Paul Addison

Paul Addison is a lecturer in history at the University of Edinburgh, and author of The Road to 1945.


Paul Addison, 11 May 1995

For every one book or article on the Conservative Party, there used to be ten on Labour and the Left. Lacking as they were in sympathy for Toryism, most academics seemed also to lack curiosity about it. Today the position is very different. The shattering experience of living through Mrs Thatcher’s counter-revolution has awakened both historians and political scientists to the fact that Conservatism is one of the central mysteries of 20th-century British history. The discovery of enormous gaps in our understanding is particularly exciting for younger academics who, irrespective of their own political views, are attracted by sweeping prospects of revisionism.

How Left was he?

Paul Addison, 7 January 1993

John Maynard Keynes is famous for his private life and associations with Bloomsbury and famous, too, as the economist who campaigned for public works between the wars, and revolutionised economics with his General Theory. A biographer of Keynes has to straddle two very different worlds, and it is one measure of Robert Skidelsky’s achievement that he writes with equal authority of both in this deeply researched and densely textured book. But what marks out his work as truly masterly is his portrayal of the interplay between the private and the public in Keynes, the tensions between the two, and the dynamism released by the growing fusion between the two halves of his nature.

War within wars

Paul Addison, 5 November 1992

As he looks forward to his 70th birthday Sir Michael Howard can also look back over a distinguished career which began with Wellington, Christ Church and the Coldstream Guards. In 1943, as Lieutenant Howard, fresh from the University, he led his platoon in a dangerous uphill charge against a German position north of Salerno. For this he was awarded the Military Cross, and ended the war, twice wounded, as Captain Howard. Returning to Oxford, where he had already obtained a first in Part I of Modern History, he set his sights on an academic career. But as a result, perhaps, of the distractions of the Oxford Union, and a performance just before finals as Wolsey in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, he missed a First in Part II. This was a stroke of luck which, by ruling out a tutorship at Oxford, freed him to pursue his interests in military history as a lecturer at King’s College, London. His first book, a history of the Coldstream Guards written jointly with John Sparrow, was published in 1951.

Dismantling the class war

Paul Addison, 25 July 1991

In a chapter of the Cambridge Social History V. C. Gatrell describes the relationship between policing and crime. ‘More policing,’ he writes,‘leads to more reported crime; more reported crime results in the unfortunate statistical corollary of lower clear-up rates; these in turn unleash a call for additional police resources; more resources lead to more reported crime.’ A similar model applies to the writing of British social history. Since the Sixties more and more historians have been recruited to the field. Inevitably the number of historical problems has multiplied, giving rise to more and more debates and controversies – thus proving the need for more research.’

The Road to 1989

Paul Addison, 21 February 1991

Kenneth Morgan’s history of our times is both rewarding and frustrating. It is rewarding on government and politics since 1945, and frustrating on social and economic structure. Between the two, at the point where government and society meet, Dr Morgan is at his most interesting and controversial. He develops a thesis about the decline of leaderships and authority in Britain which may or may not be right, but which lends the book a vision and a theme.

Wizard of Ox

Paul Addison, 8 November 1990

Many tributes have been paid to Alan Taylor, including some by old and close friends who knew him very much better than I did. My excuse for adding one more piece is that I would like to explain something of what he meant to younger historians who came within his orbit. Perhaps I shall end up speaking only for myself, but at any rate I can speak from experience as one of his pupils.

Garbo & Co

Paul Addison, 28 June 1990

Winston Churchill wrote the heroic version of 1940. In the story as he told it the British were redeemed from the sloth and decadence of the Thirties by the catastrophes of Dunkirk and the fall of France. A welling-up of patriotism united all classes in a determination to fight on. By standing alone against Hitler in the summer of 1940, the British ensured that ultimately the war would be won and the evils of Nazism destroyed for ever.


Paul Addison, 7 July 1988

The final volume of Martin Gilbert’s Life opens with Churchill celebrating the defeat of Germany in May 1945. He was 70 years old and completely exhausted. Two months later, he led his party to a shattering defeat at the general election. A lesser mortal would have taken the opportunity of retiring to the backbenches as an elder statesman. But Churchill fought back and carried on for another decade. After six frustrating years as leader of the Opposition, he returned to power as prime minister in 1951. Though disabled for a time by a severe stroke in July 1953, and harassed by colleagues who urged him to go, he struggled on until April 1955.

Churchill has nothing to hide

Paul Addison, 7 May 1987

The latest volume of Martin Gilbert’s Churchill biography is the fifth he has published since taking up the task in 1968. This time he accompanies Churchill on the long march from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour to VE Day. The book has all the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessors. It is a superbly researched chronicle, almost wholly devoid of explicit historical interpretation. It is more like a compilation of source materials, expertly edited with a linking narrative, than a contribution to the many debates that have raged for so long on the subject of Churchill and the Second World War.

Getting on

Paul Addison, 9 October 1986

Here are two books about the relationship of the English to their past. According to Patrick Wright, England is a reactionary society burdened by a false mystique of national identity. To dissolve that mystique must be one of the first priorities of democratic socialists in establishing an alternative society with a renewed faith in its capacity for progress. At the opposite pole of politics, Maurice Cowling abhors the secular modernity of contemporary England and the apostasy of its people from the Anglican faith of Charles I and Archbishop Laud. Given the chance, he would restore in modern dress the divine right of kings and the doctrinal authority of a state church preaching supernatural Christianity.

Warfare and Welfare

Paul Addison, 24 July 1986

Everyone knows that over the past century Britain has declined as a great power. But Correlli Barnett is one of the very few historians with a compelling, personal vision of the reasons why. Most of us assume that in a general way the process was inevitable, since the Empire was too big, and the economy too small, to sustain the role of a great power in the 20th century. Barnett, however, believes the decline could have been arrested or even reversed but for the peculiar decadence and irresponsibility of the British governing class.

Darling Clem

Paul Addison, 17 April 1986

British history is very English: written mainly by the English and about England. But Trevor Burridge is a Welshman by birth and a citizen of Canada. He teaches at the French-speaking University of Montreal. One might expect, therefore, that he would bring to English history an outsider’s sense of disbelief, or the cheeky irreverence of an iconoclast. But not so: he is hooked on Clement Attlee.


Paul Addison, 23 January 1986

Some decades coincide with historical periods, give or take a year or two. The Twenties were self-contained as the era between the Great War and the world slump, and the Thirties a loaded pause between one catastrophe and the next. But the Seventies had no separate identity. Recognising this, Phillip Whitehead begins his book – written to accompany the Channel 4 series of the same name – with the euphoria of Harold Wilson’s victory in 1964. He ends in 1981 with the ‘drying-out of the wets’ by Mrs Thatcher in her autumn reshuffle. The underlying theme, if only a whisper in the reader’s ear, is plain enough: the erosion of the post-war state, the collapse of consensus politics, the descent of Labour into the abyss. Or to sum it all up – decline and fall.

Churchill by moonlight

Paul Addison, 7 November 1985

Except for two years as a fighter pilot in the RAF, John Colville was Churchill’s Private Secretary throughout the war, and again during his peacetime premiership of 1951-5. Some readers will enjoy his diaries mainly as a portrait of Churchill, whose blazing presence and wealth of eccentricity light up almost every page. But in the background a larger subject looms up. Three-quarters of the book depicts the Second World War as seen from the pinnacles of Tory and aristocratic society. Densely populated with characters major and minor, and echoing with the table-talk at White’s and the Turf, the Colville diaries are a unique record of a governing class still functioning with superb aplomb in the midst of the People’s War.

Naked except for a bath towel

Paul Addison, 24 January 1985

The Second World War is no longer what it used to be. The populists of the New Right, aided and abetted by amateur historians of the mole-hunting variety, have been distorting it into a morality tale of the Cold War. Scholars may talk as they please, constructing complex patterns of interpretation for a minority audience: the popular ground has been won by the Chapman Pincher school of history, with its attendant band of novelists, journalists and politicians. The message they bear is a simple one: that the war against Hitler was merely a side-show in the truly decisive struggle of the 20th century – the battle between Freedom and Communism.

When Neil Kinnock was in his pram

Paul Addison, 5 April 1984

To people over a certain age, the politics of the 1940s are still a burning issue. Talk to them of Attlee, and the sparks of old controversies fly up as though Neil Kinnock were still in his celebrated pram. But to the present generation of students, Attlee might as well be Campbell-Bannerman, or Dr Mussadiq the Akond of Swat. To them, such matters are all a part of grandad’s world, a mysterious place where there was bread rationing, and patriotism was mixed up with pride in the welfare state.

Buggering on

Paul Addison, 21 July 1983

The great Churchill boom now in progress is a very instructive sign of the times. When Churchill died in 1965, we thought we were burying the past. Richard Crossman, a reluctant mourner at the funeral, wrote afterwards: ‘It felt like the end of an epoch, possibly even the end of a nation.’ But what era feels more remote today than that of Wilson and Heath, the great modernisers for whom modernity failed to arrive? In spirit at least, Churchill has outlived them, taking his place again in British politics as one of the household gods of Mrs Thatcher. Once more his legend influences the future.

Early Hillhead Man

Paul Addison, 6 May 1982

Churchill, like Disraeli, turned his political struggles into a romance. To read his writings and speeches is to be invited into a special world of technicolor spendour, the stage for an epic with the author as hero. But ought we to suspend disbelief? A division of opinion has long existed between romantics, who feel themselves seduced and compelled by Churchill’s vision of events, and the sceptics who treat it as a fabrication. Until 1940 the sceptics outnumbered the romantics by about a hundred to one. Politicians and civil servants generally recognised a kind of erratic genius in Churchill, but his rhetoric was dismissed as the transparent disguise of an adventurer on the make. If he spoke of the future of Liberalism, it would be assumed that he was plotting with Lloyd George. If he condemned the state of British defences, it would be argued that he was trying to overthrow Baldwin.

Lord Randolph’s Coming-Out

Paul Addison, 3 December 1981

Lord Randolph Churchill has many claims to fame and some to notoriety. His marriage to Jennie Jerome pioneered a series of matches between British aristocrats and American heiresses: the beginning of a special relationship of significance in the next century, if not in his own. He entered politics and rose to power between 1880 and 1885 as a master of opposition tactics both inside and outside the House of Commons. Waging a spectacular war on two fronts, he attacked the Gladstone Government and his own Front Bench with equal vigour. His barnstorming tours of the country and constant manipulation of the press marked him out as a new species of demagogue appealing to the mass electorate created by successive Reform Acts, and his career as an agitator reached its climax with his call to the Protestants of Ulster to resist Home Rule by force: ‘Ulster will fight; Ulster will be right.’ The reward was office and power, but not for long. Like a sudden flame his ministerial career burnt itself out within eighteen months, extinguished by a rash miscalculation while he was still only 37. Given a normal life-span he might well have restored his fortunes, but his fate was to perish slowly and humiliatingly of a disease that was almost certainly syphilis.

Jingo Joe

Paul Addison, 2 July 1981

A century ago Joseph Chamberlain was the Tony Benn of his time, the bogeyman of moderate and conservative opinion. The point is familiar to historians of the period, but never easy to convey. Why, after all, should the upper classes have been scared of a Liberal? Were the Liberals not a party of property and wealth? Indeed they were, and from the gallery of the House of Commons one could observe a multitude of well-fed, broad-bottomed types on the Liberal benches. But seen through the eyes of a true Tory, bred to the Church and the Land, these gentlemen appeared to be a pretty suspect crowd. Welshmen, Scots, Dissenters, tradesmen – there was something wrong with all of them. Many were in league with Irish agitators and the whole party was nothing but a confederacy directed against the traditional ruling class. Their leader, Mr Gladstone, was a dangerous old man and a firebrand at heart, and after him worse would surely follow. On the left of the Party, where the real crackpots and doctrinaires gathered, stood the lean, arrogant and transparently ambitious figure of Joseph Chamberlain.

Mount Amery

Paul Addison, 20 November 1980

Politics are three-quarters drudgery, so it takes a special ingredient to enliven the diary of a politician. Harold Nicolson and Chips Channon wrote splendid diaries because they were not so much politicians as sublime social columnists who happened to sit in the House of Commons. Richard Crossman and Barbara Castle were heavyweights and professionals, and the eternal grind of committee life is reflected in their accounts. Yet both were writing with the special excitement of socialist voyeurs. Determined to expose the secrets of Whitehall while the story was still hot, they were strongly aroused by the sight of naked acts of power, and thrilled to bits by their own part in the proceedings. With the diaries of Leopold Stennett Amery we return to the politics of an era whose revelations are chiefly of interest to professional historians. And we return in the company of a politician who was often regarded as a long-winded bore.

Prince Arthur

Paul Addison, 21 August 1980

There have been aristocrats in British politics since Arthur Balfour. But the career of ‘Prince Arthur’ was the last great expression of the old aristocratic system before it crashed. In the late 19th century a flourishing grapevine of wealthy and leisured families still clambered in profusion around the House of Commons and the Cabinet. At 10 Downing Street Lord Salisbury promoted his relations so vigorously that his administration became known as the ‘Hotel Cecil’, and the apple of his eye was undoubtedly his nephew, Arthur Balfour. A delicate and bookish young man, Balfour was at first written off by men of the world as a bit of a cissy. At Cambridge he was nicknamed ‘Pretty Fanny’, and it was noted that instead of riding and shooting at weekends he preferred to hang about with the girls. But Lord Salisbury knew that his nephew was made of sterner stuff. In 1886, he tried him out as Secretary for Scotland and Balfour proved his worth by imposing law and order on the rebellious crofters of the Isle of Skye. The following year he was promoted to the Irish office and set about the suppression of rural protest with an iron fist. Soon he was heir apparent, and in 1902 it seemed the most natural thing in the world that he should succeed his uncle as Prime Minister.

For Church and State

Paul Addison, 17 July 1980

John Robert Seeley was Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge between Kingsley and Acton. One of the few eminent Victorians who inspired no memorial biography, he was best remembered as the author of The Expansion of England (1883), a sweeping historical manifesto in favour of the unification of the British Empire. The book survived as long as the Empire itself, but otherwise Seeley was neglected until in recent years Richard Shannon and Sheldon Rothblatt both identified him as a leading figure in the reorientation of the Victorian élite. Plainly there was scope for an intellectual biography to match the ideas to the man, and the task was undertaken as a PhD by Deborah Wormell. It is appalling to learn that she died this February at the age of 33, shortly after revising her thesis for publication. She was a most accomplished intellectual historian.

Middle Way

Paul Addison, 6 December 1979

In the first half of the 20th century, Britain experienced two peacetime coalitions: the Lloyd George Government of 1918, and Ramsay MacDonald’s ‘National Government’ of 1931. Both were unsuccessful hearttransplants. After a while, political opinion reacted almost violently against them, and the double rejection served to discredit the idea of repeating the experiment. The prejudice in favour of clear-cut party politics seems to have been taken over by historians, for until recent years both coalitions suffered considerable neglect. Yet both were of decisive importance in redirecting the state after a catastrophe. The Great War and the Slump alike necessitated a clearing-up operation to restore a sense of stability and normality. The paradox on each occasion was that such a restoration demanded innovations and a clear break with the past. In recent years, the idea of coalition has again achieved a certain respectability, and, as if in sympathy, historians have moved to reassess the forgotten regimes. Now Kenneth Morgan has written a first-class study of the Lloyd Georgian experiment of 1918-1922.


Looking it up

7 July 1988

Paul Addison writes: N.P.B. Freeman has detected an error in my review of the final volume of Martin Gilbert’s life of Churchill. I wrote that there was no reference in the book to the fact that Walter Monckton was ever Minister of Labour. Freeman points out that there are two footnotes in which Monckton was identified as such. While I agree that there is no substitute for complete accuracy,...
SIR: Mr Cowling (Letters, 8 January) argues that in analysing the record of the Conservative Party since 1979 we should not be deceived by rhetoric. There are, he writes, Conservatives ‘in whom doctrine has eliminated prudence’, or who express their opinions in a naive and aggressive fashion: but all that Conservatives have actually done is to give ‘a touch on the tiller’, deflecting...
SIR: Alan Brien casts doubt (Letters, 18 September) on my assertion that a disproportionate number of the three-quarters of a million British servicemen killed in the First World War were from the upper classes. What, he asks, can be the authority for such a statement? I did, in fact, make it clear in my review that I was reporting one of the key findings of Jay Winter’s The Great War and the...

Darling Clem

17 April 1986

SIR: Trevor Burridge takes issue (Letters, 5 June) with my review of his biography of Attlee. My comments, he claims, boil down to the charge that Attlee was no Superman, and are best explained by my longing for a new Lloyd George to deliver us from the rule of the Iron Lady.Not so. My argument was that nostalgia for yesterday’s radicalism, and regret at the passing of the English gentleman,...

When Chamberlain took the British to war in September 1939, he had little idea of how they would respond. Very few of those in authority did. In their introduction to this important collection of...

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Sunny Days

Michael Howard, 11 February 1993

Peter Hennessy has chosen for the dust jacket of Never Again a picture that exactly captures the mood of 1945. A returning British serviceman is being welcomed home by his wife and small son....

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Outbreak of Pleasure

Angus Calder, 23 January 1986

Towards the end of the Second World War, the Common Wealth Party produced a striking leaflet – ‘Again?’ – to play on the widespread fear among British voters that victory...

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