In the fourth of the BBC radio Postscripts, Priestley explored the two faces of Germany. He had always responded to what he called the “bright face” of Germany: music, art, civic life, and beautiful landscapes. He knew the country and its people well. Bradford, where he was born and grew up, was a cosmopolitan city with a large and influential German population. Priestley had taken a walking holiday by the Rhine before the Great War, had suffered alongside German soldiers and prisoners during that war, and had visited the country again afterwards.
But “after the Nazis came, I went no more. The bright face had gone, and in its place was the vast dark face with its broken promises and endless deceit, its swaggering Storm Troopers and dreaded Gestapo, its bloodstained basements …” Priestley saw Nazi-ism as the pathetic mentality of overgrown bullying schoolboys, giving power to the most vain, rotten and cruel people in society.
The ideas Priestley expressed in this broadcast had come to him as he walked home in the black-out from a night at the cinema. He had known from the early days of Nazi power that “it must come to this: that there must come a night when I would find myself walking through a blacked-out London in an England that was being turned into a fortress”.
Black-out in Gretley (Heinemann, 1942) is a thriller about Humphrey Neyland, a counter-espionage agent whose best friends had been killed by the Nazis. He is sent to an industrial town in the North Midlands to expose Nazi agents. The novel paints a vivid picture of war-time life, and is full of the ideas Priestley would express in this and other Postscript broadcasts: what motivated Fifth Columnists, how to improve society post-war.
Neyland arrives in Gretley, and has his say about the black-out:
“Now I hate the black-out anywhere. It’s been one of the mistakes of this war. There’s something timid, bewildered, Munich-minded about it. If I’d my way, I’d take a chance right up to the moment the bombers were overhead rather than endure this daily misery of darkened streets and blind walls. There’s something degrading about it. We should never have allowed those black-hearted outcasts to darken half the world”.
Neyland struggles to find his hotel in the darkness and is overwhelmed with the idea that they are all on the very brink of Hell, of total evil. He realises his mission is to stop those who are trying to push them further in …