1950s >> 1951 >> no-561-may-1951

“Dear Sir —”

We are all familiar with the “write-to-the-news-paper-about-it” fiends. Any particular bee that is buzzing around their bonnets at the time is given a whirl, either in the daily paper or the local rag, more often than not bringing forth a counter blast of opposing opinions couched in varying degrees of heat from others of the same species. The most common type dashes off in high dudgeon a sulphurous epistle registering deep disapproval of the government’s foreign policy or blisters the paper with an attack on the local street fighting or the unreliability of the 9 a.m. train. There is also the “is-this-a-record” type, lying in wait, ears pinned back and pen poised for the first notes of the cuckoo, or to record the remarkable age at which Grandmother finally handed in her dinner pail. For 24 weeks up to and including the 5th April the B.B.C. opened up a new and exciting “happy hunting ground” for these scribes in their programme “Dear Sir,” broadcast every Thursday at 8 p.m. for 30 minutes. It comprised a very mixed bag of letters written to the B.B.C. by the public on an infinite variety of subjects, edited and introduced, by Leslie Baily. The letters came over the air with what was apparently considered suitable voices and inflections. Some letters from children were piped up as such. The women’s voices were vibrant and trembling with emotion or indignation. The men, bullying or frightfully refined according to the subject matter of the letter. (Obviously fugitives from a repertory company.) Taken all in all it was an innocuous collection of letters and it is a matter for conjecture as to what precisely was the “open sesame” to the air. The letters were hand picked, as in the short time at their disposal only a very small percentage could be broadcast. Many letters were representative of dozens on the same theme. One correspondent wrote to say “Au revoir” to the series and mentioned plaintively that his 15 previous letters had not received publicity. The subjects ranged through self government for colonies, the recent Tory tactics in the house, water divining, the proposed alteration in Divorce laws, the Census, lack of women geniuses and should the Welsh language be taught in schools? Someone posed the question, “why is it that Welsh people can always sing”? A rather rude reply denied that they sang but said, “they just lament in unison,” which brought forth highly indignant letters in the come-back of the following week. A few letters turned the searchlight of publicity on some present day evils, the frightful conditions for the slaughtering of animals, some facts regarding T.B. and the starvation wage of £3 8s. weekly for waitresses who stated they could not exist without “tips.” A controversy raged for several weeks regarding the Christian attitude to war and rearmament, and it was interesting to note that only a small minority came out on the side of pacifism. The majority wallowed in a spate of words and while re-assuring us that “God is love,” were not against rearmament. Some of the letters called for “laws of war” or counselled restraint and discrimination in waging war. One Christian correspondent wrote to say that according to the New Testament the state has God’s permission to make war. (Church and state have always foraged amicably together as purple patches in past history testify.) An ex-service man thought housing shortage caused labour troubles and someone else said that the worker who had a large family should have increased wages instead of family allowances.

Another brain wave suggested enclosing rabbits in wired-off tracts of land like the monks of olden days, and leave nature to remedy that blot on the escutcheon of the Labour government, the meat shortage. Another suggestion was to utilise the interior heat of the earth for mechanical purposes, and a plea was put in that crooners, male and female, should celebrate the festival of Britain by using their own language instead of that ghastly “Americanese.”

The foregoing very sketchy review does not cover the whole range of letters but listening to this programme week by week the writer was struck by the infinite number and variety of subjects with which a large section of the public concern themselves. The thought occurs, is it possible for all these widely differing people to ever think alike on one subject and act in harmony to establish socialism? Add to this the language difficulties and prejudices fostered between workers in different lands and the odds against a genuine world socialist understanding seem almost too formidable to contemplate. Last, but not least, is the absolute dependence of the workers for their picture of world affairs on the press and radio tainted with incessant and almost unconscious propaganda.

The scales are heavily weighted but the workers of the world share the common denominator of a desire to live in peace and security. This happens to be a desire to which the acquisitive nature of capitalism renders it powerless to accede. International rivalries, rearmament, the threat of war, bring in their wake steadily deteriorating conditions for the workers which should hasten their enlightenment. Here then we have the ingredients for a snowball growth of genuine socialist ideas. When the majority of the workers revise that there is no other alternative and vote for socialism, it will be “curtains” for Capitalism and no regrets.

F. M. Robins