The first edition of the Cherwell was published on Tuesday of Fourth Week during Michaelmas Term, 1920 and cost four pence. It covered all aspects of university life from drama to sport. One notable early feature in the magazine was ‘Rollers’ – a series of one or two sentence observations and pieces of gossip about what had happened in Oxford that week. For instance, one week the writers of ‘Rollers’ observed:
A rumour has been current to the effect that the CHERWELL has been threatened with legal proceedings. No doubt we ought to be, but we haven’t, up to the time of writing.
Who exactly worked for the publication at this time is difficult to ascertain, as early editions of the magazine contain no staff list, and most articles were written using pseudonyms, such as ‘Ambrose’, ‘Porp’, and ‘Jael’. However, Edinger wrote in 1949 that Louis Golding had been the paper’s first literary editor and that Robert Graves had performed the rather cryptic role of ‘literary adviser’. The habit of holding ‘Conference’ dates back to those early days, when the paper’s staff would meet at 10.30 on Sundays. One editorial describes the purpose of these conferences as twofold:
- To criticise contributions from people outside the staff.
- To transact “any other business.”
Overall, the tone of the paper was satirical – it professed revulsion at both ‘Bolshevism’ and ‘Anti-Bolshevism’ as well as serious politics of any kind. Soon after the departure of Edinger and Binney in 1923, the magazine swiftly became more literary. ‘Rollers’ came to an end and there were noticeably more poems and literary essays appearing within it. However, the magazine had not lost its sense of humour. For example, the editors announced that the Cherwell would be delivered in 1924 using a ‘large fleet of armoured cars’ acquired from the Romanian government.
By the 1930s, the paper had moved to new premises on 33 St. Aldate’s Street – just down the street from where the offices are today. It often took unpredictable stances in editorials. One year it published one saying that Armistice Day should no longer be observed, because it shut ‘the nation’s eyes to the War’s results.’ The next year, it called for the Labour Club to be more moderate and argued that Oxford politics had ‘too long been regarded as a playground for vociferous extremists’. Regular features included ‘Samuel Pepys – Undergraduate’, a fictionalised diary of an Oxford student’s life, and ‘La Gazette’ a gossipy roundup of weekly goings on. The paper also convinced guest writers like Vera Brittain to write about their experiences at Oxford. By far the most memorable work published by the paper at this time was The Oxford “Cherwell” Wine Book (1932) – a collection of articles by the ‘best known and best qualified’ writers on the subject of wine. The three editors of the Cherwell at the time, A.M.E. Goldschmidt, Giles Playfair, and Derek Hudson, called the book a ‘breath of genius which touched our weary foreheads’ and boldly called for ‘all who take interest in the art of living’ to read it. The book included reviews of hock, champagne, claret, burgundy by prominent writers, as well as a chapter on port by a Catholic priest from Ireland. It proved so popular that a second edition was printed two years later.
The outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 did not cause the Cherwell to cease publication, despite the vastly reduced number of undergraduates at Oxford. This was in contrast to The Isis, which ceased publication for the duration of the war. However, by this point the Cherwell was in a greatly diminished state. There were even rumours that the Conservative Association would take it over. Meanwhile, Oxford Magazine predicted that the publication would soon meet its demise. The Cherwell fired back by suggesting that the author of the Oxford Magazine article seemed like ‘a rather stupid and left-wing undergraduate’ who did not realise:
THE CHERWELL is not a Tory rag; we beg to present fairly the opinions of all parties who care to write, to present a selection of such literary talent as will contribute to us, and preserve the function of the paper in presenting university news of interest.
In the final edition of Hilary Term 1942, the editors promised that the Cherwell would be back next term and ‘continue to serve you on the twelve miserable pages allowed by Paper Control, with such talent as the Recruiting Board leaves us.’ It was never to be. The Bodleian’s collections abruptly end at this point, Derek Mond, one of the two people who ran the paper would die in a flying accident before the end of the war in April 1945. His co-editor was wounded twice, but survived the war.
By Robert Walmsley
Part 3 – The Early Paper