While his subject was one of the most famous Christians throughout the world, Billy Graham’s biographer was an anonymous, self-effacing figure – one of the Church of England’s best-kept secrets.
Before I met him, I had often wondered how an ageing English clergyman had landed the job as official biographer to the great evangelist:
“It was a help in a way that I was an Anglican clergyman and I was ex-army and ‘squirearchy’,” John Pollock said in his book-lined study in Devon where he lived for decades, writing biographies of great Christian figures and constantly updating his records on Billy Graham.
The Billy Graham Story contains insights into the life of the evangelist who has influenced world history. Pollock was convinced of the importance of his subject, not just to the history of the Church but to the fate of nations and peoples.
For example, he, like Sir David Frost, one of Billy’s other close English friends, was convinced that Britain could have been a very different place today if the evangelist had stayed in Britain in 1954.
Despite a frosty reception from the Church of England hierarchy Billy Graham’s Haringey Crusades had set London alight. The Royal family were among the few within the establishment to recognise how Billy’s ministry was touching the lives of ordinary people. The Haringey Crusades were a gateway to Christian ministry for many young men and women in all the churches, but had they continued Pollock argued they could have had a significant and lasting impact on the state of the nation.
Becoming Billy’s biographer
When Billy Graham first approached John Pollock to be his biographer, the young clergyman was married and serving an incumbency in Somerset. He had already published a successful biography of Henry Havelock of Lucknow. He then took the risk of leaving the ministry for a time to pursue his love of writing, which he considered in its own way an evangelistic ministry. He would choose well-known figures whose strong Christian faith was often a lesser known aspect of their lives. Some of these figures were military, relating to his family’s military background and his own experience of army life as an officer in the Coldstream Guards.
It was Pollock’s biography of Moody which drew him to Graham’s attention. As Graham grew in prominence in American life, many false stories were being published about him. He wanted to have someone he could trust to write his life story, in contrast to the ‘fiction’ that was mounting up.
It was a wonderful, exciting experience to write about Billy
Pollock and Graham had already met in 1954 when the young writer had been invited to produce an account of the Haringey Crusades. Pollock recalled meeting Billy for the first time after one of the Crusades: “I drove back with him and his wife Ruth and listened to him record the ‘Hour of Decision’ [his famous radio broadcasts]. I am one of the very few survivors of inside the Haringey Crusades,” says Pollock. “I just couldn’t give enough time to writing the story of the Crusades and do my job. But it was providence that Frank Calhoun, with his dry, factual and tabulated style, wrote the official reports. This was exactly the thing that was needed.”
Nine years later, Pollock was invited to meet Billy again at the 1963 Los Angeles Crusade. The two of them hit it off again immediately. “It was a wonderful, exciting experience to write about Billy. It was pioneering work, you’ve no notion how little there was in print about him at the time."
A story of integrity
In retrospect, Pollock said there were lots of mistakes and errors in the first edition of the biography. “I didn’t have quite the right approach in the first edition. Billy’s wife Ruth said to me, ‘If it hadn’t been my husband I wouldn’t have read on’."
Pollock’s interviews with Billy from the summer of 1964 run to about 400 pages of typescript. Pollock and Graham both believed that the biography was an important part of the evangelistic ministry which they both felt called to.
Pollock was full of admiration for the man he knew more about than anyone else and with whom he had developed an enduring friendship.
“Billy’s outlasted them all. The story of Billy Graham is one of total integrity,” John Pollock believed.
Andrew Carey is a Christian writer and campaigner