A new book delves into the life of a left-wing, liberal politician turned fascist by none other than his own son.

“If you have a father who has done the sorts of things my father did you have to decide fairly early on whether you’re going to just keep quiet,” Francis Beckett explains.

“You can hope nobody notices or be very upfront about it, and I’m not very good at keeping quiet about things.”

In 1924 his father, John Beckett, was Labour’s youngest elected MP but 10 years later he had retired from politics and joined the British Union of Fascists, also known as the Mosley fascists, becoming their propaganda chief.

A notorious British anti-Semite, John then formed his own right-wing group, the National Socialist League, with William Joyce, who was also known as Lord Haw-Haw.

William was the last person to be executed for treason in the UK in 1946, after spending the war years in Germany where he conducted radio broadcasts to Britain that promoted fascism and called for the Allies to surrender. 

John, however, was in prison in the UK during this time as he was considered a threat to the war effort. For the rest of his life his family were monitored by the MI5.

Fascist in the Family describes Francis’ childhood in Hertfordshire as the son of someone he believes was “one of the most hated men in the country”.

He was kept in the dark to all of these details of his father’s life until many years after his death in 1964. Now he offers a brutally honest account into his father, whom he labels “a troubled man in turbulent times”, who could “believe any comforting untruth that came along.”

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Francis Beckett - author, journalist, playwright and historian

“He used to talk and talk and talk about his life, but the version I had in my mind is the version he wanted to be known. He talked very little about his time as a fascist.

“What I had in my mind at the time he died, when I was 19, was the image of himself as he would like to be remembered with an awful lot of closed doors. Bits he didn’t want known about or discussed, all of which I now know about or discuss.”

His father was one of the first Holocaust deniers and, one of the largest revelations that followed his death, was that his own mother was Jewish.

He successfully hid his ancestry throughout his life, telling people his mother’s family were “fisher folk from the east coast” when in fact his ancestors were Solomons, Isaacs and Jacobsons, originally from Prussia.

Francis isn’t sure why he kept so much hidden, from both others and from his children, but says: “All politicians present an idealised version of themselves.

“He wouldn’t have been the first politician to have done that but he was an extreme version of that.

“He was, by the end, a complete mess of contradictions. A Jew who denounced Jews. A champion of the underdog who worshipped money.”

Francis, who now lives in Finchley, moved around Hertfordshire for most of his childhood and went to several schools in and around the county.

His younger sister, he recalls, went to 17 schools before she ran away from home aged 16-years-old.

“It was all created by my father’s complete failure to settle to anything, abetted by the security services determination that he should never be allowed to go away and earn a quiet living somewhere.

“That is why he went back to politics and went back to appalling organisations on the far right, because he couldn’t get a proper job.

“I first lived in Chenies because when my father was released from prison he wasn’t allowed to live within 20 miles of the centre of London and Chenies was 21 miles away. I was born in what is now Watford General Hospital.”

I wondered whether it had been a hard decision to write the book, but Francis answered with a resolute no.

“If anybody is going to hold against me the political opinions my father held before I was even born, well then that person’s opinion doesn’t matter.

“I’ve always been aware that it gave me a certain special insight, because I have my father’s unpublished autobiography and I had listened to him all those years and what I had seen as a child, which is described in the book, into various bits of history that most people don’t have.

“It had to be written. In the days of Brexit and Donald Trump these are probably needed more than ever.

“Mosley once said ‘I am done with those who think, in future I will go with those who feel’.”

Fascist in the Family is published by Routledge.