TALLENTS, Sir Stephen George (1884-1958)

Scope and Content

Papers of Sir Stephen Tallents, mainly relating to to his role as Secretary of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), including files on its origins, activities (including the 1931 'Buy British' campaign, the EMB film unit, and liaison with the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Melbourne, Australia), administration and break-up. These files include reports, correspondence, notes and memoranda. There are also files containing EMB publications and press cuttings. Most of the material not directly related to EMB business consists of papers related to draft works by Tallents, particularly his book on the EMB, Empire Experiment ; these files include original papers from the EMB period, 1926-1933, and draft chapters, notes and correspondence (mainly 1940s). There are also files containing papers (mainly reviews) relating to Tallents' pamphlet The Projection of England (1932) and to his period as Public Relations Officer at the Post Office, 1934-1936. There is some further material (correspondence, press cuttings, publications) on the documentary film producer John Grierson, 1933-1947. There is also a file of correspondence, 1951-1952, with Leopold Amery regarding the latter's chapter on EMB in his autobiography, My Political Life (London 1953).

Administrative / Biographical History

Stephen George Tallents was born on 20 October 1884, eldest son of George William Tallents, a barrister. He was educated at Harrow School, Balliol College, Oxford and Grenoble. He began his career as a civil servant at the Marine Department of the Board of Trade in 1909 before being transferred to assist Sir William [later Lord] Beveridge and Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith in establishing labour exchanges. He served in the Irish Guards in 1914-1915, and was badly wounded. Following his recovery he worked first in the Ministry of Munitions, then in the Ministry of Food, where in 1918 he was appointed Principal Assistant Secretary and a member of the Food Council at the time when rations were first being introduced.
In 1919 he was appointed the Chief British Delegate for Relief and Supply of Poland, and then British Commissioner for the Baltic Provinces, where he had some success in helping to restore order. He returned to Britain in 1920 to become Private Secretary to Viscount Fitz-Alan, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, at a critical period in Anglo-Irish history, and was then Imperial Secretary for Northern Ireland, 1922-1926. He was briefly Secretary to the Cabinet Committee dealing with the General Strike.
In 1926 Leopold Amery, Secretary of State for the Colonies, chose Tallents to be Secretary of the Empire Marketing Board (Amery was the first Chairman), apparently because of his reputation for being an imaginative, yet effective, civil servant. The Empire Marketing Board (EMB) was established in May 1926 to develop and market food and goods produced in the Empire and to promote the idea of the Empire. It had three principal activities: support of scientific research, promotion of economic analysis, and publicity. Research took up a significant proportion of the EMB's work and budget; it assisted 126 agricultural and medical research projects during its life. It issued numerous Intelligence Notes, pamphlets and surveys, made links with buyers and produced analyses of markets to help producers. However, it was Tallents' interest in selling the idea of Empire that formed the rest of his career. The EMB organised press and poster campaigns, exhibitions, shopping weeks, Empire shops, lectures and radio talks. Most famous was the EMB film unit led by John Grierson, reputed to be the creator of the documentary film.
Following the demise of the EMB in September 1933 Tallents was appointed Public Relations Officer for the General Post Office (on whose Publicity Committee he had served since 1931). His work there included development of a Post Office film unit under Grierson and brought him the Cup of the Publicity Club of London - then the advertising world's highest honour - in 1935, a rare achievement for a government official. He then moved to the BBC as a Controller (Public Relations, 1935-1940; Overseas Services, 1940-1941). He later served as Public Relations Officer to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, 1943-1946.
In the 1940s Tallents also wrote a history of the EMB, `Empire Experiment', which was never published.
Stephen Tallents was knighted in 1932. He was the President (1947-1949 and 1953) and Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations. Following his retirement from public service he was involved in a company producing architectural models. He died on 11 September 1958.
His publications included The Projection of England , a pamphlet published in 1932 in which he called for a "school of national projection" that would present England to the world, Post Office Publicity (1935) and Man and Boy (1943), an autobiographical work.


The papers were first sorted in 1972 by Professor J.M. Lee of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Mr T.W. Tallents and then arranged and listed at ICS. They are arranged into `files' (series), most of which appear to have been created by Tallents himself, probably while he was writing his history of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) in the mid-1940s. Some of the files are numbered, sometimes with two separate sequences, but neither of these is reflected in the current arrangement. The current file titles are not always those that were allocated by Tallents, but are not inaccurate. Many of the original folders are marked `supporting papers', an indication that the material was arranged for the purpose of the EMB history. Furthermore, the first items in Files 1 and 3, for example, appear to be draft passages for the EMB history (though this was not noted in the 1975 handlist) - it is likely that the other documents in this and other folders were collected together for the purpose of writing the book.

Access Information

Open although advance notice should be given. Access to individual items may be restricted under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act.

Acquisition Information

The papers were deposited at ICS by Sir Stephen Tallents' son, Mr T.W. Tallents, in 1973.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued to item level (see link to repository catalogue).

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Separated Material

British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics holds correspondence with Lord Beaverbrook c1912-48 (Ref: Beveridge); and Miscellaneous family corresp., 1914-41 (Ref. Markham (NRA 30246)
Stirling University Library, UK; holds correspondence with John Grierson, 1927-53 (Ref: NRA 23838 Grierson)
British Library Manuscript Collections, London, holds correspondence with Sir Sydney Cockerell, 1949-1957 (Ref: Add MS 52755)

Conditions Governing Use

A photocopying service is available, at the discretion of the Library staff. Copies are supplied solely for research or private study. Requests to publish, or to quote from original material should be submitted to the Information Resources Manager.

Related Material

The ICS holds papers of Edward Mayow Hastings Lloyd (1889-1968), Assistant Secretary, Empire Marketing Board, (Ref ICS 49).


L.S. Amery, My Political Life Vol.2 (London 1953) contains chapter on the Empire Marketing Board S. Constantine, 'Bringing the Empire Alive: the EMB and Imperial Propaganda, 1926-33' in J.M. MacKenzie, ed., Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester 1986);R. Self, 'Treasury Control and the Empire Marketing Board: The Rise and Fall of Non-Tariff Preference in Britain, 1924-33' in Twentieth Century British History Vol.5, No.2, 1994, pp.153-182.