‘The Old Pals’ Protection Society’? The Colonial Office and the British Press on the Eve of Decolonisation

  • Joanna Lewis
  • Philip Murphy
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of the Media book series (PSHM)


As the 1950s drew to a close, there was a growing awareness on the part of British ministers and officials of the power of the media and the need for ‘news management’. As Harold Macmillan noted in his memoirs, by 1959 he and his colleagues fought elections in the company of two new developments: television and opinion polls.1 Yet there remained a tradition under which civil servants were expected to remain relatively aloof from the world of journalism, and ministers expected a degree of deference from the press. The Colonial Office (CO) in particular was keen to keep its own affairs from the critical scrutiny not only of the media but of Parliament itself, fearing that public disagreements about policy within the metropole would weaken the authority of its personnel in the colonies.2 In this regard the issues of press coverage and parliamentary scrutiny were closely interlinked. Through the mechanism of parliamentary questions, MPs may well have played a more significant role than journalists in holding the Government to account.3 Yet a large proportion of those questions were inspired by reports in the press, and ministerial replies could, in turn, encourage further investigations by the media.


Corporal Punishment Daily Mail Sunday Time Daily Telegraph Protection Society 
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  1. 1.
    Harold Macmillan, Pointing the Way, 1959–1961 (London: Macmillan, 1972), p. 7.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See David Goldsworthy, ‘Parliamentary Questions on Colonial Affairs: A Retrospective Analysis’, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 2 (1970): 141–53.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Two notable exceptions are Harold Evans, Downing Street Diary: The Macmillan Years, 1957–1963 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981);Google Scholar
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  5. 5.
    Nigel Nicolson (ed.), Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, 1945–62 (London: Collins, 1968), p. 378.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 369. See discussion in Joanna Lewis, ‘Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Mau Mau: The British Popular Press and the Demoralisation of Empire’, in E. S. Atieno Odhiambo and John Lonsdale (eds.), Mau Mau and Nationhood (Oxford: James Curry, 2003).Google Scholar
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    For a concise account of this incident, see Keith Kyle, The Politics of the Independence of Kenya (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), pp. 95–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Colin Baker, States of Emergency: Crisis in Central Africa, Nyasaland 1959–1960 (London: Tauris, 1997).Google Scholar
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    Philip Murphy, Alan Lennox-Boyd: A Biography (London: Tauris, 1999), p. 217.Google Scholar
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    See Richard Lamb, The Macmillan Years 1957–63: The Emerging Truth (London: John Murray, 1995), pp. 234–44; Murphy, Alan Lennox-Boyd, pp. 217–23.Google Scholar
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© Joanna Lewis and Philip Murphy 2006

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  • Joanna Lewis
  • Philip Murphy

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