OBITUARY: Professor Michael Balfour

Michael Balfour, formerly Professor of European History at the University of East Anglia, was a leading expert on the political warfare conducted by both Germany and Britain during the Second World War. His book Propaganda in War 1939-45 (1979) is an immensely impressive and stimulating work, based on personal experience in the Ministry of Information, the Political Warfare Executive, the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, and the branch of the Control Commission which supervised the German media in the British Zone.

Balfour came of a writing family. His father, Graham Balfour, was the first biographer of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose mother, a Balfour of Pilrig, was his relative. Michael was educated at Rugby and then at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Greats and afterwards History. He had a great affection for Balliol and always kept in close touch with the college. One of his friends there was Duncan Wilson. Later they were colleagues in the Political Warfare Executive and in the Control Commission in Germany. Sir Duncan Wilson was in turn ambassador to Belgrade and Moscow, and eventually Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Balfour married Wilson's sister Grizel.

After Balfour graduated, with a First Class degree, he taught at various Oxford colleges and worked at Chatham House as secretary to a study group on Nationalism.

He visited Germany for the first time in 1930 and thereafter took a deep interest in German affairs. He became a close friend of Graf Helmuth von Moltke, who was arrested by the Nazis in 1941 and executed in January 1945, and also of von Moltke's widow. She provided material for the book Helmuth von Moltke: a leader against Hitler (1972) which Balfour wrote in collaboration with Julian Frisby.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Balfour joined the Ministry of Information and later transferred to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office. This was also the cover name for the secret Political Warfare Executive, housed in the stable block of Woburn Abbey, in Bedfordshire. PWE was responsible for the policy of all propaganda directed at enemy and enemy-occupied countries, including the foreign-language broadcasts of the BBC. Under strict conditions of secrecy it also operated "black broadcasting" - fake radio stations which purported to transmit from Germany or occupied countries. PWE conducted other disruptive activities through spurious leaflets and newspapers and by spreading rumours.

Richard Crossman, later a Labour Cabinet minister, was the Director of PWE's German Division and Sefton Delmer, known as Tom, masterminded the "black" operations. Balfour observed their activities at close quarters. Of Crossman he later wrote, "Most men have their weaknesses. With some it is drink, with others women, with others again gambling. Dick's weakness was ideas. He could never resist the lure of a novel idea irrespective of whether it fitted in with his general outlook or not."

"Tom Delmer's virtuoso performance in developing black broadcasting," Balfour declared, "was both inimitable and too successful to be interfered with." Delmer's secret black station Gustav Siegfried Eins purported to speak for a dissident section of the German Army. In 1942 it gave such a convincing picture of a big top-level split that the American military leaders believed, even before El Alamein, that Nazi Germany was about give up. David Bowes Lyon, younger brother of the Queen, who headed the PWE mission in the United States, was authorised to warn General George Marshall and other top Pentagon officials not to put so much trust in Gustav Siegfried Eins.

After the liberation of Paris, Balfour, like Crossman, was posted to the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force. From there he moved to the Control Commission in the British Zone of occupied Germany as the Director of the Branch which supervised the German information media. This experience gave his first- hand information for another book, published a decade later, Four-Power Control in Germany and Austria 1945-46 (1956).

In 1947 Balfour returned to England and became Chief Information Officer at the Board of Trade. "The basic principle," he wrote, "is that publicity is a function of policy, not something that can be treated separately and decided after everything else has been arranged."

In 1963 he was appointed CBE but after 17 years of being a civil servant he longed to return to academic life. Fortunately the University of East Anglia was looking for a professor of modern history. The Balfours moved to Norwich, which they greatly enjoyed. Professor Frank Thistlethwaite, the Vice-Chancellor who recruited Balfour, recalled, "He was a quiet man, but authoritative and an excellent colleague."

Balfour continued to produce books on modern history, nine in all. He retired to Burford, in Oxfordshire, where he took part in many local activities. He also spoke at seminars and international conferences about political warfare. In 1981 he attended one at the Palazzo at Bellagio. He decided to talk about some of the chief personalities involved in British wartime propaganda and wrote brilliant thumbnail sketches of nine of them.

"It was a mistake," he told me. "Most of those who came to the conference were extremely ignorant. One American read a paper about the black Luxembourg station Radio Annie. It was only in the course of discussion that I discovered he was completely unaware of the whole Delmer operation! None of them knew what I was talking about. Then, when it came to publishing the conference papers, they left mine out."

I was the beneficiary. Michael Balfour gave the unpublished paper to me. I treasure it, and the memory of its distinguished author.

Michael Leonard Graham Balfour, historian and public servant; born Oxford 22 November 1908; MoI 1939; PWE 1942; PWD SHAEF 1944; Director of Public Relations & Information Services, Control Commission, British Zone of Germany 1945-47; Chief Information Officer, Board of Trade 1947-64; CBE 1963; Professor of European History, University of East Anglia 1966-74; books include States and Mind 1953, Four-Power Control in Germany and Austria 1945-46 1956, The Kaiser and His Times 1964, West Germany 1968, Helmuth von Moltke: a Leader against Hitler 1972, Propaganda in War 1939- 45 1979; The Adversaries 1981, Britain and Joseph Chamberlain 1985, Withstanding Hitler in Germany 1933-45 1988; married 1934 Grizel Wilson (three daughters); died Witney 16 September 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick