As I Please

in Tribune

21 February 1947

George Orwell

Manchester Evening News, for Tribune.

For the third and fourth weeks of February 1947, the national weekend reviews and many trade papers were suspended from publication by government order because of the severe shortage of fuel and the consequent power cuts. To help out during the crisis, The Observer, the Manchester Evening News, and the Daily Herald offered Tribune the hospitality of their columns. Orwell refers to the suspension and the loss of revenue for Tribune in his letter to Dwight Macdonald of 26 February 1947. The following is an extract-row George Orwell’s page, ‘As I Please,’ included each week in ‘Tribune’.

THE NEWS that, for the second time in the last few months, a play banned from the stage is to be broadcast by the B.B.C. (which will probably enable it to each a much bigger public than it would if it were acted) brings out once gain the absurdity of the rules governing literary censorship in Britain.

It is only stage plays and films that have to be submitted for censorship before they appear. So far as books go you can print what you like and take the risk of prosecution. Thus, banned plays like Granville Barker’s ‘Waste’ and Bernard Shaw’s ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ could immediately appear in book form with no danger of prosecution, and no doubt sell all the better for the scandal that had happened beforehand. It is fair to say that, if they are any good, banned plays usually see the light sooner or later. Even ‘Waste,’ which brought in politics as well as sex, was finally allowed to appear thirty years after it was written, when the topicality which gave it a good deal of its force had vanished.

The trouble with the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship of plays is not that it happens, but that it is barbarous and stupid-being, apparently, done by bureaucrats with no literary training. If there is to be censorship, it is better that it should happen beforehand, so that the author may know where he stands. Books are only very rarely banned in Britain, but the bannings that do happen are usually quite arbitrary. ‘The Well of Loneliness,’ for example, was suppressed, while other books on the same theme, appearing round about the same time, went unnoticed.

The book that gets dropped on is the one that happens to have been brought to the attention of some illiterate official. Perhaps half the novels now published might suffer this fate if they happened to get into the right hands. Indeed—though the dead are always respectable ‘I doubt whether Petronius, or Chaucer, or Rabelais, or Shakespeare would remain un-bowdlerised if our magistrates and police were greater readers.

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