Raymond William Postgate (6 November 1896 – 29 March 1971) was an English socialist, author, journalist and editor, social historian, mystery novelist and gourmet, who founded the Good Food Guide. He was a member of the Postgate family.
Raymond Postgate was born in Cambridge, the eldest son of John Percival Postgate and Edith Allen, Postgate was educated at St John's College, Oxford where, despite being sent down for a period because of his pacifism, he gained a First in Honours Moderations in 1917.
Postgate sought exemption from World War I military service as a conscientious objector on socialist grounds, but his case was dismissed. He was offered only non-combatant service in the army, which he refused. Forcibly conscripted, he spent five days in Oxford Prison before being transferred to Cowley Barracks, Oxford. There he was found medically unfit for service and discharged. Fearful of any possible further attempt at conscription he went "on the run" for a period. While he was in custody, his sister Margaret campaigned on his behalf, in the process meeting the socialist writer and economist G. D. H. Cole, whom she subsequently married. In 1918 Postgate married Daisy Lansbury, daughter of the Labour Party journalist and politician George Lansbury, and was barred from the family home by his Tory father.
From 1918 Postgate worked as a journalist on the Daily Herald, then edited by his father-in-law, Lansbury. A founding member of the British Communist Party in 1920, Postgate left the Herald to join his colleague Francis Meynell on the staff of the CP's first weekly, The Communist. Postgate soon became its editor and was briefly a major propagandist for the communist cause but he left the party after falling out with its leadership in 1922, when the Communist International insisted that British communists follow the Moscow line. As such, he was one of Britain's first left-wing former-communists, and the party came to treat him as an archetypal bourgeois intellectual renegade. He remained a key player in left journalism, however, returning to the Herald, then joining Lansbury on Lansbury's Labour Weekly in 1925–1927.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s he published biographies of John Wilkes and Robert Emmet and his first novel, No Epitaph (1932), and worked as an editor for the Encyclopædia Britannica. In 1932 he visited the Soviet Union with a Fabian delegation and contributed to the collection Twelve Studies in Soviet Russia. Later in the 1930s he co-authored with his brother-in-law G. D. H. Cole The Common People, a social history of Britain from the mid-18th century. Postgate edited the left-wing monthly Fact from 1937 to 1939 and the socialist weekly Tribune from early 1940 until the end of 1941.
Despite his earlier pacifism he supported World War 2 and joined the Home Guard near his home in Finchley, London. In 1942 he obtained a post as a temporary Civil Servant in the wartime Board of Trade, concerned with the control of rationed supplies, and he remained in the Service for 8 years. He continued his left wing writings, and his question-and-answer pamphlet “Why you Should Be A Socialist”, widely distributed among the returning military as the war ended, probably contributed significantly to the Labour Party’s post-war landslide victory.
Always interested in food and wine, after World War II, Postgate wrote a regular column on the poor state of British gastronomy for the pocket magazine “Lilliput”. In these, inspired by the example of a French travel guide called “Le Club des Sans Club”, he invited readers to send him reports on eating places throughout the UK, which he would collate and publish. The response was overwhelming, and Postgate’s notional “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Food”, as he had called it, developed into the Good Food Guide, becoming independent of “Lilliput” and its successor, “The Leader”. The Guide's first issue came out in 1951; it accepted no advertisements and still relied on volunteers to visit and report on UK restaurants. As well as democratising ordinary eating out, Postgate sought to de-mystify the aura surrounding wine, and the flowery language widely used to describe wine flavours. His “A Plain Man’s Guide To Wine”, a politically acceptable title in those days, undoubtedly did much to make Britain more of a wine-drinking nation. In 1965, Postgate wrote an article in Holiday magazine in which he warned readers against Babycham, which "looks like champagne and is served in champagne glasses [but] is made of pears". The company sued for libel, but Postgate was acquitted, and awarded costs. Postgate's distinctly amateur writings on both food and wine, though highly influential in Britain in their time, did not endear him to professionals in the catering and wine trades, who avoided referring to him; however his activities were much appreciated in France, where in 1951 he had been made the first British “Peer of the Jurade of St Emilion”.
He continued to work as a journalist, mainly on the Co-operative movement's Sunday paper Reynolds' News, and during the 1950s and 1960s published several historical works and a biography of his father-in-law, The Life of George Lansbury.
Postgate wrote several mystery novels that drew on his socialist beliefs to set crime, detection and punishment in a broader social and economic context. His most famous novel is Verdict of Twelve (1940), his other novels include Somebody at the Door (1943) and The Ledger Is Kept (1953). (His sister and brother-in-law, the Coles, also became a successful mystery-writing duo.) After the death of H. G. Wells, Postgate edited some revisions of the two-volume Outline of History that Wells had first published in 1920.
Death and legacy
Raymond Postgate died on 29 March 1971; his wife Daisy committed suicide a month later.
Postgate's younger son, Oliver Postgate, also a conscientious objector though in World War 2, became a leading creator of children's television programmes in the UK including Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and the Clangers. His brother is the microbiologist and writer John Postgate FRS.
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.41-65
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.107-115
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.140-164
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.171-174
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.195-200
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.213-215
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.243-254
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.265-269
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.274-279
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.282-285
- Postgate & Postgate, pp.340-346
- Oxford Chronicle, 10 March 1916
- The Friend, 5 May & 12 May 1916
- Law Reports, Oct 30, Nov 2, Nov 4, 1965, The Times Digital Archive
- John & Mary Postgate, A Stomach For Dissent: The Life Of Raymond Postgate, (Keele University Press, 1994).
- Portrait by Stella Bowen Australian War Memorial Collection (Retrieved 23-July-2007)
- R. W. Postgate Archive Marxists Internet Archive
- Catalogue of the Postgate papers held at LSE Archives
H. J. Hartshorn
|Editor of Tribune
Aneurin Bevan and Jon Kimche