The Rene MacColl Collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains material relating to MacColl's forty year career as a journalist and author, including: correspondence, articles, newscuttings, travel documentation, invites, research material, photographs, manuscripts, typescripts and diaries. During his time as a foreign correspondent he witnessed and reported on some of the most important events of the 20th century. Whilst not all of these are represented in the archive, the collection is particularly rich in material related to his experiences during the Second World War. These papers, particularly those related to his post as Director of the British Press Service, highlight how the British government utilised the british press during the war. The collection also provides a rare glimpse inside the life of a foreign correspondent, from the lavish expense accounts to the nomadic lifestyles governed by international affairs and the whims of editors. The diaries also contain vivid descriptions of the offices and pubs of Fleet Street and the journalists who frequented them. MacColl's literary career is represented by papers related to his books, 'Assignment Stuffed Shirt', loosely based on his work for the British Information Services in New York; and reviews related to 'Roger Casement: A New Judgement'.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born on 12 January 1905 in Twickenham, the author and journalist, Rene MacColl, was the second son of Dugald Sutherland MacColl, Director of the Tate Gallery from 1906 to 1911, and his French wife Adree Zabe.

MacColl was educated at University College School, London before attending Lincoln College, Oxford to read modern history. He left Oxford after 2 years without graduating and started working for the Antwerp branch of a British firm dealing in jute sacks. Following the firm's closure in December 1926, MacColl was introduced to Van-Lear Black, an American banker, industrialist and publisher of 'The Baltimore Sun', and was engaged as his confidential secretary. Having developed a passion for flying, Van-Lear hired a plane and two pilots from KLM and accompanied by MacColl, embarked on a series of experimental flights covering over 200,000 miles, including the first flight from London to Capetown and back again to be made by a commercial aircraft. In October 1927 MacColl was offered a job on the 'Baltimore Sun' as the paper's police and waterfront reporter. By the end of June 1928 he had met and married his first wife, Helen, and they went on to have two children.

MacColl returned to England with his family in 1929 and became a foreign correspondent for the 'Daily Telegraph' where he reported on many of the significant events of the early 20th century, including: the Saar Plebiscite of 1935; Ghandi's civil disobedience movement in India in 1932; the wedding of King Zog in Albania in 1938; and the Spanish Civil War. At home he also reported on several royal occasions, including the silver jubilee of George V and the coronation of his son, George VI.

With England on the verge of war, MacColl left the 'Daily Telegraph' and joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. From October 1939 until April 1940, MacColl was attached to the advanced air striking force of Bomber Command at Rheims and acted as liaison officer between the RAF and the press. In May of that year he was attached to the Air Component of the British Army at Arras before returning to England to undertake an attachment to Bomber Command headquarters in High Wycombe. He was seconded to the Ministry of Information in October 1940 and the following month was sent to New York to become Director of the British Press Service. By May 1941 he had been made the Director of the Press and Radio Division of the British Information Services.

After the war he joined 'The Daily Express' as their Washington correspondent and remained in America until 1949. His first wife, Helen, died in 1945 and on 2 May 1946 he married Hermione Bruce. From 1949 until he was the Paris correspondent for the 'Daily Express', leaving in 1950 to become their American correspondent. In December 1952, MacColl returned to England to take up the position of foreign correspondent for the paper, becoming chief correspondent in 1959. His assignments included: interviewing Marshal Tito in Belgrade in 1953; a three month tour of the USSR in 1954 reporting from behind the Iron Curtain; accompanying Clement Attlee and various British Labout MP's on thier visit to China in 1954; covering various American presidential elections, including John. F. Kennedy's win in 1962; the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy; and the Vietnam War.

MacColl finally retired in 1969, having spent forty years as a foreign correspondent. During his long career, MacColl also published several books, including: two autobiographies entitled 'A Flying Start (1939) and 'Date and Deadline' (1956); a biography of Roger Casement, the former British Consul hanged for treason in 1916 titled 'Roger Casement: a New Judgement (1956); a novel, 'No Idea' (1952); an account of his three months in Russia entitled 'Just Back from Russia: 77 Days Inside the Soviet Union' (1954); and a travel book entitled 'The Land of Ghengis Khan: a Journey on Outer Mongolia (1963). He also published a number of articles in both British and American magazines, including 'Punch', 'Life', 'The New Yorker', and 'The Atlantic Monthly'. He died on 20 May 1971 in Crowborough Hospital, Sussex.


The arrangement of MacColl's papers is unlikely to reflect his own original ordering. Before its arrival at the Library, much of the archive had been sorted by his wife, Hermione, who had arranged MacColl's papers into 2 arch lever box files. One file contained assorted pieces of journalism arranged by subject and then placed in alphabetical order; the other, contained folders related to Clement Attlee's mission to China and reviews of his book, 'Roger Casement: A New Judgement'. Whilst it may not reflect MacColl's original order, Hermione's arrangement has been retained. The diaries were kept separately from the files and were housed in a reinforced shoebox bound by a belt.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to bona fide researchers.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is catalogued and available through the University of Leicester Library catalogued

Custodial History

The archive was accumulated by Rene MacColl during his professional career as a journalist and writer. However, the relatively small amount of material indicates that the archive does not reflect his entire forty-year career. Upon his death in 1971, the material subsequently passed to his wife, who rationalised the collection before its transferral to the Univesty of Leicester. She sent MacColl's personal papers to his daughter in California and removed a file of MacColl's assignments for the 'Daily Express' and other publications fearing that it may incur copyright complications. The archive transferred to the University of Leicester Library in January 2005.


No further accruals are expected

Location of Originals

The Rene MacColl Collection housed at the University of Leicester Library constitutes the main series of papers related to the journalist and author. However, The Imperial War Museum, The Tate Gallery Archives, Oxford University and Glasgow University Library also hold some letters from MacColl.