The books in the 1940s Britain in Pictures series were designed to boost morale during World War II, but perhaps also record the British way of life in case the Germans completed their European campaign by successfully crossing the English Channel. The books were slim volumes with distinctive elegant covers, but it was the star-studded array of authors that made the series really special.
George Orwell wrote about the British people, Cecil Beaton wrote about English photography, the great poet and printer Francis Meynell wrote about English books, John Betjeman (who penned the immortal line” Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough” in 1937) wrote about cities and towns, Graham Greene wrote about dramatists, the doyen of sports journalists Neville Cardus wrote about cricket and Edith Sitwell wrote about women. Some of the authors have faded in obscurity but they were all experts in their field during those dark days of World War II.
A wide variety of subjects were covered from battlefields to boxing, clocks to mountaineering, butterflies to farm animals, and from waterways and canals to maps and map-makers. In all, there were were 132 titles in the series. Over the years I’ve run across dozens of the title, but usually only paid attention to the “big name” authors, such as Graham Greene, John Betjeman, and George Orwell.
I was not surprised to discover that after the War Orwell refused to allow his edition to be reprinted and distanced himself from the project.