René MacColl Papers

Papers of René MacColl (1905-1971) author and journalist

Rene MacColl

Born on 12 January 1905 in Twickenham, the author and journalist, René MacColl, was the second son of Dugald Sutherland MacColl, Director of the Tate Gallery from 1906 to 1911, and his French wife Adrée Zabe. He was educated at University College School, London before attending Lincoln College, Oxford to read modern history. In 1927 MacColl was introduced to Van-Lear Black, an American banker, industrialist and publisher of The Baltimore Sun, and was engaged as his confidential secretary. In October 1927 MacColl was offered a job on the Baltimore Sun as the paper's police and waterfront reporter. He returned to England in 1929 to became a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph where he reported on many of the significant  events of the early 20th century, including: the Saar Plebiscite of 1935; Ghandi's civil disobedience movement in India in 1932; the wedding of King Zog in Albania in 1938; and the Spanish Civil War. At home he also reported on several royal occasions, including the silver jubilee of George V and the coronation of his son, George VI. With England on the verge of war, MacColl left the Daily Telegraph and joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

From October 1939 until April 1940, MacColl was attached to the advanced air striking force of Bomber Command at Rheims and acted as liaison officer between the RAF and the press. He was seconded to the Ministry of Information in October 1940 and the following month was sent to New York to become Director of the British Press Service.

After the war he joined The Daily Express as their Washington correspondent and remained in America until 1949. In December 1952, MacColl returned to England to take up the position of foreign correspondent for the paper, becoming chief correspondent in 1959. His assignments included:

  • interviewing Marshal Tito in Belgrade in 1953
  • a three month tour of the USSR in 1954 reporting from behind the Iron Curtain
  • accompanying Clement Attlee and various British Labour MP's on their visit to China in 1954
  • covering various American presidential elections, including John. F. Kennedy's win in 1962
  • the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy
  • the Vietnam War

MacColl finally retired in 1969, having spent forty years as a foreign correspondent.  During his long career, MacColl also published several books, including: 2 autobiographies entitled A Flying Start (1939) and Date and Deadline (1956); and a biography of Roger Casement, the former British Consul hanged for treason in 1916 titled Roger Casement: a New Judgement (1956).

The small, but important collection contains material relating to MacColl's forty year career as a journalist and author, including: correspondence, articles, newscuttings, travel documentation, invites, research material, photographs, manuscripts, typescripts and diaries.  During his time as a foreign correspondent he witnessed and reported on some of the most important events of the 20th century. Whilst not all of these are represented in the archive, the collection is particularly rich in material related to his experiences during the Second World War. These papers, particularly those related to his post as Director of the British Press Service, highlight how the British government utilised the British press during the war. The collection also provides a rare glimpse inside the life of a foreign correspondent, from the lavish expense accounts to the nomadic lifestyles governed by international affairs and the whims of editors. The diaries also contain vivid descriptions of the offices and pubs of Fleet Street, and the journalists who frequented them.

Archive catalogue for the MacColl papers.

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