The Age of Illusion

Ronald Blythe

Introduced by Dominic Sandbrook

Britain between the wars is brilliantly and entertainingly chronicled in this book by the author of Akenfield.


Click on each image to see it in full.


The Age of Illusion

‘One of the funniest, angriest and most influential histories of 20th-century Britain ever published’

Before publishing Akenfield, his famous portrait of a Suffolk village, Ronald Blythe wrote The Age of Illusion. More than a social history, it is a brilliant study of Britain between the wars. Focusing on notable people and events, it takes the reader on an insightful and urbane tour of two decades, from the early days of the BBC, cocktails and the Charleston to the International Brigade and the downfall of Neville Chamberlain.

Production Details

  • Bound in metallic buckram, blocked with a design by Raquel Leis Allion
  • Set in Perpetua
  • 368 pages; frontispiece and 16 pages of black & white plates
  • Printed endpapers
  • 9½" × 6¼"

A lyrical and perceptive account

Blythe has a novelist’s eye for detail and an inimitable turn of phrase, whether he is describing the Munich Conference (‘a dark deed done in the limelight’) or Edward VIII (‘a small fair man in very loud tweeds’). We learn that among the arguments against Edward’s abdication was the consideration that ‘a Yorkshire pottery firm would have at least a quarter of a million mugs left on its hands if he left the Throne now’. As well as astute analyses of socialism and the Jarrow Marchers, there are lively accounts of now-forgotten sensations, such as the Brighton Trunk Murders and the trial of Reverend Harold Davidson, notorious for his affairs with young women.

The Age of IllusionIn a specially commissioned introduction, historian Dominic Sandbrook pays tribute to Blythe’s ‘wit, his passion, his underlying sense of right and wrong’ and explains why he considers this to be the best history of the period. Photographic highlights include a party at the Silver Slipper club for owner Kate Meyrick, the nightclub queen of London, Basque refugee children arriving in Britain, and an unusual portrait of T. E. Lawrence. Endpapers show photographs of two newspaper-sellers, one heralding the end of the First World War and the other announcing the beginning of the Second.

A letter from Ronald Blythe to Folio editor Mandy Kirkby

The Age of Illusion
The Age of Illusion
‘He writes as if you (the reader) were his friend, an insider with the patience to elicit his meaning’
PETER J. CONRADI, Times Literary Supplement

ABOVE: Typed letter from Ronald Blythe; LEFT: Lance Sieveking and Colonel G. L. Thompson broadcasting from Rectory Meadow, Cambridge, June 1927. (Collection of Paul Sieveking)

About the author

Ronald Blythe was born in 1922 in Acton, Suffolk. After a spell serving in the Second World War, he worked as a librarian in Colchester, where he founded the town’s Literary Society. In 1947 he met Christine Nash, wife of the painter John Nash, and began a lifelong association with them and their home, Bottengoms Farm on the border between Essex and Suffolk, where he still lives today. Through the Nashes and their circle he was introduced to Benjamin Britten, under whom he worked for a period in the late 1950s editing programmes for the Aldeburgh Festival. A Treasonable Growth, his first book, was published in 1960; it was followed by The Age of Illusion (1963). His best-known book, Akenfield, an account of life in a Suffolk village on the cusp of the switch from traditional to industrial farming, was published to great acclaim in 1969. The 1974 film version was seen by 15 million people. As one of Britain’s leading observers of rural life, Blythe has published poetry, short stories, memoirs and essays, and writes a long-running column, Word from Wormingford, for the Church Times.

About the introducer

Dominic Sandbrook was born in 1974 and studied at the universities of Oxford, St Andrews and Cambridge. Formerly a university history lecturer and senior fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, Oxford, he is the author of an acclaimed history of modern Britain, of which four parts have so far been published: Never Had It So Good (2005), White Heat (2006), State of Emergency (2010) and Seasons in the Sun (2012). He is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times, and has written and presented documentaries for BBC2 including The 70s (2012) and Strange Days: Cold War Britain (2013), as well as numerous programmes for BBC Radio 4.


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Review by anon on 19th Mar 2016

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"Gorgeous binding and paper, a real class act, and very readable."

Review by PAULALOUD on 9th Jul 2015

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"Brilliant! Ronald Blythe's recounting of England in the 20's and 30's was a fascinating read. I enjoyed the chapters that highlighted key personalities of the age and the English mindset toward Soci..." [read more]

Review by anon on 19th Jun 2015

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"This is an amazing book: Besides being fantastically written, the book itself is simply beautiful, from the impeccable art deco cover to the inspired font choice (Perpetua is now my new favorite font..." [read more]

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