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 novelist he joined Benjamin Disraeli and Jeffry Archer in the exclusive club of British MPs who were also best-selling authors.

The Edelman Family

Israel Maurice Edelman was born in Cardiff, the son of a Jewish photographer, who had emigrated from Germany in 1904. It was a cultured, musical household and, at Cardiff High School, Edelman 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 their Jewish community.

During WWII the Edelmans moved out of London to the relative safety of Amersham. 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. Laelia Goehr (see Nostalgia, January 22, 2021) took this photograph of Edelman.

Amersham’s theatre was an important part of their life here (see Nostalgia January 24, 2020). 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 (Nostalgia May 22, 2020) moved nearby to Asheridge Farm just outside Chesham.

Maurice Edelman’s Career

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 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 programme. Edelman was vice-chairman of the British Council and a supporter of the European Union. 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 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. 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.

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.

The Edelman girls

The Edelman girls were educated at Berkhamsted School as day-girls. 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!

A longer version of this article can be found at Join us on Zoom for a new programme Local Stories from Amersham Museum, sharing stories about people and places from the past. Each interactive 45-minute programme will have a different theme and include a focus on new research and artefacts from our collection. See our website for more details.