George Orwell 'Talking to India'
It's well known that George Orwell spent part of the war working for the BBC - in what would now be called the World Service. Less well known that he edited and contributed to a 1943 book based on the BBC's wartime broadcasts to India.
To my great delight, I came across a copy of the book for well under a tenner in a Bloomsbury second hand bookshop. An excellent website about Orwell's books says of Talking to India:
'Despite his continuing health problems, Orwell managed during 1942-43 a prodigious output. In addition to his time-consuming duties at the BBC (which included writing 15-minute commentaries, reading many of them over the air, and producing booklets and courses), he was a regular contributor of essays and reviews to the Partisan Review, the New Statesman, Tribune, and other weekly newspapers. ... Talking to India, wrote Orwell, was "a representative selection…with a literary bias" of the programs broadcast to India. The approximately 2,000 copies printed of the book were sold out by 1945. Orwell's contribution, beyond the Introduction, was "The Rediscovery of Europe: Literature Between the Wars," broadcast in March 1942 and published that same month in the Listener (the BBC magazine). ...'
The aside that 'talks marked by an asterisk were written by Indians or other Asiatics' jars today, but was intended then as an indication that the BBC 'talking to India' in wartime involved Indians and others from across Asia, not simply metropolitan voices.
Orwell's introduction is posted below - it makes much of the inclusion of a broadcast not on the BBC, but 'a verbatim transcript of a broadcast from Berlin by the Bengali leader, Subhas Chandra Bose'. Orwell goes on to make a case for 'a difference between honest and dishonest propaganda', Bose being an example of the latter, which at least makes clear what he thought was the BBC's wartime purpose.
The photos included in the book are the highlights - that at the bottom (Eliot, Orwell, Mulk Raj Anand, Tambimuttu, all in the same BBC radio studio) is justly renowned - the others not quite so acclaimed, but just as remarkable.
The BBC World Service is today celebrating its eightieth birthday. Marquees in the Bush House car park - a day of special programmes - even the morning editorial meeting broadcast live to an unsuspecting global audience.
The exact birthday isn't until later in the year, but within a month the World Service starts to decant to the fantastic new broadcast centre at New Broadcasting House on Portland Place. By the time the Olympics start, all World Service broadcasters and journalists (I'm one of them) will have left Bush House. So this is both early birthday and a public farewell to Bush House.
As well as listening avidly to today's programmes, my attention was drawn by my onetime boss Bill Rogers (he of the Trading as WDR blog, a sort of Guido Fawkes for the BBC - happily he describes today's programmes as 'much funkier that you would expect from an 80 year old's birthday party') to a wonderfully detailed account of the BBC career of perhaps the most famous World Service alumnus, George Orwell.
Orwell described his time at the BBC as 'two wasted years' - though the article by Peter Davison on the Orwell Society site makes clear they were professionally hugely productive. Orwell was also working with some emerging big figures in writing and culture, including Mulk Raj Anand, Balraj Sahni and Una Marson.
And if you have ever wondered where the real Room 101 was, here's the answer.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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