Cockburn Claud (Frank Pitcairn)

Claud Cockburn (Frank Pitcairn)

Francis Claud Cockburn (pronounced Coburn) was from an elite family (his cousin was novelist Evelyn Waugh). The son of a British diplomat, Cockburn was born in Peking, China on April 12, 1904. After obtaining a degree from Oxford University, Cockburn wormed his way into working for the Times by doing pieces for its correspondents, at first for free. He later was accepted as a foreign correspondent in Germany and the United States before starting up his own cyclostyled newsletter, the Week, which strongly opposed appeasement with the fascist powers, exposing often in an amusing way government hypocrisy. The Week became highly regarded as a reliable source of inside information.

During a later spell as a sub-editor on the Times, Cockburn and others would engage in a humorous game to devise the most factually accurate but mundane headline. Cockburn was generally reckoned to have won with “Small Earthquake in Chile. Not many Dead”, which is still regularly but erroneously cited as an example of British arrogance.

Under the name Frank Pitcairn, Cockburn responded to a direct appeal from Harry Pollitt to work for the Daily Worker. He was sent to cover the Spanish Civil War and joined the Fifth Regiment so that he could report the war as an ordinary soldier. His book `Reporter in Spain’ was written whilst he was observing the war. There, he became friends with Mikhail Koltsov, the highly influential foreign editor of Pravda. During the early period of the Second World War, the Government banned not only the Daily Worker but also the Week.

In 1947, Cockburn moved to Ireland, partly for marital reasons but also because he was effectively bored with political journalism and had also reached a point where he wanted to end active engagement in political work without being used as a means to advance anti-Communist Cold War propaganda. Although he continued to write various newspaper columns, he focused mainly on creative writing.

Among his novels were `The Horses’, `Ballantyne’s Folly’, `Jericho Road’, and `Beat the Devil’. The latter was made into a film directed by John Huston. He also wrote about popular fiction in his `Aspects of English History’  (1957), and published `The Devil’s Decade’ (1973), a history of the 1930s, and `Union Power’  (1976). His first volume of memoirs, `In Time of Trouble’ (1956) was followed by `Crossing the Line’ (1958), and `A View from the West’ (1961). Revised, these were published by Penguin as `I Claud’ in 1967. Again revised and shortened, with a new chapter, they were republished as `Cockburn Sums Up’ shortly before he died.

Claud Cockburn was married three times, twice to Communists. Firstly to American, Hope Hale Davis, with whom he fathered the late Claudia Flanders (wife of Michael Flanders) and secondly to Jean Ross (see separate entry). His last (non-Communist marriage) was to Patricia Byron, with whom he lived in Ireland and fathered Alexander, Andrew, and Patrick, three sons who also became journalists. His grand-daughters include journalists and actresses. Cockburn died in 1981.

Main source: Cockburn’s own biographical works

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