Alaric Jacob

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Harold Alaric Jacob (8 June 1909 – 26 January 1995) was an English writer and journalist. He was Reuters correspondent in Washington in the 1930s, and a war correspondent during World War II in North Africa, Burma and Moscow.

Early life[edit]

Jacob was the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Fenton Jacob, Indian Army and at one time Political Agent in Aden. He was born at Edinburgh because his mother Ellen Hoyer, the daughter of a Danish missionary, was brought up in Scotland. As a child he spent time in India and Arabia but was educated in England. He had a childhood friend in Kim Philby in Arabia and in Eastbourne, where they were both educated but at different prep schools. Jacob developed a stammer which he believed came from his association with Philby, and which was cured in time by singing lessons.[1]

Like several other promising children from Anglo-Indian or military families, Jacob was taken at reduced fees at St Cyprian's School. George Orwell had left the school a year previously, and was presented as an inspiration for Jacob to follow.[1] Jacob's first term at St Cyprian's overlapped with Cyril Connolly's last and Connolly visited and gave a lesson in Jacob's last year.[2][3] For Jacob it was " age of friendships, of excitement on the cricket fields and in school plays, of singing to a receptive audience at concerts, of having a sonnet printed in the school magazine, of winning the Townsend Warner History Prize." Jacob however, struggled with classics and therefore did not enter for a scholarship to public school. He went on to The King's School, Canterbury, where he was unimpressed with the standard of teaching and foresaw that he was unlikely to achieve a scholarship to university. Realising he was a skilful writer, he decided to become a journalist. With the encouragement of his father, who had problems paying his school fees, he left school and went to France.

Writing and journalism[edit]

While in France Jacob started writing, returning to England after the General Strike. When he was seventeen his first play was produced at Plymouth where he started his career as a journalist on the Western Morning News. His second play The Compleat Cynic was produced at Plymouth in the following year. In 1930, at the age of twenty-one, he published his first novel Seventeen a fictionalised account of his school days in Canterbury. By then he had become a close friend of Margot Asquith, forty years his senior, who was to become his mentor and a decisive literary influence. At her house he met editors as well as important figures. She introduced him to Sir Roderick Jones, the head of Reuters, and at the age of 21 he was offered a position as diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in London.[1]

During his time in London, with his charm and wit, Jacob moved in high social and intellectual circles. He wrote a play in which the hero was a communist and as a result decided to read Das Capital. In 1934, he married Iris Morley, daughter of Lieut-Col Chartres Morley.[4] She was a historical novelist and journalist for The Observer and the Yorkshire Post. This was at the time of the depression and the hunger marches and these stirred up socialist sentiments in the couple. He felt a rapport with the marchers, and concluded that Marx was about 90% right.[1] In 1936 the Jacob's went to Washington where as a foreign correspondent he was a regular and close contact with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Jacob's stayed in Washington until the outbreak of World War II, when they returned to London.

War correspondent[edit]

Jacob was in London until May 1941 when he set out as a war correspondent for the Daily Express. He sailed to Cairo, taking the long sea voyage via Cape Town. The next two years he spent with the 8th Army in North Africa, initially covering the Siege of Tobruk and Operation Crusader. He was withdrawn from Tobruk shortly before it fell to the Germans, and was posted to Teheran where he received permission from the Soviet Embassy to visit the Red Army in Azerbaijan. He returned to Egypt for the first and second Battle of El Alamein, and then went to India. In India, he covered Wingate's first 'Chindit' expedition in Burma and the circumstances of Gandhi's fast. From Persia he went on to Russia for four months covering the Battle of Kursk and Stalin's counter-attack. He described his experiences in A Traveller's War published in 1944.[5]

After Christmas leave in England at the end of 1943, Jacob set out again with his wife for the Soviet Union in January 1944 on board a ship of the Arctic Convoy. They spent the remainder of the war in Moscow and covering the advances of the Red Army in Odessa, the Crimea and through Vitebsk, Minsk, Poland and on to the fall of Berlin. He published A Window in Moscow in 1945.[6] His experiences made him sympathetic towards the Soviet regime and he stayed in the Soviet Union, on and off, until the start of the cold war in late 1947. His wife Iris had become a Communist and her ideas strongly influenced him. He suspected that her membership of the Communist Party worked against him even when they were separated.[7]

In 1949, Jacob published Scenes from a Bourgeois Life, an semi-autobiographical novel and an apologia for the paradoxes and anomalies of his career. As an English traditionalist, he disapproved of "ribbon development" and the displacement of the old order by the nouveaux riches. He also showed a contempt for the pursuit of wealth through industrial capitalism and his appreciation for, what he saw as, the achievements of the Soviet Union. It also detailed his amorous adventures, and his marked contempt for Cyril Connolly, wallowing in self-pity in The Unquiet Grave and other "stay-at-home intellectuals with comfortable jobs in the BBC" while Soviet heroes fought the Battle of Stalingrad.

BBC career[edit]

In August 1948, Jacob joined the BBC monitoring service at Caversham, but in February 1951 he was "suddenly refused establishment rights, which meant he would receive no pension."[7] He complained unsuccessfully to his cousin, Sir Ian Jacob, who was prominent in the BBC and later became the organisation's Director General. Some have attributed Jacob's problems to the fact that his name was on Orwell's list, a list of people with pro-communist leanings prepared in March 1949 by George Orwell for his friend Celia Kirwan at the Information Research Department, a propaganda unit set up at the Foreign Office by the Labour government.[8] Jacob's establishment and pension rights were restored shortly after his wife Iris Morley, who was also included on Orwell's list, died in 1953.[9] By the time he retired in 1972, Jacob had become a senior editor at Bush House, then the base of the BBC World Service.

Personal life[edit]

After Iris died in 1953, Jacob married again to the British actress Kathleen Byron. He had a daughter by his first wife and a son and daughter by his second wife.

Journalist Paul Hogarth described Alaric Jacob, in an obituary notice, as the quintessential English journalist; urbane, yet modest, with a bone-dry sense of humour and a razor intelligence. "He possessed the grand manner of an Edwardian foreign correspondent with an Alan-Clark-like taste for vintage claret, a good cigar and fine brandy".[10]

Jacob died in the Lambeth, London,[11] aged 85. Byron survived him, and died in January 2009.[12]


Unpublished books[edit]

  • A Snob's Guide to Socialism
  • Lovers of the Lost


  1. ^ a b c d Alaric Jacob Sharing Orwell's Joys – but not his fears in Christopher Norris Inside the Myth Lawrence and Wishart 1984
  2. ^ Cyril Connolly Enemies of Promise 1938
  3. ^ St Cyprian's Chronicle 1917, 1922
  4. ^ "NASSAU ANCESTORS". Archived from the original on 25 October 2009. 
  5. ^ Alaric Jacob A Traveller's War, Collins 1944
  6. ^ Alaric Jacob A Window in Moscow, Collins, 1946
  7. ^ a b Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor Blacklist:The Inside Story of Political Vetting, London: The Hogarth Press, 1988 ISBN 0-7012-0811-2]
  8. ^ John Ezard Blair's babe Did love turn Orwell into a government stooge? The Guardian, 21 June 2003
  9. ^ Timothy Garton Ash "Orwell's List", The New York Review of Books, 50:14. 25 September 2003
  10. ^ Richard Jones and Paul Hogarth Obituary: Alaric Jacob, The Independent (London), 8 February 1995
  11. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
  12. ^ Tom Vallance Kathleen Byron: Actress who played Sister Ruth in "Black Narcissus" The Independent, 20 January 2009, accessed 21 January 2009