Roy Hattersley

Roy Hattersley
Roy Hattersley is the author of fifteen books including four books of essays, Goodbye to Yorkshire, Politics Apart, Press Gang and Endpiece Revisited. In addition, he has written a biography of Admiral Nelson, Choose Freedom: The Future for Democratic Socialism, and a childhood, autobiographical memoir called A Yorkshire Boyhood. A weekly columnist for the Guardian, his Monday Endpiece column started in The Spectator and moved to the Listener in 1980. For seven years he wrote, Press Gang, a weekly column in Punch. For his contribution to press journalism he was voted Granada Television's Columnist of the Year in 1980, and in 2003 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The Maker's Mark, his first novel is based on his father's family in the late 19th century and early 20th century in the industrial north of England. In That Quiet Earth, the second volume in his acclaimed trilogy, follows his mother's family at the same time in rural Lincolnshire and Derbyshire. The concluding volume is the Skylark's Song. He has also written a biography of the founders of the Salvation Army Blood and Fire: The Story of William and Catherine Booth. He followed this with another biography, A Brand from the Burning: The Life of John Wesley, and in most recently The Edwardians.

Roy Hattersley was born on 28 December 1933 in Sheffield. He received a BSc in Economics from the University of Hull, which awarded him the first of three six Honorary Doctorates. He has been a Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard and at Nuffield College, Oxford. At the age of twenty-three he was the youngest councillor elected in the city of Sheffield. He entered the House of Commons seven years later as a Labour Member of Parliament. In 1967 he joined the government as Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment, and then served as Minister of Defence. From 1974 he was Senior Minister of State at the Foreign Office and became a Privy Councillor the following year. He entered the Cabinet in 1976 as Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Affairs. In 1983 he was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and served until 1992. Since then, he has given up being an MP, and in November 1997 he became a member of the House of Lords. Today he devotes his time to writing.

Q What attracted you to writing a book on The Edwardians?

RH I suppose I am an historian manque - trying, rather belatedly, to fulfil my father's wish that I become a history master. The years between the turn of the century and the First World War were a mystery to me - only illuminated by what I knew of Lloyd George's "welfare budget", the emergence of the Labour Party and the "golden age" of cricket. Writing the book was exploring new territory.

Q Did you have any preconceived ideas about the Edwardians?

RH Like most other people, I thought of Edwardian Britain as the "long sunlit afternoon" - a bridging passage between the Victorian era and the Great War. I was worried about finding enough material. I ought not to have been concerned on that score.

Q Was Edward VII the last British monarch to be so closely identified with the spirit of his reign?

RH After Edward VII no British monarch was sufficiently influential to represent an age. In fact, Edward was not typical of life in Britain during his reign. The King was sybaritic, backward-looking and vapid. The country was hard-working, progressive and intellectually adventurous.

Q Was it new material that made you realise that this period was more about change than the steady state?

RH I had no idea that it was in Edwardian Britain that Rutherford determined the make-up of the atom and therefore the nature of matter or that Russell and Moore changed the nature of philosophical speculation - and epistemological method - during the same period.

Q Who do you particularly admire from this time?

RH I expected to admire Lloyd George. And I did. The two surprises were Campbell-Bannerman (a genuinely radical figure) and Winston Churchill. Young Winston - having deserted the Tory Party for the Liberals - was outrageously radical. He said things about reforming the House of Lords that would result in his expulsion from the present day Labour Party.

Q Are there any stories about people or incidents which particularly define the changes in Edwardian Britain?

RH The defining aphorism is Campbell-Bannerman's rebuke to AJ Balfour during the early days of the Liberal Government. "Enough of this tomfoolery. It might have answered very well in the last Parliament, but it is altogether out of place in this ...."

Q Why has this period been regarded as merely a bridge between the Victorian period and the first of the terrible world wars?

RH The two periods that bounded the Edwardian era occupy (for very different reasons) a special place in British history. The age of Victoria is thought of as the last years of imperial greatness - though the decline had begun before her golden jubilee. The Great War was Armageddon. The years between got squeezed out of recognition.

Q What will surprise people most about your conclusions about the Edwardian era?

RH Edwardian Britain was the dynamic beginning of the new age - the time when the modern nation was created. All the great steps forward - welfare state, votes for women, Irish Home Rule - began during the reign. So did other aspects of the new order - professionalism in sport, religion's attempt to become rational, the acceptance of the motor car and the beginning of manned(?) flight. Readers will be amazed by the dynamism of the period.

This question and answer piece was kindly supplied by Roy's publisher Little Brown.
-- Mark Thwaite (10/08/2005)

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