Tom Hopkinson

Tom Hopkinson

Tom Hopkinson was born in 1905. After graduating from Pembroke College, Oxford he found work in advertising. He also sold encyclopedias before becoming assistant editor of the picture magazine Weekly Illustrated. He later worked for the Daily Herald, a newspaper that helped to radicalize his political views.

Working for Edward G. Hulton he joined Stefan Lorant in 1938 to establish the Picture Post. Over the next few years Hopkinson, who took over as editor in 1940, became a pioneer of the new field of photojournalism.

Hopkinson recruited a team of talented writers and photographers including Tom Winteringham, Macdonald Hastings, Maurice Edelman, Walter Greenwood, Lionel Birch, A. L. Lloyd, Anne Scott-James, James Cameron, Robert Kee, Sydney Jacobson, Ted Castle, Bert Hardy and Kurt Hutton.

Hopkinson also edited the small magazine, Lilliput. Contributors included Julian Huxley, Stephen Spender, John Betjeman, Compton Mackenzie, Osbert Lancaster, Arthur Koestler, Bill Brandt, Walter Trier, Robert Graves and Walter de la Mare.

Hopkinson used the Picture Post to campaign against the persecution of Jews. In the journal published on 26th November 1938, he ran a picture story entitled Back to the Middle Ages. Photographs of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Herman Goering and Julius Steicher were contrasted with the faces of those scientists, writers and actors they were persecuting.

In January 1941 Hopkinson published his Plan for Britain. This included minimum wages throughout industry, full employment, child allowances, a national health service, the planned use of land and a complete overhaul of education.

Later that year he helped establish the 1941 Committee. Hopkinson later claimed that the motive force was the belief that if the Second World War was to be won "a much more coordinated effort would be needed, with stricter planning of the economy and greater use of scientific know-how, particularly in the field of war production."

The chairman of the 1941 Committee was J. B. Priestley and other members included Edward G. Hulton, Kingsley Martin, Richard Acland, Michael Foot, Peter Thorneycroft, Thomas Balogh, Richie Calder, Tom Winteringham, Vernon Bartlett, Violet Bonham Carter, Konni Zilliacus, Victor Gollancz, Storm Jameson and David Low.

In December 1941 the committee published a report that called for public control of the railways, mines and docks and a national wages policy. A further report in May 1942 called for works councils and the publication of "post-war plans for the provision of full and free education, employment and a civilized standard of living for everyone."

These reports led to discussions about post-war Britain and was the forerunner of the Beveridge Report that was published in December 1943.

The sales of the Picture Post increased rapidly during the Second World War and by December 1943 the magazine was selling 950,000 copies a week. The trend continued after the war and by the end of 1949 circulation reached 1,422,000 with profits of over £2,500 a week.

Hopkinson was often in conflict with Edward G. Hulton, the owner of Picture Post and Lilliput. Hulton supported the Conservative Party and objected to Hopkinson's socialist views. In August 1945 Hulton wrote to Hopkinson telling him that "I cannot permit editors of my newspapers to become organs of Communist propaganda. Still less to make the great newspaper which I built up a laughing-stock."

In 1950 Hopkinson sent James Cameron and Bert Hardy to report on the Korean War. While in Korea the two men produced three illustrated stories for Picture Post. This included the landing of General Douglas MacArthur and his troops at Inchon. Cameron also wrote a piece about the way that the South Koreans were treating their political prisoners. Edward G. Hulton considered the article to be "communist propaganda" and Hopkinson was forced to resign.

Hopkinson went to South Africa to edit Drum magazine for three years. He later returned to England to teach journalism at the University of Sussex (1967-69) and University College, Cardiff (1971-75).

After retirement Hopkinson wrote two volumes of autobiography, Of This Our Time (1982) and Under the Topic (1984).

Tom Hopkinson died in 1990.

Primary Sources

(1) Tom Hopkinson went to Pembroke College in 1923. He wrote about his experiences in his book Of This Our Time (1982)

Life in college at this period was a mixture of lordliness and discomfort more appropriate to an earlier century. It seemed to me lordly to have my breakfast carried across the quadrangle under covers and set out in front of a coal fire which William had already laid and lit. It was lordly to sit down in the evening to dine in an imposing hall under portraits of kings and queens, bishops and benefactors, with even our drinking water served in round-bottomed tumblers of solid silver. The scholars of each year, some ten or twelve of us, sat together at the same table along one side of the hall, moving with each succeeding year a stage nearer to High Table where the fellows ate and drank in state, and we took it in turns to read the sonorous Latin grace, as also to read lessons in chapel for a week at a time. We wore flowing black gowns, and the commoners, who filled the body of the hall, wore short gowns without sleeves. Gowns had also to be worn for lectures and tutorials and in calling on any don; they must also be worn, or at least carried, in the streets of

Oxford after nine at night. Dons in general were dignified, somewhat remote, beings whose conversation with students, at least until some acquaintance had grown up, was on formal terms - 'Pray be seated, Mr Hopkinson,' or genially sarcastic 'I can only make things dear, Mr Hopkinson, I cannot make you understand them.'

(2) After university Tom Hopkinson found work with the advertising agency, W. S. Crawford.

The 1914-18 war had started to sweep away the laboured pictorialism of advertising based on nineteenth-century art, replacing it with a simpler language of dynamic forms which everyone could take in at a glance. Developed in the Soviet Union to help publicize the revolution's aims to a people largely illiterate, restructured and given a sophisticated gloss in the ferment of postwar Germany, this was a language of symbols perfectly adapted to poster display or to diverting a reader's eye from the crowded make-up of a newspaper. A wheel or a winged helmet stood for speed, a jazz trumpeter for enjoyment, a flower or a bird for the outdoor world and a bent figure for suffering.

(3) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

I was working for, though not on, a Labour newspaper, the Daily Herald, whose views I had started to assimilate. Back in 1926 at the time of the General Strike, I had readily come up from Oxford to act as a strikebreaker; in 1931 when the National Government came in, I had voted for it as a matter of course, but I now began to be appalled at its incompetence and complacency. There were other, more personal reasons. Our money troubles of the last few years had made me realize how differently life is organized for those who have and those who lack, and when in the company of rich people I found their callousness - particularly over the rising number of unemployed - as offensive as though it was some repellent disease.

(4) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

A picture story 'Back to the Middle Ages', in which the most ferocious portraits of the Nazi leaders - Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Julius Streicher the chief Jew-baiter - were contrasted with the faces of those scientists, writers and actors they were persecuting. Out of all the thousands of picture magazines I have since read and studied, this remains for me the most powerful example of photographs used for political effect. The photographs become cartoons, hammering home their point more effectively than pages of argument and rhetoric.

(5) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

At Picture Post we had come to know Tom Wintringham, who had gained experience of German methods of warfare while fighting for the International Brigade in Spain. He was also an excellent writer with a clear style and a vigorous outlook, and in a series of articles during May and June had established himself as the mouthpiece of new ideas and methods of guerrilla warfare. Since these depended little on square-bashing or highly organized staff work - and much on adaptability, local knowledge and ability to live off the country - they made a strong appeal to the freebooting spirit of the day and to the general determination to 'get stuck into things' without waiting for someone in Whitehall to issue permits in triplicate.

(6) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

In publishing our 'Plan for Britain' so early in the war, Picture Post was taking the lead in what was to become one of the most controversial issues over the next years - that of war aims. Churchill himself was strongly against any discussion of war aims: Britain, he declared, had only one war aim, to defeat Hitler - and his position was understandable. He led a motley coalition; most of his ministers came from the Conservative ranks - in which at this time he himself had no secure roots - but there were also Labour and Liberal members of his cabinet. Winning the war appeared to him the only issue on which all could remain united; over discussion as to what Britain should be like when the war ended they would quite certainly fall apart. But though this might be a good reason for the government to keep silent about the future, it did not stop ordinary men and women - particularly those in the forces with time on their hands - from thinking and talking about it a great deal.

The result of our special issue, therefore, was twofold. It intensified support among readers, who looked upon the magazine as their mouthpiece, almost indeed as their own property, and it increased the antagonism felt in certain government departments, above all in the Ministry of Information.

(7) In Picture Post the editor Tom Hopkinson criticized the standard of public shelters in Britain (November 1940)

One small Salvation Army canteen hands out penny cups of tea (the queue may be a hundred long). One water-tap serves all these thousands. And the sanitation? A handful of lavatory buckets in the dark, behind a canvas screen. And all this while good shelters are shut to the people big business buildings, vast pyramids of steel and concrete, deep below which is a labyrinth of rooms and passages which could shelter thousands, are locked to the public at night, and great notices are posted outside, saying, 'This is not a Public Shelter'.

(8) Tom Winteringham, Picture Post (20th December 1941)

We have an army that is very good. As Churchill has told us, it began this job with equality on the ground and superiority in the air. Can Mr Churchill find leaders for it who will understand what Rommel was being taught from 1935? Can we find a staff worthy of the fighting men and commanders? That is the key question raised by the fighting in Libya, and what we know as yet of how that important battle has gone.

(9) Tom Hopkinson, Picture Post (February, 1943)

The House of Commons has said its say. It has not precisely rejected the Beveridge Report - indeed, so far as words go, it gave it a kind of welcome. It has not even quite killed the Report. It has done something different. It has filleted it. It has taken out the backbone and the bony structure. It has added up the portions that are left - and assured us that they amount to 70%. Sixteen portions out of twenty-three by the Herbert Morrison reckoning - and the only proviso attached is that none of these portions is quite definitely and finally guaranteed. The opponents of the Report - from Sir John Anderson all the way down to Sir Herbert Williams - spoke as though the basis of the Report were an attempt to cadge money off the rich on behalf of the not entirely deserving poor.

Yes. They might be willing to give something. They recognized the justice of the claim. But not all that was asked. And certainly not now. And, above all, they could not make promises for the future. Sir Arnold Gridley wondered "how want is to be defined. Can it necessarily be met by any specific monetary sum? The family of a hard-working and thrifty man can live without want, perhaps on £3 a week, whereas the family of a man who misuses his money or spends it on drink or gambling, may be very hard put to it if his wages are £5 or £6 a week."

The fear that small children or old age pensioners may take to drink or gambling is a very real one to large sections of the Conservative Party.

Sir lan Fraser congratulated the Chancellor on having "done a most difficult thing". He had called the House back "from the fancy fairyland in which it loves to indulge, to reality, and thereby rendered a great service to us all." Further on in his speech Sir LAN carried misrepresentation to the pitch of mania. Objecting to Sir William's plan to make insurance compulsory and national, so as to cut the cost of collection to a fraction, he declared that Sir William's object in doing this was "to steal a capital asset so as to get some revenue for his scheme".

Finally, Sir Herbert Williams let out of his own private bag the largest cat released on the floor of the House of Commons since Baldwin explained why he had to fight the 1935 election on a lie. He did it with the words "If the scheme is postponed until six months after the termination of hostilities the then House of Commons will reject it by a very large majority." Exactly. If we don't get the foundations of a new Britain laid while the war is on, we shall never get them laid at all. Sir Herbert Williams and others of the same kind - or nearly the same kind - will see to that. For so huge an indiscretion the Conservative Party should un-knight Sir Herbert instantly.

These snivelling objections are quoted for one purpose only: to show the low level at which the opponents of the Report chose to conduct the battle. They fought it on the Poor Law level, the three ha'penny, ninepence-for-fourpence, Kingsley Wood and Means Test level. The common people of this country were asking for more than their directors and controllers chose to give them. They could get back where they belonged, and say thank-you the mercies were no smaller.

(10) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

Besides my work on Picture Post, I had also since 1941 been responsible for Lilliput, the pocket magazine started by Stefan Lorant to which some six years earlier I had vainly tried to contribute in the hope of earning three guineas. Lilliput was a delightful little publication, well printed, with an attractive coloured cover always drawn by the same artist, Walter Trier. One of its best-known features was the 'doubles' - two look-alike photographs on facing pages, a pouter pigeon

opposite a cadet on parade with his chest thrown out; Hitler giving the Nazi salute to a small dog with its paw raised; a bear opposite a publican with a pear-shaped face.

In wartime particularly, Lilliput was an easy magazine to sell. It made no. demands. It did ,not attack or criticize. It simply made one laugh, providing a couple of hours of easy enjoyment. Writers, artists and photographers seemed happy to work for it despite the ridiculously low fees it paid, and the sales soared before long into the hundreds of thousands. One of the theories on which 'the "magazine operated was that all kinds of well-known people who don't normally write articles - archbishops and admirals, sportsmen and scientists, film stars and prime ministers - have some personal interest they will be happy to write about if asked. It may be the only article you will ever get from them, but at least it will make your contributors' page impressive.

(11) Tom Hopkinson, Of This Our Time (1982)

The winter of 1949-50 passed quietly enough, but early in 1950 I began to be bombarded with complaints, first, the familiar ones from Edward Hulton expressing anxiety over the Communist danger and his conviction that Picture Post was "too left-wing". At the same time there started to reach me from management criticism of a different kind: that the paper had lost all vitality, readers were now finding it dull and uninspiring, out of touch with the lively new spirit of the times. Some of the photographs were too large, some too small; other ought not to have appeared in any size. I was advised to study the popular weeklies. Weekend and Reveille, and told that if I would only print similar articles and pictures we could soon double our circulation.

I answered that if we were to imitate such totally different magazines we should destroy the reputation so carefully built up and be more likely to halve our readership than double it. This uncooperative attitude was put down to my always wanting to have things my own way-a failing to which I have certainly been prone. My personal interest in social conditions, I was told, was dictating the contents of the magazine and so standing in the way of the success it would enjoy if it were made more 'bright' and entertaining.

(12) Tom Hopkinson lost his job as editor of Picture Post after publishing a story on the treatment of political prisoners during the Korean War.

During their time in Korea Hardy and Cameron made three picture stories, the most dramatic of these being the record of General MacArthur's landing at Inchon, the port of Seoul. Seoul was not only the capital of Korea but the key centre of communications for the invading armies - North Koreans backed by Chinese - now operating far down to the south after driving the South Koreans and their allies into what Cameron called "the toehold enclave of Pusan". The Inchon landing effectively cut the legs from under the attackers, dramatically reversing the whole military situation. This was the second most powerful seaborne invasion ever launched - only that against Normandy five years earlier having been bigger - and our two men were the only British photo-journalists present.

The Inchon landing was not the only story our two men had sent back, and one of the others posed a problem. Text and photographs showed vividly how the South Koreans, with at least the connivance of their American allies, were treating their political prisoners, suspected opponents of the tyrant Synghman Rhee. Rhee himself would in due course be ditched as the insupportable head of an intolerable regime by the American protectors who had kept him in power for so long; but that was still ten years on into the future, and in the meantime Rhee and his henchmen were our gallant allies and the upholders of our Christian democratic way of life. By the 1980s we have all seen treatment of prisoners more openly murderous than that revealed in Hardy's pictures, and Cameron's accompanying article would today be accounted mild. But in the climate of that time, with British and Australian troops involved in the fighting, any criticism of South Koreans was certain to be regarded as criticism of 'our' side. Such criticism, moreover, being anti-Western, must inevitably be 'pro-Eastern', and hence - with only a small distortion of language - 'Communist propaganda', a crime of which I was already being accused by my employer.

(13) James Cameron, Picture Post (7th October, 1950)

They have been in jail now for indeterminate periods - long enough to have reduced their frames to skeletons, their sinews to string, their faces to a translucent terrible grey, their spirit to that of cringing dogs. They are roped and manacled. They are compelled to crouch in the classic Oriental attitude of submission in pools of garbage. They clamber, the lowest common denominator of personal degradation, into trucks with the numb air of men going to their death. Many of them are. The spectacle is utterly medieval. Among the crowds drifting indifferently around, a few bystanders take snapshots, grinning.