Archive for the ‘BBC’ Category

A Quarrel In A Faraway Country

September 22, 2007

I highly recommend a listen to the latest episode (.ram file) of BBC Radio 4‘s Archive Hour (audio available for the next seven days only).

It brings together unique recordings discovered in the basement archives of the Czech national radio building in Prague, some of which have never been heard since they were recorded before World War II. Through these illuminating original audio sources, it tells the story of appeasement by the western powers, and the build-up to Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakian lands.

I found it incredible to listen to the less well-known pronouncements of Chamberlain and others, but was particularly interested in the Czech recordings from the 1930s, which, surprisingly to me, show how pro-western and modern Czechoslovakia was in the decade before its freedom was snatched away.

American listeners may be interested to hear the speech of the first President of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Masaryk, in a 1932 broadcast to America from Prague, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

“When we severed the bonds binding us to the old Habsburg monarchy, I was aware that our decision must not be less motivated than the resolution taken by the founder of American liberty. And having recovered our liberty, we again follow the example of Washington in that we must no longer feel the old antagonism and anger which originated in the suppression of our liberty. My hearty wishes to the American people.”

I find it amazing to think of this nascent free nation, with so many hopes for liberty and friendship with the free world, being unknowingly on the cusp of devastation, and subjugation that was to last for almost the rest of the century.

I also wonder what I would have believed, had I been alive in the 1930s, knowing only what they knew then. I hope I wouldn’t have decided that appeasement was the least worst option. However, the position of wanting to accommodate Hitler, in the hope of pacifying him, would have seemed logical to those who held it, and perhaps preferable to a repeat of the slaughter of the First World War.

Chamberlain’s words sound so foolish now, but who could have known it then? I wonder what we are saying now that will be deemed so ridiculously erroneous in years to come.

Not quite the Bartlet Administration

September 14, 2007

I always wondered how long it would take to see a British version of The West Wing; a drama that depicted the Prime Minister as an honest, heroic warrior for Truth and Justice (yet somehow still believable). It has seemed a totem of UK political fiction that it be cynical and slightly – if not overtly – comedic. Yes, Minister, House of Cards, The Thick of It… some wonderful dramatic assessments of the art of government, but where the optimistic alternative?

Perhaps we British don’t feel the need for escapist political wish-fulfillment. Somehow it seems un-British to “blow our own trumpet” by watching our political leaders reach for the stars. The very thought inspires a cringe, swiftly followed by a giggle. We have the Queen to look up to, to inspire national pride, and to unify us with pomp and ceremony. We are happy to let the Prime Minister get on with the dirty work essential to maintaining our interests, without any need for moral leadership from Number 10.

Nevertheless, after the brilliance of the genre-defining The West Wing, it was inevitable that someone would attempt to bring a touch of the Bartlet Administration to Downing Street. It is not surprising that radio is the medium for the first obvious try at this. BBC Radio 4 is running a series of Friday Plays by Jonathan Myerson called Number 10.

I’m sad to say that what little I’ve heard of it so far has indeed inspired my default British embarrassment at the sound of earnest, posh-accented, politicians wading through the nastiness of the world, trying, a little too pompously, to make it a better place. But it’s a start. If we are to overcome our cynicism we have to begin somewhere, and that is why I will be listening more and doing my best to believe.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Prospect article by Myerson explaining his motives for writing the series.
  • BBC solicits YouTubers’ footage

    May 29, 2007

    The BBC’s Andrew Marr is asking YouTubers to upload their own archive footage from the 1950s to 1990s to a YouTube group complementing his History of Modern Britain TV series.

    I’m delighted to see the Beeb embracing YouTube as a way of connecting with an existing user community, not just relying on its own massive web presence, and this project plays to YouTube’s strengths. To date, only four videos have been submitted, but this surely has potential to get those dusty cine reels down from the nation’s attics and out to an appreciative audience.

    I am looking forward to the eventual release of the BBC iPlayer, which should begin a major change in BBC viewing habits. Perhaps the next generation BBC download tool will incorporate upload, so that we can contribute in the same space as we consume video. More likely, where online won’t matter anymore, as the tagging paradigm takes off and opens a universe of content from all sources to communities such as this one interested in modern British history.

    By the way, I love Andrew Marr’s unselfconscious emphasis on substance, not vacuous style.