Birch: Lionel ‘Bobby’ Birch 1910-1982

Birch: Lionel ‘Bobby’ Birch 1910-1982

Lionel Birch was a journalist for Picture Post in 1930s and a former Labour parliamentary candidate for the Petersfield area. Sometimes known as Bobby Birch, he had been born Jack Ernest Lionel Birch in 1910. His father was John Somerville Birch, a diplomat in Egypt and his mother was Ethel Margaret Hanson. Birch was educated at Shrewsbury and then went to Clare College Cambridge where he gained a First in English. While a student he wrote two novels which focused on schoolboy romantic friendships.

After leaving Cambridge, Birch came to Steep in 1932 to act in one of the outdoor Shakespearean productions that took place each summer at Ashford Chace. He was a tall, slim, debonair and witty young man and already a great favourite with girls. The group of actors camped in tents at Bedales School. Birch’s tent proved an irresistible attraction to some of the older girls and female staff. After a dispute, he was asked to leave by the school and took rooms at the local Harrow Inn in Steep, where he had already become a regular and not long after Arthur and Annie Dodd had become licensees. It was reported that his long legs enabled him to come and go by stepping in and out through the window to his room.

By 1934 Birch was living in Liss and became active in the Petersfield Labour Party which in 1935 selected him as their candidate for the next General Election. During his campaigning he was delighted to be able to return to speak at Bedales School. He lost the election to Major Reginald Hugh Dorman-Smith who gained 22,877 votes to Birch’s 6061. It was however the largest vote ever received by a Labour candidate in the local constituency.

By 1938 Birch had become a journalist for the Picture Post. He later went on to the Sunday Telegraph. During his career he wrote a number of books and plays. He was married at least five times. He died in Kew on 18th February 1982. Bobby Birch is now a somewhat forgotten figure but during his lifetime he was a well regarded left wing writer.


Article by Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Article by John Dodd for The Harrowing Times 2010