The Britons are probably the most significant British racists you’ve never heard of. Through their publishing efforts, The Britons kept an English translation of infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion in print from their founding in 1919 to their final demise in 1975. Usually appearing as mere background characters in general texts on British fascism, The Britons (later reconstituted as the British Publishing Society) have been largely neglected in studies of the radical right to date. In Haters, Baiters and Would-Be Dictators, Nick Toczek examines the history and legacy of this overlooked group. Toczek’s book is the first, and to date only, book-length study of The Britons and their influence on the British radical right.
Toczek’s book is based primarily on material from his own private collection, amassed over the past thirty years, supplemented with internet research and visits to the Churchill Archive Centre at the University of Cambridge. Toczek is not a professional historian and his interest in The Britons and radical right activism more generally stems from his political activism – but also from the wartime experiences of his father, John. This gives the book a refreshing quality. Haters, Baiters and Would-Be Dictators also resonates with Toczek’s personal fascination about how people come to espouse extremist views and how extremist ideas spread over time and space.
When it comes to groups like The Britons, one of the frustrations encountered by researchers are the myriad of obscure groupuscules and ideologues who survive only as sometimes-incorrectly given names or initials. The life of The Britons’ founder, Henry Hamilton Beamish, in addition to many of its other leading members, remains shrouded in mystery. In the first chapter of the book, Toczek provides a short biography of Beamish, which reconstructs his life in South Africa before the First World War and his later career as a travelling salesman of extreme anti-Semitic ideology. Alongside the book’s chapters are several appendices which form a treasure trove of information on the numerous journals, groups and personalities of the British radical right.
By tracing the history of The Britons across the twentieth century, Toczek restored the group from an obscure anti-Semitic political society of the 1920s into the principal custodian of British radical right ideology between the 1920s to the 1970s. Although not without international influences, they preserved a distinctly British ‘tradition’ of anti-Semitism which that on to inspire Arnold Leese, Colin Jordan and many other key activists. The 1950s and 1960s, dealt with in the latter chapters of the book, emerge as the most intriguing period of The Britons’ (by then the Britons Publishing Society) existence. There, Toczek examines how the Britons Publishing Society became a sort of intellectual forum, uniting neo-Nazis with ultra-reactionary ‘diehards’ like A. K. Chesterton’s League of Empire Loyalists.
That Haters, Baiters and Would-Be Dictators is such a valuable contribution to the history of an oft-neglected group makes the book’s shortcomings even more bothersome. In the introduction, Toczek states that he avoids footnotes in order to give the book ‘an uninterrupted linear narrative’, plumping instead for sparse notes at the end of each chapter. I am unsure how much academic referencing would have interfered with the narrative and, in any case, am certain that this was not a worthwhile sacrifice. In lacking such specific references, the book will only be of limited utility to other scholars of the British radical right. In places, it is difficult to ascertain where Toczek derives his information – which is particularly frustrating where he contradicts or updates the historical record. Troublingly, in reference to some of the more obscure radical right groupuscules, Wikipedia is referenced rather than academic scholarship on the British radical right.
Furthermore, Toczek’s analysis of The Britons’ ideology is rather shallow and fails to interrogate the obsessive anti-Semitic worldview of The Britons more deeply. In their various incarnations, The Britons/Britons Publishing Company/Britons Publishing Society left behind a variety of publications in the form of newspapers, pamphlets, and books in which they developed and discussed their ideology. This contradictory, irrational, and sometimes incoherent outlook went beyond anti-Semitism and even possessed its own internal ‘logic’ and traceable ideological influences. It was constructed from various international and indigenous sources including the ‘Nordicist’ racism of American writers like Madison Grant, British imperial pseudo-archaeology, eugenics, conspiracy theories derived from The Protocols and the writings of Nesta Webster, and ‘Die-Hard’ Conservative imperialism emerging after the Great War. While Toczek does detail the transnational activism of H. H. Beamish, greater attention to the transnational elements of The Britons’ ideology would have been equally welcome.
In spite of its limitations as a scholarly resource, Haters, Baiters and Would-Be Dictators is both a very readable and well-researched (even if this is not always evident due to decisions made regarding referencing), thus making a solid contribution to our understanding of this neglected British radical right group. Toczek construct a picture not only of the existence and influence of The Britons but also of the radical right and fascist networks active in Britain across the twentieth century – beyond the organisations and ideas of Oswald Mosley. Those studying the British radical right of the inter-war and post-war periods should be immensely grateful for the fruits of Toczek’s dogged detective work.
Mr Liam J Liburd is an Early Career Research Fellow at CARR and Doctoral candidate at the Department of History, University of Sheffield. See his profile here:
© Liam J Liburd. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).