Appeasement

Copyright: John Frost Newspapers

The newspaper: The Daily Sketch

The date: September 29, 1938

The news event: Britain signs an agreement aimed at preventing war with Germany.

What you see: This is a very powerful front page. It consists of a six-word 'splash', or main headline, a big picture and very few words of text. The portrait of prime minister Neville Chamberlain is cut out and pasted on to a plain background - it almost makes him look like a comic book super hero. A few 'heroic' words and a bold picture would attract potential readers. Less is more. And if readers want to read more of the story, they have to buy the newspaper. Cost? One penny.

Background: This front page was printed in September 1938 - one year before the outbreak of World War II. The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, believed that 'appeasement' was the best way to avoid war with Germany. This meant that he was prepared to agree to Hitler's demands, in the hope that this might help secure peace. So Chamberlain, and the prime ministers of France and Italy, went to talk to Hitler in September 1938. They agreed to sign the Munich Agreement which gave Germany parts of Czechoslovakia in return for 'peace'. However, war broke out one year later.

The idea of bowing to Hitler's demands may seem amazing to us today. But many people in Britain believed that talking to Hitler and reaching an agreement would help to pacify him, thus avoiding another war. World War I, fought from 1914-1918, had left nearly 8 million dead with millions more wounded or missing. This war was still very much alive in the nation's memory, and many members of the public wanted desperately to avoid another war. 

The front page: Compared to today, newspapers of the 1930s were much less critical of politicians, the government and the royal family. Shortly before this front page appeared, Chamberlain had flown to Munich with the hopes of all who suffered in the last war resting on him. The journalists on the newspaper presented Chamberlain as a hero, and wrote in the article that the prime minister was 'refusing to bow to fatigue, refusing to give way to discouragement. . .' This type of reverential language is rarely used in newspapers of today, unless journalists are making a joke about politicians. The Daily Sketch was a popular downmarket newspaper, later to be closed by Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail, in 1971.

Design: This is very interesting for the time. The usual ingredients of a newspaper front page are there: a masthead or titlepiece, a picture or illustration, headlines and text, advertisements. The way these elements are used in the layout is unusual.

The masthead looks surprisingly modern with the emphasis on the word 'Sketch'.

The 'splash' headline was prepared by hand by an operator who picked individual characters or letters to form the strong lines: THE MAN THE WORLD LOOKS TO. The words are also hand-positioned providing an unusual amount of white space. The headline font is Ultra Bodoni which was originally used by American advertising agencies and was frowned upon by experts on typography.

The main image of Chamberlain has been cut out. At the time this was a complicated procedure, involving a metal block which was cut out by hand - a far cry from today's widespread use of image manipulation software.

At the top of the page, there is an advertisement for a Pedigree baby's pram.  The advert looks very much out of place – at a time when world peace hung in the balance. The ad is called an 'earpiece' and is usually one of a pair, providing two 'ears' either side of the masthead. In place of the right hand earpiece is a 'cross-reference' panel promoting an inside story, picked out in red. In the days before newspaper colour, editors were only able to use one 'spot' colour to help brighten up their page.

Lastly the page uses only 61 patriotic and praiseworthy words.