‘Curly’ Mallalieu – Author, Naval Officer, Journalist, Freeman of Kirklees & Huddersfield MP of 34 years!

We are very pleased to announce that the archive of Sir Joseph Percival William Mallalieu (18 June 1908 – 13 March 1980) has now been fully catalogued and made accessible for the first time.

The catalogue can be accessed here: http://heritagequay.org/archives/JPM/

To say that ‘Bill’, ‘William’ or ‘Curly’ Mallalieu (as he was known to various people) had an interesting and varied career would certainly be an understatement! And to prove it, here’s a biography of his life that we’ve pulled together using the records that are now available in the archive.

JPW & Rita Mallalieu with Mr & Mrs Arthur Gardiner
JPW & Rita Mallalieu with Mr & Mrs Arthur Gardiner, c1950s

JPW Mallalieu was born in Delph, Saddleworth, on 18 June 1908 into a Nonconformist family with a rich political background. His father, Frederick Mallalieu, was Liberal MP for Colne Valley from 1916 until 1922, when he was defeated by Philip Snowden, the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. While his brother, Sir Edward Lancelot ‘Lance’ Mallalieu, was also Liberal MP for the Colne Valley constituency, 1931-1935, before he joined the Labour Party and served as MP for Brigg, Lincolnshire, from 1948 until he retired in 1974.


Like his father and brother, JPW Mallalieu studied at Dragon School, Cheltenham before going on to Trinity College, Oxford where became the first person in history to win a Rugger Blue and be president of the Oxford Union. After Oxford, Mallalieu won a Commonwealth Fellowship in economics at the University of Chicago and spent two years in the United States engaged in economics research. While in America Mallalieu underwent a political conversion from Liberalism to Socialism after witnessing the depravity brought about by the Great Depression; this led him to join the British Labour Party from Chicago in October 1931. During his time in America Mallalieu also began his career as a journalist, working on local newspapers in Kentucky, including The Lexington Herald where he covered stories such as the Police beat and sports, notably American Football and ice hockey. He then spent six months in South Africa and seven months in continental Europe, mostly in France, before returning to Britain in 1932 and being appointed American Editor for The Financial News in London. Mallalieu was then made political correspondent for the paper and spent a year and a half reporting from the House of Commons. Mallalieu continued to write for London newspapers from 1933-1942, including The Financial News, The Evening Standard, The Daily Express, he also wrote sports journalism for the Spectator.


Upon his return to Britain at the end of 1932 Mallalieu joined the Holborn Labour Party. He was then adopted as the Labour candidate for Huddersfield in 1936 but because of the intervention of war it was another nine years before he got the chance to fight his first Parliamentary election.


Mallalieu started the Second World War as a Conscientious Objector which he said was ‘entirely for political reasons’ because he didn’t believe in the Chamberlain government of the time, but he quickly changed his mind upon realising the intent of the Nazi leadership. He joined the Royal Navy in 1942 as an ordinary seaman and rose to the rank of Lieutenant by the end of the War. His active service involved protecting the convoy routes to Russia through the Arctic waters, he served on board a destroyer which was camouflaged as HMS Meltham. During his service he wrote the novel Very Ordinary Seaman (1944) which was based directly on his experiences of serving in the navy during wartime. The navy had appointed him to the role of Commander’s Messenger, Portsmouth, and gave him two months in which to complete the work; the only condition was that the book should be ‘broadly favourable to the navy. Not a whitewash but not a hatchet job either’ (On Larkhill, p.204). The book proved to be very popular, selling 64,000 copies in hardback and many more in paperback. Speaking to Yorkshire Life magazine in 1979, Mallalieu answered the question of why he had chosen that title for the book, ‘Because that’s what I was, a very ordinary seaman. I couldn’t even tie knots properly.’ (Yorkshire Life, March 1979). The royalties for the book would see Mallalieu through his election campaign in 1945 when he had no other source of income.

JPW Mallalieu as naval seaman, c1942
JPW Mallalieu, naval seaman, c1942

Very Ordinary Seaman was Mallalieu’s third book. He had written his first, Rats, in a London air raid shelter during the blitz. The book was a criticism of big business that profited from the war (e.g. munitions companies), and was published in 1941 under the pseudonym, The Pied Piper. He wrote his second book, Passed to You, Please, in 1942 in a Huddersfield nursing home where he underwent an operation shortly before he enlisted in the navy. This book was a criticism of the bureaucracy, red-tape and inefficiencies of the Civil Service.


During his naval service in Portsmouth he met Rita Tinn (Harriet Rita Riddle Tinn) who was an officer in the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service). Rita was the daughter of Jack Tinn, manager of Portsmouth Football Club, and prior to the War Rita had worked as her father’s Secretary, where she was the only female executive in football at the time. Mallalieu and Rita were marred in 1945 shortly before the General Election took place on 5 July. They went on to have two children; Ann Mallalieu (later Baroness Mallalieu QC) was born on 27 November 1945 and was Christened at the House of Commons in the same year (photos of this occassion can be found within the archive); and Ben Mallalieu, who wrote the tailpiece to his father’s final book On Larkhill.


JPW Mallalieu left the navy as a Lieutenant to fight the General Election as the Labour candidate for Huddersfield. Throughout the election campaign JPW and Rita Mallalieu stayed with Arthur Gardiner who was Secretary for the Huddersfield Labour Party and Mallalieu’s agent and friend. Upon opening his election campaign at Northumberland Street School in June 1945, Mallalieu declared that ‘I have not the slightest intention of sailing under any false colours. I am a Socialist, and it is as a Socialist and nothing else that I am going to ask for your votes on July 5.’ Mallalieu won the election, achieving the biggest swing of votes in the country, converting the previous Liberal majority of 13,000 into a 9,000 majority for Labour. On the day that the result was announced he addressed a crowd in Huddersfield’s Beast Market estimated to be 20,000 strong.


Of his work in Clement Atlee’s post war government (1945-1951) Mallalieu said that it was ‘A really exciting period… we had a tremendous programme and we worked steadily through that torrent of legislation. I suppose it really spoiled us. There was nothing like it again… I remember one week when we had three all-nighters in a row. One evening I went on to the Commons Terrace for a breath of fresh air, sat down on one of the benches and was awakened next morning by the sound of traffic going across Westminster Bridge. It was 11am, and I suddenly realised I had slept on the terrace all night!’ (Interview published in many national newspapers on 14 Aug 1978).


Upon reaching parliament Mallalieu gravitated to the left of the party, often following the movements of Aneurin “Nye” Bevan, which sometimes brought him into conflict with the rest of the party. After voting against the Ireland Bill in 1947, he was sacked as Private Secretary to John Strachey, Ministry of Food. He also found himself in conflict with a large section of the Party in 1953 when in an article for The Tribune he suggested that many Labour MPs only pretended to agree with left-wing policies in public but secretly voted with the right wing of the Party in parliament. He argued that to prevent this Labour MPs should vote on policy decisions by voice rather than secret ballot, which was against Labour Party rules. This resulted in an NEC meeting to discuss whether he should be expelled from the Party, but Mallalieu managed to retain his position by apologising for his comments.


JPW Mallalieu went onto be Member of Parliament for Huddersfield 1945-1950, and then for Huddersfield East, 1950-1979, following boundary changes to the Kirklees area. In 1964 Labour won the General Election for the first time in 13 years, and Harold Wilson appointed Mallalieu to various ministerial positions over the course of his term. First Junior Navy Minister (1964-1966) and then Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy (1966-1967), before being appointed Minister of State at the Board of Trade (1967-1968) and the Ministry of Technology (1968-1969). During his time as Minister of State at the Board of Trade, Mallalieu instituted new safety measures for merchant shipping and trawlers at a time when ships were being constantly lost at sea. These measures centred around the idea of having a “mother” ship in the middle of any shipping fleet that was captained by a naval officer who had the authority to return ships back to port if the weather became too dangerous.

Mallalieu fitted with a parachute during a visit to the British Overseas Airways Corporation as Minister for Transport, c 1968-69
Mallalieu fitted with parachute at visit to British Overseas Airways Corporation as Minister for Transport, c 1968-69

Throughout his political career Mallalieu continued as a writer and journalist. In the 1950s he continued writing sporting essays for the Spectator and wrote political commentaries for the Tribune and the New Statesman. On radio he was a regular member of the Any Questions? panel for over 20 years, and on television he was one of the first members of the Tonight team and one of the four regular presenters of What the Papers Say on Granada TV during the 1950s. He also went on to publish four more books, Sporting Days, 1955, and Very Ordinary Sportsman, 1957, were collections of some of his favourite sporting essays, while Extraordinary Seaman, 1957, was a biography of Captain Lord Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald who had a successful and eventful career within the British, Chilean and Brazilian navies during the 19th century.


Mallalieu’s final book was On Larkhill, an autobiography that covers the years of his life before he became an MP. Mallalieu died before he could complete the first draft of the book but it was published posthumously in 1983. According to Ben Mallalieu’s Tailpiece to the work, his father’s intention for the book was to ‘write about his times and his background and what had led him to be standing in the 1945 election as a candidate on the left wing of the Labour Party.’ (On Larkill, p. 206)


JPW Mallalieu retired in 1979 after nearly 34 years in Parliament and was knighted in James Callaghan’s resignation honours list. He is Huddersfield’s second longest serving MP (after Barry Sheerman), having kept his seat through all eight General Elections that took place since 1945. He held his 397th and final surgery for constituents on 6 June 1979 in the Labour Rooms, Station Street, Huddersfield. Mallalieu was appointed the first Freeman of Kirklees on 27 Jan 1980 in a ceremony that took place in the Great Hall at Huddersfield Polytechnic University. He was also made a life member of the Press Club, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Huddersfield Branch of the NUJ. He was a keen sportsman, playing cricket until he was 58, for both the Lords and Commons teams, his Buckinghamshire village (Ickford), and he organised the Tribune v Statesman matches. He was also a dedicated fan of both Huddersfield Town Football Club and Yorkshire Cricket Club.

Joseph Percival William Mallalieu died on 13 March 1980. The address at his funeral was given by Michael Foot, MP, who had been a very close friend of Mallalieu’s throughout his literary and political career.

JPW Mallalieu after receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace, 3 Nov 1979
JPW Mallalieu after receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace, 3 Nov 1979

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