Ministry of Information (United Kingdom)


Ministry of Information (United Kingdom)
Senate House, the Ministry of Information headquarters in London during World War II

The Ministry of Information (MOI), headed by the Minister of Information, was a United Kingdom government department created briefly at the end of World War I and again during World War II.[1] Located in Senate House at the University of London during World War II, it was the central government department responsible for publicity and propaganda.

Contents

First World War

In the Great War, several different agencies had been responsible for propaganda, except for a brief period when there had been a Department of Information (1917) and a Ministry of Information (1918).

Ministers of Information 1918-1919

Second World War

Keep Calm and Carry On, a wartime poster from the MOI in 1939 which, although printed and distributed, was never posted.

The department's functions were threefold: news and press censorship; home publicity; and overseas publicity in Allied and neutral countries. Planning for such an organisation, largely conducted in secret, had started in October 1935 under the auspices of the Committee for Imperial Defence. While the government was publicly admitting the inevitability of war, propaganda was still tainted by the experience of the First World War, when several different bodies had been responsible for propaganda and information. Planning for the new MOI was largely organised by volunteers drawn from a wide range of government departments, public bodies and specialist outside organisations.

In the 1930s communications activities had become a recognised function of government. Many departments had, however, established public relations divisions, and were reluctant to give this up to central control.

By early 1939 there was concern that the next war would be a 'war of nerves' involving the civilian population, and that the government would need to go further than ever before with every means of publicity 'utilised and co-ordinated', as it fought against a well-funded and established Nazi machine. The Ministry was formed on 4 September 1939, the day after Britain's declaration of war.

Threatened by censorship, the press reacted negatively to the MOI, describing it as shambolic and disorganised[citation needed], and as a result it underwent many structural changes throughout the war, with four Ministers heading the MOI in quick succession: Lord Hugh Macmillan, Sir John Reith and Duff Cooper, before the Ministry settled down under Brendan Bracken in July 1941. Supported by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the press, Bracken remained in office until victory was obvious.

The Ministry was responsible for information policy and the output of propaganda material in Allied and neutral countries, with overseas publicity organised geographically. American and Empire Divisions continued throughout the war, other areas being covered by a succession of different divisions. The MOI was not, in general, responsible for propaganda in enemy and enemy-occupied countries, but it did liaise directly with the Foreign Office.

For home publicity, the Ministry dealt with the planning of general government or interdepartmental information, and provided common services for public relations activities of other government departments. The Home Publicity Division (HPD) undertook three types of campaigns, those requested by other government departments, specific regional campaigns, and those it initiated itself. Before undertaking a campaign, the MOI would ensure that propaganda was not being used as a substitute for other activities, including legislation.

The General Production Division (GPD), one of the few divisions to remain in place throughout the war, undertook technical work under Edwin Embleton. The GPD often produced work in as little as a week or a fortnight, when normal commercial practice was three months. Artists were not in a reserved occupation and were liable for call up for military service along with everyone else. Many were recalled from the services to work for the Ministry in 1942, a year in which £4 million was spent on publicity, approximately a third more than in 1941. £120,000 of this was spent on posters, art and exhibitions. Of the many officially employed war artists, three - Eric Kennington,[2] Paul Nash and William Rothenstein - were war artists during both World Wars. Many extra designs were pre-prepared in order to cope with short lead-times and the changing events of war. Through the Home Intelligence Division, the MOI collected reactions to general wartime morale and, in some cases, specifically to publicity produced.

The MOI was dissolved in March 1946, with its residual functions passing to the Central Office of Information (COI), a central organisation providing common and specialist information services.

Campaigns

Campaigns carried out included themes such as the following:

  • The Home Front[3]
  • Production - Salvage[4]
  • Allied Unity[5]
  • The Fighting Forces[6]
  • Personalities[7]

Dylan Thomas, frustrated at being declared unfit to join the armed forces, contacted Sir Kenneth Clark, director of the films division of the Ministry of Information, and offered his services. Although not directly employed by the MOI, he scripted at least five films in 1942 with titles such as This Is Colour (about dye); New Towns for Old; These Are the Men; Our Country (a sentimental tour of Britain), and The Art of Conversation.[8]

Ministers of Information 1939-1946

  • Lord Macmillan (4 September 1939 - 5 January 1940)
  • Sir John Reith (5 January 1940 - 12 May 1940)
  • Alfred Duff Cooper (12 May 1940 - 20 July 1941)
  • Brendan Bracken (20 July 1941 - 25 May 1945)
  • Geoffrey Lloyd (25 May 1945 - 26 July 1945)
  • Edward Williams (4 August 1945 - 31 March 1946)

See also

References


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