James Bone: the Manchester Guardian’s faithful London Editor

Sandra Cruise writes:

A frequently recurring name in various parts of the Guardian archive of the first half of the 20th century is that of James Bone, the Manchester Guardian’s long-serving faithful London editor, whose association with the paper spanned two world wars. In addition to these scattered references is a discrete archive relating to James Bone, relating not only to his time as London editor, but also his continuing association with the paper following his retirement in 1945. Although somewhat piecemeal in content, the archive affords a glimpse into the extent and breadth of Bone’s life as the paper’s London editor over a lengthy period, particularly into his literary and artistic connections.

Born in Glasgow in 1872, James was the second born son of journalist, David Drummond Bone and Elizabeth Millar Crawford. After a brief spell as shipping clerk in the city’s Laird Line office, he followed his father into a journalistic career, working for the North British Daily Mail. James’s journalistic talents soon became apparent; his exceptional descriptive skills had already been exercised in the book Glasgow in 1901, written with Archibald Hamilton Charteris under the pseudonym James Hamilton Muir. A chance encounter with the Manchester Guardian’s A.N. Monkhouse, who happened to be visiting Glasgow, brought him to the attention of C.E. Montague and C.P. Scott; after a trial at the paper’s London office in 1902, he was appointed on a salary of £280 the following year, thereby beginning what was to be almost half a century of employment with the paper.

Bone’s talents rested in his artistry with words, his keen sense of news, his ability to capture the mood of the moment and skilful, creative sub-editing. He was also an accomplished art critic, although he failed to comprehend the post-Impressionist movement. He became renowned for the London Letter, an existing feature styled as a letter to the editor, containing domestic and foreign affairs as seen from London, and including all manner of cultural, topical and items of interest; collectively written, and adroitly edited by Bone, the London Letter became recognised as the best of its kind, unrivalled among the provincial newspapers.

Snippet from Cyril Ray letter
In this undated letter to Bone, Cyril Ray (author, journalist and writer on food and wine) passes on greetings from actor Leonard Sachs, who will be remembered by many as the compere on long-running TV series ‘The Good Old Days’.

Bone’s descriptive mastery is perhaps best captured in the collaborative works undertaken with his brother, the printer and draughtsman, Muirhead Bone, who supplied the black and white illustrations to accompany books such as Glasgow in 1901, The Perambulator in Edinburgh (1926), the acclaimed London Perambulator (1925), an account of the city in the first quarter of the 20th century, and the subsequent London Echoing (1948).

Bone’s domain was very much the artistic and cultural world, C.P. Scott considering that Monkhouse’s chance discovery had ‘no great political knowledge or interest’; hence the archive is littered with the names of leading literary and artistic figures, who contributed reviews and articles to the paper and with whom Bone associated, such as writer, Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), and playwright John Galsworthy (1867-1933). Through the Guardian’s connection with the Baltimore Sun, whose London correspondent worked from the London office, he also became friends with many American journalists.

Snippet from Arnold Bennett letter
In this letter dated 28 May 1917, Arnold Bennett expresses his relief that Bone’s brother, David William Bone (sea captain and novelist), safely survived the torpedo attack on his troopship the Cameronia, which sank on 15 April.

Unfortunately, drama was not confined to the pages of theatrical reviews. Whilst returning from a trip to America in December 1940, the ship on which he was sailing, the Western Prince, was torpedoed in the Atlantic, some 200 miles off Ireland, around six o’clock in the morning. Despite still recovering from an operation in Baltimore, Bone survived six hours in an open boat and a close encounter with a German submarine before being rescued by a passing steamer.  Typically, Bone wrote a detailed descriptive piece about the incident, once back in Glasgow. On returning to London, further trauma awaited; his rooms in King’s Bench Walk had been destroyed in the bombing.

Bone’s association with the paper did not end with his retirement in December 1945. He remained a director for some years, and maintained links and correspondence with his former fellow journalists, such as A.P. Wadsworth and his intended successor as London editor, Evelyn Montague, whose career was cut short by his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1948, contracted whilst acting as a war correspondent. Montague, a one-time Olympic athlete as well as a journalist, is celebrated in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.

Snippet from EA Montague letter
In this letter to Bone, sent from Dovercourt, Essex in February 1947, E.A. Montague describes an ice floe off the coast; 1947 was one of the coldest winters on record.

Bone was created a Companion of Honour in 1947, and on his 90th birthday in 1962 he received messages from the Queen, President Kennedy, Harold MacMillan and Hugh Gaitskell. He died a few months later on 23rd November at his home in Farnham, Surrey.

Although the letters relate mainly to business connected with the paper, they are interwoven with some personal issues and references. The archive includes a small number of letters written to Arnold Bennett from writers and journalists of the Guardian, mainly about literary and theatrical reviews and books. Newspaper cuttings record staff obituaries and other staff events.

2 comments on “James Bone: the Manchester Guardian’s faithful London Editor

  1. Reblogged this on Lives of Letters.

  2. Pingback: Cataloguing the First World War correspondence of the Manchester Guardian | John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

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