By Duncan Bowie

Peter Ritchie Calder, later Lord Ritchie - Calder, the popular science writer, lived at 63 Dulwich Village between 1933 and 1940. He moved away after the house suffered war damage. Calder was born in Forfar in Scotland in 1906, his father being a linen worker who became a works manager. He was educated at Forfar academy, leaving at 16. His first job was as a court reporter for the Dundee Courier. At the age of 20, he joined the Dundee based D C Thomson press, moving to their London office in 1924, working first for the Daily News, then the Daily Chronicle and, from 1930, the Labour supporting Daily Herald. Calder was a socialist and member of the Labour Party. Covering a science - related story, Calder decided to focus on writing on the relationship of science to social problems. He became a friend of the Scottish nutritionist John Boyd Orr and in 1940 helped to produce a film Enough to Eat? - based on Orr’s book Food, Health and Income. He wrote his first two popular science books - Birth of the Future in 1934, Conquest of Suffering in 1935 and then in the same year Roving Commission, which was a social study of pre - war England described by the publisher as ‘The author spent time with gipsies, patrols the Forth road bridge, travels a ghost bus, spends a night in Kenilworth, etc. Queer places and strange company, an instinct for the unusual’. However, it was Calder’s reporting on the Blitz, which drew him to public attention. He wrote two short books based on his journalism Lesson of London (in a series edited by George Orwell) and Carry on London, both published in 1941. The books sought to tell the stories of ordinary Londoners, with Calder being critical of the government’s failure to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

In 1941, Calder was appointed to the Political Warfare Executive within the Foreign Office. According to his daughter Fiona Rudd, who wrote an as - yet - unpublished biography of her father, Calder was somewhat puzzled by the approach but agreed to take the job following a discussion with Clem Attlee, the Labour Party leader, who was at the time deputy prime minister. Calder recounted his recruitment: “I was to wait there until a Daimler car drew up beside me and was then to identify myself to the driver. I saw a Daimler standing outside a building in Fitzmaurice Place and two men in uniform, one a Colonel and the other an Air - Commodore, came out and entered the car. It moved towards me and the driver waited for me to make the agreed gesture. I produced an OHMS envelope and he signed me to sit in front with him. As I did so I sat down painfully on a hard object. It was a revolver..!’

The job initially involved working with Boyd Orr on a film World of Plenty about Britain’s wartime importation of food from the USA, no doubt to demonstrate that the British were not going to be starved into submission. Calder became Director of Propaganda and Campaigns, reporting to another Scot, and former spy, Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, who described Calder as ‘one of the best brains in the organisation.’ Calder focused on developing radio propaganda relating to both Operation Torch - the landings in North Africa, and Operation Overlord - the landings in Normandy. Calder recalled that “The object is to destroy the morale of the enemy and to sustain the morale of our Allies within enemy and enemy - occupied countries, we must be creating and sustaining the will to victory under whatever pressures the enemy may exert. That is the function of the much - abused word "propaganda"….”.

Calder’s work at the Political Warfare Executive also involved propaganda to set out the case for the allies’ fight for liberal democracy against the autocracies of Germany, Italy and Japan. Calder helped draft the Rights of Man which was published in the name of H G Wells in 1940, and contributed to the post - war United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The PWE was seeking to encourage the growth of opposition within the AXIS countries. In a lecture in 1960 Calder stated that “your job in political warfare was to try and divide the German people and to produce a situation within Germany in which you could have an alternative to Hitler. Of course, people said this was impossible…. We were not thinking that ‘the good German’ could conceivably tear the regime to pieces with his bare hands The decent people were, in many cases, in concentration camps. But there were forces in Germany which were not entirely reprehensible which could have gathered in an opposition to Hitler and which, as history showed, eventually tried to do so.”

Ritchie Calder was opposed to the blanket bombing argued for by Churchill’s scientific adviser, Lord Cherwell and implemented by the RAF’s ‘Bomber’ Harris, which he saw as inhumane, inefficient and as lengthening the war. Calder argued that the policy of indiscriminate bombing ‘made nonsense of any principles for which we were supposed to be fighting’. Calder also opposed the policy of supporting the monarchists in Yugoslavia and Greece, arguing that the allies should co - operate with Tito’s partisans and the socialists and communists in Greece.

In early 1941, Calder joined an organisation called ‘the 1941 Committee’, which had been initiated by J B Priestley. Priestley had undertaken a series of radio talks on Sunday evenings from June 1940 called Postcripts, which were very popular, apparently being listened to by some 40% of the adult population. The talks were stopped in October 1940 after concerns being expressed that the talks were too left - wing. The new committee brought together a wide range of progressive intellectuals, including H G Wells, the Hungarian economist Thomas Balogh, the New Statesman editor Kingsley Martin, David Astor of the Observer, the socialist novelist Storm Jameson, the Liberal MP Richard Acland, the Communist Home Guard trainer Tom Wintringham, the biologist Julian Huxley, the journalist and independent progressive MP Vernon Bartlett, the social policy academic Richard Titmuss, the Left Book Club’s Victor Gollancz, the future Labour MPs Douglas Jay, Michael Foot, Tom Driberg, Konni Zilliacus and Christopher Mayhew (the latter also worked in the Political Warfare executive), the Liberal Violet Bonham Carter (Asquith’s daughter) and the Conservative MP and future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Peter Thorneycroft. The committee published two reports - the first called for public control of the railways, mines and docks and a national wages policy, the second advocating works councils and ‘post - war plans for the provision of full and free education, employment and a civilised standard of living for everyone.’ In 1941, Calder published a short book entitled Start Planning Britain Now: A Policy for Reconstruction in a series of books called ‘The Democratic Order’. Towards the end of 1941, Acland, Priestley, Wintringham and some other committee members established the Common Wealth Party, as a Christian socialist party which advocated Common Ownership, Vital Democracy and Morality in Politics, to contest by - elections during the wartime electoral truce between the main political parties, winning five parliamentary seats. Calder does not appear to have been actively involved in the new organisation.

With the ending of the war, Calder became science editor of the News Chronicle, a position he held until 1956. He also joined the editorial team at the New Statesman. Attlee’s post - war government was supportive of using science to achieve social reform, an approach Calder promoted. He also became increasingly involved in promoting the role of post - war international organisations, such as the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, of which his friend Boyd Orr had become the first director. Calder attended the FAO’s conference on famine in Washington in 1946 as a special adviser. He was later to undertake missions to study the use of human resources in North Africa, the Congo and South East Asia. In 1961, he published a book on the Agony of the Congo.

Calder was also an explorer. He travelled to the Arctic and to the Sahara, writing books on both journeys.

As part of his objective of increasing public knowledge of science issues, Calder helped to establish the Association of British Science Writers and served as the Association’s first chairman from 1945 - 1955. In 1960 he was awarded UNESCO’s Kalinga award for science writing. Despite having himself had no formal higher education, Calder was in 1961 appointed by the University of Edinburgh to a professorship in international relations, a position he held for six years. Between 1972 and 1975, Calder was a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara in California. He was awarded honorary doctorates by the Open University and by York University in Ontario, Canada.

Calder also became publicly known for the high profile he took on the issue of peace in the post - war years. Calder was president of the British Peace Council and prominent in the leadership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, often joining the marches to and from Aldermaston. A prolific author, he published thirty - one books, from ‘Birth of the Future’ in 1934 to ‘The Pollution of the Mediterranean’ in 1972 and ‘Understanding Energy’ in 1979. The range of subjects was wide - several books on medicine including a history of the World Health Organisation, books on the global fight against famine, books promoting the role of science in public policy, a study of Leonardo de Vinci. A book in 1972 was entitled ‘How Long Have We Got?’, which referenced Bertrand Russell’s view that mankind only had a 50:50 chance of surviving the 20th century.

Calder was created a life peer in 1966. In 1969, he was appointed chairman of the Metrication Board, which advised government on the transition from imperial to metric measures. Ritchie Calder died in Edinburgh in January 1982. His son, Nigel Calder, was also a science writer, like his father winning the Kalinga prize. Another son, Angus Calder, wrote a popular history of the home front during the war - The Peoples War, and a book on the ‘myth of the Blitz’ as well as writing an unpublished PhD thesis on the wartime Common Wealth Party, and was a poet and essayist. Calder’s grandson, Simon Calder is a travel writer.