There was a day quite a few years ago when millions of people, whether subjects of the British Empire, or simply people far from civilization, sat down to listen to the evening news from London. The BBC was the virtual anchor that held the empire together as a community.
Some will disagree with the above assumption, but I have lived it, and I still long for those evenings gathered in the sitting room of the mission guest house to listen to the news from London.
Before we go on, listen for yourself-- This was the signature tune and voice of all things final and worth knowing about the world.
Some listeners were British civil servants stationed in the Empire in distant places where they ruled an area the size of Texas with maybe twenty British soldiers and clerks. These people lead a lonely existence, for they seldom saw any other Anglo-Saxons for months at a time.
These colonial officials would never think of coming down to the level of an ordinary Australian or American if they were back with their Oxford set in the UK, but being "in the bush," they welcomed anyone from civilization eagerly. Entertainment would be offered, and it was grossly rude to decline to stay at least overnight. All the formal teas, tiffins, and a five course meal would be included, as well as the help of house boys in the guest house to run the bath water and bring morning tea in bed.
But, one ritual was always anticipated by everyone. After the evening meal, everyone retired to the "sitting room" of the official or the guest house. Coffee would be served, and possibly special cheese and crackers. Then, everyone would sit down, the short-wave radio was turned on and tuned to the BBC call sign, and silence fell as the announcer, with "plum on your tongue" Oxford English said, "This is London," and the bagpipes play the theme music. As the six blips sounded, some would quietly reset their watches, for this was the world's official time- Greenwich, England.
Any of you who were missionaries in the past era will recall that we all did the same thing, as an absolutely essential end to the day, in the living room of the mission guest house in the central city.
After the news, there would be a sometimes lengthy discussion by those in the room about the news and there was much speculation as to how it would affect life in the world. Senior missionaries had earned the right to give such comments, and new missionaries soon learned to take close mental notes. As a kid in Kenya, I recall being in awe of these older missionaries, for they seemed to be a well of endless knowledge about the world.
you see above is a very primitive short-wave radio that actually worked.
The cooking pot was modified into a variable capacitor to tune the signal.
I tell you about the short-wave radio I made while growing up in Tanzania in another yarn here.
There were clues on how reliable a news item was.
"From our correspondent in South Africa...." would be followed by a (sometimes live) quote from the correspondent. That was pure gold.
"Our correspondent reports that....." meant it was about 90% certain to be true.
"Reliable sources tell us that......" meant it was pretty sure news, but we better see what happens tomorrow.
"It has been reported that......." meant that it was pretty much a semi-reliable bit of international gossip and not something to count on too heavily.
What was dreaded was to hear: "We interrupt this program to bring you the following announcement...." What followed was the death of the King, or a war had started, etc. Everyone held their breath and it was silent as a morgue in the sitting room. The announcement that followed might be telling that Armageddon had broken out, but the announcer would give the news in a cool and collected tone of voice with about as much emotion as the financial report.
British Empire civil servants, and missionaries, were people of the world, not just the nation they worked in. This is something the average Englishman and American today cannot understand. I find it a bit lonely as I am getting older, for I miss people who can talk about the world and not just the stupid Democrats, Republicans, or some famous quarterback.
Most of us older boys in tenth grade and up had out own short wave radios. We would rather have a radio than a lot of the luxuries modern teens crave. The Pye company made a super simple short wave set for nationals in the British Empire, and many of us got a Pye for our first radio cheap. With a short wave radio, after the lights were out, we could put on the headphones and listen to propaganda from the USSR. The claims made against the USA and European nations were bizarre in the extreme, and we loved these shows better than comedy from the UK.
After the BBC news and a lively discussion, some elder missionary would read the evening page for that date from the Daily Light, and prayer followed. Often, prayer went around the world because some news item had made it very clear that missionaries in some other corner of the globe were in trouble due to political unrest or some horrible weather event. Again, I miss having people around me who pray outside their little box, but who pray with full consciousness of the urgency of some need far away. I am not talking about that classic prayer, "God bless all the missionaries in the world."
The BBC was much more useful than the US version, the Voice of America. The VOA was classically a propaganda tool. The BBC, unlike today, was totally unaffected by politics. The staff at the BBC were fired if they got a divorce. The modern BBC gave Jimmy Savile, the creep who harvested young boys from orphanages for Prime Minister Ted Heath to sodomize, was given a show on the BBC, and the BBC protected him and still denies his rape of girls virtually in the BBC facilities. If you are not over 60 years old, you do not know the BBC I knew.
BBC employees, long ago, were to be absolutely proper all the time, at work and off duty. They spoke perfect Oxford English, and you could tell an African who learned English listening to the BBC English lessons. You could detect the Oxford pronunciations, "plumb on the tongue, what?" Actually, if you want to mimmic an Oxford accent, it works. Put a small plumb on your tongue, and have at it. The BBC today is not remotely close to the BBC or the 1950s professionally, and they are a propaganda tool for the British left all the way.
Also, long ago, the British Foreign Office used the BBC to inform all British subjects of what to do in an emergency. The Voice of America never did this because the US State Department were notorious for not trying to inform Americans overseas of what was good for their health. The US embassy in the country would send out information after everyone had left the country and the revolution was over. It was classic US Army CYA, and nothing else.
If the BBC news announcer said, "British subjects in Kenya are being told to avoid all unnecessary travel during the crisis........," that was the official instructions to British missionaries. It also meant, start thinking about where to go if the next night the news announcer says, "British subjects are being advised to move to points of departure and prepare to leave the country........" No other message need be sent from the British Embassy in the country. You had you orders to clear out at once.
We Americans listened to the BBC news just as thoughtfully as our British friends, for the BBC was all the counsel we might get from the outside world. We basically did what our British friends did. You ought to thank God every day that you do not have to pack and flee from your home. Millions do that every day somewhere in the world. But, you also ought to have a grab bag packed just in case, and I am serious about that. Political chaos is not the only reason. Natural disasters arise in any nation in which only the quick are not later the dead.
And, if you were up late, you heard the sign off.
The strange thing is that both tunes are based in resentment for British rule in the United Kingdom. I have not yet figured out why the tune was chosen by the BBC.
There was one program we just had to listen to from the Voice of America though, at least us boys in the dorm who had short-wave radios-- Willis Conover and the Jazz Hour. It is said that when Willis Conover traveled to other nations around the world, he drew larger crowds at the airport than kings and presidents. No one around the world knew what he looked like, but if they heard him talking in a hotel or restaurant in Hong Kong or Singapore, someone would come up and ask, "Are you Willis Conover?"
Every jazz program announcer in America during that era honed his voice to mimic Willis Conover. Also, there are many observers of recent American history that claim Willis Conover made more friends for America than any other single man. His show was almost never jammed by the Societ jamming stations.
Tell me, what President or Prime Minister has had his very own tribute concert? I also suspect that a fellow named Vladamir Putin cut his musical teeth on Willis Conover and Take the A Train.
Don't you love those KGB looking boys playing the trumpet and sax, and Kruschev's little brother on the piano. I love it. They cannot get along with us, and they cannot get along without us. Makes you feel good to be an American in an age when we are blamed for all the world's ills.
By the way, Vladamir Putin rides a big motorcycle-- a "Hog,"-- a Harley Davidson. Stay tuned folks for the next invasion by America into Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. It will be lead by Time Warner I would think, or maybe Wal-Mart.
The "A Train" sure got around the world.
So, America made its mark, but after the Jazz Hour, it was still the BBC that everyone on earth wanted to hear to get the unadulterated news. There used to be two things that said "British Empire"-- the BBC and the Rock or Gibralter. I sympathies to you folks in the UK. Times are not the same.