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How actor Paul Eddington’s beliefs cast him as a Conscientious Objector

Paul Eddington was an actor famous for starring roles in The Good Life and Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister. But his fledgling acting career was disrupted by the Second World War and before becoming a household name, Eddington became a Conscientious Objector (CO).

In June 1945 Eddington faced military service under conscription. As a Quaker, he had been brought up with pacifism as one of his core beliefs. He registered as a CO and was granted conditional exemption from military service provided he continued his acting work.

Download the transcript of Paul Eddington's interviews.

  • A Quaker background

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    Paul Eddington describes some of his teachers at Sibford School, a Quaker school in north Oxfordshire. Several of them had been COs in the First World War. Being brought up in this context and in the Quaker faith meant Eddington was a staunch pacifist.

    Image - Paul Eddington's national registration card. Documents 3467/B © IWM

  • The young actor

    Paul Eddington's Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) contract for a 1944 play he was cast in called ‘Jeannie’. Documents.3467/C © IWM.

    Paul Eddington began his acting career as a teenager. As this contract shows, in 1944 he was cast in an Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) production of a play called ‘Jeannie’. Many well-known stars – including Vera Lynn, Noel Coward, John Gielgud and Vivien Leigh – performed with ENSA, which had been set up in 1939 to entertain the British armed forces.

  • Preparing to be a conscientious objector

    A letter dated 30 March 1945 from Frank Parkin, a former teacher of Eddington’s, offering advice ahead of his tribunal. Documents.3467/J © IWM.

    Eddington was to turn 18 in June 1945, qualifying him for military service under conscription. As a Quaker with pacifist beliefs, he decided to apply to be a CO and face a tribunal. Eddington’s former teacher, Frank Parkin, offered advice in this letter of 30 March 1945: “You have not to convince them you are right, but that you believe you are right”.

  • The Tribunal

    Paul Eddington's CO application form outlining his pacifist beliefs that was submitted to his tribunal at Birmingham held on 24 July 1945. Documents.3467/L © IWM.

    Eddington submitted this application form to his tribunal, held at Birmingham on 24 July 1945. It outlines his beliefs, as well as showing he was still part of the cast of ‘Jeannie’, which had toured to Orkney. The tribunal granted Eddington conditional registration as a CO on the basis he continued his ENSA acting work. The war ended only a few weeks later.

  • Commitment to pacifism

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    In this interview clip recorded in 1986, Eddington describes his continued commitment to pacifism. When Britain faced the threat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, a sense of complete pacifism was often difficult to maintain. Eddington’s Quaker faith gave him strength in his beliefs.

    Image - Paul Eddington's national registration card. Documents 3467/B © IWM

    The documents demonstrating Paul Eddington's beliefs as a conscientious objector are on display at our People Power: Fighting for Peace exhibition. Visit IWM London and learn about conscientious objectors and other peace movements from the First World War to the present day.