|This article relies on references to primary sources. (July 2010)|
12 May 1945 |
|Occupation||Journalist, author and contemporary historian|
|Known for||Biographies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown|
Francis Beckett (born 12 May 1945) is an English author, journalist, biographer, and contemporary historian. He has written biographies of Aneurin Bevan, Clement Attlee, Harold Macmillan, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. He has also written on education for the New Statesman, The Guardian and The Independent and is the editor of Third Age Matters, the national magazine published by the University of the Third Age. Beckett has been described as "an Old Labour romantic" by Guardian associate editor Michael White.
Francis Beckett was born in 1945 in Chenies, exactly 21 miles from the centre of London, because his father, John Beckett, just released from wartime internment because of his fascist past, was under a form of house arrest, unable to live within 20 miles of the capital or to travel more than five miles away from his home.
He was moved from school to school and home to home as his parents’ fragile finances ebbed and flowed, eventually spending four years at Beaumont College, a Jesuit boarding school near Windsor, Berkshire, where he claims to have been “force-fed a diet of beating, bullying and religious bigotry.”
He took A-levels at a London further education college and studied history and philosophy at Keele University. There he was chosen by the English Speaking Union to be one of the two British student debaters to tour the USA in 1969.
He worked as a journalist, a teacher, an adult education lecturer, and West Midlands organiser for the Housing charity Shelter, before becoming head of the press and publications department at the National Union of Students. He left to take a similar job in a trade union, was elected president of the National Union of Journalists in 1980, and worked as a Labour Party press officer during 1983-84. In 1983 he worked for the unsuccessful Labour Party deputy leadership campaign of John Silkin.
Since 1984 he has been a freelance writer. He has written regularly on education for The Guardian and The Independent for 15 years and was education correspondent of the New Statesman for seven. He has also written on politics, industrial relations, business and management, and the theatre, and edited two management publications. His New Statesman articles provided the main left wing critique of New Labour’s education policies, and more recently, he has been a leading critic of city academies, putting the argument against in various newspapers and writing his book The Great City Academy Fraud.
He has written a biography of his own father, John Beckett, a Labour MP from 1925 to 1931 and whip of the Independent Labour Party group of MPs; later chief propagandist for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and co-founder (with William Joyce) of the National Socialist League, who was interned during the second world war for his fascist activities.
He wrote a biography of Clement Attlee. His biography of Tony Blair, written with The Guardian's Westminster Correspondent David Hencke, is hostile and damaging, and his 2009 book, Marching to the Fault Line, also written with David Hencke, is "the first attempt since its immediate aftermath to offer a full account of the [miners'] strike". It is, according to Neil Kinnock, "full of vital insights and written with a sense of pace that does justice to the tragic drama." He was general editor of the series of 20 books, Prime Ministers of the Twentieth Century. He has written biographies of four Prime Ministers - Attlee, Macmillan, Blair and Brown - but his Attlee biography is the most substantial, considered by Roy Jenkins - Attlee's first biographer - to be a landmark work, defining Attlee for a new generation. "Beckett gets near to the essence of Attlee, and does so in an easy, flowing narrative" wrote Jenkins. Francis Beckett is editor of the national magazine published by the University of the Third Age.
Beckett's work gains strong reactions from across the political spectrum. His co-authored 2004 biography of Tony Blair was considered far too hostile by Roy Hattersley, but his portrayal of Arthur Scargill in his co-authored book on the 1984-5 miners’ strike led Andrew Murray, in the Morning Star to advise readers not to "feed the jackals". In response, with co-author David Hencke, Beckett insisted that the writers were not jackals but lifelong trade unionists, and asserted that "...for Murray to try to make out that you are doing something bad by buying or reading our book is not just censorship, but also the bitterest form of ideological rigidity and sectarianism".
His plays are published by Samuel French, having been performed on the London fringe or on radio, and his short stories appear in the Young Oxford series published by OUP.
- Michael White "Gordon the saint - meet Brown the sinner", The Guardian, 14 July 2007
- John Beckett biography, Spartacus Educational
- Francis Beckett "My father, the fascist", The Guardian, 11 December 1999
- Francis Beckett "Academies aren't the answer to failing schools", Comment is free, 20 June 2008
- Seumas Milne "Scargill the cartoon", The Guardian, 21 March 2009
- Roy Hattersley "King Tony", The Guardian, 9 October 2004
- Andrew Murray "Miners' strike hatchet job", Morning Star, 13 March 2009
- Francis Beckett and David Hencke "We are not jackals", Morning Star, 18 March 2009
- Fiona Millar "What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us? by Francis Beckett", The Guardian, 31 July 2010
- An article outlining Beckett's thesis: "Young and wasted", New Statesman, 8 January 2010
- The Rebel Who Lost His Cause: The Tragedy of John Beckett, MP, Allison and Busby, 1999
- Nye Bevan, (co-author Clare Beckett) Haus Publishing, 2004
- The Blairs and Their Court (co-author David Hencke) Aurum Press, 2004 (revised and enlarged in paperback as The Survivor: Tony Blair in Peace and War, Aurum Press, 2005)
- Gordon Brown, Haus Publishing, June 2007.
- Clem Attlee, Politicos, re-issued March 2007
- Laurence Olivier,Haus Publishing, 2005
- Harold Macmillan, Haus Publishing, 2006.
- Stalin's British Victims, Sutton Publishing, 2004
- Enemy Within - The Rise and Fall of British Communism, John Murray (hb), 1995; Merlin Press (pb), 1998
- Marching to the Fault Line – the miners’ strike 1984-5 (co-author David Hencke), Constable and Robinson, 2009
"Firefighters and the Blitz" Merlin 2010
What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us, Biteback Publishing, July 2010.
- The Great City Academy Fraud, Continuum, March 2007.
- How To Create a Successful School" Biteback 2010
- Money makes you Happy, Samuel French, 2008
- The Right Honourable Lady, Samuel French, 2009