Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting Access to Bush House 1941

The other side of Bush House (SE Wing) March 2012

Thanks to Mike Barraclough for spotting this interesting blog post from journalist David Boyle. He's been researching into how (what later became) the BBC World Service got access to Bush House in the first place. 

Noel Newsome was one of the most extraordinary broadcasters of the century.  The BBC never forgave him, kicked him out after the war and never mention his name in the official histories of the period.  He is a reminder that, the great days of BBC broadcasting - the voice of freedom from London broadcasting to occupied Europe - was actually done outside BBC control.

In the first few weeks of 1941, Newsome forged an alliance with the diarist and junior information minister Harold Nicolson, whose concern was to keep propaganda outside the control of Hugh Dalton, the economic warfare minister.  "We'll give you Kirk," Duff Cooper said to Newsome over lunch with Nicolson and, as part of the deal they hammered out, Noel was given as 'advisor' the senior Foreign Office official Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick......

Kirkpatrick also saw his role as allowing Newsome to do what he wanted, pioneering his own form of propaganda at the BBC, which was primarily about culture, history and getting the truth out first.  But the part of his job which lasted longest was finding Bush House, which had been built as the headquarters for the American advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, and which Kirkpatrick managed to requisition within a few days of his new role.

The European Service was then based at the former ice-skating rink in Delaware Road, Maida Vale, which had a glass roof.  So Newsome's assistant Alan Bullock (the future historian) was sent as an advance party to their new headquarters at Bush House.  It was not a moment too soon: the Delaware Road studios took a direct hit a few weeks later.

More on David's site and in his amusing book on the rise and fall of British Empire brands. Well worth reading. 

I still have a mystery that I would like to solve.

I'm curious why Newsome was seconded as Chief of the radio section of the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme HQ Allied Expeditionary Forces in October 1944 while apparently still working for the BBC. May be someone knows?

Also, I realise that one of the first documentaries I made on Radio Oranje is relevant. It explains the relationship between the BBC and the government's in exile.

This was actually my first attempt at making a mini radio documentary, being 23 at the time. Joined Radio Netherlands (Radio Nederland as it was then called) the year before.
In July 1981 I got an interview with the late Professor Lou de Jong (he died in 2005), who worked at Radio Oranje in London during the war. Alongside the BBC Dutch Service broadcasts, there was time allotted to governments in exile. Before doing the interview, I did quite a bit of research into what happened at the offices in Stratton Street.  Lou de Jong was a bit stiff and stern to start with. He was testing me to see if I had really done my homework or just wanted a sound clip for something else. I told him I was fascinated in broadcasting history and really wanted to find out what it was like to be a broadcaster in those difficult times, especially working for the Dutch government in exile. So he began to really enjoy telling the story, even though it must have been for the hundredth time.

The Dutch government had a 15 minute slot in which they could beam their message back to occupied Holland, but also, as it turned out by looking at the schedule, to the Dutch East and West Indies. The entire scripts of the transmissions were in the archives of Radio Netherlands building (since the station grew into Radio Netherlands in 1947) before being donated to the National Archies. The original programme was broadcast in two parts, which explains the strange length. More details on the Dutch Institute for War Documentation is here. Listen to the radio documentary here

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