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Action's editorial


Tim Satterthwaite
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 54
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Emma: could you tell us a little more about Action's editorial? From your account, it sounds like the aim was to build a mass audience that would be receptive to the BUF's ideas - so the editorial was less "strong meat" than The Blackshirt. How far did this moderation go? Was Action as explicitly antisemitic as its sister paper? Was there any attempt, in its pages, to distance the BUF from Hitler, or was it full-blown Nazi apologism?

Emma West
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 13

Hi Tim, these are great questions, thank you. I'm still researching so I can't fully answer your questions yet, but here's a few initial thoughts.

Action appeared, at least at first, to be less explicitly anti-Semitic than The Blackshirt. Unlike the latter, the former contained pieces which didn't have an anti-Semitic or even a Fascist slant. Yet the editorials themselves contained anti-Semitic references almost from the beginning. In issue 3 Beckett describes the paper as 'beyond the control of the international, financial and alien forces, who have corrupted or subdued the National Press.' (8) These references to 'international finance' and 'alien forces' are characteristic of the thinly-veiled anti-Semitism we see elsewhere in the paper. But just a couple of paragraphs later Beckett rails against the Jewish financing of the Daily Herald. So even this early on there is anti-Semitic content, even if this is often confined to the page 8 editorials in an explicit form. In issue 4, for instance, the editorial reports an increase in 'Jewish violence'. There seems to be a disconnect here between Beckett's editorials and the rest of the paper (especially the covers): I'd like to think more about this and explore it more as I continue my research. Did Beckett think that casual readers wouldn't read (or be shocked by) the explicit anti-Semitic content in his editorials? In that sense, although Action was less 'strong meat' than The Blackshirt, it would still have been pretty 'strong meat' for most of the population if read cover to cover. 

If you're interested, Jakub Drábik's article, ‘Spreading the faith: the propaganda of the British Union of Fascists’, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 25.2 (2017), 211-225 and Daniel Tilles' PhD thesis 'Jewish Decay against British Revolution’: The British Union of Fascists’ Antisemitism and Jewish Responses to it, both explore the complex relationship between the BUF and anti-Semitism. 

Re Action and National Socialism: there was never any attempt to distance the BUF from Hitler or Germany. In fact, some of the earliest issues celebrate Hitler and Germany: see, e.g. issue 4:


Like many of Action's covers, this one promotes an article by Mosley. Action revolved around these pieces by Mosley: unlike Beckett's editorials, which were not signed and relegated to a side column, Mosley's articles were the key selling point for each issue in which they appeared. In the issues I've looked at so far, Mosley doesn't include any anti-Semitic content. He praises Germany here for Hitler's strong leadership and for his transformation of Germany's fortunes, but most of the article is taken up with a criticism of how Hitler is portrayed in the British press. The same can be said of a later issue, issue 32 (September 24 1936):


Here Hitler is praised, but the main thrust of John Beckett's leading article is to criticise the anti-Nazi propaganda in the British press. I get the impression here that Beckett's aim is to align the BUF's treatment in the British press with that of the Nazi Party, rather than to celebrate or promote any of Hitler's specific policies. 

So the relationship to Germany is complicated: Action is an apologist for National Socialism, but mainly to promote the BUF's own cause & treatment at home. I haven't, for instance, seen pieces on Nazi anti-Semitism, but as I say I'm still working through the newspaper and may find evidence of this in due course. 


Andrés Zervigón
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 4

Hi Emma,

Many thanks for a fascinating presentation. I have a question related to Tim's and another related to the earlier thread begun by Patrick. As for the first, did the interior of the earlier Action issues maintain any visual continuity with the spectacular photo-combinations on the cover? In your last image posted in the response above, it seems that such may be the case. The photo of George with Hitler spins rather clearly from the cover. Were the further pages similarly illustrated with photographs that relate to the cover? The AIZ, which Patrick mentions, often used this strategy, providing what it called (as I do here) a "photo-combination" on the cover that, in turn, anticipates the photo-illustrated stories inside. Also, regarding the Illustrierte Beobachter, which Patrick also mentions, see Sabine Kreibel's fascinating discussion of its use of photography and montage in her book Revolutionary Beauty.

My second question, or perhaps more a proposal, has to do with the term photomontage. Patrick makes great points about the various terms used to describe techniques of combination. You might take a look at the special issue of History of Photography that Kriebel and I edited and just published. We take on the various terms in our introduction, as does David Evans in his contribution. My summation would be that photomontage is a useful umbrella term for all sorts of procedures, such as what you discuss on the cover of Action.

Emma West
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 13

@zervigon Thank you so much for your very useful comment and question. Thank you, in particular, for the helpful references: I have downloaded a copy of your special edited issue and look forward to reading it, as well as Sabine Kriebel's book which indeed looks fascinating. 

Your question about the relationship between Action's covers and the photography used inside the magazine is a really interesting one. In general, the interior pages were not heavily illustrated. A typical page would feature 1-3 single photographs, usually direct illustrations of the news story. This page spread from issue 2 is fairly characteristic:


Unlike in the front covers, these photographs were rarely combined in any way. Yet there were, as you identify, often tonal or even compositional similarities between photos used on the front cover and those used inside the newspaper, especially in the leading article. There are visual and thematic correspondences between the front cover and leading article in issue 22, 16 July 1936:


The device of the white line around the two politicians on the cover is echoed (if not directly replicated) in the small portraits on p. 9; the tilt of Arthur Greenwood's head also seems to echo that of Ernest Brown on the cover. The similarities in depiction seem to suggest that all politicians are the same - very much one of the BUF's central arguments here & elsewhere. 

These thematic correspondences are reproduced in many of the issues I've studied so far. Both the front cover and leading article in issue 20, 2 July 1936, use photography to reinforce the message that British politicians were 'decadent' and out-of-touch:


Although the p. 9 photo doesn't exactly mirror the front cover, the sentiment expressed is the same. These photographs recall an earlier cover, issue 9, which I think I showed in my presentation:


Interestingly, a different relationship develops here between the front cover and the leading article. Instead of replicating the types of photos shown on the cover in p. 9, the editor contrasts the images of politicians asleep with images of Mosley looking 'consistent' and statesmanlike:


The front cover and the interior appear to enter into a dialogue here. The photographs of Mosley appear even more impressive when juxtaposed against a napping Lloyd George. Given that each front cover typically featured a line urging readers to turn to p. 9 to read Mosley's article, we can imagine that many readers would have looked at both pages in quick succession, therefore increasing this dialogic relationship. I'm very interested to look at the resources you mention for examples of how other magazines utilised a similar technique in different contexts. Thank you!