All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
More information at

Saturday, 1 September 2012


I haven’t read Parade’s End, the quartet of novels written 1924-1928 by Ford Madox Ford currently being serialised on TV in an HBO/BBC co-production. But I settled down to watch the first episode last night and was reminded of a strong family connection with the author.

Vincent Macmaster as played by Stephen Graham
in the 2012 BBC/HBO series Parade’s End

It was the character of Vincent Macmaster, played by Stephen Graham, that made me sit up. It’s 1911, and Macmaster, friend of the central figure Christopher Tietjens, is a government statistician involved in the passage of a Bill introducing Britain’s National Insurance scheme. Macmaster, we learn, is also an amateur critic and aspiring writer.

Ford, I am certain, based the character loosely on his old friend Charlie Masterman, my second cousin twice removed. Masterman is more usually cited as the model not for Macmaster but for Macmaster’s political boss Woodhouse; and it’s true that Masterman was himself a liberal politician like Woodhouse, not a civil servant like Macmaster.

Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman (1873-1927)
author, statistician, politician

In 1911, Charles Masterman was indeed responsible for the passage through parliament of the National Insurance Act, a pioneering piece of social legislation which provided ordinary citizens with medical and unemployment benefits. The practicality of such a Bill depended on the sort of statistical analysis which the fictional Macmaster is credited with providing; and Masterman certainly possessed such ability, having two years earlier worked with Winston Churchill and Lloyd George on the radical redistribution of wealth embodied in the People’s Budget of 1909. He continued to serve in the Treasury until 1914.

Of course the names are similar too; and Masterman, like Macmaster, had literary aspirations. While Macmaster writes poetry Masterman published widely on social issues, his journalism coloured with a distinctly impressionistic style which reflected his desire to be taken seriously as an author.

Macmaster’s amateur literary criticism is an echo of Masterman’s role at The English Review, a literary magazine founded by Ford Madox Ford and which Ford and Masterman co-edited for the first year of its life, 1908-09. Given that Ford and Masterman were the same age, their connection may go back even earlier, perhaps to the 1890s when Masterman had edited the literary review Granta while at Cambridge University.

Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)
author, soldier

Masterman’s friendship with Ford continued for the rest of his life. When war broke out in 1914 and Masterman was asked to head the new War Propoganda Bureau (which I’ve written about here before), Ford was one of the writers he recruited to the cause. In 1915 Ford wrote two propaganda books for Masterman, namely When Blood is Their Argument: An Analysis of Prussian Culture and Between St. Dennis and St. George: A Sketch of Three Civilizations.

Ford then enlisted, at the age of 41, in the Welch Regiment, the unit in which at least two of Masterman’s brothers had served in the Boer War. One, Harry, had died there; the other, Walter, re-enlisted and served with distinction in the Great War. I’ve written before about Walter’s less distinguished actions immediately after the war. When Walter was released from prison in 1925, it was with Ford Madox Ford that he first stayed.

Walter Sydney Masterman (1876-1946)
soldier, author

Presumably they discussed their wartime experiences; and that year Ford published the second part of Parade’s End, which moves the action from England to the trenches, to tremendous acclaim. The following year Walter Masterman published his first pulp fiction novel, The Wrong Letter.

Perhaps Charlie was jealous of Walter; he must certainly have been envious of Ford’s success. A year later, in 1927, he died an unhappy man, his political and literary ambitions disappointed. I confess I’m curious to see what fate Ford has in store for my cousin’s fictional counterpart over the next four episodes.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...