A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



The previous section was concerned with the audience and sales figures for the books amongst various sections of the population. Although it has been shown that amongst some sections readers are fewer than might be desired, nevertheless it remains true that the total audience reached is very large.

26% of the population have seen three or more of the six books investigated and another 30% have seen one or two of them. The total audience for M.O.I. books must be greater than that indicated by these figures since the Battle of Britain which was excluded from this inquiry sold twice as many copies as the book with the biggest sale amongst those studied. No other book, however, has had such phenomenal success.



All those interviewed were asked , “ Would you say the time and money spent by the Government on producing these books is (a) put to a good purpose, or (b) should be spent in some other way?”

Table 31
Money is put to a good use 74
Money should be spent in some other way 7
Don’t know 16
Not answered 3
Sample 5895

It is clear that there is very strong support for the idea of Government publication, three-quarters of those asked being definitely in favour, and only 7% saying that the money should be spent differently.

Of those who had not seen any of the books before being shown them by the investigator, about a third gave doubtful answers or no answer, and only 9% thought the money and time going to the production of such books could be spent better in other ways.

In general it may be said that those groups which had seen most books had the highest populations approving of Government publication (See Table 32 above). However, even in those groups where the audience for the books is small there is fairly general approval for the idea of Government publication.

The table below shows the proportions of different groups who had seen three or more of the books and the proportions of the same groups who approved of Government publication.

Table 33
Economic Groups % who saw three or more books % who thought money was put to good purpose Sample
Lower 21 72 4399
Middle 40 81 1157
Upper 53 84 286
Education Groups
Elementary 18 72 3904
Secondary or Technical 43 80 1536
University 54 85 117
Men 34 79 2491
Women 20 71 3404

It will be remembered that 49% of the sample said they would like to have seen some of the books shown to them which they had not seen before. Informants were asked also “Would you like to see others on any special subject?” This question did not refer to particular publications but meant rather “Would you like the Government to publish other books on any particular subject that you are interested in?” Replies to this question help to show the quality of the demand for M.O.I. books.

Table 34
Yes, would like a book on some special subject 23
No, nothing special 43
Don’t know, Can’t think of any special subject 24
Not answered 10
Sample: 5895

Table 34 indicates that whilst there has been strong support for those published there is no very strong demand for books on any special subject. Further point is given to this by a question asking those who wanted to see other books on special subjects what those subjects were. The answers were so varied as to make it impossible to reduce them to a short list of subjects; that is to say even amongst those wanting to see other books published there is no concentration of demand on any subject. It might be argued from this that the M.O.I. books do not meet any overt demand for information. On the other hand the widespread audience for the books shows that their publication is appreciated. The conclusion might be drawn from these indications that the publication of such books is not needed to meet an urgent public demand for information about particular subjects, but does feed a widespread interest in the many aspects of the war effort about which books have been published. There is evidence to support such a conclusion in the answers to two further questions. Those who had seen M.O.I. publications were asked ,” Would you say that any of these books told you anything which you had not previously realised?” 62% of people who had seen the books (being 37% of the whole sample) said “Yes”, and these, and a small, proportion who gave doubtful answers, were asked ,” What was the chief thing you got from them?” Answers were as follows:

25 26


Table 35
% those asked
Makes you realise. Brings things home 31
Way the Services work together. Development of war effort 27
Way the British people faced it 11
Books give more details than press 12
Miscellaneous 19
Sample 2308

Only 12%o of these answers reflect satisfaction of a desire for news. The other answers show that the chief effect of the publications is to make a complicated war effort more real and understandable to those who have seen them. This is particularly so among women. The answers given by men and women are compared in the table below.

Analysis by Sex

Table 36

% those asked

Men Women
Makes you realise. Brings things home 25 W 37
Way the Services work together. Development of war effort 35 18
Way the British people faced it 8 15
Books give more details than press 11 12
Miscellaneous 21 18
Sample 1178 1130

52% of the women against 33% of the men said that the books had made them realise more clearly the events of the war and how the British people had met them, 35% of the men against 18% of the women mentioned as the chief thing learnt from, the books “The way the Services work together - the development of the war effort”.

The latter answer was also given more frequently by those in the middle and upper income groups and those with secondary or technical and university education.

* Some of those who had seen the M.O.I. books were asked “What would you say is the chief thing about them which you like?” Table 36 shows the percentages of those answering the question who gave various replies. These percentages add to more than 100 because some people gave more than one reason for liking the books.

Table 37

% those asked

Technicalities explained 29
Like photographs, diagrams 17
Good production, well written 10
Adventurous, exciting presentation 11
Interested in subject 12
Special interest, relatives involved 7
Did not like, nothing in particular 5
Don’t know, hard to say 19
Sample: 1968

The explanation of technical matters was one of the greatest attractions of the books. The photographs and diagrams and the manner of presentation and production were also frequently appreciated.

It is interesting to note that these things were mentioned more frequently than the intrinsic interest of the subject matters itself.

There are some differences in the answers given by men and by women.

Table 38

% those asked

Men Women
Technicalities explained 36 22
Like photographs, diagrams 14 19
Good production, well written 11 9
Adventurous, exciting presentation 11 12
Interested in subject 13 11
Special interest, relatives involved 7 7
Did not like, nothing in particular 5 5
Don’t know, hard to say 15 23
Sample: 982 986

The technical explanations appealed more to men than to women. Women mentioned the photographs and diagrams rather more frequently than men and a higher proportion of women were unable to say what it was they liked about the books. It will be remembered that a relatively high proportion of men as compared with women said that the chief thing they learnt from the books was the way the Services worked together. These results considered together suggest that men are more interested in the explanations given by the books, whereas a more important thing to women is the fact that they bring what is happening nearer to them and make the war seem more real and vivid.

There are few differences in the points making the chief appeal in the different regions. Amongst the occupation groups it is interesting that the explanation of technicalities appeals more than strongly to those groups which have the biggest proportional audiences, factory workers (especially skilled workers), managerial and professional and clerical workers. This point makes a big appeal too, to the middle economic group and to those educated at Secondary and Technical schools, whilst the details of book production have more attraction as the educational and economic scales are ascended.

From the results of these two questions it seems fairly clear that amongst those who have seen them the books have largely served their purpose of explaining the war, and a large part of their appeal lies in the way their makeup has been designed to this end. Only a small part of the audience for the books is interested, in them directly for the subject matter or because of relatives involved in the operations described. This conclusion is relevant to the questions which, earlier on, were raised concerning the extent to which the books were reaching the whole public at which they were aimed. Unless it is the case that those sections of the public which are not fully represented in the audience are, in fact, not so much interested in the progress of the war, then quite clearly different methods of publicising the books are necessary in order to reach them. The fact that women are less interested in the technicalities expounded in the books than in the human side of the war may explain why women are not proportionately represented in the audience.

[3] * All those who saw the books were not asked this question owing to an instruction being misunderstood by some investigators. However, those asked the question were not a selected group and examination of the material shows that in most respects they form a representative sample of those who had seen one or more books. Certain regions are under-represented but as there are no regional differences this does not affect the results.

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