Ministry of Information (United Kingdom)

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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.

First World War[edit]

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[edit]

Second World War[edit]

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

The Ministry of Information was formed on 4 September 1939, the day after Britain's declaration of war, and the first Minister was sworn in on 5 September 1939.

The Ministry’s function was ‘To promote the national case to the public at home and abroad in time of war’ by issuing ‘National Propaganda’ and controlling news and information.[2] It was initially responsible for censorship, issuing official news, home publicity and overseas publicity in Allied and neutral countries.

The Ministry of Information was the result of 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. Communications activities had also become an increasingly recognised function of government during the 1930s. However, as many departments had established public relations divisions, there was some reluctance to give this up to central control.

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. Responsibility for publicity in enemy and enemy occupied territory was organised by Department EH (later part of the Special Operations Executive). However the Ministry of Information did liaise 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,[3] Paul Nash and William Rothenstein – were war artists during both World Wars. Many extra designs were prepared 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[edit]

Campaigns carried out included themes such as the following:

  • The Home Front[4]
  • Production – Salvage[5]
  • Allied Unity[6]
  • The Fighting Forces[7]
  • Personalities[8]

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.[9]

Ministers of Information 1939–1946[edit]

Current Research[edit]

A major 4 year Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded research project on the ‘Communications History of the Ministry of Information’ began in January 2014. The project is led by Professor Simon Eliot of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London and Paul Vetch of the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London.[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]