Orders of the Day — American Fiction (British Magazine Purchases)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1947.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford 12:00 am, 28th November 1947

I wish to draw the attention of the House this afternoon to a matter of considerable importance from several points of view. I refer to the practice and habit of editors of many of our British weekly and monthly magazines in buying on a big scale the second rights of American light fiction, instead of making use of the output of our own authors. In the same way, illustrations are purchased by these magazines and, outside the periodical field, certain newspapers are even buying some of their strip cartoons from across the Atlantic. This is almost entirely a one-way traffic.

I know that "Jane" appears occasionally in various American publications, and I know that my right hon. Friend, on hearing that, will assume that I am thinking of the "Daily Mirror," in which journal she appears day after day with all her romantic background, but I would like to explain in considerable detail what is actually happening in a situation in which up to 80 per cent. of the fiction published in this country is of American origin. It has, of course, previously appeared in magazines like "McCall's," "Colliers," "The Ladies Home Journal," the "Saturday Evening Post" and others of a similar type across the Atlantic. A small group of agents in this country circulate these periodicals to British editors in the three competing publishing houses of Odhams, Newnes and Pearson, and the Amalgamated Press, who in their turn select their stories from these magazines at prices ranging from 20 to 50 guineas each. They get them appropriately Anglicised, so that they pass as British stories and then they put them on our bookstalls in such journals as "Woman and Beauty," "Home Notes," "Woman's Own," "Woman's Journal" and "Woman's Pictorial," copies of which, incidentally, I have with me here.

Odhams' weekly paper "Woman" is, generally, more Yankee than the rest, and is sometimes 100 per cent. American in its fiction. I am sure that the readers of that, as of the other journals I have mentioned, do not realise this, and, like the majority of women who are aimed at by most of the surviving magazines in this country, they are grossly deceived. They cannot recognise the transatlantic source of these stories. They do not know, for example, that "Florida" has been struck out and "Maidenhead" put in, and that for "Birmingham" they should really read "Detroit," and for "St. James's Park," "Central Park, New York." In every way, in my judgment, this represents a very dangerous trend, having regard to the fact that their readers are unconsciously absorbing propaganda for the American way of life.

I have no objection to the American way of life for Americans, but let them keep it, I suggest, in America. In regard to the strip cartoons which are keeping our own artists out of a job, there is Rip Kirby, who battles with gangsters every morning in the "Daily Mail." He always drives his big American car on the right hand side of the road, with the result that his country of origin cannot be concealed. Then there is the comic strip that appears nightly in "The Star" newspaper. The mischievous twins depicted in that paper appear to have access to an endless quantity of ice-cream and bananas—a disheartening thing for those British youngsters who fellow daily their adventures.

No one wants to stop important literature or real art, any more than great music, from moving freely across national frontiers. Indeed, the more that happens, the better I should be pleased. But some 4,000 stories, bought at the prices I have named, represent a serious dollar leakage, which should be plugged. Moreover, their coming here definitely penalises our own writers and artists, and at the same time does incalculable harm to the minds and outlook of their readers, as I hope to show the House before I sit down. It may be argued that dollars spent in this way are offset by the earnings of British authors in the States, but that simply is not so. There is no opening whatever in American magazines for the young British writer or artist trying to establish himself. I know our Shaws and Priestleys can at any time gatecrash the American market, but they are very different from those who write for the ordinary run of magazines published weekly and monthly in this country.

The large sum of money which is literally going West every month unless something is done by my right hon. Friend to stop it, seems a disgraceful thing in this time of economic crisis. Almost worse is the fact that this country should become a dumping ground for a vast amount of trash which would be better kept at home. This export of hokum to Britain should be stopped, both for our sake, and for the sake of America herself. It constitutes a veritable Niagara of piffle and slush, which hides the true America behind a facade of synthetic sentimentality, cheap cynicism and sex turned on and off like a tap.

I strongly believe our British way of life is second to none. Why, therefore, cannot our magazine readers have stories which tell of the way we think and feel in this country today? Our attitude to divorce, for instance, is quite different from that of our cousins over the seas, yet one magazine I have seen appealing to working girls recently published a story in which the young heroine had been married four times, and was contemplating a fifth adventure. It all happened, I would add, for the much-deceived readers, in Dewsbury, or Rochdale—