In our most recent Open Talk, Open University Senior Lecturer in Politics Dr Geoff Andrews spoke to Dr Daryl Leeworthy of Swansea University about the life and times of Cyril Lakin – newspaper editor, broadcaster and Welsh MP. If you missed it, you can watch it back here.
Here are five things we’ve learnt about Cyril Lakin.
Barry was described as the ‘shock town of the second industrial revolution’, where it went from being a collection of small villages to the biggest coal port in the world. Cyril Lakin was born in 1893, son to Harry Lakin, who’d moved to the town and set up a butcher’s shop in Cadoxton, which was first thought to be the centre of the new town and most affected by the influx. Barry was a very different from the place we know today – there was a lot of crime, disease and very little infrastructure.
Lakin’s upbringing had a significant impact on his life. Harry was a free-mason, a high-Anglican and became a councillor in 1906. Cyril would follow his father into politics when he became MP for Barry and Llandaff, but even considered priesthood while studying at Oxford.
It was his mother Annie who had the biggest impact on his education, being the one who pushed him at school. He would later attend St John’s College in Oxford and was followed to the university by other notable Welsh thinkers such as Sir Keith Thomas, Dai Smith, Gareth Williams and Gwyn Thomas.
Cyril’s studies were interrupted by the First World War. He served in France and then Salonika on the Macedonian front. A stint in the Ministry of Food followed his return, before he passed his Bar exam and moved into journalism. He worked initially with David Davies, owner of the Swansea Evening Post. (He was even engaged to Davies’ daughter.) It was through this contact that he was recommended to the Berry brothers, the Merthyr-born owners of the Sunday Times, who would later aquire the Daily Telegraph.
After a spell at the Berry’s local paper, the Merthyr Times, he moved to London and became assistant editor at the Telegraph. Here, he set about changing the format of the paper and modernising its content, which led to an increase in its circulation.
During the Second World War, Lakin work as a radio commentator for the BBC during the Blitz. His broadcasts were described as ‘gentle propaganda’, aimed at reassuring listeners and keeping up moral in Britain’s ‘dominions’, such as Australia and New Zeland.
‘He was quite good at writing scripts for radio, using short sentences which he could embellish with his commentary.,’ explains Geoff
At the outbreak of the second World War, Lakin was working for the Sunday Times which took a pro-appeasement position towards Nazi Germany. In 1939, the paper's owner Lord Kemsley flew to Germany with Lakin as his right-hand man. The two met with Adolf Hitler and his officials in an attempt to foster cooperation between the UK and German media. Their efforts were unsuccessful, however.
Lakin was reportedly dispirited after the meeting, which may have influenced his decision to work for the BBC.
This is a fragment of the notes taken by Lakin during the meeting with Hitler. More will be in the @WelshPolArch and his official write up the meeting is held in the @UkNatArchives Lakin of course was the 2nd journalist from Barry (after Gareth Jones) to meet him. pic.twitter.com/buTIIrcmNx— Geoff Andrews (@andrewsgeoff) October 1, 2021
Lakin retuned to Barry in 1942 to stand as the National Government candidate with the support of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in a by-election brought about by the death of sitting MP Patrick Munro. Despite the war-time electoral truce, Lakin faced stiff opposition in the form of the Independent Labour candidate, Ronald ‘Kim’ Mackay, who represented growing discontent in the Labour movement.
Nonetheless, Lakin was returned as the MP, thanks in part to support form across the political spectrum, including the Communist Party, who backed National Government candidates as they favoured a second-front to defeat the Nazis. Lakin’s daughter Bridget, a 14 year-old school girl at the time, recalls his supporters holding a banner which read ‘Joe Stalin Backs Cyril Lakin’.
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The title of Geoff’s biography – Smooth Operator – was chosen because of Lakin’s ability to make connections with people from all parts of British society, as well as people from the political left and right.
Like a lot classical conservatives, he was somebody critical of abstract theories, and he didn’t like utopias; he was a pragmatist,’ explains Geoff. ‘Common sense was part of his make-up.
‘Within the conservative party, he clearly belongs to the liberal wing, and he would be European, and would be, as his daughter is (certainly at the time of the referendum) anti-Brexit. He would be someone like Ken Clark or Chris Patten.
‘It would actually be difficult to see if he had a place in the modern conservative party. The one-nation tradition – though some people say it’s being revived – seems not to be so evident’.
Despite his active time in Parliament, Lakin lost his seat in 1945, in an election which saw the Labour party come to power in the UK. In 1948, he was tragically killed in a car accident.
Geoff was able to meet with Bridget to help work on his biography, which gave him a priceless insight into her father’s life. His links to the Lakin family are closer that we think at first.
‘I was looking at George Orwell’s correspondence for something else,’ says Geoff and I came across his name, and of course I knew his name because my Mother’s sister married his nephew, and I’ve got Lakin cousins!
‘At that point I was only curious to know more. I then followed this trail.’
Smooth Operator: The life and times of Cyril Lakin, editor, broadcaster and politician by Geoff Andrews is available here from Parthian Books.
Daryl Leeworthy’s biography of novelist and broadcaster Gwyn Thomas is out next year in Parthian's Modern Wales Series.
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