BBC in war

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NEW evidence has emerged which suggests Winston Churchill had Yorkshire broadcaster JB Priestley sacked from the BBC during the war.

Bradford-born Priestley came close to criticising Churchill’s conduct of the war in his Postscript radio broadcasts on Sunday evenings.

Priestley left suddenly and it has long been suspected that Churchill had him fired.

A BBC Leeds Inside Out documentary has uncovered memos between Churchill and his Information Minister, Duff Cooper.

A memo by Churchill in 1941 to Duff Cooper reads: “I’m very sorry that you’ve got Mr Priestley back and that his first broadcast should have been an argument utterly contrary to my own views.

“How many more has he got to do – have you any control over what he says? He’s far from friendly to the government and I should not be too sure about him on larger issues.”

Duff Cooper replies: “He is due to give five more talks. I will see the scripts and suppress anything I think should not be said but, subject to your instructions, I would not propose to delete all criticism of His Majesty’s government.

“It would be a pity if it were thought that the increased control over the BBC was designed to suppress the free expression of opinion.”

Within weeks Priestley had been removed from his programme.

BBC presenter Lucy Hester says: “While it’s not a direct order to sack Priestley, Churchill’s intentions are crystal clear. Within weeks, Priestley was history.”

However, Priestley’s stepson, Nicholas Hawkes, is still not convinced that Churchill had his stepfather sacked, as Priestley himself suspected.

Hawkes says he can find no evidence that Churchill influenced the decision.

Lucy Hester adds: “Arguably both Priestley and Churchill were vindicated by subsequent events and the writings of both men are now part of our national heritage.

“What remains is the mystery of what happened in those dark days of 1940 and 41 and whether we shall ever know the true history of that time.”

Inside Out is on BBC1 Yorkshire and Lincolnshire at 7.30pm on Monday.