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 he gained a First in Honours Moderations in 1917.
Postgate sought exemption from World War I military service as a socialist conscientious objector, but was offered only non-combatant service in the army; forcibly conscripted, he was held at Cowley Barracks, Oxford, but 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.
Always interested in food and wine, after World War II, Postgate assembled a band of volunteers to visit and report on UK restaurants. He edited the results into the Good Food Guide, first published in 1951. 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.
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.
- 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