By Wilfrid Rooke Ley
Radio has played its part in the chronicle of these days and has revealed to us once again its incalculable power. At the moment of writing the B.B.C. programmes are still disorganised; it is possible that by the time you are reading this letter they will be returning to normal. The B,B.C. acted much as we expected it would. It had no precedent to follow. Its decisions had to be made swiftly. The cancellation of its advertised programmes, the radiating for a few days of a single programme, and the character of that programme, has satisfied the public mind. Broadcasting has become a nerve of the nation, and not the least sensitive. The task of the B.B.C. was delicate. I think it will be agreed that the authorities at Broadcasting House have fulfilled their duty to the approval of the whole country. Their major difficulties lie ahead. It must inevitably be many weeks before the disorganisation of these days can right itself.
The ordinary listener has no idea of the complicated machinery of programmebuilding. Programmes are arranged normally many weeks ahead. Set that machinery the least bit out of gear and there will be confusion. In this crisis, the machinery is for the moment broken down. The B.B.C., therefore, has a task before it such as no other entertainmentprovider in the world ever has to face. It deserves the good wishes of every listener.
The broadcasting of the proclamation from St. James's Palace and from Temple Bar was a complete success. It showed, incidentally, how rapidly nowadays a relay of this sort can be arranged; and what a better instrument the microphone has become even in the last year. The result was as faithful a sound-picture as anyone could have wished. Every word could be heard, and every significant sound. Great praise is due to the two commentators who described the scene, one of them, Mr. Howard Marshall, from the roof of the palace, the other, whose name was not revealed, from a window in Fleet Street. Their commentaries were exactly what was needed to complete the picture in the listener's imagination.
The Millions Who Listened Again, as in all the broadcasts of the previous two days, one found oneself listening through the ears of persons far away—in distant corners of the world. The thought came poignantly into the mind when the notes of Biz Ben reverberated quarter by quarter, ....receding the bulletins, and during the following day, when only announcements were made from time to time. How many millions of humanity were listening in! 1 understand that a large part of Europe shared the broadcast of the proclamation; South America, certainly; and that all the United States networks opened at five in the morning in order to receive it. The Prime Minister's broadcast to the nation must have reached an audience beyond any power of computation. This, too, was relayed in the United States, whose systems are able to reach an almost worldwide audience.
I have nothing to tell you as to the broadcasting arrangements for the
immediate future. They are far from complete; nor are they likely to be complete by the time this letter reaches you. I hope, however, to be able to resume my usual prophetic role in my next letter. The B.B.C. itself is carrying on from day to day, improvising programmes as it goes along, and its principal activity is now to broadcast announcements, to keep us in touch with the news, and to provide sound-pictures of the great public events. As a purveyor of entertainment it has gone temporarily out of action. We are not thinking about plays or symphony concerts at the moment. These are abstinence-days; and (though this is the merest by-product of the situation) what a good thing abstinence-days are to the listener! We will not impose them on ourselves; let us welcome them, then, on
these occasions when they are imposed on us A shorter radio-menu and a more selected diet for a week or so will do us
all good. The best of us are overindulgent in regard to listening.
Criticisms of " Murder in the Cathedral"
I should like before closing my letter to temper my comments on the broadcast of Murder in the Cathedral with an acknowledgment to Mr. Martin Browne for securing what, after all, matters most in a production of this play: its supernatural and Christian values. I was regarding him as having been responsible for the mistakes of the broadcast production. He was not; and it is my duty to say so now. It has been pointed out to me also that the employment of the Dies Irae" is directed in the text, and that it is in organic metrical relation to the chorus that is spoken against it. Nevertheless, its note is so incongruous that it were
better omitted. The B.B.C. cannot be forgiven the rest of the singing. Having mentioned Mr. Martin Browne in connection with the broadcast, and having learnt that he had nothing to do with it (and that the errors of make-up I charged against him in the theatre-production have been put right), let me at once acknowledge his services to the play as a whole. Thanks to him a play instinct with the supernatural has been performed on a London stage with sensitiveness and illumination.
WILFRID ROOICE LEY.