New George Orwell Statue to Keep an Eye on BBC ‘Ministry of Truth’

The proposed gift was previously turned down.

A rendering of Martin Jennings's planned George Orwell statue outside the BBC’s New Broadcasting House. Courtesy of Steve Russell Studios/Martin Jennings.

A life-size statue of author George Orwell has gotten the green light to be installed outside the BBC, reports the Guardian.

Sculptor Martin Jennings was commissioned to create the bronze work. The artist is known for his public portrait sculptures, such as a bust of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a statue of Charles Dickens for Guildhall Square, Portsmouth, on England’s southern coast.

His latest sculpture will be accompanied by an inscription on the wall behind it reading “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” The line is from an essay titled “The Freedom of the Press,” which Orwell originally wrote as the preface to Animal Farm.


George Orwell at the BBC in 1940. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

George Orwell at the BBC in 1940. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When Orwell began writing his famous books, he was actually working for the BBC, as a member of the company’s Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. He was less than enamored of the job, writing in his official resignation letter that he “was wasting my own time and the public money on doing work that produces no result” and that “the broadcasting of British propaganda to India is an almost hopeless task.”

The experience almost certainly informed his fiction. Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four features a government propaganda outlet called the Ministry of Truth. Orwell reportedly took the name of the Ministry of Love’s torture chamber, Room 101, from a particularly oppressive BBC conference room.

Martin Jennings, Sir John Betjeman at St. Pancra Station, London. Courtesy of Troika/Martin Jennings.

Martin Jennings, Sir John Betjeman at St. Pancra Station, London. Courtesy of Troika/Martin Jennings.

All things considered, it was perhaps unsurprising when in 2012 former BBC director-general Mark Thompson turned down a proposed gift of the Orwell statue for being “too left-wing. The money for the £110,000 ($142,000) work has been raised through private donations, in an initiative started by the late British politician Ben Whitaker. In April, the BBC’s new director-general, Tony Hall, moved to accept the statue, which has now been approved by Westminster city council, the same group that rejected Timothy Schmalz‘s Homeless Jesus sculpture.

“Orwell was not only a paragon of political journalism, but an ideal subject for a sculptor: Loomingly tall, skinny as a rake, forever fag in hand, body leaning in to make a point. He wore the kind of clothes that might have spent their off-duty hours hanging from a nail in the potting shed,” said Jennings of his new subject to the Guardian. “I can’t wait to start.”

The unveiling of Martin Jennings's <em>HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother</em> at St. Paul's Cathedral, London. Courtesy of Norman McBeath/Martin Jennings.

The unveiling of Martin Jennings’s HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Courtesy of Norman McBeath/Martin Jennings.

Jennings also spoke highly of the statue’s planned location, outside the BBC’s New Broadcasting House, saying “I was delighted when I visited the site to find it littered with cigarette butts—that is absolutely the place for Orwell, who was rarely seen without a cigarette in hand, to the grave detriment of his health.”

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.