A forgotten journalism hero
He was tweeting before the term was even invented, reaching thousands of people every day with pithy one-liners like, “Pet subjects, if taken out in public, should always be kept on a lead.”
Hugh Redwood is an unlikely member of my journalism hall of heroes. He didn’t risk life and limb in war zones, nor face imprisonment for speaking truth to dictatorial power. But he showed me that professionalism and personal faith could be intertwined in the newsroom. In his day, his writing was more influential than that of C.S. Lewis.
First and early editions of most of Redwood’s twenty-plus books are among my most treasured possessions, including his 1930 classic, God in the Slums. A simple book about the remarkable work of Salvation Army women officers among London’s poor and destitute, it sold more than a million copies and sparked something of a revival in missions work.
By contemporary standards Redwood’s writing might be considered dry or dull. But sometimes more distanced “just the facts” reporting can have a greater impact than the florid “color” that so many writers splish-splash their copy with these days. From God in the Slums:
Spoken by a boy of twelve (one of five motherless children whose father had just cut his throat), when the [Salvation Army woman] officer kissed him:
“What was that?” Then, putting his hand to his cheek and following her to the door, “Will you do it again, please?”
Redwood’s style came from the “write tight” era of journalism, and was ideally suited for the pre-Twitter short thoughts he was asked to produce after being appointed the first-ever religious editor of one of Britain’s national secular newspapers. His Today’s Parable offering became a popular daily read. Among them, the likes of:
Pride’s stiff neck usually begins with a stiff knee.
The garment of friendship is knitted on the needles of give and take.
Before you seek Revenge, bear in mind that she lives in the criminal quarter.
Redwood didn’t set out to write about faith. He’d long abandoned his youthful beliefs by the time he was a night editor on London’s Daily News. But the day after his newspaper had reported how a flood had devastated part of the capital’s tenement community, something prompted him to get off the train on his commute home, to visit the scene.
He was astonished by the tireless work of the Salvation Army girls. Their example inspired a subsequent return to Jesus, and his later account of their work. Sub-titled “A Book of Modern Miracles,” God in the Slums became an unexpected publishing hit. “I had been torn between journalism and evangelism,” he would later recall. “Now, as a journalist, I was to have opportunities for evangelism which could have come to me in no other way.”
Writing many subsequent books while continuing his career in the Fleet Street heart of the British newspaper industry, Redwood also traveled internationally to speak and preach. Miraculously healed at seventy-five of what doctors told him was terminal cancer, he lived another eight years, dying on December 26, 1963—a month after Lewis.
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