Sefton Delmer used to be a hero of mine. As a cub reporter on the Sunday Express, I read this veteran Expressman’s account of interviewing Hitler in the burning Reichstag and running a “black” radio station for the Allies during the Second World War. I still have a letter from the great man – sent to me in 1969 after I’d written about his wartime work and sent him a bottle of champagne (paid for by Beaverbrook) for his help – in which he curses then TUC head Vic Feather for claiming that while Swedes and Germans respected the law, the British worker did not.
“A superb way to win confidence for this country,” Delmer scoffed to me. “Twice in my lifetime we went to war against the Germans because they insisted on tearing up scraps of paper. And here comes this bloody ignoramus and says the British are unique because they don’t care a damn about laws and contracts … I will be thinking of you as I drink the Bollinger.” Delmer died almost exactly 10 years later, not long after being attacked by geese at his Suffolk farm – but what a life he had lived. Brought up in Berlin before the First World War, where his Australian father was a professor of English, he was appalled by the barbarity of the Germans but believed they could still be democrats.
So in 1945, he drove through the bomb-flattened city of Hamburg on the orders of the Foreign Office, determined – in the words of his second biographical volume, Black Boomerang – to set up a new media which would “show the German press and radio how to free themselves from defects which in my opinion had helped to plunge a gullible German public into two world wars”. German press and media laws showed none of the respect for human rights and human liberty to which the British were accustomed under the rule of law, Delmer believed.
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