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In his preface to the 1998 reissue, Michael Foot wrote, ‘Guilty Men was conceived by three London journalists who had formed the habit of meeting on the roof of the Evening Standard offices in Shoe Lane, Fleet Street, just after the the afternoon paper had been put to bed and, maybe, just before the Two Brewers opened across the road.’
The book’s genesis and publication could hardly have been swifter. Its writing took four days from the 1st to the 4th June 1940: it was published on the 5th July. It is an angry book, indeed, a devastatingly effective polemic. Its target was the appeasers of the 1930s, the leading culprits being Baldwin, Chamberlain and Halifax who had left the country so ill-prepared, and who, by their pusillanimity, had emboldened Hitler and Mussolini; and in the case of the last two still favoured some accommodation with the fascist dictators. In today’s parlance, it would be called a wake-up call. It was very successful selling about 200,000 copies.
Kenneth Morgan, Michael Foot’s biographer, describes the book as consisting of ‘a series of brief vignettes of key episodes or personalities, the latter invariably foolish or dishonest.’ Michael Foot wrote eight of the chapters, the first and most powerful one being on Dunkirk.
Although Michael Foot was the main contributor, and the one who suggested ‘Cato’ as the umbrella pseudonym, the other two, as Michael Foot would be the first to admit, Peter Howard and Frank Own should not be forgotten.
Seventy years on, Guilty Men has not lost its readability and power to enrage.
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