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Mass Observation was founded by Tom Harrisson, Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings in 1937. Its purpose was to create ‘an anthropology of ourselves’ in other words, to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. Discounting an initial pamphlet, this was the fourth book to be published. It appears in Faber Finds as a part of an extensive reissue programme of the original Mass Observation titles.
War Begins at Home, originally published in 1940, covers the first four months of the Second World War, in other words, the beginning of the ‘Phoney War’ , the war in Britain before the Dunkirk evacuation, the fall of France and the Blitz.
A diversity of subjects are anatomized. To quote from the original jacket. ‘The impact of the blackout. The ritual of gas-masks. Air raid neurosis. Blimp reassurance. The collapse of the football pools. The drought of news, and how people were affected. The mentality of A. R. P. wardens. Class-conflict of evacuation, the great ‘paper experiment’. The red poster fiasco. The ministry of Information. How jazz has cashed in. How sport has cashed out. The Daily Express v. the Co-ops. Saving v. Spending. The difference between public and private opinion. The difference between the leader and the led. The neglect of civilian morale.’
What is created is a sort of ‘war barometer’ (to use the expression coined by Tom Harrisson and Charles Madge), and a unique slice of social history.
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