Charles Madge was born in 1912 in Johannesburg, the son of Lieutenant Col. C. A. Madge and Barbara, née Hylton Foster. Madge was educated at Winchester College and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he made connections with the leading left-wing poets of the 1930s, leaving university without a degree but as a member of the Communist Party.
He became a Daily Mirror reporter in 1935 but also had poems published at this time, in The Faber Book of Modern Verse (1936) and The Oxford Book of Modern English Verse (1938). Faber also published The DisappearingCastle (1937) and The Father Found (1940). His very early work as a poet is generally viewed as in the surrealist tradition but he was certainly an active Communist during the Thirties.
In 1938, he married the poet Kathleen Raine (who had previously been married to Communist, Hugh Sykes Davies) but the marriage broke up in 1940. Then, in 1942, he married Inez Spender (who had previously been married to Stephen Spender). Madge’s letters to Inez in his archives are in, interestingly, dominated by discussion of his Communist Party work.
Though a poet, he is now most remembered as one of the founders of Mass-Observation and this arena appeared to take him in an entirely new direction. During the 1930s, he was member of a group of artists, poets and filmmakers based in Blackheath in London. Madge wrote a letter to the New Statesman in 1936, proposing a scientific study of popular opinion, which caused his eventual co-funder of Mass Observation, Tom Harrisson, to contact the Blackheath group. Mass Observation began its work in 1937 and flowered as a unique social experiment in the recording of the thoughts of ordinary members of the public on contemporary subjects.
By the early 1940s, Madge’s energies had become entirely taken up with his sociological work, which was innovative and pioneering at a time when Gallup polls had only just begun in Britain and market research techniques had hardly developed. It is not precisely clear when he left the Communist Party, which he was increasingly less active in as Mass Observation flourished, but it may have been in the early post-war period.
Madge’s work triggered further studies conducted for other bodies, including the National Council for Social and Economic Research (1940-42) and Political & Economic Planning (1943). He became a director of Pilot Press in 1944 and published a quarterly magazine, Pilot Papers, with sociological essays by non-academics.
From 1947 Madge was Social Development Officer for Stevenage New Town. At a time when Communists were being excluded from academic life, Madge appears to have finally renounced his youthful dalliance to such an extent that, in 1950 he took the first ever chair of sociology at the University of Birmingham, an extraordinary leap for academia to make at the time. Madge produced a study, “Planning for People” (1950) and continued to hold his new post until retirement in 1970.
In his retirement, Madge began writing poetry again and his collected verse was published as Of Love, Time and Places (Anvil, 1994). Charles Madge died in 1996.