BALCHIN, Nigel Marlin



3rd December 1908 to 17th May 1970

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Biographical Text

Balchin was an industrial psychologist who worked briefly as a consultant for Rowntree. He went on to become a well-known novelist and screenwriter.

Balchin was born on 3 December 1908 in Potterne, Wiltshire, the son of a grocer and baker. He was educated at Dauntsey's School in Wiltshire and then at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1930. He joined the National Institute of Industrial Psychology and served as a consultant to the Rowntree company where he conducted a study on industrial efficiency. He also advised the marketing department, working alongside a team from the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, and was involved in the creation of the Black Magic brand; he also claimed to have been behind the creation of two other brands, Aero and Kit-Kat, but there is no evidence to support this.

In the mid-1930s Balchin found success as a writer, beginning with a series of articles for Punch under pen name Mark Spade. The articles were satires on workplace efficiency, and reflected his experience at Rowntree. He also wrote novels and plays under his own name, many of which were highly successful. Balchin married Elizabeth Walshe in 1933. They divorced in 1952 and he married Yovanka Tomich, a Yugoslav refugee.

In 1941 Balchin joined the War Office as a psychologist. By the end of the war he was deputy scientific adviser to the army council, holding the rank of brigadier. He continued to write novels, including Darkness Falls From the Air, about the Blitz, and The Small Back Room, which was turned into a film by Powell and Pressburger. After the war he became a full-time writer, and from 1952-61 was a prolific screenwriter both in London and in Hollywood. He won a BAFTA for his screenplay for The Man Who Never Was in 1957. Balchin continued to write during the 1960s, but his output declined as his health worsened. He died in London on 17 May 1970.

Balchin's Rowntree conference paper looks at the issue of time-wasting. He begins by pronouncing himself to be an expert on the subject, and then challenges his object to define exactly what they mean by 'wasting time'. He points out that activity does not always result in productivity, and that different people work at different speeds and in different ways. Just because someone doesn't appear to be active doesn't mean they are not productive. 'The really important sources of waste time are not the gross and obvious ones', Balchin says, 'but those which are subtle and insidious.'

I believe that more time is wasted by well- intentioned people, using a lot of misdirected energy, without sufficient use of their brains and commonsense, than by all the deliberate idlers in the world. I believe that for one man who skulks in the lavatories ten good honest fellows waste time by foolish and misdirected effort. The idler does little harm to industry. It can recognise him and deal with him. The well-intentioned and misdirected do far more harm because there are more of them, and because they are more difficult to detect.


Everyman's Directory of Literary Biography.

Rowland, P., 'Balchin, Nigel Marlin', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.


“BALCHIN, Nigel Marlin,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed August 5, 2020,