Nor­man Long­mate

Pro­lific author of pop­u­lar so­cial his­to­ries based on wit­ness tes­ti­mony, no­tably How We Lived Then

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries - Nor­man Long­mate, born De­cem­ber 15 1925, died June 4 2016

NOR­MAN LONG­MATE, who has died aged 90, was a pop­u­lar his­to­rian best known for his 1971 book How We Lived

Then, which used the rec­ol­lec­tions, di­aries and let­ters of more than a thou­sand peo­ple to doc­u­ment ev­ery­day life in Bri­tain dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

His in­ten­tion was “to show the im­pact of ex­tra­or­di­nary events on or­di­nary peo­ple”. His­tory “from the bot­tom up” was a novel ap­proach at the time, and while Long­mate al­ways wanted his work to be ac­ces­si­ble, his method was schol­arly and based on pri­mary sources where pos­si­ble. How

We Lived Then was highly praised by crit­ics. Cyril Con­nolly hailed it as “a land­mine of in­for­ma­tion” cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from the “grandeurs of the Blitz to the mis­eries of dried eggs and the six-inch bath”.

Long­mate was, by his own de­scrip­tion, an “all day Satur­day” his­to­rian, since for 20 years he worked Mon­day to Fri­day in an ad­min­is­tra­tive post at the BBC. On Satur­day he ex­pected “peace and quiet” from his fam­ily while he bashed away at the type­writer, but at five o’clock he would break off to play games of his own de­vis­ing, such as “sub­marines”, with his small daugh­ter.

How We Lived Then was fol­lowed in 1972 by If Bri­tain Had Fallen, a chill­ing “coun­ter­fac­tual” his­tory for which he stud­ied Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion plans as well as analysing the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion of the Channel Is­lands.

The son of Ernest, a pho­tog­ra­pher, Nor­man Long­mate was born on De­cem­ber 15 1925 at New­bury in Berk­shire, the third of four sib­lings. His mother, Mar­garet (née Row­den), was a farmer’s daugh­ter from Som­er­set; though she had left school at 13, she was a vo­ra­cious reader and Nor­man con­sid­ered that he had in­her­ited some of his flair for writ­ing from her.

The fam­ily was re­duced to poverty when his fa­ther’s busi­ness col­lapsed but Nor­man won a schol­ar­ship to Christ’s Hos­pi­tal, where a brilliant teacher, DS Roberts, in­spired him to be­come a his­to­rian.

Aged 17, Long­mate – in bor­rowed uni­form and steel hel­met, both too big for him – joined his school Home Guard, and in 1944 he was called up, join­ing the Royal Army Ser­vice Corps. He spent the last year of the war in Lon­don and af­ter VE Day trav­elled to Den­mark as part of the Bri­tish mil­i­tary mis­sion, stop­ping in Ham­burg, where he was shocked by the ex­tent of the dev­as­ta­tion caused by Al­lied bomb­ing. When his truck was on the move again, he and his col­leagues were shot at by rogue bands of Nazis still roam­ing the coun­try­side.

Aged 22, he went up as an ex­hi­bi­tioner to Worces­ter Col­lege, Ox­ford, to read Mod­ern His­tory. He nar­rowly missed a First and stayed on for two years as a re­search stu­dent.

He be­gan his first job as a leader writer on the Lon­don Evening

Stan­dard. He soon moved to the Daily Mir­ror as a fea­ture writer, stay­ing there for three years. But, feel­ing that he needed to do some­thing more de­mand­ing, he ap­plied for and got a post at the Cen­tral Elec­tric­ity Au­thor­ity.

He was also briefly taken on as Labour par­lia­men­tary can­di­date for New­bury, but he was not in sym­pa­thy with the uni­lat­eral dis­arm­ers who dom­i­nated the party, so he quickly gave up his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions.

A chance meet­ing with an old school con­tem­po­rary who worked for BBC Schools Tele­vi­sion led to a com­mis­sion for a script. More were com­mis­sioned, and by 1963 Long­mate had been hired as pro­ducer of a new his­tory and cur­rent af­fairs se­ries on BBC Schools Ra­dio. From there he moved to a job in the Sec­re­tariat, the BBC’s “civil ser­vice”.

Mean­while, Long­mate had al­ready em­barked on his par­al­lel ca­reer as an author, pub­lish­ing his first book, A

So­cial­ist An­thol­ogy, in 1953, and a sec­ond, Ox­ford Tri­umphant, on un­der­grad­u­ate life, a year later. The chap­ter about sex caused par­tic­u­lar con­tro­versy. His third book was a de­tec­tive novel called Death Won’t

Wash. It was the first in a se­ries of five fea­tur­ing De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Her­bert Brad­bury; all in­cluded the word “death” in the ti­tle to dis­tin­guish them from any straight nov­els he might write, but they never ma­te­ri­alised. His first work of so­cial his­tory was

King Cholera, pub­lished in 1966. It was fol­lowed by The Wa­ter­drinkers: A His­tory of Tem­per­ance in 1968. Af­ter

How We Lived Then he turned out roughly a book a year un­til slow­ing down in his mid-seven­ties.

He also wrote free­lance doc­u­men­taries for ra­dio and acted as a his­tor­i­cal ad­viser on var­i­ous tele­vi­sion projects, in­clud­ing the York­shire TV se­ries How We Used to Live.

The Real Dad’s Army (1974) was writ­ten to ac­com­pany an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum, and the sev­enth se­ries of the pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion sit­com. It recorded the morale-boost­ing ef­fect of the Home Guard as well as mo­ments of comedy, such as the oc­ca­sion when troops mis­took a hedge­hog for the head of “a cun­ningly cam­ou­flaged” Ger­man para­trooper. An­thony Eden (Lord Avon), who as war sec­re­tary had founded the Lo­cal Vol­un­teer Force, at­tended the launch.

Long­mate’s other ti­tles in­cluded The GIs: The Amer­i­cans in Bri­tain 19421945 (1976); When We Won the War

(1977); Air Raid: The Bomb­ing of Coven­try 1940 (1978); and The Doodle­bugs: The Story of the Fly­ing Bombs (1981).

Long­mate was elected a Fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety in 1981 and in 1983 took early re­tire­ment from the BBC. He be­gan work on a new project, a two-vol­ume his­tory of all the at­tempts to in­vade the Bri­tish Isles, which was first pub­lished in 1989. An au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, The Shap­ing Sea­son, was pub­lished in 2000.

Nor­man Long­mate was good com­pany and had many friends, whom he would of­ten en­ter­tain at Elm Tree in Hamp­shire, a thatched cot­tage he bought as a re­treat with the pro­ceeds from his books.

In 1953 he mar­ried El­iz­a­beth (Betty) Tay­lor. Later they lived apart and she died in 2011. In re­cent years he found hap­pi­ness with a new part­ner, Pam, who sur­vives him with the daugh­ter from his mar­riage, Jill.

Long­mate in his study where he worked as a ‘Satur­day his­to­rian’

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