The summer of 1943 found George Orwell, English socialist man of letters, reaching the end of his patience with his job at the BBC. The cultural programs and commentary he had been producing for the Indian and East Asian outposts of the British Empire were designed to counter German wartime radio transmissions. These broadcasts were not quite propaganda: he was allowed “reasonable freedom of speech” despite being (in his words) “an independent and more or less ‘agin the government’ commentator,” and he could contribute to outside publications as well. But the job was boring. After two years at the network, Orwell, who had just turned 40, longed to go back to his own writing and journalism.
Privately, too, he complained about the cumbersome process of getting his scripts cleared and occasionally being compelled to say things on air that he had a strong feeling were not true. “I am regularly alleging in all my newsletters that the Japanese are plotting to attack Russia,” he confided in his diary, “although I don’t believe this to be so.”
One of the poets whose work Orwell featured occasionally on his cultural programs was Alex Comfort, a talented 22-year-old who was taking medical training at the Royal London Hospital and who would achieve bestsellerdom many years later with his illustrated manual for couples, The Joy of Sex. Neither Orwell nor Comfort was spending World War II in the military. Orwell, who had been badly wounded while fighting in the Spanish Civil War and was showing signs of the tuberculosis that would ultimately kill him, was declared unfit for military service. Wishing passionately to contribute to this new war against fascism, he had applied repeatedly to enlist but had to settle for a volunteer slot in Britain’s civil defense force, the ragtag, ill-equipped Home Guard.