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Duncan Campbell-Smith

Author and historian

The current scandal over the mistreatment by the UK Post Office of hundreds of its self-employed postmasters and mistresses broke after the publication of Duncan’s history of Britain’s postal services. Entitled  MASTERS OF THE POST, The Authorized History of the Royal Mail, it was published by Penguin Allen Lane in November 2012, with a paperback edition in August 2012. Its account of events in the late 1990s, when the seeds of the whole affair were sown, nonetheless offers a critical background to what is now generally seen as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history.

For readers more interested in the evolution of one of Britain’s proudest institutions over the previous five centuries, MASTERS OF THE POST offers a full narrative history. It sets the social and business history of the postal services within their changing political environment from the early Tudors to the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 2012 it won the Wadsworth Prize, awarded annually by the British Archives Council to the book judged to be the best business title of the year.

Popular science and military history have more or less equal billing in Duncan’s biography of the man who transformed the world of aero-engineering: JET MAN – The Making and Breaking of Frank Whittle, Genius of the Jet Revolution, published by Head of Zeus in December 2020, with a paperback edition in August 2021.

Between 1929 and 1940 Frank Whittle conceived, designed and built the first jet engine capable of powering an aeroplane in sustained flight. This account of his achievement seeks to give the reader a proper understanding of Whittle’s engine and how it worked. But Whittle’s story from 1940 onwards was inevitably shaped by the course of the Second World War. The book shows how and why the production of jet engines in wartime Britain slipped out of Whittle’s control and gave rise to a new future for the country’s aero-engineering industry – justifying the subtitle.

Also released in 2021 was Duncan’s account of one of the most colourful institutions in the financial world: CROSSING CONTINENTS: A History of the Standard Chartered Bank (published by Penguin Allen Lane in May 2021). Commissioned by the Board of Standard Chartered and drawing heavily on the Group’s extensive archival records, the book presents a rare portrait of one of the City of London’s ‘overseas banks’. These played a fundamental role in the financing of trade across the British Empire through several generations. A reviewer in The Financial Times praised the book generously as a valuable contribution to this broader background:

Duncan Campbell-Smith’s sparkling new account of Standard Chartered Bank … is a door-stopping, desk-breaking heavyweight tome … of patient text and brilliantly evocative photographs. Campbell-Smith, a former banker and journalist, had access to Standard Chartered’s rich archive, and what emerges is work of painstaking scholarship. Multiple sources are woven together into a compelling record of imperial and post-imperial banking, the white men responsible and the lives they led. (Philip Augar in FT Weekend, 5-6 June 2021)


These three books and two others published in earlier years are all featured on this website.

Duncan is now at work on a history of The Royal Bank of Scotland (f. 1727), commissioned by the board of the NatWest Group.



Duncan Campbell-Smith