BILLING, N. Pemberton; b. Hampstead, 1880; s. of Charles Eardley Billing, Birmingham, iron founder, and Annie Emilia Claridge, Coventry; m. 1903, Lilian Maud (d. 1923), d. of Theodore Henry Schweitzer, Bristol. Fought in Boer War, 1899-1901; Royal Naval Air Service, 1914-1916; retired Squadron Commander; contested Mile End, 1916, in support of strong Air Policy; M.P. (Ind.) East Herts, 1916-21; play produced, High Treason, 1928. Publications: Endowment by Increment; contributor to Nineteenth Century, Fortnightly and other reviews on industrial and social problems. Founder and Editor of Aerocraft, 1908-10. Club: Royal Aero.
Who's Who 1937. London: A & C Black, 1937.
Noel Pemberton Billing (1881-1948 – according to the Oxford DNB; the entry above gives 1880 for his date of birth), a far-right politician, aviator and writer. His last two names were and are often hyphenated, so if you are looking him up in an index he might be under "Pemberton Billing, Noel", "Pemberton-Billing, Noel" or "Billing, Noel Pemberton"! The latter seems to be preferred, but even then it seems usual to refer to him as Pemberton Billing, not Billing.
That Pemberton Billing supported a 'strong Air Policy' is something of an understatement: the Independent "member for Air" was quite a thorn in the Government's side in 1916-7, when he harshly criticised it for failing to defend Britain against German air raids. His solution was a separate air force (which eventually did come into being) as well as reprisal raids against German cities. He became an expert in rousing the passions of crowds by tapping into their anger at Britain's apparent lack of defences against air raids, and was a relentless self-promoter. He published a book in 1916 with the title Air War: How to Wage It, an autobiography in 1917 called P.-B.: The Story of His Life, and even released a phonograph recording of his speeches.
There are a few things missing from Pemberton Billing's entry. He was the founder of the aircraft firm Supermarine in 1913, specialising in flying boats (he sold it during the war, so can't claim any direct credit for Supermarine's most famous aeroplane, the Spitfire). While in the RNAS, he was involved in the pre-emptive attacks on Zeppelin bases in late 1914. His play High Treason was also filmed (subtitled "The Peace Picture"), one of the first British talkies (in fact, it was designed to be shown both with and without sound). It is set some time after 1939, and features involving some futuristic Metropolis-style cityscapes of London, with strange aircraft flying about. Indeed, the plot (apparently – I haven't seen it) revolves in part around the threat of an air war, and the attempts by pacifists to avert it. It didn't do very well. Finally, he is supposed to have invented a pilotless flying bomb at the start of the Second World War, which the government took no interest in.
A less surprising omission is any reference to his being the defendant in the infamous "Cult of the Clitoris" libel suit brought in 1918 by the dancer Maud Allan, who Pemberton Billing had implied was a lesbian. This was tied to right-wing conspiracy theories involving a supposed list of 47000 highly placed British perverts (including the trial judge!), who the Germans were blackmailing into undermining the war effort. Pemberton Billing won, and the controversy didn't do his parliamentary career any harm, as he was re-elected in the coupon election later that year. He resigned his seat in 1921 due to ill health.
See also Barbara Stoney, Twentieth Century Maverick: The Life of Noel Pemberton Billing (East Grinstead: Manor House Books, 2004); Barry Powers, Strategy Without Slide-Rule: British Air Strategy 1914-1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1976); James Hayward, Myths and Legends of the First World War (Stroud: Sutton, 2002); M. J. Simpson, review of High Treason. Image source: N. Pemberton Billing, Air War: How to Wage It (London: Gale & Polden, 1916), front cover.
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