Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, Independent on Sunday

In 1943, weary of his wartime work for the BBC, where he had little time for his own writing and had become impatient with the level of censorship imposed by the Ministry of Information, George Orwell accepted a job as literary editor of the leftwing weekly, Tribune. Broadly speaking, he sympathised with the paper’s politics and, given an exceptional degree of editorial freedom, he spent the next 13 months in the job and then the following three-and-a-half years as a columnist and reviewer, writing pretty much what he wanted.

In wartime, his column “As I Please” offered forthright and often contrary opinion, and his 1946 comments on the way justice was being dealt to war criminals, their hangings sometimes gruesomely inefficient spectacles, could easily be set against recent attempts to dispense justice in Iraq: “If people are being taught to gloat not only over death but over a peculiarly horrible form of torture, it marks another turn on the downward spiral that we have been following ever since 1933.”

During peacetime his columns continued to pick away at what passed for civilised behaviour. What was the point of overeating at Christmas? “A deliberately austere Christmas would be an absurdity.” Were the kinds of comics becoming popular in the USA a good thing? “A correspondent has sent me a copy of one of the disgusting American ‘comics’ which I referred to a few weeks ago… Certainly I would keep these out of children’s hands if possible. But I would not be in favour of prohibiting their actual sale.”

Never a censor, always a man who cared profoundly about the ways in which freedom could be limited and how society suffered as a result, Orwell would have been a great man to have around over the past 10 years.

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