For grumps like me, one of the pleasures of reading Josephine Tey is her tart little asides about the woolly-headed intellectual fads of her era…which, as often as not, are the fads of our own. In Brat Farrar a progressive boarding school is described:

“No one is forced to learn anything at Clare. Not even the multiplication table. The theory is that one day you’ll feel the need of the multiplication table and be seized with a mad desire to acquire the nine-times. Of course, it doesn’t work out like that at all.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“Of course not. No one who could get out of the nine-times would ever dream of acquiring it voluntarily.”

In The Singing Sands a grievance-mongering Scottish nationalist is presented for ridicule:

“So you’ve met Archie Brown, have you?” Tommy said, clapping the top half on his hot scone, and licking the honey that oozed from it.

“Is that his name?”

“It used to be. Since he elected himself the champion of Gaeldom he calls himself Gilleasbuig Mac-a’-Bruithainn. He’s frightfully unpopular at hotels.”


“How would you like to page someone called Gilleasbuig Mac-a’-Bruithainn?”

And in Tey’s most famous work, 1951’s The Daughter of Time, she introduces a term that these days, amid contending accusations of newsfakery, seems ripe for revival:

“If you go to South Wales you will hear that, in 1910, the Government used troops to shoot down Welsh miners who were striking for their rights. You’ll probably hear that Winston Churchill, who was Home Secretary at the time, was responsible. South Wales, you will be told, will never forget Tonypandy!”

josephine tey the daughter of time

The speaker is Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. Confined to a hospital bed after sustaining an injury on the job, to kill time he buries himself in historical research, attempting to absolve Richard III of the charge of having murdered the Princes in the Tower – a charge, he concludes, as baseless as the widely believed story about Tonypandy.

The facts of that riot, or massacre, or what-have-you – as a visit to the relevant Wikipedia page will confirm – are still far from settled. But in Inspector Grant’s version, Churchill was so sensitive to the danger of inflaming the Welsh strikers that he dispatched only a body of unarmed police, and “[t]he only bloodshed in the whole affair was a bloody nose or two.” This sordid scuffle was exaggerated for purely political purposes:

“The point is that every single man who was there knows that the story is nonsense, and yet it has never been contradicted. It is a completely untrue story grown to legend while the men who knew it to be untrue looked on and said nothing.”

Elsewhere Inspector Grant applies the term to the retrospective elevation of the Covenanters – vicious terrorists in his telling – to Scottish national martyrs.

To summarize, Tonypandy in the Josephine Tey sense refers not to politically motivated propaganda, but to the falsified version of history that, thanks to propaganda or lazy reporting or romantic oversimplification, supplants the facts in the public consciousness. Once established, Tonypandy can be very hard to displace:

It’s an odd thing but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller with you. They don’t want to have their ideas upset.

Though sorely tempted, I won’t unsettle the reader by providing modern examples of Tonypandy. I’m sure whatever your political sympathies you can think of a few…which would be guaranteed to upset your political foes.


Update, July 28, 2020: Added cover image and linked to Bibliography page.

Back in April I observed that newsworthy events are, by definition, out of the ordinary, so that the news inevitably gives us a distorted picture of the world. Last year I discussed the related concept of Gell-Mann Amnesia and pondered the insoluble problem of truthfulness in fiction.

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Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

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