INTERNATIONAL RADIO IN WAR AND PEACE
AN ADDRESS BY MR. MICHAEL BARKWAY
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday, November 8, 1945
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen of the Empire Club of 'Canada, we welcome today, as our guest of honour Mr. Michael Barkway, the Canadian Representative of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Our guest speaker was born in Yorkshire, England and, educated at Hailebury and Queen's College, Cambridge, having been honoured with the distinguished office of President of the Cambridge Union. Hailebury College, by the way, is the school attended by Britain's Prime Minister, the Honourable Clement Atlee.
Mr. Barkway, who recently came to Canada from the United Kingdom, has had a wealth of experience in the Radio Field, having been with the B. B. C. since 1934, commencing as a SubEditor in the News Department. He subsequently was placed in charge, from its inception of the overseas news service of the B. B. C. Perhaps there was no programme produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation which was of greater appeal in North America than the famous "Radio News Reel" which came to us nightly, without fail, throughout the war, the man who conceived and produced this programme is none other than our guest of today.
In 1943 he was in the United States as correspondent for the B. B. C., then returned to Europe as Deputy Chief of the Radio Section of the Psychological Warfare Division of General Eisenhower's Headquarters. He also served as organizing secretary to the Commonwealth Broadcasting Conference assembled in London, consisting of representatives from the British Dominion and India. He spent a year at Geneva as Broadcasting expert on the League of Nations Secretariat.
Radio, which has come to play such an important part in our daily lives, is on this continent presently celebrating 25 years of station broadcasting and it therefore, is very appropriate that we are being addressed today on the subject by one who has had so much to do with its growth.
It is with the greatest of pleasure that I present to you Mr. Michael Barkway, who will speak on the subject "International Radio In War and Peace".
MR. MICHAEL BARKWAY: Mr. President, Gentlemen of the Empire Club
It is perhaps unnecessary for an Englishman to tell you that there prevail on this North American continent a quite extensive assortment of traditions, assumptions, prejudices and legends about the character of the Englishman. During my various sojourns in the United States and my stay in this beautiful and bountiful Dominion, I have studied these legends with much interest, if little profit. I find it in me to hope that at some time, someone better qualified than I am, possibly some member of the Empire Club of Canada, will compile a classification and analysis of some of these legends. I think it would be an interesting work and an instructive work.
I am sure that one of the things that would emerge from it, would be a popular belief in a creature of the most curious construction, consisting--and I read from the bottom up--of a pair of spats, a pair of striped trousers, a stuffed shirt with a stiff poker down the spine, a hot potato in his mouth, a stiff upper lip--the whole crowned by a high hat.
I think it would also emerge that consistency is not the distinguishing mark of these legends. You know, for example; you must have heard a thousand times, that an Englishman is a character of absurd conversatism--he believes in a social system that is so old-fashioned as to be positively feudal. He clings with passionate tenacity to outworn forms and traditions; he resents and resists any suggestion of change. Or, alternatively-and this particularly since the political events of this summerhe is dangerously revolutionary, positively red!
Again, you probably know him as an arrogant creature, an overbearing sort of fellow with a monocle: or, alternatively, as a man whose modesty amounts almost to bashfulness; he will never tell you of his achievements, or boast of that which he has done.
I suppose you pay your penny and take your choice. I remember many years ago a cartoon which appeared in "Punch", a periodical widely believed to be stuffy and stupid by those who never see it (Amusement). The cartoon had to do with an English Public School (another institution for which curiously enough there is something to be said) and a small boy at an English Public School who was accused by a Master of breaking a window. The small boy happened to be the son of an eminent King's Council. The Master said to him: "Smith, what do you know about this window?" And Smith said, "If you please, Sir, I plead, in the first place, that the window was not broken; in the second place, it was broken, but not by me; and in the third place, it was broken by me but it was an accident." Now, Sir, I have not the benefit of a legal training, but I confess that I am continually impressed by the capacity of the human mind to entertain at one and the same time, two or more contradictory theories without suffering the slightest discomfort from their irreconcilability. Why I should complain, I don't know, because this wealth of legend at least gives to us Englishmen the opportunity to contradict one or other of them; and perhaps to kid ourselves that we are being original.
I hope, gentlemen, that I shall not be arrogant; equally, with your forbearance, I have no intention of being unduly modest.
My subject is "International Radio in Peace and War." Since we beat the Germans on the air waves, a victory which considerably ante-dated our military victories against them, the British Broadcasting Corporation, which I am lucky enough to represent in Canada, has run an international broadcasting service far greater than any 'that the world has ever known. I told you I was not going to be unduly modest. I was tempted when I received the honor of your invitation to speak today, to tell you of the strains, stresses, trials and triumphs which marked the growth of our overseas and international broadcasting service; it is a fascinating story: in its way it is a unique epic. But I think this is not the time for war memoirs, so I will content myself, if you will allow me, by giving you a very rough, highly impressionistic sketch of the coverage and influence which the BBC international service had achieved by the war's end.
Now when you are in a big organization like the BBC, it is always difficult to see the wood for the trees. I venture even to say the same may be true of the CBC. But I now have been out of the trees for some time, and perhaps better able to observe the wood, and I would like to make my sketch out of four incidents which have happened to me since I was in Canada, and mostly in' very recent weeks.
I was in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago, and met a distinguished Canadian, who is a friend of mine, and I am perfectly sure would be frank with me, who had just come back from South America. He told me that he was surprised, impressed and gratified by the influence and the coverage of the BBC in South America. He told me this story. He was walking down a main street in Rio, and he saw two men reading copies of rival newspapers. They stopped, and he saw one man point out to the other a particular item in the paper, and he heard the other man say, "Oh, yes, but has it been confirmed by the BBC?"
A few days later I went to a party and was introduced to a man from the Canadian Film Board. As soon as he heard who I was, he led me away to a quiet spot, and said, "I have just come away from Belgium, France, Holland, Denmark, and a brief visit in Germany". And then he said, "Do you realize the influence that the BBC wields in those countries, that the BBC is regarded with a respect that amounts almost to veneration?
For my third incident I go back to August of this year. When I was in Regina I was invited to be the guest of the Kiwanis Club. There also happened to be as a guest, a Canadian, who had spent most of the war in the government service in the Falkland Islands. He came to me after the luncheon and he said, "When we were down in the Falkland Islands, we listened to the BBC all the time and we thought sometimes their programs were not exactly adapted to the Falkland Islands."
For my fourth incident I come right back here to Toronto. The Chairman was good enough to mention Radio News Reel which, as you know, has been broadcast for some years now, nightly over the Trans-Canada network of the CBC at eleven o'clock, Toronto time, or 4 a.m. in London. As the Chairman explained, I have a. certain direct pride in Radio News Reel. When I look back to the first edition of it in the summer of 1940, and some of the obstacles we overcame in the first three months, particularly, I certainly feel gratified it should have established itself as it has done.
I know one man in Toronto that has the same personal interest in the programme. That is Ernest L. Bushnell, the Director General of Programs of CBC. He was in London with us, helping us to establish the North American Service. He went through the day raids with us, the fear of invasion and the major part of the blitz. His visit is still remembered in London with respect and pleasure, and I shall always be glad to acknowledge the debt which we owe to him. I would have liked to say this in his presence, but as he is not here, I am glad to say it behind his back.
But I was speaking of Radio News Reel. In the last week or two the CBC has discontinued the nightly re-broadcast of the BBC Radio News Reel, though at their special request we are producing a weekly half-hour edition, which you may hear every Sunday night from 11 to 11.30. Now it is only fair and right that I should say that the CBC in all their dealings with us are consistently courteous and co-operative. They discussed this change with me well in advance. They explained their reason for it, which is, in brief, that they were starting their own Canadian News Round-up at 10.15, a programme of the same form as Radio News Reel and covering in part the same material. They did not feel there was room in one hour's broadcasting time for two programs of such similar form. That is a decision within their own proper competence to make. They are the best judges of how best to serve their audience from sea to sea.
These changes of course always evoke protests. I have heard some of them, particularly since an official of the CBC, whom I have not been able to identify, conceived the plan that it might be a bright idea to put the protests on to me. It is of course gratifying to find that Radio News Reel had a certain appreciation in this country, though I confess that some of the expressions of appreciation might have appeared to be more discriminating if they had been more moderate.
Now I mention that only to round out my picture--South America, Europe, the remote British colonies and the great British Dominions, such as Canada.
If I may give you one more example in my attempt to illustrate the size and the coverage of the BBC's international service. At 12 o'clock noon daily on CBL you may hear the BBC news, 12 o'clock noon Toronto time is 1700 hours Greenwich mean time. It is 9.30 p.m. in India; it is 6 p.m. in Egypt and South Africa; it is 6 p.m. in Iceland; 5 p.m. in Gibraltar; 6 a.m. in New Zealand. And the voice which you hear at 12 noon on CBL reading the calm sentences from an underground studio at 200 Oxford Street, London, is heard simultaneously throughout India through All-India Radio, throughout South Africa, through the stations of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, by shortwave listeners throughout the Mediterranean area, in East Africa by shortwave listeners or through Radio Nairobi; by the troops in Iceland; by the inhabitants of New Zealand through the New Zealand National Broadcasting service. I remember meeting a New Zealand farmer once some years ago, who told me he had erected a loud speaker in his cow-barns, so that he could listen to the six o'clock news in the morning while he was doing the morning milking. Now I would suggest the next time you are hearing the BBC News at 12 o'clock noon, you should let your mind wander in imagination to some of the other people who are hearing the same steady voice at the same time. Picture that New Zealand farmer in the cold dark of the dawn listening to the news from London through the swish of the milk in the pail! Think of the Johannesberg business man--perhaps on his way home from the office, stopping at the longest bar in the world in the Rand Club to hear the news. Think of the Indian student putting away his books for a moment to hear what's happening in the rest of the world; and whatever his political predilections finding that the most reliable source for his news is London! Think of the lonely garrisons in Iceland hearing a voice from home! Think of an Allied Mess in Italy with troops from half the Allied countries listening to the news from London! And never forget the crews of the little tramp steamers on all the oceans of the world gathering around the cracked loud speaker outside the galley.
If you will let your imagination range around the world, you will understand the fascination and the pride that we feel in the BBC, you will understand how we could work and eat and sleep in a dingy, smoke-filled basement in the middle of London, through blitzes and lulls alike, and develop, without accompanying Mr. Wilkie to Moscow, a yet more vivid conception of "One World".
Now that is all I propose to say about the wartime achievements of the BBC in international radio. I would like to speak in a moment of the possible pattern of postwar developments. But if I may, I would like first to put in an interpolation on the event which you mentioned, Mr. President, the celebration by a radio station in Pittsburgh, Pa., of the 25th anniversary of the first scheduled radio broadcast. The radio station was KDKA, for which I have the kindliest feelings. When I was down there two years ago trying to find out something about the coal strike which was then worrying the United States and some of its Allies, I was entertained most hospitably by the staff of KDKA. And part of their hospitality was to take me to my first big baseball game. I saw the Pittsburgh Pirates soundly beaten by the New York Giants. My hosts were most painstaking and lucid in their explanations of the mysterious performances going on in front of me, and I naturally followed their explanations with attention. Their explanations were so good and my attention was so unwavering that by the 7th innings, I thought I knew what was going on, and that it would be safe to consume the ice cream with which they had kindly furnished me. I was enjoying the ice cream when I suddenly had a poke in the ribs and my host said: "Get up; it is the 7th inning stretch." I did not know what it was all about, but I was anxious to do the right thing, so I said rather apprehensively, "Is it all right to go on eating my ice cream?" They laughed and laughed and laughed. They published an item about it in the Pittsburgh press the next day, but they never succeeded in explaining to me either the origin of or the reason for these mysterious proceedings. Since, then it is hard to convince me that it is only the Englishman who goes in for apparently meaningless forms and ceremonials.
But this 25th anniversary that KDKA was celebrating last week was a notable occasion, and I notice that even the Globe & Mail was good enough to take notice of it in an editorial which I must concede to have been fair and sensible. It admitted that Radio had made great strides and conceded that it had a future, though it suggested that its future might to some extent depend on improvement in program standards--with which I certainly would not quarrel. But the article included one sentence which I must challenge, "With the arrival of chain broadcasting and sponsorship," it said, "radio came into its own."
Now, Mr. President, it may be true of the United States of America, that sponsorship brought radio into its own. Whether or not it is true of Canada, I believe to be a highly debatable point, though it's one I certainly do not intend to debate in this company. It is most certainly not true of Britain. It is not true of any part of Europe that I know (with the possible exception of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg). It is not true of Russia; it is not true of India, or of any part of Asia; it is not true of any of the Moslem countries. It is not true of any part of Africa. Perhaps we had better be generous and call it a partial truth. Though I think I might be permitted to observe that evidently editorial writers share with the rest of us a tendency to put short distance glasses on their noses, and then to ignore everything outside the range of those glasses. I think it is always a pity to do that. With radio it leads to absurdity, and I suggest to you that if you do that with television, you also may be missing a good deal.
In Britain we were compelled to close down our television service on the 3rd September, 1939, partly because it was a luxury and we gave up most of our luxuries, and partly because the equipment was required for some mysterious purpose which later turned out to be connected with radar. But before we closed down there were in Britain an estimated 200,000 regular viewers to the BBC's television service. There were five hours of program service every day, the vast bulk of it produced specially for television. We brought to the screen every outstanding sports contest and every outstanding public or ceremonial event from the Coronation in 1937 onwards. For technical perfection and programme quality it was a service unsurpassed--I will not say unrivalled, though I also believe that to be true--anywhere in the world. It did not depend upon sponsorship of any kind. I am glad to see that the BBC is about to resume its television service, and shortly afterwards to extend it to the big centres outside of London.
I hope you will forgive that interpolation. I thought there might be something worth saying there.
Now let me turn to the future pattern of international radio. The future is never an exact reproduction of the past, and we are never wise if we try to make it so. You may have noticed in my sketch of the BBC wartime broadcast, that most of the traffic seemed to be one-way. That was in the main true, but not entirely true, for two main reasons.
The first, a technical and military one. You can't get away from the fact that radio broadcasting transmitters give direction to aircraft, whether hostile or friendly. But with the astonishing ingenuity which seems to mark all radio engineers, our BBC engineers did get away from it. By synchronising transmitters in widely-scattered parts of Britain on only two frequencies they were able to provide continuity of service at the cost of a certain amount of variety. We had only two parallel broadcast services in Britain during the war-The Regional Broadcasts had to close down.
The second reason is simply that events in and around Britain for several years past have been of particular concern to the rest of the world.
But after the war, international exchanges can not continue to be one way. They must be based on a two-way exchange. With that in view, the BBC invited the senior executives of all the National broadcasting organizations of the Dominions and India to attend a conference which was held in London early this year. At that conference we pooled, so far as we could, our common problems, and we tried to lay down the lines of our post-war collaboration. I think we succeeded. I think in years to come you will find an increase in the number of radio programs exchanged between the countries of the British Commonwealth. There are a number of things to be said about that. I will confine myself to three.
1.--There is not and there is not intended to be anything exclusive about the relation between the Commonwealth countries. For illustration, there has been a regular exchange between BBC and the United States networks, and if I have said nothing about short-wave broadcasting from the United States, that is because I don't know what their plans are. Before the war they had a number of privately-owned and operated short-wave stations, which during the war were brought under national administration. What their future status will be I don't know; and as far as I know it has not been decided.
2.--An increase in the number of programs exchanged between Commonwealth countries does not necessarily mean more BBC programs coming into Canada. It may well be that it is more important to improve the duality of the BBC programs coming into Canada, that is to say, to increase their appeal to a Canadian audience than it is to increase their quantity.
And 3rd--this job of exchanging programs between different countries is not as easy as it may seem. If it were, I would probably be out of a job. I would have you realize some of the difficulties, and I can illustrate the main ones-again by an experience of mine some three years ago. I had recently arrived in the United States, I was meeting a lot of broadcasting people, and I had just been introduced to a senior executive of one of the American Broadcasting chains. He was extremely courteous and kind. He said, "I see that the BBC is carrying a number of programs from America." I said, "Yes, we were getting from the Armed Forces Radio Service some of the big Hollywood shows,-Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Charlie McCarthy: and we were broadcasting them in the Home Service regularly every week-. Then he came at me with this shattering remark: He said, "I suppose that is going to make a good deal of difference to the organization of radio in Britain after the war." I confess I was taken off balance for a moment, but I collected myself, and I said, "Jack Benny, Charlie McCarthy, Bob Hope, were all very popular in Britain". Then I had to say that the listening figures showed-and I venture to say that the BBC's listener research figures are more scientifically and carefully compiled than is habitual in this continent--not one of these three big radio programs could get anywhere near the same audience that we could get with three weekly shows by British artists produced by the BBC.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not for a moment saying that by any objective standard--if such were possible--the British shows are better than American shows. I am saying the British people prefer the BBC shows, and the American people prefer the Hollywood shows. I am not shocked or disconcerted or surprised when Canadian service men say they did not like the BBC home programs. Why should they? Every national radio audience is habituated to certain forms of presentation, certain accents, certain styles of production, certain idioms, and it is natural that they should prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar.
Let's come down to cases. Last spring, late spring the, CBC asked us to produce for the Dominion network a weekly half-hour show of what we call a "magazine program", and they gave us pretty specific specifications. We tried. Our first two or three efforts were away off the beam. This was before I came to Canada. But we kept on trying. The program is now on the air on the Dominion network locally, CJBC every Sunday evening from 8 to 8.30. If you have not heard it, I wish you would forbear Charlie McCarthy one Sunday and ring me up the next morning and tell me what is wrong with it, and tell me why it is not interesting to a Canadian audience. That is the only way we can get shows into the idiom of the country for which they are intended.
That is the west part of the program from Britain to Canada.
East bound from Canada to Britain, the two circumstances which limited our Overseas material have now disappeared, and I recently had requests from the Program Directors of I think all the regions into which we divide Britain, for programs for Canada of a particular kind-Wales wants to hear what Welshmen are doing in Canada; Scotland wants a regular commentary on Canadian events; the Midlands want to hear Canadian speakers they've heard of. Fortunately Canada is equipped to comply with such a request. The International Shortwave Service of the CBC at Montreal (of which you may not even have heard, the CBC is so retiring), is in its infancy. Technically, it is excellent. On the program side it is staffed by very keen, and by some brilliant men, and I am waiting for an opportunity now to get together with them and discuss how we can best provide the BBC with programs from Canada which we can relay direct from Montreal.
Now, Mr. President, I have talked round rather than about my subject, but if you will permit me a rather naughty story, I shall conclude. An elderly lady in the English county of Somerset was greatly concerned over the morals of the villagers. She was or might have been a member of the W.C.T.U. She found a rustic laborer, whose habits for good or ill had been formed forty years ago, drinking a pint of cider, and she said to him reprovingly: "My man, can you get drunk on that stuff " He said, "Yes, mum, you can; but it is a weary business." I sometimes feel that we who are trying to promote greater understanding between peoples by the use of broadcasting are like people trying to get drunk on cider -we will get there eventually, but it will take an awful lot of hard work.