Friday, 11 May 2012

Leslie Paul – The Angry Young Man

Leslie Paul – The Angry Young Man

Leslie Paul - the man who gave the world the expression Angry Young Man, novelist, poet, journalist, academic friend of T.S. Eliot, member of the Bloomsbury group and creator of The Paul Report - died quietly in Cheltenham in 1985. There was an irony in the fact that a man of such great literary and social importance passed away, in Eliot’s prophetic words, and in a fate that awaits most of us, ‘not with a bang but a whimper’. It was hard to understand where all the glamour and clamour of the press and literati had evaporated to, leaving on that night just a colleague and two students at his bedside.
There is very little written about Leslie Paul today and his Wikipedia page is thin on his numerous achievements.

Woodcraft Folk

He was born in Dublin in ‘the cruellest month’ of April, in 1905, but grew up in South East London, an area of hardship and poverty that was to shape his politics. Although he never joined the Communist Party he was sympathetic to its beliefs and spent a lifetime challenging injustice, remaining a socialist all his life. Out of the deprivation of his early life came one of his great achievements, the Woodcraft Folk, which survives to this day.  Once ridiculed as being a nature-loving hippyish poor copy of Scouting, it has now become a respected ‘green’ movement inspiring much about the ethos of the increasingly popular Forest Schools.

The Great and the Good

By 1919 Leslie Paul had secured work for a local newspaper and was fortunate enough to be the first journalist to interview Nancy Astor on December 1st, the day she took her seat in the House of Commons. She became the first female Member of Parliament by defeating the Liberal candidate Isaac Foot, father of the future leader of the Labour Party Michael Foot. (For all of Michael Foot’s verbal ramblings at the dispatch box he was reputed to have had the most complete and elegant dictation when it came to anything that was to be published.)


Leslie Paul wrote nearly forty books. One of the most important was an autobiography the title of which caught the zeitgeist, inspiring a group of writers and a whole social movement. It was called Angry Young Man. John Osborne never alluded to or acknowledged Leslie Paul’s work. Although Paul published a number of works leading up to the Second World War, including a slim volume of poetry in 1927, there was nothing of great significance until the end of the War. It was at this time that he met and became friends with T.S. Eliot, then working for Faber and Faber in a small room at the top of an office block in
Russell Square
. Paul wrote a number of books about the War, some fiction and some fact.

The Paul Report

In the late 1950s Leslie Paul’s books and reputation as writer and academic caught the attention of the Church of England, who were looking to commission a report about the state of the Church and its clergy. At this time the role and status of the local vicar was integral to the social fabric of every community. They were part social worker, part marriage guidance counsellor, school governor, spiritual guide, a legal and spiritual authority in deaths, births, marriages and much more. The average Sunday attendance returns gave a very black-and-white sketch in numbers when a much more colourful and detailed painting was required about the health of the Church. The Paul Report, as this work was to be popularly known, was a classic piece of sociological research. The traditional techniques of participant observation, questionnaires and interviews were all used to elicit information about the state of the Church.

The report’s findings were truly astounding. Had some of the more sensational disclosures been made public irreparable damage would have done to the Church. Leslie Paul thought that there was no need for sensationalism and kept much from the tabloid press. He uncovered many sad stories of over-worked clergy and disgruntled parishioners. One vicar was so disaffected from his parishioners that he had literally barricaded himself in the church with barbed wire. There was also great resentment amongst clergymen towards each other, partly because there was a time when a parish was for life, there was little chance of movement or promotion. This meant that some clergymen had nice rural parishes with little or no work, while others in inner cities had more work than they could cope with. In short, the Church was not egalitarian. Grateful and impressed by the nature of the report, as well as by the conduct of Leslie Paul himself, the Church awarded him a well-deserved Honorary Doctorate, of which he was very proud. To this day there are clergymen who turn pale or red by turns at the mention of Leslie Paul’s name.

The Novels and Education

Of all of his novels Paul had a soft spot for The Waters and the Wild published in 1975. This received favourable reviews, likening the book to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer in view of its perceptive portrayal of children. As a pacifist Paul was particularly pleased with a school textbook he wrote about Hitler and the Second World War. He taught various subjects and at various levels throughout his life. He was a philosopher, theologian and sociologist as well as a novelist and lecturer. This intellect was perhaps best encapsulated in a small book which drew on all of these themes and sought to get to the heart of the human condition. It is Springs of Good and Evil: Biblical Themes in Literature. This was published in 1979, a few years before he became resident writer and occasional lecturer at the College of St Paul’s and St Mary’s (now University of Gloucestershire). While at the College he made many friends among the staff but none more so than Ken Surin, now a Professor at the prestigious Duke University. The two would often lunch together and Leslie Paul took great interest in Dr Surin’s work in progress at the time, The Problem of Evil. He also took great interest in the College Literary Society and encouraged new writers and writing. The College held its own small literary festival at which he read his poem written many years before as a response to his friend Tom’s Little Gidding. It was extremely moving.

In one of his last occasional lectures he outlined the book that he was then currently working on, which was about his deeply-held belief that animals did, after all, have souls.

He took pleasure in re-reading Rilke every year.

The teaching colleague and two students present at Leslie’s death were Ken Surin, myself and another student.

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