Interview with Barbara Cartland
BROADCAST: Mar. 5, 1970 | DURATION: 00:52:32
Interviewing Barbara Cartland at her castle and a Welsh physician in Tavistock Square while Studs was in England.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Miss Barbara Cartland is certainly one of the most celebrated figures in Britain. She is perhaps the most prolific in, of all romantic novelists, written about 124 or so works. I think, Miss Cartland of your life, filled with ebullience, gaiety and of course heartbreak, too, at times, of certain bitter periods in British history such as the Great Depression of the '20s and the '30s, you have recollections of that, of that period.
Barbara Cartland I think what you know people who research on the '20s forget is that there was no communications. You see, it was all a tremendous surprise to us that things were so bad. Now looking back, people say how heartless we were and how we weren't interested, the point was we didn't know! You see,
Barbara Cartland -- Nineteen twenty-six was the general strike, and there was very little radio, of course no television at all. The newspapers weren't very much read by the young. They were rather heavy, rather ponderous, read by the statesmen, the politicians, but we didn't know what was happening, the ordinary people didn't know it was happening. The general strike was a tremendous shock to us. Suddenly we realized something very peculiar was going on. We found it was the miners were on strike, and we didn't realize that they had a very good case. We weren't -- we didn't hear their case, we didn't know what they wanted. We were just told there was a general strike, and we had to keep things going, so we did.
Barbara Cartland Yes, everybody did something. We suddenly realized we were wanted and it was course it was organized [poorly?] by Winston Churchill, and the -- they -- we found that we all had a sort of headquarters we could go to where we could be told what to do. The -- those were the ordinary people in London. The universities of course came to one man, their own idea was to drive a train. It was the thing they longed to do more than anything else. All the young men who had thought of only dancing partner and their feet were running cars with Winston Churchill's special newspaper up and down the country, which was selling two million a day back
Barbara Cartland They were helping break the strike, strike simply because they were told that this was something we had to stand up to, something we had to stop. Well, we had to keep the public going, you see, so everybody who had a car gave people lifts, of course in those days no, not so many people had cars. People walked a very long way with very tired feet, and it was very amusing what happened to me particularly, because I had various messages to deliver to places, so I met a young man in the street who I knew quite well and who had always been a gay dancing young man, he said, "I'm driving a bus. I'm so tired I don't know what to do, and I must find somewhere to stay." So I took him home to stay with my mother, and the next day he said, "I can't get anyone to go on the bus with me," they had, they usually [went? were?] two men and a policeman, but they were beginning to run out of policemen and there wasn't enough men, and so I said, "Well, I'll come with you." So he said "All right." Of course it was crazy really if you think about it, and because of some of the buses were being overturned, strikers being very rough in some parts. Anyhow, we went down to the depot, where the man handed me an enormous policeman's truncheon, it was weighed about sort of five pounds, and I said, "What am I supposed to do that, do with this?" and he said I will hit somebody with it. I could hardly lift it, let alone hit anybody with it. So off we went to Hammersmith, and when we got to Hammersmith, the bus broke down, it was a very old, very tired bus, and so I said, "Goodness, what a place to stop," because before, the day before somebody had set a bus on fire in Hammersmith, and so he, well we sort of sat rather limply looking at this bus, and a man came up and said, "Having trouble?" So we said yes, we were, so he mended it, and then as we drove off he said, "Be driving one meself in a day or two." And of course it was one of the strikers.
Barbara Cartland Well, I didn't see that, of course down on the docks there was a lot of violence, and all the young men from the clubs all joined up as to a man. So did everybody else, all the civil servants joined. They all went out as volunteers, as special constables, as anything where they were wanted
Studs Terkel To
Barbara Cartland And the whole of the universities came up and they were billeted in Belgrave Square, and they used to have sparse lorries where they'd telephone through and say there's trouble down in Dockland or there's trouble in the Harrow Road, and then they used to go off in their lorries to try and sort things out.
Barbara Cartland All university students, you see. But everybody, everybody was doing a job. Lady Mountbatten was manning the exchange at the "Daily Express" to try and get "The Gazette" out, it was got out in those particular, that particular newspaper office, and other people were either folding the newspapers or carrying them. One young man who was considered the most effete of all the sort of gay young men went backwards and forwards to Manchester, not very easy in those days, the roads weren't very good. Backwards and forwards every day of the strike without sleep, delivering the magazine as soon as he got [unintelligible] the paper, "The Gazette" so as soon as he delivered it, he came back
Barbara Cartland Yes, this is the, well this is the story of the '20s' which people always think of as a very sort of gay, irresponsible era, but actually it was a year of great development. Flying developed, motor racing developed, everything of importance really developed in the '20s, including the discovery of penicillin. But on top of that, we had terrible industrial unrest which nobody knew how to cope with. They don't know very well now, but they certainly didn't know then.
Studs Terkel I was thinking of that of that comment you made for the majority of young people those you knew, your set, the '20s, in the '20s the strike was at times in the, was an adventurous exercise.
Barbara Cartland A feeling of great adventure. I do know, and Sir John Simon said, "You may break a working girl's feet, but you cannot break her spirit." So everybody felt they had to do their bit. My brother tried to get to his office, he was an officer, he wasn't a member of Parliament in those days, and he went off and he got his foot cut by the back spot spokes of the motor bicycle. He put his heel back and it cut off his heel, terribly, terribly painful, only because everybody was determined to go on as usual.
Studs Terkel This part, Miss Cartland, fascinates me. "We had always known that because we were born into a certain stratum of society we had a responsibility for those less fortunate." So in a sense you were sort of a Lady Bountiful.
Barbara Cartland Well, you see, it's very different today. My mother, we lived in the country, and my mother was what in those days were called a district visitor, and everybody who has called themselves ladies and gentlemen felt they had responsibility for other people, and if you were very rich you could give money. We weren't very rich, so my mother became a district visitor, and she used to go down the worst sort of slums. They were very bad slums in those days. Once a week and visit the people, take them soup, see that people were looked after, see that women got into hospital if they were really ill, try and get clothing for the children. Most children when I was young were barefooted in the sort of slums with torn clothes, try and get things, to try and help as we felt it was our responsibility. When we came to live in London my mother used to go down to Bermondsey where she worked in a home for unwanted children. They were called unwanted children in those days, which meant illegitimate children. And she found that most of them were suffering from terrible effects of syphilitic parents. They had [unintelligible?] ears, [unintelligible] nose, they all had lice in the head. They took it as a matter of course. The slums were very, very, very bad. When my brother became a member of Parliament in 1935, he found a place in Birmingham where there were 40 families using one water tap and one water closet. Forty families in one sort of place.
Barbara Cartland Well, we all felt we had to do something. My mother, when my brother became a member of Parliament for Birmingham, she invented a thing called Baby Basket, and she used to have an ordinary washing basket which she filled with baby clothes. And these people who were on the dole who had no money at all, everything was pawned, she was [splendid to them?] you see, they couldn't have been made to sell it, because it belonged to my mother, not to them, and they used to borrow it until the baby was old enough to do without it, and then it went, it was all washed and clean and went on to another woman. It made a tremendous amount of difference to people who were having new babies.
Studs Terkel So I suppose what offended you and your friends during the general strike was these people demanded it in a sense, did they not? You spoke somewhere the strikers did not understand the bulldog determination
Barbara Cartland We didn't understand what the strike was about, and the strikers didn't understand what we felt. You see, it was lack of communication. People didn't know what was going on. Now when I see the horrors of the distressed areas, when I realized -- see, I [didn't?] realized very little after my brother became a member of Parliament we had a great deal to do with the distressed areas and I saw the slums in Birmingham. I was appalled because I didn't know people lived like that, and they didn't understand their rights or that they had anything that could help them. I mean, wages were terribly low. Austin Works in Birmingham, which my brother later represented, their average wage was three pound ten a week. Which after all, was much more than it means now of course. They were stood off for three months in the year because there wasn't the work for them. It wasn't only a question of distressed areas, it was distressed industries.
Barbara Cartland You see, of course I'd have done what I did, because everybody did what they thought was right at that particular moment, simply and solely because we didn't know what was happening. We didn't understand what was happening. It was a great deal of stupidity on both sides, and Lord Birkenhead said that he thought the representatives of the strikers were the stupidest men he'd ever met in his life if he hadn't had occasion to meet the employers. Well, he thought [unintelligible] stupid. You see, it was all like so often in history you know, such awful misunderstanding. Mis-- no sort of communication between each other. No common sense.
Studs Terkel Miss Cartland, we're talking about the strike itself, the General Strike of 1926, and the young men you knew who came from Oxford, the Barclay set, they were called, weren't they, some of them?
Barbara Cartland No, the Barclay boys were the motor racing. The boys who ran Barclay car, ran Bentleys. Bentley boys. Sorry. We'll start that again, I'm sorry, you said Barclay. You must have, start that
Studs Terkel Yes.
Barbara Cartland And the Bentley themselves never make cars to race, but these young men, all the sort of gay, bright, dashing young men, all thought it'd be fun to race, so they took it to LeMans in France and they raced these cars, which really weren't built for racing, and so they became known as the Bentley boys.
Barbara Cartland Oh everybody, there wasn't anyone who didn't, I mean the point was that we were all, everybody who belonged to a club, and really every Englishman always belongs to a club, automatically joined up and there was I think they said ten thousand volunteers around the Foreign Office, they had a place there around the Foreign Office in Whitehall from all the civil servants. Everybody was ready to do their bit. You see, we thought the strike was some terrible sort of Bolshevik idea. It wasn't, it was a lot of really rather tired, hungry, miserable men who were trying to stand up for their rights, but nobody knew that 'til history came to be written. You never know it at the time.
Studs Terkel But it comes back, does it not then, to the bulldog tenacity as you described it, determination of those the strikers called bourgeoisie as you put down in your book, to go on, nothing will stop
Barbara Cartland They felt they were being interfered with. The bourgeoisie thought that their rights were being interfered with, and they weren't going to have it. They had a right to work just the same as the strikers might have their right to strike, but they were going to work, so they all went to work. I mean, it wasn't only the grand and the Mayfair and the smart people, it was everybody. The typist who said, "I'm going to get up from service and then go to my work in the city. And be damned to it." You know what I mean? And that was what broke the strike. Nobody expected that.
Barbara Cartland When everybody went back, I think everybody began to think a great deal more, because before that, as I tried to say in my book, did we didn't know what was happening, not the young, we didn't realize, we didn't understand. And people like myself, who'd suddenly seen slums, who'd suddenly seen people suffering, it was rather different. And then my brother went out to Shoreditch to help Lord [Networth?] who was afterwards killed flying, at the stand for Parliament. He was appalled at the conditions in Shoreditch. You see, we've only just begun to really improve all over the world the conditions of people, and of course they make a tremendous fuss now, but they've no idea what the conditions were in all countries. Ours wasn't any worse than anyone's else. At the time I was looking up last night and seeing that the, in 1938 which isn't so very long ago, the Pilgrim Trust gave a report in which they said they had one case of a boy of 21 who was working 12 hours a day for ten shillings a week, and a girl of eighteen was working also in a tea shop for very long hours for six shillings a week. Six shillings a week. Granted the shilling meant more, you could buy 12 eggs for a shilling. You see what I mean? But it was a very, very low wage.
Barbara Cartland I mean the people, simply because it's communications. We're beginning to understand. You can't do things that are terrible nowadays without the press which has always been the eyes and ears of the public finding it out, you find you have television, you have radio. Everybody begins to pinpoint things that are unjust, things that are wrong. So therefore it comes to the public notice.
Barbara Cartland Well, after the general strike everybody went back to dancing, to going to nightclubs, just the same. But of course, we had 1929, we had the Wall Street crash as you know, which affected us tremendously. And people were very, very hard up, and that was when they wrote the song "We can't give you anything but love, baby," which everybody sang with gusto, delighted they didn't have to spend money. But the point was it was true of the time. "Buddy, can you spare a dime," do you remember that? All those really meant something, because there wasn't money, and therefore what came along then was tremendous spate of charity balls, which meant that you paid for a ticket to go to a ball. We went, you sold to your friends, and the money, what was the profit went to charity. And that was the beginning of the charity racket really, because they couldn't get money out of people any other way, but people would dress up and pay a guinea or two guineas for a ticket to go to a ball, where they wouldn't give it actually in cash to a charity.
Barbara Cartland Well, the first one that I did was very exciting because Lady [Hardewalden?] wanted to build, rebuild Queen Charlotte's Hospital, which is our enormous hospital for having babies. Maternity Hospital. It was terribly old-fashioned, in fact hadn't been altered much since the days of good Queen Anne, who'd set it up. And so they thought of having a dinner dance, which was very fashionable in those days. And I [suggested?], that instead of a cabaret we should have a pageant. They said it's never been done. I said, "Why not a pageant of the food? We'd start with oysters and end with plum pudding." And so everybody thought it was a good idea and everybody was prepared to spend large sums on their dress, which again they wouldn't have given to charity, and it was very -- it was interesting to look back and remember that I wore the best dress to the ball, as I was doing it, I thought I might as well. And it was champagne, and it was made of a very, very new material which nobody ever heard of, called cellophane. It looked wonderful in champagne, you can imagine, nobody ever heard of cellophane in those days. That was the beginning of cellophane. Nineteen twen-- that was
Barbara Cartland The Depression was really only starting then. We didn't have two million men out of work until the beginning of the '30s. That was the really beginning of the very bad Depression over here, when we had so many people out of work.
Barbara Cartland Oh yes, there was after the general strike, but not as bad. The worst, the worst unemployment, the hunger marches, all those things and the really bad effects of the dole came in, in the in
Barbara Cartland It was the only way to raise money. You see, people always sort of scoff at those things, but somehow you've got to raise money, and people are not very keen on putting their hands in their pockets even today in bringing out large pound notes or dollar bills unless you attract it or tempt them in some way.
Barbara Cartland Yes, but of course, I mean, that has always happened in England, there are people who have always [been unfortunate?]. But of course the people who have fortune have changed. After the war we had -- First World War, we had an enormous amount of war profiteers, so one had to squeeze money out of them in some way. We had a certain amount of profiteering in the last war. Not so much. It was much more cut down on. Of course, income tax took more.
Barbara Cartland Yes, there's always been debutante balls in England. There's always been the idea that you must bring out your daughter and you must absolutely beggar yourself to give her a chance to shine just to meet people. It's really not so much a marriage market as everybody tries to make out, it's a way of meeting people. You get a girl who's been -- in those days we were very cloistered and very shut up, you were shut up in your school and you weren't allowed to do things. Now they all do things all the time 'cause they're with their parents much more. But you were shut up in your school rather like a convent, and suddenly you were thrown on the world and told to be attractive and to meet men and meet charming people, well how are you going to do it? So you had a ball. If you went -- if you asked people to your ball, they asked you to their ball. [Unintelligible], and therefore you were in the swim. You met people and you had the chance. We hoped, if you were a girl, of meeting a wonderful husband. That's what women have always wanted, and they [seriously?] pretend that they don't even today.
Barbara Cartland They seemed expensive to us then. They weren't really. I mean, clothes were incredibly cheap to what they were, and food was so cheap. I was just looking in my brother's book what you've glanced, at, Ronald Cartland, and he said when he was at school he went out for the day and they found, they went to a hotel and they found that the three-course lunch was six shillings, and they made a tremendous fuss, they thought it was so expensive, and so they had a steak and ice cream for four shillings. Love to find one today, wouldn't you?
Barbara Cartland He was very what you call what in those days was thought very, very left, and he fought for all the things which today have been, become planks of the party machine. For instance, he was frightfully keen on having holidays with pay. Nobody had holidays with pay in those days. He was frightfully keen on family allowances, again a thing which is now taking for granted, you see. He, he, fought for better conditions for workmen and his one dream, which is just beginning to come true, the only thing he had, didn't get was that he wanted every workmen to have a stake and say in the industries in which he'd given his services. In other words, shares in every industry he worked in. That I think will come in the time.
Barbara Cartland He was rather young in the General Strike, you see. He was a boy -- he was he was only 33 when he was killed at Dunkirk, and he was the first member of Parliament to be killed in this last war. But he was a tremendous visionary, and he hated anything that was unjust. What we've always tried and what I try to carry on his work is to fight against injustice, and where you have people that were really being penalized and very badly treated on the dole in the '30s. He was terribly and -- got, fighting it all the time, he's terribly against all that sort of horror that went on.
Barbara Cartland I remember the hunger march. I was in London, I saw the first one which came down tired, hungry, threadbare men. And, you know, they said that they incited violence. I don't think it was true. I think people just frightened of them. People were frightened of what they didn't understand. And so they beat them up pretty badly.
Barbara Cartland The police. The police beat them up pretty badly. They had a baton charge in Hyde Park but they were, I saw them, they were pathetic. They walked a very, very long way with this petition which it would take up thousands of names on. And the petition was lost. Never got to Parliament, but he did something, he did, did something to wake people up, to make them realize. People didn't understand what was happening at Yarrow, people in London didn't know, and the another thing the hunger marchers did, they marched into the Ritz one day, you know, at teatime. I was there and they walked in and they sat down, and people were absolutely stunned. You know, because these were, there were these men with cloth caps looking very gaunt and very haggard, and their toes out of their boots. Ragged clothes, and they sat down in the Ritz, and they were showing that they were hungry and that things were not right for them, and they, when they were asked to go they went very quietly. There was no violence, there was no protest, no rudeness, they went away when they were asked, but it woke people up to the fact that these things were happening and we didn't know about it, because we hadn't got television. You do see, nobody knew. It's awfully difficult to explain to somebody who's living in say bourgeois or fairly affluent society, but people only a few hundred miles away are literally dying in the streets from starvation, which was happening in South Wales. My brother went down to South Wales and he saw a man die.
Studs Terkel Miss Cartland, during those hunger marches in the early '30s, this scene, this astonishing scene of men in cloth caps, the hunger -- entering the Ritz and sitting down. What was your reaction to that?
Barbara Cartland My reaction by that time was that something ought to be done. I felt you see like so many other people that we hadn't been told what was happening. We didn't realize we'd had a very biased report given us that people had been difficult, it was Bolshevik influence, it was anarchy, and it wasn't any of those things. It was English people asking for justice and they were asking even simpler that they were asking for work. Nothing then was done about allocation of industries, which we have now trying, they're still trying not though very successfully which my brother was so keen on. What the men wanted was not charity. They didn't want gigantic soup kitchens. They wanted to be allowed to work. And we were getting the state when children grew up without any chance of work. And they were very harsh with them we are suffering now and quite rightly for what, the very stupid way we treated the people in those days. The dole was a wicked thing. I think you always have to have some kinds of means test, after all, you and I have a means test, we have income tax, and it's exactly the same. But they did go in and make so-- every, the family as a unit. In other words, if you were a family, father, mother, children and grandma, if grandma had savings, those had to be spent first before you could get relief. Now that was wrong. It made terrible trouble, it made people frightfully unhappy in their family units. And one of the things that's always mattered so much in England has been the family, do you see. So we were destroying family life by this idiotic way of not paying enough and not helping enough. And worst of all, about finding work. They didn't try and find work. They, it was much later that we started to say, now industries since have been put into this area because there are people to work in the industries. They tried then to move people from the area or when, the one thing that an Englishman always clings to is his castle, whether it's a little teeny croft of one room or whether it's a large castle, so they wouldn't move, so the whole thing was mismanaged by the government of the day, who again were out of touch who didn't understand, and we didn't understand because nobody put anybody's point of view except the government in point of view, you see. Then my brother started to really think this was wrong and to fight for it, and he was the first Tory MP who got up in the House and fought with a -- not to become a political point of view but from a human point of view, and this had tremendous impact because he was a Tory MP. He was not speaking as a man from Labour's side, which is, what was in those days was always rather suspect. He spoke as a humanitarian, and that is why it had such tremendous impact.
Barbara Cartland No, you have to have some form of means test. You can call it what you like. You and I call it income tax, but when you get to the working, the workers, you can't just dole out public money, which after all is everybody's money, if it isn't fair like they do today, which is in all of cases is ridiculous, say people are having too much and not really justified. Do you see what I mean? But it was then bitterly unfair. I must tell you a little story. I went to a family to see a family in Birmingham, and there was a, the mother was there, it was absolutely bare because everything had to be pawned or sold before they would give you any relief. And the only thing left was a very ugly black clock on the mantelpiece, large black sort of marble clock, and there were in the room. There were four children playing about. I afterwards found the woman had 11 children under nine. Eleven children under nine, think of that. There were four playing about, was a baby lying in a cot which was covered in sacks, the blankets being pawned. There was a very, very old lady sitting on a hard wooden chair by one table which was all that was left, and I said, "Where's your husband?" And she said, "He's gone to see if he can get some relief." And she said, I said, "Well, I, surely he'll get it." And she said, "Well, I don't know." And then she came up and whispered to me and said, "The only thing we've got left is the clock, and my grandfa-- my father was given it after 50 years on the railway, and my, it'll break my grandmother's heart if it's sold." And while I was talking, the door opened and the man came in, and she looked up, not very hopefully, and said, "Have they given you anything?" and he said, "They say sell the clock first." And he put it under his arm and the old lady sat at the table and then she just started to say, "Fifty years. Fifty years. Fifty years." You see, it was pathetic, it was wrong! It wasn't right that they should do that.
Studs Terkel Miss Cartland, what do you think would happen with the humiliation people suffered then and accepted as in the case you just described so movingly, if there were a Depression of the magnitude of the '20s and '30s today, what would -- would they accept as they did then?
Barbara Cartland I don't think they'd accept and I don't think it would happen, because a) we've learnt our lesson. As a country. I say 'we' as a country have learned our lesson that we can't treat people like, and secondly, we are more organized. There is unemployment today, but nobody is starving. People aren't dying in the streets. People aren't -- children aren't going without food because of it. People may not be able to -- frightfully well-off, but they are not starving. People were starving in those days. They were literally without sustenance, and that was what was so wrong, that was wicked, you see.
Studs Terkel Suppose there were. This is conjecture, of course, this is what President Roosevelt used to call an iffy question, if things didn't turn out that way, we understand there is a great deal of unemployment in the ship repair yards up north. In America there's slight talk about this now increasing. Suppose there were, would people accept it, what do you think?
Barbara Cartland What could they do? I mean, obviously today we would never allow people to starve. The children mustn't starve. They did in those days. But to give people work you've got to have people ready to buy your goods. You can't make people just have work for no reason. They've got to make something which will sell. And until we can get world markets going properly, well then we're going to be in the position where we have vast unemployment.
Barbara Cartland No. No, not in England. The English don't work like that. They will protest, which is the new thing, but they will protest -- they protest so much more violently about other people's troubles than about their own. The English have a tremendous courage when they have their backs to the wall. As you know, somebody once said "The English are only happy when they're being told they're bankrupt." It's rather true. People, the English people have tremendous resilience. That the idea that they can fight back when things are really bad is not that they're fighting against each other but they'll fight for what they believe is right. And I don't think you'll have riots in anyone's sub-- I say it's riots, but that isn't the point. They won't riot as a people, but they will protest until something is done. The greatest thing which helps us today is the fact that public opinion can be influenced by seeing and knowing what is going on.
Barbara Cartland Communications. It's communications, It's all been difficult. You see, when I talk to people, they don't understand. My children can't understand what life was like when you didn't -- you had the newspapers were rather feeble, there was no wireless. There was no television. They don't understand. That is the difficulty. Today if something very bad happens in Yarrow or in the shipyards, we know at once. They're on [mixed nights?] in front of you on the [good?] box.
Studs Terkel You realize, Miss Cartland, I sense an ambivalence in you, you know, that is the time you recreated in a rather charming and to me horrendous way, the breaking of the strike, the General Strike of 1926. At the same time you tell this moving story of the
Barbara Cartland I said it was later. You see, the point was I was very young in the General Strike. I didn't realize what was happening, and it is only later when my brother started and we've really started to fight. My goodness, people were rude to us. They used to say, you know, we were communists. But the point was we then started to fight for the people, for what it is right, for justice. Justice! Nobody wants bouquets, nobody wants diamond bracelets showered on people, nobody wants money poured out indefinitely. What we want is justice for everybody. You cannot have equality of opportunity unless everybody's got a chance of having equality of opportunity, and that's what we were fighting for. And what I continue to fight for today.
Barbara Cartland May I say one thing that I'm fighting, I fought for today and I've won. And that was for Gypsys [Roma people]. I know it was a very unpopular thing, but I found that Gypsies' [Roma] children were not getting education. And I said, "You can't have a democracy where everybody can have education except Gypsies [Roma]." It was a racial thing, and I got the first Gypsy [Roma] camp in England. Mind, so it's the first Romani Gypsy camp in the world called Barbaraville, and because I made such a fuss in this county, we now have three large Gypsy [Roma] camps where children are educa-- can go to school, where they can have Sunday school classes, and where even the older Gypsies [Roma] are learning to read and write. Now, that is democracy, and it only came about because I fought because it was unjust, and you will find there's always people in England, it's very hard work being crusader, that's why I need my honey, to keep myself strong and well, but there are always people in England who will fight against injustice when they see it, and the trouble with us in the '20s is we didn't see it. That's the part that's ended. [Tape stops]
Studs Terkel Well, that is, how can I, the incredible Barbara Cartland. That was a conversation in her castle some 30 miles outside London last autumn. In a moment, after we hear from Paul -- oh, by the way, just a word about the honey. She has theories about honey and potency, and she gave every member of the crew and myself and the director all little jars of honey. We didn't know what to do with it. We all went to a pub to eat later on after the, after the taping session, and we left the honey on the table, but there men, Hunter's Pink, these are young men, the men she described, these who helped break the General Strike, these will be their grandsons, that they were in hunting pinks, so we left the honey for them. There's a -- sometime in the future perhaps we'll play a tape about Yarrow, there's a great deal of talk about Yarrow, for us a phrase may mean nothing to the great many of us, it didn't to me at the time, that was the place up in north Newcastle way up north where the shipyards were idle, was a great deal of hunger, and the big hunger march went south from Yarrow all the way down to London, and that's the reference to Yarrow. We'll hear a couple of people from Yarrow perhaps some time in a couple of weeks, but now there's a doctor who came in for this conversation from North Wales, a small mining town, and he was sitting in the square at Tavistock Square where the many -- where the medical centers are, and he's talking about his memories of this Welsh mining town when he was a boy. [pause in recording] When in your community in South Wales did you feel, did you first sense the pinch, the brutality of the Depression?
Welsh Doctor Well, the depression in South Wales I think started after the 1926 miners' strike. Then poverty began to grow. And as a little boy going to school, in the -- to the elementary school in our town, I was the only one in my class who actually went home to dinner. All the other boys dropped off at the chapels to be fed there, to get their meals at the chapel. And again I happened to be home in the grammar school, the local grammar school in 1926, and on the way home from the grammar school a similar thing happened. My father was a doctor, and we were relatively well-off compared with the rest of the population. And we -- my mother, who was a kindly soul, used to take my friends in and feed them Scotch broth with lentils in it, lentils in it to make it more filling. So I would say the economic crisis with small intervals of prosperity went on in South Wales for 20 years.
Welsh Doctor Yes,
Welsh Doctor Well, because the nutritional standards were so low, one found that the resistance of people, of the people, men, women and children, became reduced. Tuberculosis increased. Five hundred and fifty-one people died of tuberculosis in the, in Aberdare, the town from which I come, in a period of 11 years. That's one every week. The incidence of deaths from bronchitis in the depressed areas of Britain were almost doubled during that, increased by 96 percent during that period. And psychological disturbances, depression especially, increased. Suicide increased from, by about 60 percent during this period.
Studs Terkel What happened to family life? You speak of suicides increasing, TB. It seems to me, you say of 550 in your town it seems that almost every family might have been affected one way or the other.
Welsh Doctor Well, many families were. I'll tell you about one family, which I know very well. The father was an unemployed miner. There were two sons, both unemployed miners, and five girls. One of the girls was compelled because of the poverty of the family to go away to London to work as a lady's maid at the age of 15 for five shillings a week. She became homesick, and returned on the train without a ticket. She was brought up before the local stipendiary magistrate and called a criminal and a bad girl who ought to be ashamed of herself. She was fined ten shillings. And the family had to pay the fine. And the fare off at the rate of one shilling a week. Now that girl got married eventually during the economic crisis. She had a child. She got pulmonary tuberculosis. She went away to hospital, she was in bed for six months and suffered from this condition for a period of a year and a half. And you must remember that the TB, tuberculosis, sanatoria were sometimes 70 or 80 miles away from the family. The husband wasn't able to go there because he was unemployed. So this poor woman was left for long periods in hospital without being able to be visited because her family couldn't afford to visit her.
Welsh Doctor Physical and psychological, yes. And in the same family, another two girls got tuberculosis. One was in hospital, the other was not. And one of the boys got tuberculosis. The -- eventually the younger boy managed to get a job. The older boy immediately had his dole, that's his unemployment benefit, reduced from 17 shillings to two and six a week. And he was told that he'd have to live on his brother's earnings, this is the sort of thing that went on. Rather than do that, he went away to work also.
Welsh Doctor Yes. This -- one had, it was said by, in some families that a young man who was not actually living in the house was living somewhere else. I remember another case of a man of 40. He was working as a steam coal miner, and the steam coal market had diminished during the economic crisis at Dalmouth ___, and he became unemployed. His father, on the other hand, who was 65 was working in the -- in another valley in the anthracite coal area, and this man of 40 was told that he would have to live on his father. So very rapidly he organized himself into marriage with a spinster lady of like age and went off somewhere else to live.
Studs Terkel This is of course, this reminds me so much of the, of life in the Black ghetto in America. Again, to survive sometimes there has to be less than the truth being told, this humiliation, this means test I suppose
Welsh Doctor Yes, it was, it was a, it was a means test on the whole family. For example, if a boy working in a colliery were earning forty shillings a week, which was the sort of wage you could earn in 1938, he would be allowed of his earned income 28 shillings for himself, and the other 12 shillings would have to go into the family pool. To maintain his mother and his brothers and sisters.
Welsh Doctor Well, the doctors had an arrangement with the miners by which when the miners were working, the miners paid so much in the pound. Every pound you earned in the colliery you paid tuppence or thruppence in the pound, and that covered your family for medical and hospital attention. And we agreed with the miners that when they became unemployed, that the doctors would look after their families for nothing. So the attitude of the doctors, the valley doctors, was a fine attitude. It was that you cared for the sick even though they didn't have any money. There was one exception to this, and that was after you had been unemployed for a period of six months, you were normally put on to what is known as the public assistance under the parish. And in certain parts of South Wales, the people who were on the parish had to have a different doctor, and this was an indignity. They had to have a parish doctor. They didn't have the same rights as the rest of the population.
Welsh Doctor Yes. Yes, I was a teacher for a while during the '30s. I qualified as a teacher of biology in 1935, but it was a time when even the teachers were unemployed. There were so many teachers in our town that we had an unemployed teachers' association, and we had
Studs Terkel UTA.
Welsh Doctor Yes. And we used to have a dance. We had dances and meetings and we sent a deputation to see our MP in Parliament and so on, and we had to take whatever jobs we could find. A friend of mine worked on the docks in London. I worked as a traveler selling books. But at this time the children in our town were not attending school very regularly. Their education was being interfered with simply because they didn't have any boots.
Studs Terkel Boots.
Welsh Doctor Boots. In Aberdare, for example in 1935. The local council sent a demand to the government for an extra five thousand pounds to buy leather. The council used to buy leather. And the fathers used to come in with the children's shoes and cut the leather and tapped their own, tapped the children's boots, mend the children's boots. And the main cause of absenteeism in the '30s in the depressed areas was a lack of boots.
Welsh Doctor Yes.
Studs Terkel Terribly
Welsh Doctor The same family I was telling you about before, the youngest of them used to get her boots off the ash tip. And they were always different shoes. She used to have to wear two rights shoes or two left shoes, because it was very seldom get a pair of shoes off the ash tip, but these were the sort of things that were going on.
Studs Terkel Here
Welsh Doctor The teachers, might I say this? The teachers used to, the teachers' dramatic society in our town for example, they'd put on a play and people would come and see it, and all the profits would go for buying boots or some of the headmistresses would have a little fund which they'd collect themselves. And they give two to six to a child to take home
Welsh Doctor There was indeed. There was. Now, the children were suffering from malnutrition. The amount of the incidence of it increased from 19-- in our town again from 1932 to 1938 from seven percent of the children examined to eleven, that's one in nine children were suffering from malnutrition. Now, when you were malnourished, you were given a free meal at school. But you -- though local organizations tried to get the council to feed all the children, the government regulations were so sharp that you had to prove malnutrition before you could, before you could -- have a free meal.
Welsh Doctor That's
Studs Terkel Naturally as you're talking, doctor, we think of the effects now on the people of this village of this community, and so what happens to them. First that little girl with the two left shoes. Aside from the possibility of malforming of her feet, what happened to her spirit, her sense of shame I suppose.
Welsh Doctor Yes.
Studs Terkel Humiliation.
Welsh Doctor Never go -- never having new clothes. And even a young man, for example. I remember a young man who bought a suit. On a voucher. Grey suit, double-breasted suit. Now, when you when you had a voucher you would pay a shilling a week, pay it back at the rate of a shilling a week. And he wanted it so that he could convince his girl to marry him. But his girl wouldn't marry him because he didn't have a job. She went off somewhere to England, found a chap with a job, and married him instead. So the grey suit on the voucher which took probably the best part of a year to pay for didn't produce, didn't produce, didn't produce the wife he wanted.
Welsh Doctor Yes, the poverty was so great that it tended to produce quarreling within the family. Because why don't you go out and find a job? A young man who because of the means test was getting no income and so on, and this is what happened, the young men went away. They went to London to work as waiters and
Welsh Doctor Certainly. Certainly, yes. And another terrible thing of course is the depression that is created not merely by the poverty but by the change in the nature of the town. Because not merely were the people -- but when the people became poor, so did the shopkeepers, and the shops were closed and shuttered up with bits of board and cardboard and old rags and -- instead of windows, and the -- many of the villages were filled with -- were filled with, the whole environment was one of deep depression. Dowliss, for example, which is a part of Merthyr, where 60 percent of the people who are unemployed, was filled with shuttered shops.
Welsh Doctor Yes, that is true. A grey, depressing atmosphere. Therefore and the psychological difficulty that arose were very great. And there was a migration of 300,000 people between the wars. From South Wales.
Studs Terkel Was there a feeling then on the part of the people themselves, was it thinking of was their fault? Did they question society? Or was there a feeling of accepting it as a, perhaps something sinful not being unemployed [sic]?
Welsh Doctor I don't think it was accepted, you see. There was a certain depression for a while, but in 1935, when the government brought in some new unemployment regulations which would -- which cut the benefits provided to the unemployed, the reaction was, was violent in many ways. The labour exchange in Merthyr, for example, smashed up. In our town we had the whole valley demonstrated. We had 60,000 people marching through the streets. Women and children, children in prams, eld-- fat old ladies and thin old ladies walking along, being helped along. The ministers, the preachers, some of the some of the doctors, all marching in a demonstration against this attack, this further attack on the standard of living of the people. And of course there was great anger with the national government, and many hundreds of people, thousands of people, questioned the form of society in which we live, what sort of a society is this? That it cannot, that after all these years it cannot even maintain reasonable standards of living, that it cannot maintain its unemployment. Isn't it time we had an -- a different form of society?
Welsh Doctor Well let me put it like this: if you try to hold a public meeting now, you will find that you've got to stand outside Woolworth's or somewhere right in the middle of the town before anybody will listen to you. But in those days we had our own Hyde Park. We would have three or four meetings going outside our local park in which you had perhaps seven or eight hundred people. You could hold an indoor meeting on politics, even on international politics where you would get a thousand people fairly easily.
Welsh Doctor Yeah. Yes, yes. A rather different character. I think there's a very powerful dissenting spirit now, you see, especially in the British trade union movement, the TUC has just taken place and there's a good deal of opposition and not merely trade union opposition, but political opposition to the
Welsh Doctor Yes, more and more women became involved in politics. There were women in the house. The women had the responsibility of maintaining the family. Because the men were -- they -- the dole came to the house, it was put on the table. This is the same family I was telling you about again. And it was divided out between the needs of the family during the week. For example, one of the things that this family I was telling about did was to pay thruppence a week for each member of the family so that they could be buried, this was burial insurance. Then the voucher had to be paid for whatever was being bought at a shilling a week, had to be paid for, and the voucher man came round the houses, from house to house collecting the vouchers. If you didn't have the money this week, you'd have to pay the next week. So the -- it was in a sense the matriarchal society. The women controlled the finances and really controlled the family, because the men were no longer in a position of being the wage. [tape stops]
Studs Terkel Now there are some more with the doctor, but for the moment perhaps we'll continue his conversation on the role of women and more of his impressions, reflections. This doctor from the mining town very hard hit and still is or in the Rhondda Valley, this is South Wales, the area from which Dylan Thomas came.