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We continue our latest series of blog posts on ‘Inside the Act Room’ exploring those significant years in modern British history that were like no other. In this instalment, we travel back just over a century to 1922 as domestically and on the international stage change was in the air.

The twenties are a decade that still hugely intrigues, both politically and socially, a new post-war era emerged prompting different ways of understanding changing world affairs. This blog will feature a host of historical heavyweights who dominated the year’s headlines and whose varied legacies remain relevant to this day.


Handwritten letter
Horatio Bottomley letter to Lloyd George, 1922, Parliamentary Archives, LG/G/30/2/62,



Some politicians are liberal by nature and others are liberal in party name alone. Horatio Bottomley fell into the latter category. Born in East London he rose from a troubled background to be a major publishing player. His magazine John Bull launched in 1906 was a hit and it seemed a natural fit for him to join the political fray. Through the publication, he promoted a government-endorsed Victory Bonds investment scheme. He used the scheme to defraud the magazine’s annual subscribers. As the deception came to light a business associate produced a pamphlet denouncing Bottomley as ‘the greatest swindler’.

An enraged Bottomley ignored legal advice and sued for libel. Losing the case was the least of his worries as its findings triggered a police investigation. The Old Bailey trial that began in May 1922 achieved much press attention with reporters noting that he drank pints of champagne during the intervals. Sentenced to seven years imprisonment he was expelled as an MP. Incarcerated at Maidstone Jail he wrote to his former party leader Lloyd George pitifully stating that he was ‘suffering the tortures of hell’. Bottomley spent his final years treading the boards with a music hall one-man show.


Printed notice
Police Notice for the wedding of Princess Mary & Viscount Lascelles, February 1922, Parliamentary Archives, HC/SA/SJ/11/11



Royalty has forever held a certain fascination, yet this intensified under the glare of a global media age. Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V met Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood at the 1921 Grand National and after a brief courtship announced a wedding date for February the following year. The decision to hold a Westminster Abbey ceremony meant the wedding was on an unprecedented scale with 2000 guests and mass public participation via a formal procession route. Pathe News filmed crowds braving the cold winter temperatures by camping out to catch a glimpse of the bride.

Vogue magazine covered the event in a specially created ‘Royal Wedding Number’ on sale for one shilling and sixpence. Sharing details of the Tudor Rose embroidered wedding dress trimmed with Honiton lace and their honeymoon lodgings in France and Italy. Lyrically describing ‘a fairy Princess with youth, beauty, and happiness as her attendants’. This thirst for society celebrity adulation carried on unabated with the summer marriage of minor royal Lord Louis Mountbatten to heiress Edwina Ashley. The well-connected pair epitomised the glamourous lifestyles of the capital’s aristocracy even having the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) taking on best man duties.


Lord John Reith Writ of Summons, 1951, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/11/230



 Telecommunications was all the rage at the beginning of the twenties. Straight off the bat Marconi Wireless constructed a radio transmitter on London’s Strand. The government realised the potential in monopolising this infant industry into a corporation and the BBC was born. Its inaugural news bulletin in November 1922 relayed coverage on an Andrew Bonar Law speech and a train robbery. Uniquely read twice firstly in a slow delivery then at a faster pace as producers attempted to embed a standard pronunciation practice. The traditional 6pm slot was suggested by the Press Association who didn’t want morning newspaper sales affected.

Overseeing the burgeoning BBC project was the recently installed Director of Programmes John Reith. Legend has it that the interview panel’s preferred first choice candidate withdrew at the last-minute and Reith stepped into the breech on a not too shabby £1,750 per annum salary. A communications specialist he endeavoured to deliver a mission statement for all that the broadcaster stood for focusing on the cultural requirement to ‘educate, entertain and inform’. The Scotsman viewed the appointment that lasted sixteen years as a ‘happy accident’ and his somewhat dictatorial nature led to him being frequently caricatured in publications such as Punch.

(Read more on John Reith  


printed letter
John St Loe Strachey letter to Mussolini, 1924, Parliamentary Archives, STR/10/15/2



On the continent, several nations suffered from economic burnout due to the consequences of the Great War. In Italy, inflation and unstable governance prompted a rise in right-wing nationalism. At the forefront was Benito Mussolini heading up the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) who’d attracted a set of notorious followers known as ‘Blackshirts’. A general strike in the summer of 1922 brought the country to a standstill and the PNF seized the opportunity to mobilize violently clashing with trade unionists. The party’s militarization coupled with Mussolini’s rising profile positioned them as a serious proposition backed by industrialists and intelligentsia alike.

Mussolini sensed the moment had come to take over proposing a symbolic March on Rome for October 24th. Meeting little resistance from the police or army 20,000 ‘Blackshirts’ descended on the city commandeering key communication posts and the central railway station. To avoid the prospect of civil war King Victor Emmanuel III granted Mussolini’s demand to be Prime Minister. Once in power he sought to be recognised as a distinguished statesman and received favourable interviews in the British press. John St Loe Strachey, editor of The Spectator was particularly enamoured writing that ‘he shall never forget the impression made upon me’.


True Patriotism – Some Sayings of Mahatma Gandhi Pamphlet, 20TH Century, Parliamentary Archives, SAM/A/109



Another nationalist figure making waves was Mahatma Gandhi leader of India’s Non-Co-Operation Movement. Arrested for sedition in early 1922 his predicament was discussed within the Houses of Parliament. Unsurprisingly he addressed the floor of the colonial courtroom dressed in a trademark loin cloth to appeal for Indian self-government. Gandhi’s eloquence encouraged Mr Justice Bloomfield to remark ‘it would be impossible to ignore the fact that in the eyes of millions of your countrymen you are a great patriot’. He took the inevitable prison sentencing in his stride bringing for reading material George Bernard Shaw’s Man & Superman and Goethe’s Faust.

Any hopes that the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty was going to resolve the ‘Irish Question’ proved to be wrong. Instead, it ignited a bloody factional dispute between ‘Pro Treaty’ and ‘Anti Treaty’ groups. Michael Collins was a signatory of the Treaty that he later described as akin to ‘signing his own death warrant’. Amidst the brutal guerilla warfare Collins was assassinated in August 1922 resulting from an ambush staged in his home county of Cork. Respected for his diplomatic approach in an extreme and intense situation, he'd impressed round the negotiating table and the likes of Winston Churchill mourned his passing.


Telegram between Churchill, Curtis and Cope on the situation arising from the death of Michael Collins,  August 1922, Parliamentary Archives, LG/F/26/2/20


Andrew Bonar Law Election Leaflet, November 1922, Parliamentary Archives. BL/110/1/2



Lloyd George had a good run as Prime Minister of a Coalition Government, but his Conservative-Unionist colleagues suddenly got a four-year itch. In October 1922 they gathered at the Carlton Club as Stanley Baldwin issued a challenge to George’s flagging premiership backed by a majority of rank-and-file members. Lloyd George accepted his fate and resigned forthwith, and an election was called. The Conservatives put faith in the competency of Andrew Bonar Law to win at the polls assisted by substantial funding from the coffers of press baron Lord Max Beaverbrook. His manifesto slogan exclaimed ‘Initiative and Enterprise of our Citizens’.

Unfortunately, there was no prodigal son return for Lloyd George into the Liberal fold and his National Liberal offshoot flopped on polling day. As expected, Bonar Law’s Conservatives won office however it was achieved with 35 fewer seats than 1918 and 40% less of the popular vote. The 1922 Election saw the Labour Party become a growing concern in electoral terms doubling its Commons chamber numbers leaving the Liberals in third force territory. A sign of the times was the numerous candidates standing for the Communist Party including Shapurji Saklatvala the fourth person of Southeast Asian heritage to enter Parliament.

(Read more on Shapurji Saklatvala:



1922: Scenes from a Turbulent Year by David Rennison

Democracy and Depression: Britain in the 1920s and 1930s by Malcolm Smith

Sing As We Go: Britain between the Wars by Simon Heffer

Borrowed Time: Story of Britain between the Wars by Lord Hattersley

The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929 by Adrian Lyttleton

British Society 1914-1945 by John Stevenson

The Age of Illusion: England in the 1920s and 1930s by Ronald Blythe

Hansard Parliamentary Debates

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