Peter Ritchie Calder – propaganda director

Baron Peter Ritchie Calder was a Scottish socialist author and journalist. He was born in Forfar and educated at Forfar Academy. He trained in journalism in Dundee and Glasgow, then moved to London.

Before the Second World War, Calder wrote pioneering works on popular science and sociology. During the war he wrote newspaper and magazine articles on the Blitz, and published two books on the subject, 'Carry on London' and 'The Lesson of London'.

Top-secret unit
In 1941, Calder was drafted into the newly created and top-secret foreign propaganda unit, the Political Warfare Executive (PWE). A year later he was appointed Director of Plans and Campaigns under another prominent Scot, Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, who called him 'one of the best brains in the organisation'.

Military operations
Calder chaired meetings to develop radio propaganda at the BBC. From 1942 he helped created propaganda for many of the Allied military operations – for example, 'Operation Torch' (the allied invasion of North West Africa) and from 1943 'Operation Overlord' (D-Day Landings).

Post-war work
After the war he worked for various international organisations, including the World Health Organisation, Oxfam and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. He served as Professor of International Relations at Edinburgh University from 1961 to 1967 and retired in 1972.

In recognition of his work, Calder was appointed a CBE in 1945 and made a life peer in 1966.

Calder biography
Peter Ritchie Calder's daughter has given the National Library of Scotland permission to reproduce an extract from her unpublished biography of her father. In these chapters, Fiona Rudd describes the key role that Calder played in creating and dispersing propaganda for the wartime Government.

Black propaganda examples
For examples of propaganda from the Calder collection at NLS, see our page on black propaganda.

Select an icon to see a larger image:


'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 ...'

– Extract from Peter Ritchie Calder's unpublished autobiography


'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" ...'

– From Peter Ritchie Calder: Propaganda as a Weapon of War