Edward Shortt

Edward Shortt, KC (10 March 1862 – 10 November 1935) was a British lawyer and Liberal Party politician. He served as a member of David Lloyd George's cabinet, most significantly as Home Secretary from 1919 to 1922.

Edward Shortt

Edward Shortt.jpg
Home Secretary
In office
14 January 1919 – 23 October 1922
Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George
Preceded bySir George Cave
Succeeded byWilliam Bridgeman
Personal details
Born(1862-03-10)10 March 1862
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Died10 November 1935(1935-11-10) (aged 73)
Kensington, London, England
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)Isabella Stewart Scott
Alma materUniversity of Durham

Background and educationEdit

Shortt was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and was the son of the Church of England vicar Rev. Edward Shortt of Woodhorn, Northumberland.[1] Though born and bred in England, Shortt came from a family with roots in County Tyrone.[1] Shortt was educated at Durham School, where he was a King's scholar and competed for the school boat club.[1] He continued his education at the neighbouring Durham University, where he was Lindsay scholar at University College and for two years competed for Durham University Boat Club.[1] He did not excel academically, taking a gentleman's degree in Classics in 1884.[1]

Shortt had three brothers. One, Dr William Rushton Shortt, was a surgeon who acted as a Civil Surgeon to the Natal Field Force during the Second Boer War and was present at the Relief of Ladysmith.[2] However, his health having declined in South Africa, he was forced to retire early, and died in November 1913.[2] An older brother, the Rev. Joseph Rushton Shortt (1860–1919), having previously attended Exeter College, Oxford, joined the Durham University staff as a lecturer in Classics and was Bursar of Hatfield College from 1889–1898.[3][4]

Legal careerEdit

He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1890 and practised on the North Eastern Circuit. He soon acquired a large junior practice in both civil and criminal cases, with his 'breezy personality' making him an effective advocate in front of juries.[1] His business being mostly in the North East, he was little known in London at this time.[1] He was appointed as Recorder (part-time judge) of Sunderland in 1907 and took silk in 1910.[1]

Political careerEdit

Shortt became active in politics for the Liberal Party. In 1908, Shortt was an unsuccessful candidate for Newcastle upon Tyne in a by-election, losing a seat previously held by the party when the Social Democratic Federation put up a candidate against him. However, in the January 1910 election he was elected, and remained an MP until 1922, transferring in 1918 to the new Newcastle upon Tyne West constituency. Within the Liberal Party, Shortt allied with David Lloyd George in the party split which occurred between him and H. H. Asquith. When Lloyd George came to power in 1916, Shortt was soon appointed to the government.

Chief Secretary of IrelandEdit

Shortt took an active interest in Irish affairs and became known for his frequent interventions during the debates over the Third Home Rule Bill.[1] His appointment to chair a Select committee to review the operation of the Military Service Acts proved to be the turning-point in his political career. The public hearings of this committee, with witness after witness coming forward to tell stories of medical and administrative chaos, caused a major political storm and sounded the end of the old system.[5] In August 1917 the committee produced a report whose main recommendation was the transfer of medical examinations of recruits from the War Office to a civilian authority.[1] This apparently impressed Lloyd George, and would lead to the advancement of Shortt's career after several years of relative obscurity in public life.[1] In May 1918, Lloyd George appointed him as Chief Secretary for Ireland, at a pivotal stage in the First World War and when Irish Republicanism was on the increase. Taking to this new role with great energy and, suspicious of any alleged German intrigue to encourage sedition, he had 150 members of Sinn Féin arrested as a precaution.[1]

The government had also decided to introduce conscription in Ireland to provide more soldiers for the Western Front, linked to support for Irish home rule, but still found that opposition to the British increased. Shortt gave his support to an unusual plan to encourage Irish soldiers to join the French army, while persuading the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland to support conscription.[6] However, both parts of the plan collapsed due to infighting within the government and the military establishment. Conscription was never implemented in Ireland.

Pencil sketch of Edward Shortt by Reginald Grenville Eves

Home SecretaryEdit

Once the war was over, Shortt was promoted to Home Secretary in January 1919, during the middle of a police strike.

On the issue of the fate of enemy aliens who had been detained on the outbreak of war, he resisted demands made by Charles Yate in February 1919 that all foreign waiters on strike should be immediately deported, arguing that 'the fact that an alien takes part in a strike in company with British subjects of the same occupation is not alone a sufficient reason for his deportation'.[7] Shortt oversaw the deportation of the Estonian anarchist Eduard Sõrmus, the so-called 'Red Violinist', who was ultimately removed from the country on the 15th of February 1919.[8]

In a November 1919 meeting with representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews Shortt rejected their proposals for an appeal to a judge in chambers prior to the making of a deportation order, arguing that the necessity of tackling political subversives in the aftermath of the Great War depended on the government holding on to what he described as 'abnormal' powers.[9] He also reprieved Ronald True, who had been condemned to death for murder, after finding the issue of his sanity in doubt. He was unpopular with some people in Parliament because of his regional partiality: tending to appoint barristers from the North East to many top posts.[6]

Shortt was in favour of denying entry to Mormon missionaries, with the Home Office believing such a policy would prove unpopular with the public.[10] Malcolm R. Thorp has suggested that Shortt's position as Recorder of Sunderland before he entered parliament may have influenced his feelings, as Sunderland experienced anti-Mormon riots in 1912, which Shortt presumably witnessed.[10] These experiences could have convinced him that a more generous policy towards the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would have prompted renewed violence.[10]

When Lloyd George's coalition government fell in October 1922 in the aftermath of the Carlton Club meeting, he realised his Cabinet career was effectively over and stood down from Parliament.

Career after ParliamentEdit

He subsequently held a number of official posts, including the chairmanship of the committees on the rating of machinery, trusts, heavy motor traffic, and the investigation into the Agricultural Marketing Act.[11]

In November 1929, Shortt was appointed as second President of the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) succeeding T.P. O'Connor.[12] This was an odd appointment as Shortt had no real interest and actively disliked sound films, and was also known to be critical of Hollywood.[6]

The Board had been set up by the film industry and had no statutory role (local councils being technically responsible for judging who could see a film) but in practice its rulings were always obeyed. In March 1930 the BBFC rejected Her Unborn Child after a viewing by Shortt.[13] This was the first time that the BBFC had been presented with a film that depicted the act of childbirth, and the decision to reject was never reversed.[13] At the time, educational bodies were keen to exploit the emergence of sound films in Europe with serious scientific films. After academic pressure, Shortt would soften his position later that year and the BBFC would become more open to such productions.[13] One beneficiary was the 1927 German film Nature and Love.[13]

Shortt, however, generally followed previous policy of a highly restrictive licensing. In the Board's report for 1931, he outlined his concern about the increasing number of films dealing with sexual topics, and promised further restrictions. In 1932 he rejected the Tod Browning film Freaks, a ban that would not be lifted until 1963.[14] The following year he had to contend with Island of Lost Souls by the American director Erle C. Kenton, which had already caused some controversy in the US over its alleged portrayal of cruelty to animals. Consequently, Shortt was concerned enough to view the film himself instead of one of his censors, and he imposed a ban throughout the country.[15] He banned 120 films in five years and in 1932 ordered cuts to 382, a record number; one of which was Red-Headed Woman, starring Jean Harlow. He also introduced the 'H' rating (for horror), which was the origin of the later X rated film.[6]

Shortt was very upfront about the power of cinema to shape public opinion:

There is in our hands as citizens an instrument to mould the minds of the young, to mould the mind of the adolescent, and to create great and good and noble citizens for our future. There is the instrument right to our hands. If we control it, if we work public opinion up to the pitch of controlling it properly, there is a great future for our old country, and I cannot understand why with our united cooperation, we should not finally attain to that perfect ideal.[16]

In the last year of his life he founded the security firm Nightwatch Services, which would later develop into Securicor.[17] His company was one of the first specialist security firms to be established in the modern era, and provided guarding services.[18]


Shortt was described by John Maynard Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace as 'a capable but obstinate man too much bound to preconceived opinions', though Michael Bentley wryly notes that such qualities may have been useful in his position as President of the BBFC.[19][20]

He was 'sociable, good-humoured and well-meaning', remembered affectionately as 'Teddie' in his native Newcastle, though very much shaped by his traditional 19th century education and experience.[21] Liberal in politics, he was paternalistic in matters of human behaviour, art, and entertainment.[21]

Personal lifeEdit

Shortt married Isabella Stewart Scott, who had been born in Valparaiso, Chile to British parents. They had one son, Lieutenant William Edward Dudley Shortt, who was killed on the 12th of October 1917 while serving as a junior officer with the Scots Guards at the Battle of Passchendaele.[22] He also had three daughters, including Doreen Ingrams. His old university, Durham, conferred the honorary degree of DCL upon him in 1920.[11]

Shortt was an active freemason and was a member of University of Durham Lodge no. 3030, a London-based masonic lodge formed for alumni of Durham University.[23] He served as Worshipful Master of the lodge in 1919 and again in 1926 and 1927.[23]

He died on 10 November 1935 at his home in London, 140 Oakwood Court in Kensington at the age of 73. His obituary in The Times described the cause of death as blood poisoning after influenza.[1]

At the time of his death he was President of Den Norske Klub.[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Obituary: Mr. Edward Shortt, K. C.". The Times. 11 November 1935. p. 14.
  2. ^ a b "Deaths". Durham University Journal. 21 (6): 141. 14 February 1914.
  3. ^ "Durham University Calendar 1912-13". Durham University (Special Collections). p. 382. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  4. ^ "Durham University Calendar 1919-20". Durham University (Special Collections). p. 810. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  5. ^ Winter, J. M. (1986). The Great War and the British People. Macmillan. p. 51. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d "The Home Secretaries (6): Edward Shortt". RGS History. 14 November 2017. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  7. ^ "FOREIGN WAITERS (DEPORTATION). (Hansard, 13 February 1919)". Historic Hansard. Parliament of the United Kingdom. 13 February 1919.
  8. ^ "RUSSIAN SUBJECTS (DEPORTATION). (Hansard, 19 February 1919)". Historic Hansard. 19 February 1919.
  9. ^ Bonner, David (2007). Executive Measures, Terrorism and National Security: Have the Rules of the Game Changed?. Ashgate. p. 118. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  10. ^ a b c Thorp, Malcolm R. (1979). "The British Government and the Mormon Question, 1910-1922". Journal of Church and State. 21 (2): 316. doi:10.1093/jcs/21.2.305. ISSN 0021-969X. JSTOR 23915804.
  11. ^ a b Marc Brodie (2004). "Shortt, Edward (1862–1935)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36078. Retrieved 12 August 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  12. ^ "Film Censor". The Times. 22 November 1929. p. 14.
  13. ^ a b c d Robertson, James C. (1989). The Hidden Cinema: British film censorship in action, 1913–1975 (2005 ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 37. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  14. ^ Robertson, p. 52
  15. ^ Robertson, p. 57
  16. ^ Richards, Jeffrey (2010). The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain. I. B. Tauris. p. 103.
  17. ^ Group 4's Danes to swoop on Securicor The Times, 1 February 2004
  18. ^ Gill, Martin, ed. (2014). The Handbook of Security (2nd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. p. 30. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  19. ^ Keynes, John Maynard (1919). The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Macmillan. pp. 127–128. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  20. ^ Bentley, Michael (1977). The Liberal Mind 1914–1929. Cambridge University Press. p. 74. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  21. ^ a b Whetstone, David (20 March 2012). "Insight: UK film censor Edward Shortt". The Journal. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  22. ^ "Mr. Edward Short, K.C.". The Times. 12 November 1935. p. 16.
  23. ^ a b "About Us & History". University of Durham Lodge No. 3030. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  24. ^ "Friends Across the North Sea". The Times. 19 June 1935. p. 8.

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Renwick and
Walter Hudson
Member of Parliament for Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Jan 19101918
With: Walter Hudson
constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne West
Succeeded by
David Adams
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Edward Duke
Chief Secretary for Ireland
Succeeded by
James Ian Macpherson
Preceded by
The Viscount Cave
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
William Bridgeman
Media offices
Preceded by
T. P. O'Connor
President of the British Board of Film Censors
Succeeded by
William Tyrrell