1st September 1939. BBC At War.
Welcome to September.
In June 1939 the News Department of the BBC, aware that war was imminent, sent out a memo regarding forthcoming plans and announcing that they would come under the Ministry of Information.
In other words government propaganda would be taking the place of objectivity.
Today the first day of September in 1939, Germany invaded Poland, BBC Television closed for the ‘duration’ at mid-day, and The BBC ‘National’ and seven Regional Programmes were superseded from 6 pm, with a single BBC Programme, known as the ‘Home Service’.
War was declared 3 days later on the Sunday.
The reason put out was that enemy aircraft could pick up the many regional wave-length beams as direction finders.(1)
Issue 831 of The Radio Times programmes had to be quickly revised, so on Monday 4th, we saw the first wartime billing, which started at 3.15 am with Light Records, then throughout the day, Sandy Macpherson at the BBC Theatre Organ, more Light Records, A talk on a Topic of the day and Comedy on Records.
All was interspersed with Gramophone Records, Regional Announcements, then for light entertainment, First Steps in First Aid, by a doctor, ‘for beginners’. It finished at 12.15 am.
Later it was announced that Sandy Macpherson had been doing a ‘grand job’, and now was to be joined by Dudley Beavan and Reginald Foort at the…organ.
The BBC was evacuated, with most sent to Wood Norton, near Evesham, Worcestershire, where studios and offices had been ‘secretly built’, though it seems certain the Germans knew well in advance.
Variety, including ITMA, with Tommy Handley, soon evacuated to Bristol and later to Bangor in North Wales. Programmes such as Ack-Ack-Beer-Beer, which harnessed the talents of those on Anti-Aircraft and Balloon Command sites soon came.(2)
In 1940 ‘Music while You Work’, an up-beat daily ration of music increased productivity, along with ‘Sincerely Yours’ with Vera Lynn, provided a sentimental link with servicemen overseas.
However a programme controller was sniffy about the output which according to a memo, was deemed ‘slushy and sentimental’.
Meanwhile the midday works’ concert ‘Workers’ Playtime’ boosted civilian morale, and Jack Warner’s ‘Garrison Theatre’ entertained the military.
In July 1940 to ‘confuse German propagandists’, the BBC began announcing programme identities at the start of each broadcast. ‘This is the one o’clock news and this is Frank Phillips reading it’. Readers were used with regional accents for the same reason, thus giving Yorkshireman Wilfred Pickles, his break. (3)
By peace-time 1951, things had changed; bulletins were to be read by only eight persons instead of nineteen, but no men with ‘dialect voices’. So there!
This raises the point why was the BBC so sniffy about accents, and did this reflect a wider social unawareness?
Radio 4 replaced The Home Service in 1967 in a general shake-up.
(1) 7th January, 1940 saw introduction of ‘For the Forces’ (no doubt inspired by a rival commercial station Radio International, entertaining troops from a transmitter in Fecamp.
(2) Bristol was vacated after German raids on Filton Aircraft Works, but then Bangor soon became dangerous.
(3) July 13th 1940. Pickles was later famous for ‘Have-a Go’, a quiz programme.
Ref: bbc.co/archives/ww2/outbreak-of-war/Pics of Radio Times.