by Alison Bailey, February 2021
The Labour Party, promising to rebuild Britain and establish a national health service for all, swept Churchill out of power with a landslide victory after VE Day. The new MPs included Harold Wilson, Michael Foot and Barbara Castle. Elected to Coventry West, one of the youngest MPs, 34-year-old Maurice Edelman, was a tall, urbane, well‐dressed writer who lived in Chesham Bois. As a bestselling author, he joined Benjamin Disraeli and Jeffry Archer in the exclusive club of British-MP-slash-novelist.
Fluent in several languages including Russian, Edelman had written for newspapers including The Guardian and was a leading feature writer for Picture Post. As their war correspondent, he reported on North Africa, Italy, and France. Indeed, it was journalism that led him into politics in the first place. He was sent to cover a Labour Party conference in 1945 and ended up being persuaded to run for Parliament.
In a 1950s broadcast When Man Denies the Brotherhood of Man « Maurice Edelman | This I Believe) Edelman said he went into politics because; “like many other men in their 30s at the time, I wanted to take an active part in building a society which would be civilized and just”.
Edelman was a hard-working parliamentarian and served his Coventry constituencies for 30 years, defending the local motor and aircraft industries against job losses. He was a keen supporter of the arts and served as president of the Coventry Arts Umbrella Club. He was strongly opposed to nuclear weapons and was at the forefront of the campaign for the polio vaccination. Always an independent-minded man, he stayed on the backbenches and was disappointed not to have been given a ministerial role in Harold Wilson’s government.
Edelman was vice-chairman of the British Council and a supporter of the European Union. His fluency in French made him a well-known figure in European politics. He was chairman of the Franco-British Parliamentary Relations Committee and a founder member of the Council of Europe. In 1960 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.
Edelman continued to write articles for the national press which sometimes got him into trouble with his party. He also had a weekly column in the New Statesman and wrote book reviews for The New York Times. He wrote political essays, a biography of David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel and plays and books which were adapted for television. A Call on Kuprin, set in Moscow, ran briefly on Broadway, and was dramatized by the BBC. His novels, although largely forgotten today, were very successful at the time and published in several languages. These include A Dream of Treason, The Fratricides and The Prime Minister’s Daughter, all set in a murky world of political struggles and Government intrigues. A critic in the Daily Telegraph wrote of The Minister (reissued in 1994) “It analyses with dreadful clarity the gulf that can lie between political achievement and private happiness, the corrosive interaction of statesmanship and human impulse. It shows Mr Edelman writing at the very height of his powers”.
Edelman commented on his dual career: “For a long time politicians tended to regard me as a literary dilettante who’d stumbled into politics, and the literati, as a bumbling politician who’s blundered into writing. Any time anyone in the House wants to challenge me, he says, ‘The honourable Gentleman is very good at writing political novels, but . . .’”
Popular with his fellow journalists he was a regular interviewee and appeared on Panorama, This Week and even the panel show What’s My Line. His last two novels Disraeli in Love and Disraeli Rising are considered his best work. A third book in the series was never completed because Edelman died suddenly in 1975, age 64. His passionate interest in the former Conservative leader and the only British Prime Minister of Jewish origin, led to him renting a wing of Hughenden Manor, Disraeli’s home, from the National Trust for the last three years of his life.
Israel Maurice Edelman was born was born on 2 March 1911 at Cardiff, the third of five children of Esther (née Solomon) and Joshua Edelman who had emigrated from Germany in 1904. His father, a painter and photographer, who had studied art in Berlin, was a member of the local Labour Party. It was a cultured, musical household and, at Cardiff High School, Maurice gained a state scholarship to study modern and medieval languages at Trinity College, Cambridge.
After university Edelman met and married Matilda, ‘Tilli’ Yager, the daughter of a timber merchant and businessman. He worked in his father-in-law’s company for some years as did one of his brothers. His research into experimental plastics and plywood took him to Russia where he became fluent in the language. Initially impressed with Soviet society he later became disillusioned and, as president of the Anglo-Jewish Association, he made strong protests about Soviet treatment of the Jews.
The Edelmans moved out of London to the relative safety of Amersham at the start of WWII. Their home, Lindisfarne, on Clifton Road, Chesham Bois was a comfortable house with a large garden for their two daughters, Sonia, and Natasha. The family joined a creative community of Jewish families from London and émigré artists, musicians, and writers from Europe. Sally Latimer’s theatre was an important part of their life here. Edelman wrote a feature on the Amersham Playhouse, Small Town Theatre for the Picture Post in 1946: “The Amersham Repertory Company has become so interwoven with the life of Amersham, that if any resident had to submit to the psycho-analytical test of shutting his eyes and saying the first word he associated with another, he would probably add “theatre” to Amersham”.
The Edelmans did not rush back to London after the war. They had an apartment in Marylebone but kept Lindisfarne as their country home until 1962. In 1954 his Labour colleagues Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee moved nearby to Asheridge Farm just outside Chesham.
The Edelman girls were educated at Berkhamsted School as day girls and in 1956, Sonia Edelman married Peter Abrams at the Amersham Synagogue. Originally built as a temporary place of worship during the war, the building had recently been refurbished and this was the first wedding held there. Sonia Jackson OBE, as she is now known, is a leading academic in social work and children’s services. She is Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Education at the University of London. Having semi-retired this year, she is still working at the age of 85!
The Rabbi in the Green Jacket, memories of Jewish Buckinghamshire 1939 -1945, Vivien and Deborah Samson, 2015
The New York Times, December 15, 1975
Picture Post, January 12, 1946
Quote from Daily Telegraph is from the cover jacket of The Prime Minister’s Daughter by Maurice Edelman, 1964
Aneurin Bevan in Chesham by Neil Rees