LONDON TELLS THE WORLD
AN ADDRESS BY
BYNG WHITTEKER BBC RADIO COMMENTATOR
Chairman: The President; Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, February 8, 1945
MR. CONQUERGOOD: How many times have you sat in front of your radio waiting, before you go to bed, for the last minute news of the war and the world? You hear the band of the Grenadier Guards swing into the strains of "Imperial Echoes." Then the voice of the announcer, "This Is London Calling," and you are told that the BBC will present "Radio News Reel direct from London."
You listen to the recital of events, the messages of various speakers and finally turn off the switch on your radio. You may comment on the news or views given, or on the quality of the reception at the time, but you accept as a matter of course the human side of the presentation.
In the operation of radio, there are many employees of whom little is heard. First, there is the technical group, the engineers who operate the involved radio equipment. There are the news gathering services, who bring the news to the microphone, and, lastly, there is the group of editors and announcers who prepare and present the information so that as wide a service as possible can be presented in the time allowed: They tell of the exploits of our forces, of the heroism of our men, of the hopes for the future of the struggling and oppressed peoples, but of themselves they say nothing.
The Empire Club today has the pleasure of welcoming a young man whose name is familiar to us on the BBC "Radio News Reel," but whose voice may be altered a little because we can hear him in person rather than through the transformation of a short-wave broadcast. Mr. Byng Whitteker is a Canadian, who started his radio career in 1934 in Kitchener through Station CKCR. Later, he moved to North Bay, and, in 1937, joined the staff of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has spent some time in Windsor, Ottawa and Toronto, In July of 1943, the BBC asked the CBC for the loan of a member of its staff, and our guest speaker was sent in response to that invitation. He will be returning to London in the near future to resume his post,
I have very much pleasure in presenting Mr. Byng Whitteker, of the CBC and BBC, who will speak to us on the subject "London Tells the World."
MR. BYNG WHITTEKER: Thank you Mr. President, Gentlemen: May I say that I am deeply honored by the invitation to speak to you this afternoon-an invitation which I accepted with much trepidation. I accepted finally when it became clear that I could confine my remarks to broadcasting,
Broadcasting is a business or institution, if you like, which is of my generation. The search for general wisdom and specific detailed knowledge on any subject is the work of many years or even the greater part of a lifetime. However, broadcasting, while ripening quickly into some form of maturity, still retains some of the gloss of the very new, and the number of men who can say, "I've been broadcasting for twenty years" is decidedly limited in any country. Therefore I hope to be able to interest you in what I should like to call informally "an appreciation of the background effort in broadcasting news" and to tell you something of the news gathering facilities of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which I believe to be more comprehensive than any other service, that is, broadcasting service.
Your President graciously mentioned in his introduction some of the difficulties which are encountered in day-today broadcasting of news and, as I've been working with the BBC's "Radio News Reel" for some nineteen months, the difficulties, disappointments, the disillusionments, the blighted hopes and ideas are sufficiently fresh in mind to temper the recognized successes.
"Radio News Reel" is an integral part of BBC's news service, a service which broadcasts some two hundred and fifty news bulletins in at least 48 basic languages every twenty-four hours. I think you'll agree that eleven news broadcasts every hour, many of them fifteen minutes in length is a substantial output. "Radio News Reel" itself goes on the air five tunes in twenty-four hours. There is, a programme for the Pacific audience, for the Far Eastern audience, for the listeners in Africa, and two broadcasts to North America. Although there is no commercial broadcasting in Britain I feel the BBC won't object to my mentioning that the North American "News Reels" can be heard at 7.30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern War Time. Directly connected with those five "Radio News Reels" are perhaps one hundred and fifteen men and women and correspondents. Indirectly, but nevertheless vitally connected, are several hundred more who determine the policy, handle administrative details and pamper or at least cater for the sometimes temperamental people directly concerned with broadcasting the programme.
For a programme, such as "Radio News Reel," you must have four things. The technical facilities, the news, the means of gathering the news, and the means of assimilating the news for broadcast presentation.
Our facilities, that is "Radio News Reel's," have been long, rigorously and thoroughly prepared during some twenty-five years of British broadcasting; needless to say they have expanded greatly since the beginning of the war. Therefore when "Radio News Reel" was proposed in 1940 after the invasion of France, technical facilities were available to broadcast to the most remote sections of the world. And through the air channels available to the programme went the stories of Britain and the blitz, detailed descriptions of a defiant people, at whom the world marvelled, praised, sometimes pitied for their sufferings, but even with radio's vivid and intimate pictures never quite fully appreciated. At least that's my personal feeling.
Even now, at this very moment, few people outside of Britain appreciate or understand the tragedy, the effort, the hardship of living during the past five years. I've spoken to several friends since I arrived in Canada from London about three weeks ago, friends who had also just returned, and when I asked, "What's it like to be home?" almost to a man I've gotten the reply, "People here don't seem to know what's going on, I want to go back." And those friends of mine are Canadians, as I am, and will live in Canada after the war--we wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
But I'm here to talk of "Radio News Reel." Well, the facilities for broadcasting were available and then came the question of the news. That, too, was available and is still at hand, provided by defeats, victories, armies, navies, air forces, and men and women--men like Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Montgomery, and even the lowest types provide news--Hitler, Mussolini and their Japanese associates. But news must be reported "on the spot," as we say, and men must be selected to report that news. These reporters, or war correspondents, have to be men with the background and training and experience to qualify them for unequalled responsibility, for from the war correspondent, radio or press, comes the firsthand reports which influence and direct public thinking to an amazing extent.
The majority of these correspondents are or were journalists, With several exceptions radio has yet to produce any really great correspondents. That's not the fault of radio, as many journalists have been developed into exceptionally fine broadcasters-I need only mention the name of Matthew Halton of the CBC. Matt Halton was a journalist of international reputation before the war; then came his assignment by the CBC and in four years he's become one of the finest news broadcasters to be heard anywhere, Radio news before the war had yet to be developed to its present-day position of detail, intimacy and scope, So from the ranks of the journalist came most of the correspondents and I speak now primarily of the BBC.
Then came the problem of broadcasting from the battlefield, from a ship at sea, from an aircraft hundreds of miles from its base, all positions perhaps a thousand miles from a normal radio studio. Portable recording equipment was a partial answer and you've heard the voices of men in bombers over Berlin, you've heard the roar of artillery, the rattle of machine-guns within yards of the enemy and you've heard the enemy's answer, This was made possible by the portable recorders which radio engineers operated under unbelievable conditions. Then to transmit these recordings from the battlefield to the studio came the portable shortwave transmitters which move in the wake of advancing armies. A correspondent and his engineer get their story often right at the front line, then travel back to the portable transmitter, or if they're lucky to a permanent one such as Brussels, and the story, is forwarded to the BBC studios in London.
Now that, I'm afraid, is rather sketchy, but in the preparation of "Radio News Reel" we know that somehow the men get their stories to London and then our work begins. Often we don't realise what they've been up against until they arrive back on forlough. Frequently correspondents have been greeted with "What happened to you on such and such a day? That was a terrific story--what were you doing? Having a sleep somewhere?" And often when the correspondent explains we apologise and feel just a little humble.
I'd like to tell you of one such incident. BBC war correspondent Robert Barr was attached to the American First Army when the Germans began their offensive in the Ardennes, He was somewhere very near to the Front, to the left of the salient in Belgium. Immediately that he had the first reports of the German attack he hurried by jeep and hitchhiking to Brussels to get the news back to London. There was a portable transmitter behind the First Army but he was closer to Brussels and besides reception was likely to be better in London from the stronger transmitter. So to Brussels he went, broadcast his story and started back immediately for the First Army sector intending to use the portable transmitter for his next despatch.
In London we waited, hoping that perhaps within twelve hours Robert Barr would come up again with more detail. We waited for three days. No one knew what had happened and then after three days of nothing from a correspondent who should have been able to give us excellent first-hand reports of the fighting, that was making headlines everywhere, we got a report from Robert Barr. And this is what happened. He returned to the Front from Brussels, headed for the location of his portable transmitter only to find that it wasn't there. The Germans had advanced rather swiftly, the transmitter had been moved. And so for three days our correspondent travelled about, sometimes in and out of enemy lines, with the greatest news story of the week in his hand, asking everybody he saw "Have you seen a portable radio transmitter?" Of course no one had, as they were much too busy with more serious affairs.
However, the stories, the despatches, the reports, the descriptions, the recordings of battles and political comment eventually arrive in London. Many come by short wave radio. Some recordings are sent by aircraft, some delivered by hand, a few are lost and others are spoiled by static in transmition. But to "Radio News Reel" they come. From correspondents with every Allied army in France, Holland and Belgium, from men with the Fifth and Eighth Armies in Italy, from Greece and Yugoslavia, from Turkey and the Near East, from correspondents in Moscow and Sweden, from the Fourteenth Army in Burma, from the Allied navies, from the air forces, and from almost everywhere where something is happening, spoken description or comment comes to "Radio News Reel." In almost any given day there is enough material for a programme of at least an hour's duration.
Then the staff of "Radio News Reel" goes to work. This story from Holland, "Canadian Army advancing," looks good for Canada--listed for the North American edition. Here's a despatch on General Clark in Italy-North America. Here's a story on the Ghurkas in the Eighth Army--send it in to General Overseas,--and so on through the day and the night. Working on "Radio News Reel" you're never conscious of yesterday, today or tomorrow. You think only of a continuous sequence of programmes, otherwise someone is sure to start a discussion beginning with "If it's two o'clock in northern Burma and early morning in Moscow, what time is it in the Solomon Islands?"
"Radio News Reel" is broadcast at 8.30 in the morning, 3.30 in the afternoon, 8.30 in the evening and the North American editions go out at 12.30 a.m. and 4 a.m. London times. As script writer and narrator for the North American editions, I report at 7 p.m. usually to meet one of the day staff or a director, who brings me up-to-date on the day's happenings, tells me what background information has filtered through, how many rumours have spread during the day, and then says, "You've got lots of material, some of it's bad, some of its good," and with that leaves a producer and myself to edit the already condensed material. There's no point in starting to write a programme several hours before its goes on the air, as the capture of a town or another advance may outdate everything. Eventually, however, the programmes go on the air frequently with V-bombs providing an obligato outside the soundproof and possibly bomb-proof studio.
These remarks of mine have been titled, by someone else," "London Tells the World." I should like to add to that title two words, "London Tells the World the Truth." In any experience with the BBC's news division I have never heard a statement retracted and we have not had to go on the air and correct a previous broadcast unless of course some unavoidable slip had crept in. Over the war years a reputation for truth, honesty and integrity has been developed by the BBC which is, to say the least, most enviable, and in London you occasionally hear someone saying, "I don't believe it--it wasn't on the news this morning."
If any doubt ever existed in anybody's mind, as it must have in Dr. Goebbels', the fact has been established once and for all that the only lasting type of propaganda is truth. Millions of Europeans who have listened in most difficult circumstances for several years came to rely entirely on the BBC for official information. However, there is a point to broadcasting falsehoods, as a turn of events may prove the falsehood to be true. The Germans are as usual, experts in this. Goebbels said for some days that the Russian army had crossed the Oder River at the nearest point to Berlin. Undoubtedly it wasn't true when he first broadcast it, but later he had the opportunity of saying that the advance had been repulsed. However, in a case such as this the turn of events proves that a falsehood may be converted into truth, for even the vociferous Doctor probably realized that if the Russians hadn't already crossed the Oder they were likely to very soon. A German newspaper described BBC broadcasts as a spiritual danger, intellectual poison, and a weapon more paralysing and deadly than cannon and machine-gun and yet the BBC has tried to report the war even to the Germans in a straight-forward objective manner.
I'm reminded here of a very humorous cartoon which appeared in a London paper, humorous at least to a person working in the BBC. Shortly before D-Day an official spokesman from General Eisenhower's headquarters broadcast detailed instructions to the underground forces in the occupied countries. You may have heard some of the instructions on "Radio News Reel" as we rebroadcast most of them to North America. Now this cartoon shows an announcer sitting at a microphone, with a frantic, harassed individual dashing into the studio, for the announcer was reading, "Now: tonight: every able-bodied man should destroy all bridges, set fire to army installations, barricade the roads, blow up the factories, hamper troop movements." And the frantic individual is shouting, "No! No! Not here-this is the Home Service." Another cartoon has to do with John Nixon's many broadcasts from Athens. You've heard some of his despatches, I'm sure, and often they were gathered under trying circumstances. He was frequently transported through the streets to his make-shift studio in an armoured car. When such security was not available he ran the gauntlet in a jeep to broadcast by candlelight behind shuttered windows, which, if open, were used as targets. Well, this cartoon drawn in some detail by a member of the staff pictures John Nixon at his microphone in Athens broadcasting to London. The window is open and leaning through it is a bearded guerrilla fondling a rifle, obviously loaded and about to go off while pointed in Nixon's direction. The caption of the cartoon is "ELAS, EAM in Athens."
International radio, in which "Radio News Reel" plays an effective part is now in the first decade of its development. The BBC began broadcasting rather timid ly in three European languages shortly after Munich. Now it broadcasts daily in 48 basic languages with almost as many dialects in addition; for instance, there is Portugese for Portugal and Portugese for Brazil, Spanish for Spain and Spanish for the countries of South America. As an instrument of war broadcasting it has been invauable as an instrument of peace broadcasting it can be, and I think will be one of the greatest forces for peace in the postwar world. It is one of the most effective instruments in the interpretation of a people's problem. In the last few years the BBC microphone has gathered so many tales of bravery, endurance cruelty, kindness, tragedy, defeat and victory, all of which have been shared regardless of nationalit, that the effect en the listeners of any Allied country must be one of comradeship.
Since working on "Radio News Reel" I've received letters from at least a dozen countries where I know no individual. There was a letter from a lady in New Zea land, her family name was Whitteker and she wanted to know if we were related; her family had lived in Yorkshire and had gone to New Zealand in 1847. There was a letter from a Corporal in the Fourteenth Army fighting in Burma, he said he was coming to Canada after the war for he liked my Canadian accent; unfortunately he'll never come, he was a fighting man. There have been many letters from parts of Canada which I haven't seen, letters from the United States-letters saying, "I heard you broadcasting with my son, my husband or my brother -what did he look like?-how was he feeling?-is he happy?-he never tells us anything about himself." Those letters have all been answered and sometimes friendly, intimate correspondence develops. So you see there can be little misunderstanding if you have people from one country writing about their everyday duties, thoughts and habits to men and women of another country.
The North American "Radio News Reel" is concerned with furthering the understanding between Great Britain and the United States. Therefore it wasn't un usual that a few Canadians should help with its presentation, for, as we've so often been told and to quote Mr. Churchill, "Canada is the link between the Old World and the New" and I believe that every Canadian, no matter what his type of work, can do much to make the understanding of Britain and America even closer than it is. From personal experience while preparing our programme, I've found that the Canadian mind almost automatically appreciates their problems of misunderstanding.
"Radio News Reel" has done much in this direction; the programme is heard every night on the Mutual network and many privately owned stations throughout the United States, as are numerous other BBC broadcasts, while in Britain they are hearing and enjoying Jack Benny, Fred Allen and the rest, as well as informal informative programmes on the United States. A recently published article in a trade paper was headlined "Peace Won't End BBC-United States Co-operation", and it went on to state that in the years 1942, 1943 and 1944 the BBC had furnished over 40,000 hours of programmes to American stations, while an almost comparable number of hours were given in Britain to the re-broadcasting of American programmes. The attitude of broadcasters in both countries is that it's a vital element in the relations of the two nations.
Then there is the interpreting of the British Commonwealth to its members, often literally linking the people together. One Saturday morning the BBC sent out a programme especially designed for a small city in Australia, a place in New South Wales called Golburn, with a population of some 13,000 in the heart of sheep country on the southern tablelands of Australia. A few men from Golburn had been found in London and they were using the broadcast to talk to their home district about what they had seen in England. The programme was being re-broadcast by a local station in Golburn, so it was likely that many people in the district would be listening. However, the first reaction to the broadcast received in London didn't come from Golburn. It came from a Pilot Officer stationed on a lonely island in the Indian Ocean; the second letter came from a man in Portugal. Both these listeners were ex-residents of Golburn, Australia, who quite by chance had tuned in and heard the programme directed to their home district. However, nobody is surprised by this sort of thing any more, it's just taken for granted.
What I'm trying to say is that international broadcasting of the type pioneered by the BBC is going to form a daily part of our lives after the war. For, with the technical advances which I'm told are only awaiting the end of hostilities, you will be able to hear, without static and atmospheric interference, programmes of the people, by the people and for the people of every nation. These should be listened to and not turned off with the remark "Why do we want to hear him? He's got nothing to do with us." Yes, even after the novelty wears off, the novelty of hearing a voice span the globe with living-room clarity, you should keep on listening. Now you may say "Why should we listen to enemy propaganda?" Well, perhaps, but we all hope there won't be any propaganda, only tourist propaganda, which we in Ontario know something about already. I hope when the peace conferences are over, or even before, that we will be able to listen to international radio patterned on the present BBC formula that nothing pays off so effectively as the truth.
I mentioned a few moments ago that Canadians are engaged on the staff of "Radio News Reel," and as a matter of fact they're scattered throughout the organisation of the BBC in many departments. Two of the better known names are Stanley Maxted and Stewart MacPherson. A Canadian was the first casualty of our "Radio News Reel" section. Kent Stevenson from Vancouver had been part of "Radio News Reel" for many months. He was posted as missing last summer when the aircraft in which he flew to get a story of flying bomb-sights failed to return. There are other Canadians as well.
The newest service in the BBC's short-wave transmission is the Japanese service, which started in July of last year. The Director spent much time in Canada selecting his announcer staff from Canadian-born Japanese. This' service broadcasts daily to Japan and to the whole of Southern and Eastern Asia. It's well-known that many thousands of short-wave receiving sets formerly existed in the occupied countries and there is good reason to believe that all of these are not now in Japanese hands, and it's hoped that this new service broadcasting to the enemy and enemy-occupied countries in the Far East, will be as effective as the European Service has been in its broadcasts to Germany and occupied Europe.
Now, I have here the reactions of three listeners which perhaps gives a more detailed picture of British broadcasting, as these listeners are separated by thousands of miles from each other and from the radio transmitters which send out the broadcasts. The first reaction was from an officer in the Australian army. He wrote to the BBC, in part
"It has been my experience to hear BBC transmissions in many widely scattered parts of Australia. In Melbourne I heard the news of Dunkirk and the collapse of France and the dramatic broadcast from Dover of dive-bombers attacking the convoy in the channel. I was crossing the desert when the Luftwaffe launched its attack on London and in settlers' camp along the line I heard the stories of Londoners' heroism. I've listened to news in farwestern Queensland and there is a clearer picture yet in my mind of an evening at home in Victoria when the BBC announcer came to the microphone and said, "We must apologise for interrupting the programme. German troops have just invaded Norwayand Denmark." The BBC is the voice of home to Britons and Australians, but none of us Britons or Australians can fail to acknowledge a twinge of pride on hearing each time those simple, calm words which imply something of the essence of our faith and the triumph of our spirit over time and enemies 'This is London calling."'
That was part of a letter sent by a listener in Australia and the following was addressed to London by a listener in India
"Personal messages from Indian soldiers and students reach their parents and friends and give a thrill never felt before. At the outbreak of the war, Berlin was ahead of the BBC in providing more powerful transmissions and well-organised Hindustani service. Berlin lost all influence when the 'man in the street' found out from the false and distorted news about India that Berlin was similarly lying about world events. The fact that BBC premises were bombed and yet the Overseas Service went on without a break, won the admiration of all."
And finally, there is the reaction of an Arab listener in the Middle East and a letter goes as follows
"Six years ago, when the first Arab voice was heard from London, listeners were impressed chiefly by the fact that it was coming from so far away. To day it can be said with perfect truth that nearly all Muslim and Arab listeners regard the BBC as the only trustworthy source of available broadcast news. Last October I was in the house of an Arab Nationalist leader who had certainly sympathised with the Axis stations at the beginning of the war, when his son mentioned a piece of news broadcast by a foreign station. 'Has it been broadcast by the BBC?' asked his father. 'No,' said the boy. 'Then,' said the father, 'it is an invention.' "
And those reactions came from three listeners thousands of miles apart, living in countries with different customs, languages and beliefs; but that the broadcasts have been successful there is little doubt.
This is a people's war, in a very simple and obvious way-more of a people's war than any other in history, for, if our enemies should succeed, the mass of the people everywhere would be governed by a small oligarchy or feudal order, whose "law" would simply be the commands of the rulers. But this is also a people's war from another standpoint-more of the world's population is involved and in this war civilians in the front line countries have suffered the revolting horrors of battle and destruction on their own doorstep, in their own homes, and amidst the wreckage and the dead. But it is more of a people's war even for geographically remote countries like Canada. For instance, here in Toronto many, many miles from the battlefields, through your radio in your home or in your car, you have heard the march of history with a more intimate force and aggressiveness than any previous generation.
Reflect for a moment, if you will, on some of the historic broadcasts, which you have heard as they happened. Do you remember September 3rd, 1939, at 7.15 Toronto Time, when an aged, tired, forlorn voice came through your loudspeakers from London? When that voice said, "Now, may God bless you all and may He defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution and against them I'm certain that right will prevail."' As Mr. Chamberlain spoke these words and we heard these words and we heard them here, in Canada the sickening impact of world war reached-: out to each one of us as an individual.
Then later, when to many the end seemed a foregone conclusion, there came through the airways from London the stubborn defiant, intense, almost fabulous tone of the man who said, "We shall defend our island home and with the British Empire around us we shall fight on unconquerable until the curse of Hitler is lifted from the brows of men", and a few months later on September, 11th, 1940, when invasion of Britain seemed inevitable, the same voice spoke again. This time it said, "Hitler has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burned out of Europe and until the old world and the new can join hands to rebuild the temples of man's freedom and man's honour upon foundations which will not soon, or easily, be overthrown."
You heard those broadcasts of Mr. Churchill as they were spoken-you heard them here in Canada at the same instant they were being heard in all parts of the world. You heard them and you were so deeply impressed that you as an individual became part of the overall effort of mankind, because that voice spoke to you and as a man your faith could not fail.
There have been many historic broadcasts since 1939, and through international radio, which spans the globe, you have been a participant. To name a few which have impressed me, there is the broadcast from Alamein that Rommel was in retreat and the recordings made there of the precedent-setting artillery barrage; the brief communique from Supreme Allied Headquarters that British, American and Canadian men had landed in Normandy; the broadcast of Winfred Vaughan Thomas in a bomber over Berlin, the heartrending and noble recordings and descriptions brought by Stanley Maxted from Arnheim and the description I heard last night of the Japanese demolition and fires in Manila, are just a few. There are many other broadcasts which you can name and which you have heard. Personally, I am looking forward to two more and I only hope that radio reception gives us a break on "Radio News Reel"--and those two broadcasts are the first sound pictures from an Allied source which come from Berlin and Tokyo.