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William Ralph Inge, 1860-1954: A true Victorian?

W. Sydney Robinson's latest book zooms in on the lives of four figures who rose to prominence in inter-war Britain. In his view, they embody the values of the Victorian past. Each rose to power or fame from an austere childhood: Joynson-Hicks to a career in politics, William Inge to one in the Church, John Reith to prominence in the BBC and Arthur Bryant to distinction in letters. They were all driven by personal ambition, indefatigable effort and a protestant view of how England ought to be.

William Hicks was the eldest of a pious Smithfield meat merchant's six children.  Educated at Merchant Taylors' school and then apprenticed to a solicitor, Hicks became known as a tough litigator. He married into a rich Manchester Conservative family (becoming William Joynson-Hicks, known  popularly as Jix) and winning a Manchester seat, on his third attempt, in 1908.
His populist espousal of right-wing causes and tinges of anti-Semitism may have embarrassed the leadership, but he became a junior minister in 1923 and Home Secretary the following year. In his readable account, Robinson exaggerates Jix's role in ending the General Strike and mistakenly portrays Baldwin's strategy as defeatism. More serious, it is unconvincing to present Jix as a Victorian outrider. He was the most common type of 20th-century Tory Home Secretary, who play the politics of reaction to their own advantage.

Jix's resistance to High Anglicanism was shared by the scholar, churchman and publicist, William Ralph Inge. He too suffered a joyless childhood. At Eton he was bullied, worked relentlessly and was academically distinguished. He emerged from Cambridge with a double first in the Classics Tripos (not, as the author suggests, "Greats") and followed his father into the Church, becoming Dean of St Paul's.

Inge's reactionary fervour made him a popular newspaper columnist, though his criticism of high-church beliefs and practices, the woman's cause, loose morals and socialism were not unusual at the time and hardly enough to brand him as a "Victorian" leftover.

John Reith, the "founding" Director General of the BBC, was another gloomy churchman's son, sent to train in a Glasgow engineering company. He made his way to be the Managing Director of the new BBC with a staff of four and the mission to educate and improve the great British public; to a seat in the Commons; and, finally, to the Lords. 

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