Radio Commentary

 “Book by the fire,” Light Programme, 5 p.m. on K Sundays, during the winter months.

 In the “Radio Times” this programme is listed as “a series of weekly talks by Alan Melville about recently published books he has enjoyed, with dramatised illustrations acted by . . .” and here follows a list of the various actors and actresses who are contributing to these epic cameos. The companion programme which runs during the summer months is called “Book in the sun.” These talks are not a straightforward review or criticism of the books mentioned in the programme. They are put forward because they have met with the approval of the speaker, and are supposed to send you galloping off down to the Library. In these circumstances they receive a tremendous degree of publicity which it is difficult to reconcile with the much vaunted policy of the B.B.C., “no advertising.” The books are mostly fiction, a few “Whodunits,” some biographies and true stories of exploration and travel.

 On Sunday, 2nd November, this programme touched a new low when Alan Melville brought to our notice a collection of short stories about an Italian priest. Some of the tales, he said, had a certain amount of political significance, which he wanted to avoid. He thereupon related the story of the aforesaid priest and an angel which perched on the spire of his village church. We received the impression that Mr. Melville wholeheartedly approved of the significance and sanctity of these symbols in general and this one in particular.

 The second book to earn Mr. Melville’s commendation is written by one of those “pukka Sahibs” to whom we owe so much in “our” far flung Empire. He gives unstinted praise to Mr. Grimble, the modest and diffident chap who goes forth to lead the faltering footsteps of one of those “inferior races.” This officer drops clangers, belittles his own efforts, but “makes out ” in the end. Mr. Melville thinks he is a great guy and “where would the British Empire be if it weren’t for him and others like him? ” The programme concludes with a nauseatingly sentimental scene, acted by the players. To the sound of subdued chanting, a very old native woman of the Islands, gives drooling thanks to the British and this particular officer for ending war between the tribes, thus ensuring for her oodles of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Since the British have arrived, she says, peace has prevailed.

This must be one of the exceptions that proves the rule, as Great Britain’s record of imperialism and exploitation will testify.

Our hours of relaxation are few, and Mr. Melville’s somewhat corny literary recommendations singularly unattractive.

 It has been truly said that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and the discriminating listener can always resort to the switch. This programme has a certain propaganda value, being a mixture of fact and fiction. Many people unconsciously fail to separate the two when forming their opinions. As the foregoing shows, Mr. Melville is orthodox, mid-Victorian and sentimental. In addition he has an archly humorous method of speaking, a pill which could be digested uncomplainingly if the main dish were a trifle more appetising.

 Further to the question of propaganda, it is not possible to assess the influence on the public of books, films and the theatre in formulating their opinions and ideas. The recent drift of the “spy” or “villain” from German to Russian nationality adds up to a gradual conditioning of the people to the idea of war with that nation.

F. M. Robins

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