chapter  12
Habits of mood: cultural pedagogy and home- front morale in Britain in the Second World War
Pages 13

The concept of public mood was a daily reality during the Second World War in Britain. ‘Home Intelligence’, a department of the Ministry of Information, sent daily reports collating mood assessments from around the country and suggesting ways for increasing morale. The Ministry of Information (MoI) was responsible for information and propaganda: for producing and disseminating explicit information about what to do during an air raid, for instance, as well as vaguer messages such as ‘your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory’ (Slocombe 2012: 6). Home Intelligence was established partly as a feedback loop for finding out how poster campaigns were working, assessing which films went down well with specific audiences and which didn’t, and for thinking about how morale work could be accomplished most effectively. The job of the MoI can be seen as broadly pedagogic in that it was required to prepare a civilian population for total war, and to marshal their resources of courage, cheerfulness and resolution for the prosecution of that war. It was tasked with the job of looking after home front morale in what was perceived as ‘the war of nerves, which Hitler continues to wage with cunning and with long-term objectives’ (MassObservation 2009 [1940]: vi). In this chapter I’m particularly interested in exploring how public mood was conceived by those involved in morale work, and how a pedagogic strategy can be recognised in some of the more successful propaganda that the MoI produced. The question of cultural pedagogy and its relation to public mood isn’t systematically addressed by archival materials relating to Home Intelligence or the MoI, yet it could be seen as the overarching object of their labour. Home Intelligence was faced with a population where strong morale was a fragile affair constantly put in peril by war news that could bring ‘bewilderment’, ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’, and so on, and was made even more fragile by the constant spread of rumours of parachute invasions by ‘hairy handed nuns’ (German troops in disguise) and gas that couldn’t be stopped by gas masks. But before I start looking at the work of Home Intelligence and the MoI propaganda machine, I want to suggest a theoretical context for bringing public mood and cultural pedagogy together.