You go looking for something, and end up with something very different but equally fascinating: former MP Frank Owens
I probably need to get out more, that much is widely known, but I do get excited when I learn about someone or something hitherto unknown to me and a great many other people too.
And so it was with Frank Owen. You heard of him? No, me neither. But why haven’t I? Clearly he meant something once upon a time, for there is a plaque dedicated in his memory, tucked away in a quiet cul-de-sac in Hereford, you would be forgiven for never knowing it existed. But it is there. Even the woman on whose wall it is pinned doesn’t know who he is.
She stuck her head out the window and watched through flapping lace curtains as I took photos.
‘Do you know who he was? I’ve been here for 20 years and can’t say I know anything about him. Let me know when you find out.’
And with that she was gone.
I have Eric Nottingham to thank for showing me the plaque. We think, but have no evidence to prove this, that he might be the only person in the city – apart from the lady and the lace curtains – who knows about it and the significance.
Eric, you see, is a life-long and devoted Libdem follower and fan of Mr Owen.
And I can see why. While I may not agree with his politics, I am fascinated this son of a publican could rise to such dizzying heights, but has all but been forgotten.
So this is what you need to know about him, this son of Hereford.
Owen (27 September 1905 – 23 January 1979) was a British journalist and radical Liberal MP. He was Liberal MP for Hereford between 1929 and 1931 but he was also a newsman through and through. Fleet Street loved him and he loved Fleet Street. He was editor of the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail and was awarded an OBE in 1946.
While still an MP, in 1931, when Liberal Party leader David Lloyd George decided to leave the National Government, Owen was the only Liberal MP who was not related to Lloyd George to remain loyal to his leader. He would later write his biography.
As editor of the Evening Standard he was a fierce anti-Nazi, and during the years of appeasement he made a feature of rewriting Mein Kampf, to the consternation of many around him, week after week to sound the alarm. In 1940, along with a young Michael Foot, he was one of the authors of Guilty Men, a denunciation of appeasement and an attack on Neville Chamberlain.
During WWII he served with the Royal Tank Regiment 1942-43 and was commissioned in September 1943. He served with South East Asia Command between 1944-46; editing SEAC, the services newspaper of South East Asia Command, at the request of Louis Mountbatten, Prince Phillips’s Uncle.
He was persuaded to return to Hereford to fight the 1956 by-election. A certain Derek Evans was his press aide. He came within 2000 votes. After this attempt, he declined to stand for parliament again. He was replaced as Hereford Liberal candidate by former Question Time presenter, Robin Day.
He was once asked whether it were true that he had been a Member of Parliament. “Yes,” he said, “I was elected by the highly intelligent, far-sighted people of the constituency of Hereford in 1929 – and thrown out by the same besotted mob two years later.”
Where ever he want, this tall, good-looking, charming, intelligent and confident man made an impression. The question that fascinates me, and Eric, is: why has he been forgotten? I like to think this project will bring him a new audience.