History of The Tablet 5

Douglas Woodruff became editor, aged 39. He had had a brilliant university career, a debating tour of the English-speaking world, a stint at Sheffield University and then a post on The Times, for which he continued to write regularly.

He started a humorous column "Talking at Random", where he describes himself as "The Chesterbelloc of the post-war Church". The first issue under new management contained letters of congratulation from several Archbishops. A statement of intent claimed "The function of The Tablet as its new Board conceives it is to endeavour to interpret not only the Church to the outside world but the outside world to those members of the Church who need a general survey." The paper immediately became less 'churchy' and became a paper for the laity though the clergy read it avidly. Week after week it opened with a lengthy, and magisterial, survey of foreign affairs. Woodruff combined his own vast store of information with gleanings from many refugees from all over Europe who found their way to his flat. Distinguished writers, literary figures and historians, clergy and lay, returned to the columns of The Tablet. The paper became part of the furniture of Catholic middle-class households.

The Latin quotation from the Brief of Pius IX which had graced the front cover since 1870 disappeared. A new title-piece was produced in Gill's Perpetua face. Then a complete redesign followed with the whole paper set in Times Roman only three years after that face had become available. It was among the best designed journals of its era, impressively magisterial in its presentation.

Cheap printers were found in Reading and volunteer labour was summoned. Woodruff's wife, Mia, found herself doing paste-ups. The sum of £3,000 had to be raised to tide the paper over the first years and Tom Burns proposed buying the serial rights to Chesterton's autobiography, They cost £500, but undoubtedly added to the numbers of subscribers. When the group bought the paper, total sales ran at 2,766: a year later they were 4,015 and rising at 10 a week.

Hilaire Belloc wrote to Woodruff in 1936 to say, "I have not seen such good reviews anywhere else", and in 1940: "It is the only Review which has knowledge of foreign affairs and I read it avidly". Evelyn Waugh, on the other hand, wrote to Woodruff in 1946: "It may be The Tablet is addressed to a particular type of reader who happens not to be me. But what type? And if he exists is he worth writing for?"

Woodruff claimed that there was not a British embassy abroad, or a foreign embassy in London, where it was not read. D'Arcy Osborne, the remarkable British Minister to the Holy See during the war years, told Woodruff in October 1941 that three copies came through the Foreign Office; one marked with passages to be brought to the Pope's attention, was sent to the Vatican, one to the Jesuit headquarters, and the third circulated among fellow diplomats.

One of the most remarkable coups during Woodruff's occupation of the editorship was to publish a piece by the Pope. In 1963 an article (11 May) by Woodruff entitled "Pius XII and the Jews: Could more have been done?" incited the then Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop O'Hara to send it to Cardinal Montini of Milan, proposing that Montini could give valuable information about what Pius XII did for the Jews. Montini wrote a letter for publication in The Tablet. Between his writing it - on archiepiscopal paper - and its being delivered, Cardinal Montini had become Pope Paul VI. The piece, therefore, duly appeared under the papal name. There was simultaneous publication in Osservatore Romano.

Woodruff's success was not only due to happy accident and good contacts but also to the fact that there was considerable intellectual ferment allied to outstanding literary talent during the 1930s. This group included Christopher Dawson, Arnold Lunn, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Douglas Jerrold and E.I. Watkin, not to mention Hilaire Belloc and a string of clergy such as Martin D'Arcy SJ, David Knowles OSB, Philip Hughes and the brilliant Ronald Knox. Woodruff was the centre.

There were problems though. Alfred Noyes's study of Voltaire, published by Sheed & War was serialised in The Tablet. The Holy Office ordered the book's withdrawal from circulation, but later Noyes brought out the book with a non-religious publishing house. The publicity was bad for the Church and Hinsley was worried that Noyes would go back to Anglicanism. Noyes was one of the very many distinguished contributors to the centenary issue of The Tablet, published 18 May 1940.

The Tablet was preoccupied with the civil war in Spain and according to Mary Craig, "plunged head first into the fray on Franco's side, with Douglas, who went to Spain to see the situation at first hand, contributing leading articles in support of the anti-Republican side". Many of Woodruff's friends saw Franco as saviour of the Church, a not unreasonable view given that the Republicans slaughtered over 4,000 priests and religious, the Nationalists less than a score.

Indeed Woodruff's argument was forceful, employing history and political science to justify Franco's action. He wrote: "There I began to understand that I was in a new Vendée, and that what was going on was really a religious war a new crusade against the destructive forces of Moscow".

Woodruff acknowledged that his opinion was a minority one amongst Catholics, most of whom were Labour supporters. Some Catholics raised a voice in opposition, notably the Dominican publication Blackfriars and the group associated with Eric Gill.

An exception to Woodruff's conservatism came with the British, French and Israeli invasion of the Suez Canal zone. He insisted that the appropriate forum to resolve the dispute was the United Nations. His views occasioned a deluge of letters, but he never changed his stance.

Woodruff made a mistake with Ireland. Archbishop Williams of Birmingham wrote to him on 8 June 1941: "I do not think you are doing any good by your writings on the Irish question." The Irish Prime Minister, John Costello, accused The Tablet of "the vilest slanders on Irish Ministers". Later, when Toms Burns went on a business trip to Ireland shortly after The Tablet had purchased The Universe, he reported that The Universe's representative in Ireland did not want The Tablet connection to be known.

The owner of The Universe, Sir Martin Melvin, had died intestate and his solicitor, Sir Roy Pinsett, concluded that Woodruff was the appropriate person to inherit it. Pinsett was a devotee of Moral Rearmament and offered Woodruff the paper on condition he and his wife visit the Moral Rearmament centre at Caux in Switzerland. They went, remained unconvinced, and came back owners of Associated Catholic Newspapers, by exchange of share, seemingly bought with The Universe's own substantial funds. Burns & Oates Holdings was created to control this empire, which eventually also included the Clergy Review, Burns & Oates publishing and shops and Spes Travel.


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