“This is my last Sunday postscript for some time, perhaps the last I shall ever do. The decision was mine and was in no way forced upon me by the BBC “.
In this final Postscript, Priestley said goodbye to his listeners and gave his reasons for ending the series.
It is often stated that the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had Priestley “taken off the air”, for using the Postscripts to discuss building a better world post-war.
The real story was more complex. Priestley’s calls for social justice worried certain politicians and journalists. However, the decision to end the first series of Postscripts appears to have been his, as he explained:
Firstly, he didn’t want listeners to become bored of hearing him.
Secondly: the “situation of the country and also the mood of the country” had changed. Priestley had started his Postscripts after Dunkirk and had made them during the strange heightened atmosphere of the Battle of Britain summer and autumn, followed by the start of the Blitz. Britain had been in grave danger of invasion, and Priestley had expressed and helped inspire the people’s magnificent response to that threat. Now the immediate danger was over, the War was entering a different phase, less compelling to him as a broadcaster. Maybe other speakers could do better with this new phase?
Priestley gave a second series of Postscripts in 1941. This series was brought to an end by the intervention of Duff Cooper, the Minister of Information. The full story of the roles of the BBC, Ministry of Information, government and journalists, has been researched by academic Sian H. Nicholas: her findings are probably most accessible in The Echo of War (1996). I can also highly recommend a pamphlet by Priestley’s stepson, Nicolas Hawkes, “The story of J.B. Priestley’s Postscripts”, published by and available from the J.B. Priestley Society.
In this last Postscript, Priestley defended himself against the various attacks on him. He had not, as accused, brought “party politics” into his talks: he had called for what he believed to be right, what the country claimed to be fighting for: democracy, social justice, decency. After a last call for the country not to sink back into privilege and apathy post-war, he offered his listeners thanks or apologies, as appropriate:
Apologies if they didn’t like his accent, “if they wearied of me talking about myself, though sometimes the most honest way of discussing general topics is to be personal about them; if they became impatient because I couldn’t … convert a ten minutes postscript into a six hour … lecture”, or if he hadn’t replied to their letters.
Thanks for writing the letters, and for listening. “I’ll always be proud to remember how many times I caught your ear as we all marched through the blitzkrieg together. It might have been worse, mightn’t it?”