Joyce, William Brooke (‘Lord Haw-Haw’) (1906–46), fascist and propagandist, was born 24 April 1906 in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of three sons of Michael Joyce, building contractor, and his wife, Gertrude (née Brooke), whose forebears were protestants from Cavan. Michael Joyce, the son of a small farmer near Ballinrobe, emigrated to America in 1888 and in 1894 became an American citizen (for business reasons). The Joyces returned to Ireland in 1909; Michael acquired a public house near Westport, Co. Mayo, and in 1913 moved to Galway, where he owned housing property and invested in the Galway Omnibus Company. William, a precocious child, was educated at the Convent of Mercy primary school and St Ignatius' College, Galway; he was always grateful for his Jesuit education. At the age of fourteen, he abandoned catholicism for anglicanism, apparently after being told that all non-catholics (including his mother) would be damned. In adult life he was nominally anglican, though his adherence to Christianity was tenuous.
The Joyces were unionists and taught their children fervent imperialism – Joyce acquired the distinctive nasal tone of his voice after breaking his nose in a school fight over politics. During the war of independence William openly associated with the Black and Tans and acted as a scout for them; he witnessed the killing of a policeman. An acquaintance claimed that his views were so extreme even loyalists disliked him. On 9 December 1921 he fled to England to join the Royal Worcestershire regiment, and was followed to England in 1923 by the rest of the family. Michael Joyce, who had had property destroyed in the war (a house in Mayo rented to the RIC was burnt in 1920), received only partial compensation for his loss; his finances declined, and at the time of his death in 1941, from a heart attack brought on by the blitz, he was a door-to-door salesman. When he enlisted Joyce claimed to be eighteen, but after he contracted rheumatic fever (which stunted his growth) his age was discovered and he was discharged in March 1922. For a time he studied mathematics and chemistry at Battersea Polytechnic as a pre-medical student (1922–3), but he left (of his own accord), with a reputation for laziness and violent political views. His studies in English and history at Birkbeck College were more successful; he was a brilliant linguist and mathematician and graduated BA with first-class honours in 1927. He published an academic article on philology and considered progressing to an MA. He later falsely claimed that his research had been plagiarised by a Jewish academic. In 1932 he enrolled at King's College, London for a Ph.D. in educational psychology.
Joyce was disturbed by the difference between depressed post-war Britain and the imperial ideal that he had imbibed in Galway, and was mocked for his outspoken patriotism and obvious Irishness. He identified strongly with Thomas Carlyle, an earlier angry anti-liberal from the provinces. His life was marked by repeated episodes of hero worship, followed by disillusion and bitter denunciation. In 1923 Joyce joined the British Fascisti, an organisation that had a significant Irish loyalist membership, and in 1924 he allied himself with a militant splinter group, the National Fascists. Most British fascists saw themselves as tory auxiliaries, and they often provided a security presence at conservative meetings. On 22 October 1924, while stewarding a meeting addressed by a Jewish conservative candidate, Joyce had his face slashed (he claimed that the perpetrator was a Jewish communist) and was left with a prominent scar across his right cheek. He joined the Conservative Party in 1928 and was active in the Chelsea constituency until 1930, when he was forced out because of his eccentricities and sexual misbehaviour. On 30 April 1927 Joyce had married Hazel Kathleen Barr; they had two daughters but separated in 1935 (largely because of his infidelities, heavy drinking, and temper); the marriage was dissolved in 1937.
In November 1933 Joyce abandoned his Ph.D. studies to work for Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF); by early 1934 he had become its paid publicity director, travelling throughout Britain to organise meetings. He was a powerful, rabble-rousing speaker, nicknamed ‘the Mighty Atom’ (after a famous bantamweight boxer) and ‘the Professor’, driven by an instinctive awareness that vitriolic verbal abuse gives speaker and audience a sense of power and solidarity. MI5 saw him as a compelling, though deranged, personality. On 8 February 1937 Joyce married Margaret Cairns White, a BUF activist from Lancashire, with whom he had cohabited since 1936.
Joyce led a BUF faction that favoured a recruitment strategy based on uncompromising ideological assertion; this was challenged by populists who prioritised marches and displays, and held that indoctrination should follow membership. In February 1937 Joyce was BUF candidate for the London county council in Shoreditch; the party won 14 per cent of the vote. In March 1937 many full-time BUF staff (including Joyce) were sacked when the BUF cut expenses; but Joyce's dismissal also reflected Mosley's awareness that his obsessive rhetoric repelled ‘respectable’ recruits and that he was no longer a biddable, slavish admirer of ‘the Leader’, whom he now called ‘the Bleeder’. Joyce later falsely claimed near-exclusive credit for the BUF's escalating anti-Semitism, a view that Mosley eventually found it convenient to adopt in order to evade his own responsibility.
In April 1937 Joyce founded the National Socialist League (which never had more than fifty members), helped by a wealthy patron. He supported himself as a private tutor (he refused to take Jewish pupils). He was active in various anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi groups such as the Right Club, and engaged in ‘peace’ campaigns based on the view that British interests lay with Germany against Russia. Political marginalisation intensified his admiration for Nazi Germany and hero worship of Hitler; by the time of the Munich crisis in 1938 he had decided that if war came he would go to Germany (though he also considered moving to Ireland). He renewed his British passport (which he had originally obtained in July 1933, falsely claiming to have been born in Galway) for one-year terms in August 1938 and August 1939.
On 26 August 1939 Joyce and his wife left London for Berlin. He was allegedly tipped off about his impending arrest and internment by an MI5 officer, to whom he had supplied information on communists. His siblings, whom he recruited into his fascist organisations, were variously penalised for his activities. At a loose end in Berlin, he was persuaded by a British associate to become a radio announcer with the English-language service of the Reichsrundfunk. He made his first broadcast on 6 September 1939 and received a contract in October. Joyce found in radio an outlet for his forceful style and delight in saying the unsayable, and in the early years of the war took an exultant pride in recounting Nazi victories; his performances were admired by Goebbels, whom Joyce, to his regret, never met. He worked compulsively, drank hard, and dined in restaurants. On 26 September 1940 he acquired German citizenship.
The novel experience of hearing the enemy in one's own living room attracted wide audiences in Britain; Joyce's practice of naming newly captured prisoners of war in his broadcasts was also a compelling motive for listening. In fact he tried to recruit British prisoners of war as collaborators. The name ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, invented by the Daily Express radio critic in September 1939, initially applied to several English-language broadcasters but in time became associated with Joyce; his wife Margaret was one of several ‘Lady Haw-Haws’. He was initially a figure of fun, imitated by comedians, but there were sinister undercurrents of terrifying omnipotence, intensified by Joyce's sneering, gloating delivery and his delighted deployment of the ‘big lie’ technique. It was widely believed that British-based fifth columnists supplied him with information, that he predicted air raids, and showed minute local knowledge (Joyce had travelled widely in Britain and possessed photographic recall). In time, fear and his growing notoriety fed popular hatred of Joyce in Britain (though his anti-British taunts allegedly won appreciative Irish audiences); he exulted that he was daily committing treason and rendering himself liable to the death penalty.
In 1940 Joyce published a commissioned self-justifying propaganda work, Twilight over England. His representation of himself echoes that of Hitler in Mein Kampf – the provincial patriot, whose martial sacrifices were betrayed by corrupt elites (Hamar Greenwood (qv) is called a Jew who detached Ireland from the British empire), learning through poverty the hollowness of bourgeois patriotism and the need to synthesise socialism with nationalism. He shared with his hero a paranoid belief in his own ability to create an alternative reality through language and obstinacy. Joyce dreamed of becoming the English Führer. (In his death cell Joyce blamed the defeat of national socialism on German limitations; another nation might have done better. He fantasised that he could have saved Hitler from his incompetent subordinates.)
In Berlin the Joyces' marriage came under increasing strain, marked by drunken rows, domestic violence, and infidelity on both sides, though they retained a fierce mutual fascination. They divorced on 12 August 1941 but remarried on 11 February 1942 while continuing their previous behaviour. As the axis powers began to fail, Joyce's broadcasts became more defensive, focusing on the Soviet threat. On 14 October 1944 he was awarded the German War Merit Cross, first class; on 22 October he was sworn into the Volkssturm (territorial army) and began drilling. The Joyces were evacuated from Berlin in March 1945, initially to Apen near the Dutch border and then to Hamburg, where Joyce made a last, drunken, defiant broadcast on the day of Hitler's death (30 April 1945). After an unsuccessful attempt to escape to Sweden, the Joyces hid at Flensburg near the Danish border. On 28 May 1945 he was shot and captured while gathering firewood.
Joyce was brought back to Britain on 16 June after parliament passed legislation simplifying treason trial procedures. At his trial (17–20 September) he proved his American citizenship, but the court held that his illegally acquired British passport incurred duties of allegiance. His appeals were rejected by the court of appeal and (with one dissentient) the house of lords. His fate was influenced by British public opinion, and possibly by a desire to avoid antagonising the Soviet Union. Joyce was hanged at Wandsworth prison on 3 January 1946. Unlike most of his fellow Nazis, he proclaimed to the end his allegiance to national socialism and hatred of Jews; he corresponded cheerfully with Margaret (whom he attempted, with much success, to shield from implication in his offence), joking evasively about the death camps and expressing a belief that his spirit would survive, watch over her, and continue his work. To neo-Nazis Joyce became a martyr. Even among those to whom his activities had been repellent, a significant body of opinion held he should not have been condemned on a questionable and innovative technicality. The historian A. J. P. Taylor maintained that Joyce was executed for making a false declaration to obtain a passport, a misdemeanour that normally incurred a £2 fine.
In 1976 Joyce was reinterred in Galway (it was feared that a grave in England might become a fascist shrine). Thomas Kilroy's play Double cross (1986) juxtaposes Joyce and Brendan Bracken (qv) as Irishmen who reinvented themselves through fantasies of Britishness. The BBC Sound Archive has recordings of some of Joyce's broadcasts and transcripts of others (collected during the war as evidence for a future treason trial).