Whenever relations between Britain and the United States are discussed, mention of the so-called ‘special relationship’ is never far behind. Like all relationships, Britain and the US have endured peaks and troughs, but few would argue with the view that for many years the nations have enjoyed mutual friendship and broadly shared interests. Yet at the onset of the Second World War the relationship appears to have been regarded by many in Britain as decidedly less than fraternal and anything but ‘special’. So concerned was the British government that, in 1941, the Ministry of Information [MOI] deemed it necessary to plan a campaign aimed at countering the prevailing negative British view of the US government and its people.
The scheme, ‘America in Britain’, was to be implemented by the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark who, between 1939 and 1941, was Director of the MOI’s Films Division, Controller of Home Publicity and, for the duration of the war, Chairman of the War Artists’ Committee. British propaganda during the Second World War was initially aimed at Europe, the Empire and the Home Front. The British government sometimes bought as much as 30 per cent of newspaper advertising space. The focus was soon overtaken, however, by the desire to develop closer links with the US. On April 28th, 1941 a report was submitted to the MOI entitled ‘Outline for a Plan for the Presentation of the USA to Britain’. The report claimed that:
At the present stage of the war it is a matter of urgency to bring about the closest possible collaboration between the British Commonwealth and the United States of America. With this end in view, mutual misunderstandings and suspicions, which tend to hamper a co-operative war effort must be done away with.