I have long been puzzled by the fact (the paradox, in Professor Cell's mind) that the
accepted pre-eminent 'Africanist' of the 20th century should have been an Indian, not an
African, Proconsul - unless of course it is simply a case of the outsider being able to see
most of the game. For, taking Lord Lugard's place as the authority on African
administration. Lord Hailey impinged on 'us', as it were, only after retiring from forty
years in the Indian Civil Service. He came into contact with the Colonial Service in four
principal contexts: in planning (rather than writing) his encyclopaedic, 1600 pp. An African Survey (1938); in his penetrating, incisive and highly confidential report on Native Administration and Political Development in British Tropical Africa (1941, though not
made public till 1979); in his work on the post-war reforms of the Colonial Service; and in
his somewhat disappointing four volumes on Native Administration in the British African Territories (1950-53). Whether Cell is correct in being more charitable to the 'Revised 1956'
edition of the African Survey than I am is not really an issue: like the Watson Commission's
jaundiced view of the so-called 'advanced' Gold Coast constitution of 1946, we are in
agreement that the 1957 Survey was more or less outmoded at birth. What Cell now does is
to explode the common myth that Hailey was a great Africanist. Rather, and in no way
belittling the stature of the man, he was a great man who devoted the last quarter of his life
to Africa: "Ultimately, what mattered was not so much the intrinsic qualities of his
(African) writing as the significance readers attached to them. It was not so much what he
said as the fact that he said it."
If this is the first full-length study, profoundly researched and effectively written with
welcome clarity, of Lord Hailey (1872-1969), John Cell is at pains to emphasise that it is
more about the 'times' than the 'life' of this distinguished scholar-administrator, imperialist
par excellence. Born in 1872 and educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he
took a First (the Oxford years are unexpectedly thin: could the College really not provide
more about one of its Honorary Fellows?), Malcolm Hailey followed his brother into the
Indian Civil Service. A brilliant career ensued, culminating in two memberships of the
Viceroy's Council, the Chief Commissionership of New Delhi (1912) and the Governorship
of the Punjab (1924) and the United Provinces (1928), and one of the few elevations of an
ICS officer to the peerage. Retiring from India in 1934, Hailey, as we have seen, took up
Africa. His last of a score of publications on Africa (against a mere three on India) came in
1963. Hailey was then 89.
Cell believes that after 1949 Hailey began to see himself as an anachronism. He was still a
fervent imperialist, in the post-war world of fervid anti-colonialism - Cell's "Defender of
the Faith" - but already that was a label beginning to go out of fashion. Workaholic
extraordinaire, he wrote in his nineties that "I do not think life is really worth living unless
it is weighted with definite responsibilities". In John Cell's epitaph, Hailey had outlived the
British Empire he had served with such dedication and distinction.
This biography is a superb achievement, brilliantly depicting both Hailey, the eminent
imperial administrator, and the colonialism-to-decolonization context in which he played
such a central role across fifty years and two continents. For me, this is emphatically the
Book of the Year - and maybe of many yet to come.