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This is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Behind every BBC programme, there lies a network of correspondence.
Get me London Airport, will you?
Today, it happens electronically but in the past it was processed
through a typewriter, usually in triplicate,
having been dictated to a bored woman in a tweed suit. Very quaint.
Each of these messages was filed away within the BBC's written
archives - four and half miles of letters, memos and manuscripts.
They contain almost a century's worth of hopes, fears,
disagreements and consents.
They are The Secret Files Of The BBC.
What better way to begin our journey through the archives
than in the company of two of my favourites?
I couldn't understand what slapping Derek's face
had to do with the play.
-My name is not Derek. My name is Eric.
Oh, I am sorry, Mr Moron. You see, all...
'Today, my erstwhile sparring partners,'
Eric and Ernie, need little in the way of introduction,
but in 1948, they were just another young double act
searching for their big break.
And like many other eager hopefuls of their generation,
they put pen to paper.
"We would like to give an audition for television
"if it could be arranged.
"We do modern cross talk and song and dance.
"Have done variety and broadcasting and did television way
"back in 1939 with Jack Hylton.
"Awaiting your reply, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise."
The audition was granted but wasn't rapturously received.
"Description - Two young men in Healthy Hank
"and Lingering Death make-up.
"Remarks - Parts of this might be suitable.
"Suggestive material and dancing together should be omitted."
They went on to have success on radio.
And, in 1954, were offered their own BBC television series,
which, famously, failed.
However, this didn't deter them
and they continued to stay in touch with their BBC colleagues.
"It seems like a long time since we saw everybody in Manchester
"but we often think about you all
"and wonder how you are all getting on.
"We have done very well in Australia having had two good seasons
"in Melbourne and Sydney. Also appeared on TV and radio.
"Should be back in England about March 7th,
"so after that date we will be OK for radio or TV bookings.
"We managed to see the test in Sydney.
"Of course we were very upset about losing the Ashes but believe me,
"the Australians fielded a wonderful side and played some great cricket.
"Please give our regards to everybody
"and we are looking forward to seeing you in the near future.
"Cheerio. Ernie Wise."
That letter was written to the producer John Ammonds,
a man who would be instrumental in the enormous success
of their later television series.
Which is why this recently uncovered internal memo
to scriptwriter Edward Taylor is such a surprise.
"From - John Ammonds.
"Dear Ted, I like the ideas in the script
"but after seeing Morecambe and Wise the other week
"in their show from the Central Pier, Blackpool,
"I am not at all sure as to their strength on a TV programme.
"It seems to me that they have learnt very little
"over the past five years or so.
"Still working the old gags and, in my opinion,
"frequently working the wrong type of material.
"They are quite a disappointment to me because when I first worked
"with them in this region on Sound, I thought they had a great future,
"but frankly, I don't think that they will ever be
"in the Number One class.
"It is even more depressing that it seems that they are quite
"happy to jog along as they are doing at the moment.
"I always have thought Eric Morecambe
"to be a naturally funny man
"and I still think that he could be very successful on Vision
"but only if he could be detached from Ernie,
"whom I think is the big weakness.
"I'm sorry to be pessimistic
"but I really cannot see them making the grade in a TV series.
"Hope to see you when I am next in town.
"All the best, yours sincerely, John E Ammonds."
By early 1961, the TV series had still to materialise
but their radio and stage careers were on a roll.
'Here's holiday entertainment for the whole family.
'The Morecambe And Wise Show - starring
'Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise, and all-star company.'
This, they thought, deserved a pay rise.
"From Morecambe and Wise. To Patrick Newman.
"Dear Mr Newman,
"Would you consider giving us a rise in salary for radio?
"We have advanced in show business and now our radio salary is too low,
"in our opinion.
"We enjoy doing radio and would like to continue.
"The salary we had in mind was say, £100.
"I know it seems a big jump but it's a long time since we asked for one.
"We would appreciate your remarks on this matter.
"Yours sincerely, Morecambe and Wise."
To which Variety Bookings Manager Patrick Newman replied...
"Thank you for your letter of June 10th.
"The opening sentence was delightful
"and I found the two query signs rather endearing.
"Sentence number two was nicely put, and altogether things were going
"very well considering it was Monday morning.
"The first half of sentence number three kept up the good work,
"when... Wham! Out of the blue it came.
"Double. A big jump indeed.
"Surely only Gagarin has jumped further.
"Still, it's two years, I agree.
"I have discussed this with the staff here and,
"in our scale of fees,
"we seem to think that you would fit at 60 guineas.
"But then someone said,
"'Well, that's only five guineas each, isn't it?'
"which seemed a bit mouldy.
"Right then, we will spring 70 guineas, but not I think more.
"If you think you could lower your sights a little
"and find this acceptable?
"Yours sincerely, Patrick Newman,
"Light Entertainment Booking Manager."
"Dear Mr Newman,
"It's quite remarkable that's the amount we had in mind.
"If you had offered us 60 guineas, we would have replied
"'Well, that's only five guineas each, isn't it?'
"which seemed a bit mouldy.
"I have discussed this with my staff, my staff being my wife,
"Eric's wife, two children and two dogs.
"Oh, I did mention it to Eric and he lowered his sights a little
"and nodded his head.
"Cheerio. Sincerely, Morecambe and Wise."
To many, the BBC is defined by the people it puts
in front of the camera
but those working behind the scenes have had as much,
if not more, of a hand in shaping the destiny of the Corporation.
None more so than the BBC's founding father, Lord Reith,
whose stated mission to "inform, educate and entertain"
is still the bedrock of the company he created.
Did you consciously impose your own view of the world
on the programmes and the practice of the BBC?
That's a leading question, isn't it? Yes.
Reith was a dour Scotsman of strong-held, intractable opinions
who few dared to cross.
But he met his match in Winston Churchill
and their long-running
feud would have far-reaching consequences for the BBC.
Scene seven. Take one.
Do you think that Churchill was hostile to you?
Yes, he was. We were at a distance, there was no doubt about that.
Where are we now?
Their two huge egos first collided in 1926 when they fought over
Churchill's attempts to take the BBC under government control.
Reith won that one, but from then on, the battle lines were drawn.
In the early years, Reith tried to avoid political controversy
by allowing the parties to decide which political speakers
would be broadcast and they of course chose MPs who toed the line.
Not something Mr Churchill was known for,
and he became increasingly frustrated with what he saw
as the censorship of his views,
especially after he lost his cabinet post in 1929.
"To Sir John Reith.
"Dear Sir John,
"I am very glad you liked my appeal on behalf of the blind.
"I am about to make a public offer to the BBC of £100 out of my own
"pocket for the right to speak for half an hour on politics.
"How ashamed you will all be in a few years
"for having muzzled the broadcast!
"Exactly the same thing happened in the old days
"when they were afraid of freedom of speech and writing,
"but the obstructionists have gained no fame in history.
"How absurd to have a complete democracy
"and all access to them denied.
"This is going to be a bad year."
"Dear Mr Churchill, Thank you for your letter of 29th.
"With regard to the offer which you are to make for the right
"to broadcast for half an hour on politics.
"Do you really think we should copy the American plan of allowing
"what you realise so fully to be the immense
"potentialities of broadcasting to be available on a cash basis,
"irrespective of any consideration of content or balance?
"We have more than once been offered £100 not for half an hour,
"but for one minute.
"We are not obstructing anybody at the present moment.
"There has been no request from the parties
"since the last General Election for political broadcasting.
"Yours sincerely, John Reith."
"Dear Sir John,
"I am sure the American plan would be better than the present
"British methods of debarring public men from access to a public
"who wish to hear.
"With regard to your last paragraph -
"you are certainly obstructing me.
"I wish to broadcast on grave political issues
"before the end of January.
"On what legal ground do you deal only with parties?
"I was not aware that parties had a legal basis at all,
"or that they had been formally brought into your licence."
Between 1930 and 1939,
Churchill spoke only six times on political matters for the BBC.
Even after Reith's resignation in 1938, he continued to write
to try to get his views heard,
and continued to complain bitterly when he was rejected.
A fierce critic of appeasement,
Churchill vented his spleen to a young BBC producer on the day after
Chamberlain returned from Munich.
"Mr Churchill complained that he had been very badly treated
"in the matter of political broadcasts
"and that he was always muzzled by the BBC.
"He went on to say that he imagined that he would be even more
"muzzled in the future, since the work at the BBC seemed to
"have passed under the control of the Government.
"I said that this was not, in fact, the case,
"though just at the moment we were, as a matter of courtesy,
"allowing the Foreign Office to see scripts on political subjects.
"The point is, WSC seems very anxious to talk. Guy Burgess."
A fascinating record of a conversation between Cambridge spy
Guy Burgess - arguably this country's most infamous traitor -
and the man who would become its most potent patriotic symbol.
Eventually, Churchill returned to the cabinet
as First Lord of the Admiralty
and began to broadcast more frequently.
However, the BBC were still not convinced of his powers of oration.
First Lord of the Admiralty answers Nazi propaganda.
Nowadays we are assailed by a chorus of horrid threats.
If words could kill, we should be dead already.
We are in a very different...
"In view of the fact that the opinion generally expressed about
"Churchill's last broadcast was that it was deplorable
"but probably good propaganda in Canada and America,
"it might interest you to know that a young Canadian lawyer
"who has just flown over on the Clipper, remarked to me
"what an unfortunate effect it had had among his friends in Canada."
The Nazi government exudes through every neutral state...
"This is interesting, and makes one more doubtful than ever
"regarding the value of Mr Churchill's broadcasts.
"In addition, of course, he has managed to offend both Italy
"and the US in successive talks."
During the war years, Churchill's relationship with
the BBC thawed somewhat as antipathy gave way to mutual need
and the new Director General took a more conciliatory approach
than his predecessor.
AIR-RAID SIRENS WAIL
'Tonight, I speak to you at your firesides,
'wherever you may be, or whatever your fortunes are.
'I repeat the prayer around the Louis d'Or,
'"Dieu protege la France."'
"My dear Prime Minister,
"I was very sorry I was not able to come for your broadcast last night.
"May I therefore be allowed to
"congratulate you most warmly upon it?
"It came through here superbly in both languages and it will
"obviously have a profound effect in France and all over the world.
"You will be sorry to learn that a bomb exploded
"right in the middle of our cake here last week,
"unhappily with the loss of seven lives, several other casualties,
"and the wrecking of most studio and other facilities above ground.
"All of our broadcast services,
"however, went on without interruption.
"Yours sincerely, FW Ogilvie."
"Dear Mr Ogilvie,
"Thank you so much for your letter of October 22nd
"and for your kind remarks about my French broadcast.
"I am indeed sorry to hear that you have suffered
"so much from air raids and that seven people lost their lives.
"It is a great tribute to your organization
"that broadcasting continued uninterrupted."
However, with war over and Churchill out of office,
normal service resumed.
It is an uphill road we have to tread.
"Mr Winston Churchill rang me from Chartwell at 3pm
"to protest in vehement terms against his election broadcast
"tonight being followed in the Home Service
"by a programme entitled We Beg To Differ.
"He said that this indicated pro-government bias
"on behalf of the BBC and that unless the programme was changed,
"he would deal with the matter in his broadcast
"and would see to it that the BBC heard a great deal more
"of the matter thereafter.
"I said that the programme was a regular weekly fixture,
"was a light-hearted entertainment programme with no political
"connotation and that to alter the programme would attract
"attention in a way which was most undesirable.
"Mr Churchill did not agree and said that the title must be changed."
During Churchill's second term as Prime Minister,
he didn't give a single television interview.
He had never forgiven the BBC for what
he saw as the censorship of his views during his wilderness years.
And now he broke the television monopoly for which Lord Reith had
fought so bitterly, introducing legislation that would pave the way
for ITV, thus ending the BBC's role as the nation's only broadcaster.
'I think one of the most deplorable mistakes ever made in public
'affairs was made when the BBC monopoly was broken.'
I think it was shocking.
During his time in office,
Lord Reith kept an iron grip on the organisation he'd created.
He was a firm believer in giving his listeners what they needed
rather than what they wanted. And this even extended to music.
"Jazz, in its place, is all right,
"but do you not agree that it has got altogether out of its place
"in the life and interest
"of a considerable section of the community,
"and that to some extent anyhow it is degrading?"
# The moon was all aglow
# And heaven was in your eyes
# The night that you told me... #
"Do you think it is a tribute to our
"educational - apart from any other - standards that the personnel
"of jazz bands should be a matter of public interest,
"and are you happy in encouraging it?
"You feel we have a serious responsibility, intellectual
"and ethical and that we have been right in declining to
"cater down on the 'give the public what it wants' basis.
"Please keep an eye on the matter because it is only by vigilance
"that good will come and ill be averted."
After Lord Reith's departure, the BBC's protectors of virtue
were the Dance Music Policy Committee.
I've been having second thoughts about this
and I'd like to hear more from the music department about the idea.
A secret group of senior employees who would decide which songs
were suitable to be played on the radio, and later on television.
That's all right, isn't it? We'll put that one in.
They wielded an inordinate amount of power
having the ability to ban a song completely
or insist on lyric changes.
Their comments are a wonderful barometer of the moral landscape.
"From Director of Variety.
"The following songs have been banned for broadcasting.
"Hold It Joe - suggestive lyric.
"Where Is My Sunday Potato - politically unsuitable.
"The following song is passed but the word marriage must be
"mentioned in the lyric - Baby, Move Into My Arms."
"The Shiralee has a pleasant enough melody
"but is a rather undistinguished ballad.
"And what is a Shiralee?"
Even after the committee disbanded in 1964,
the BBC continued to keep a close watch on the nation's morals.
CHEERING AND SCREAMING
No matter how big the group,
if your song was deemed inappropriate
it was off the airwaves.
MUSIC: I Am The Walrus by The Beatles
"From Tom Sloan, Head of Light Entertainment Group, Television,
"to CP Tel.
"In The Beatles film, so far uncompleted,
"The Magical Mystery Tour,
"they sing a number called I Am A Walrus."
# Crabalocker fishwife
# Pornographic priestess
# Boy, you been a naughty girl You let your knickers down... #
"The lyrics contain a very offensive passage
"and after talking to Anna Instone,
"we have both agreed not to play it on radio or television.
"Although not officially banned,
"it will not be heard on Top Of The Pops or Juke Box Jury.
"I should be grateful if you would ensure that
"any other possible outlets are similarly blocked off."
In fact, the whole advent of rock and roll
presented myriad problems for the BBC.
To start with, a whole new breed of star was being created -
one whose musicianship was less important than their record sales.
Now I want you to meet another boy who
specialises in writing his own numbers.
Very successfully too, I might say,
because his first disc sold over a million copies.
His name is Russ Hamilton and we think he's onto another winner
with a number called I Had A Dream.
# I had a girl who loved no-one but me
# And this girl She said she'd marry me
# Something happened... #
"From Josephine Douglas, Producer, 6.5 Special
"to Head of Light Entertainment, Television.
"The announcement 'singing to his new record'
"was intended to convey the fact that a record was being played
"to a public who do not seem to grasp the significance
"of the word miming. This whole issue of miming to records
"is an extremely difficult one in this particular programme
"as on many occasions the live work of the artists
"bears no relation whatever to their record performance.
"For example the 6.5 Special public wanted to hear Russ Hamilton.
"The Russ Hamilton of record fame, who is in fact
"the bestselling ever British artist in America, does not exist.
"He cannot play the guitar
"neither does his singing voice resemble that on the record.
"The fact remains that the record personality is
"the one in which our public are interested.
"Is it right therefore to present him, a record personality,
"which is all he is, in a mediocre performance?
"Is it wiser indeed not to present him at all?
"This is the problem facing us with many artists of this type."
# Tell me I'm the one
# You love... #
It wasn't only stars that created problems,
the rise of 1960s counter-culture
left the solid gentlemen's club of the BBC perplexed in the extreme.
PSYCHEDELIC ROCK MUSIC PLAYS
"We would like to have your advice also
"on the use of the word psychedelic. In our opinion,
"this word derives exclusively from the use of the drug LSD,
"and it might be wise if we were to instruct all DJs not to use it.
"On the other hand, this is only our opinion,
"and other people claim that the word is not connected exclusively
"with drugs at all.
"Would you please advise us on both points,
"and on our policy regarding all discs alleged to contain
"references to, or be based on, drugs and drug taking?"
'Good morning, everybody. It's 6.30 and the BBC Light Programme's
'beginning another day's broadcasting.'
For the first 24 years of its existence,
the BBC was an almost entirely masculine preserve,
certainly in terms of its presenters.
There had been a Children's Hour from the very start in 1922
but it wasn't until 1946 that women were accorded the same privilege.
And that seems to have been a direct result of a request from a listener.
"Dear Sir, I enclose for your perusal a page taken from
"a little monthly paper called Housewife
"which I think is read by a great many middle class, educated women
"who have perforce to spend much time in their homes
"doing their own chores and who feel that their brains
"are in danger of becoming thoroughly mouldy.
"It is for women such as us that I appeal for a woman's hour
"on the radio at a time - preferably - between 2.00 and 3.00
"each afternoon when we can relax
"and listen to one thing really interesting.
"In view of the fact that the BBC pays large sums to dance bands
"and crooners, I think they might engage a woman with the right
"personality to host a woman's hour on the lines I have suggested.
"I assume the right type of person would make a big success of it
"and it would be appreciated by a very deserving
"part of the community who have not had much consideration of late.
"I hope you will be able to do something about this.
"Yours Truly, JM Schofield."
While the BBC obviously took note,
they didn't agree with all Mrs Schofield's suggestions
and appointed a man as the host.
'Good morning, ladies.'
"Dear Norman, I think you should get talkers who
"know how to broadcast and spend a lot of money on that important hour.
"You want a compere of the Christopher Stone type, I feel.
"Someone with that human touch.
"You are right I feel in putting a man in 'talking' charge,
"for women can't bear being talked at by other women.
"What they will take from a man, I speak purely radiographically,
"they will resent from a woman."
Talks in the first-ever episode included Mother's mid-day meal
and putting your best face forward.
And the programme in the early days
generally concentrated on domestic matters.
"Would you please send a booking sheet to AA Talks
"for the following people used in Woman's Hour - 29th October -
"Ruth Drew - marrow jam, Marion Cutler - old age pensions.
"30th October -
"Ruth Drew - dyeing nylons, corn on the cob.
"31st October - Ruth Drew - mice, Margaret Reekie - Wellingtons.
"1st November - Marion Cutler - National Insurance."
However, these weren't particularly highly regarded
by the male echelons of the BBC.
"From Mr Norman Collins to Mrs Bradney.
"Would you, by the way, please be specially careful
"to see that the fatal word 'expert' does not creep back into
"Woman's Hour in contexts where such a thing as an expert
"cannot possibly exist."
There seems to have been quite a proscriptive attitude
about what women would enjoy
and that certainly didn't include a story about the world's first
commercial jetliner, the De Havilland Comet.
'With The Comet scheduled by British Overseas Airways Corporation
'to start the world's first jet passenger air service.'
"I should have thought this quite unsuitable for Woman's Hour.
"Surely the yardstick for this sort of thing is to say
"'Is this more suitable elsewhere?'
"If you have to say yes, then put it there.
"In this case, your most interested audience is obviously children.
"Why not have made up a feature of all the worry, work
"and general preparation leading up to the dress show
"the Queen went to at Claridge's?
"There are plenty of things reported in the papers which are of exclusive
"interest to women and I'm dead certain the Comet isn't one of them!
"Women, on the whole, distrust anything mechanical."
One of the most popular items in the programme was Housewives Exchange,
where ordinary housewives would speak about their lives
often giving recipes and describing how they went about
their day-to-day business.
Innocuous enough, but they occasionally got
the show into seriously hot water.
"The Ministry of Food in London have approached us to say that the
"recommendation of Mrs Finnis for bottling peas
"and sealing the bottles with mutton fat,
"can, in certain cases, lead to toxic poisoning.
"You may remember that before I came, there was some trouble about
"another housewife who recommended the use of uncooked dried egg.
"We really do have to take the utmost precautions
"not to poison our audience."
Woman's Hour was determined to broadcast on women's health issues
and despite the fact that they warned listeners,
giving the exact duration of the piece and advising them
to turn down the volume on their radios if they were worried about
being offended, they often received stern memos from their bosses.
"From Mr John McMillan to Mr TW Chalmers.
"I queried the wisdom of the talk entitled The Older Woman
"by a woman gynaecologist with Newton and Boyd
"and was assured that it was in line with current practice.
"Consequently, I didn't exercise our editorial right to censor.
"But I do believe that the inclusion of such a talk
"represents a lowering of broadcasting standards.
"It is acutely embarrassing to hear about hot flushes, diseases
"of the ovaries, the possibility of womb removal and so on
"being transmitted on 376 kilowatts at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.
"This view is shared by the female staff of our department."
"I don't think that this sort of talk does represent a
"lowering of broadcasting standards, as McMillan thinks.
"Nevertheless, I would myself have been embarrassed if listening
"at home to have heard such intimate physiological details described.
"Is it in line with current practice? TW Chalmers."
One woman who remained unbowed in the face of BBC intractability
first wrote to the Corporation with a novel idea for a radio talk.
'Now meet Queenie and friends of Stoke Mandeville.
'They've been wearing their winter overcoats during the night but,
'as it's warmer this morning, their owner - Mrs Barbara Woodhouse -
'decides to put them into thinner coats for the day.'
"Dear Mrs Woodhouse,
"We have now fully considered you script Rugs For Cows
"and regret that in view of its comparatively limited appeal,
"we are unable to find space for it in our programme."
Undaunted, Barbara Woodhouse's response set the tone
for her future correspondence.
"Dear Mr Dunnett,
"Thank you very much for your letter, and my script.
"I am sorry you have had to reject it,
"as I feel so strongly that it has a very wide appeal.
"A small letter I wrote three years ago, which was published in the
"Farmer And Stockbreeder, brought me over 300 letters
"from all over the world.
"In England, nearly all the daily papers put
"photographs of the cows before the public
"and so many farmers rugged their cows with great success."
'If it's wet, the cows wear raincoats.
'In cold weather, they have jute and wool-lined rugs.
'While in summer, Mrs Woodhouse turns them out in cotton.
'So far, she hasn't bought them any underwear.'
"Being a doctor's wife, we see so much hardship with old people
"being short of milk that anything we can do to stop it, we do.
"Don't bother to answer this, when milk rationing becomes very
"severe, you may feel this is more important a subject than you think.
"Yours sincerely, Barbara Woodhouse."
She had more luck with Woman's Hour
where she gave a talk on "taking my cows on holiday"
but her further suggestions for talks on domestic service,
rain, original ideas for children's parties
and men were rejected.
Not content with making the odd guest appearance,
she wrote to the BBC offering herself as a regular commentator.
However, the powers that be didn't even think she was
worth an audition.
"To Mrs B Wontner.
"Dear Madam, Thank you for your letter
"and for your application for a commentary test.
"As I am sure you will appreciate, we have received a great
"number of similar applications from would-be commentators.
"It is only possible to shortlist a very few of them for interview,
"audition and training. I regret, therefore, that I am unable
"to place your name on this shortlist.
"Yours faithfully, CFG Max-Muller."
Unsurprisingly, Barbara didn't take this lying down.
"Dear Sir, Thank you for your letter
"turning down my request for a commentary test.
"I feel that it must be very difficult to shortlist anyone
"without hearing them speak, and to turn any applicant down
"just on a letter seems very short-sighted to me, especially
"as you obviously don't even know who I am as you got my name wrong.
"I don't mean this rudely, but I have been told so many times
"I have the perfect voice for broadcasting, that it seems
"queer to me that so many people can be possessed of the same thing.
"I got my first job on broadcasting simply by someone hearing me
"speaking to the receptionist at the BBC.
"Yours faithfully, Barbara Woodhouse."
Are you ready? Forward.
Don't forget to jerk your dog.
That's right. About turn.
Undeterred, Mrs Woodhouse continued her assault
and when her idea for a television programme on
making clothes for children was rejected,
wrote to the producer pushing other ideas.
"My subjects are varied having, I think, done more in my 46 years
"than most women would have done in 100 years,
"and I don't mean this boastingly.
"To mention just a few of my previous occupations,
"I have a diploma in 17 subjects
"including building construction and surveying, engineering, etc.
"I was a teacher of dancing, I dress designed,
"I was a hospital receptionist.
"Dance hostess for the Cadena Cafes, school teacher,
"professional swimmer and diver,
"played county tennis and hockey.
"Won two motor reliability trials.
"Besides living years on a lonely estancia in the Argentine
"breaking horses for Oxo,
"I have been a government milk tester,
"a farmer, still am.
"I have written and published two books myself,
"and had three further ones published by Faber and Faber.
"I have written, directed and made four films.
"I am a doctor's wife with three children
"and know more quick new dishes for busy housewives
"than most people, as cookery is my pet hobby.
"Besides this, of course, I run four dog training schools,
"and write for innumerable papers overseas.
"If any of my experiences are ever any use to you,
"I should be pleased to be of use.
"Yours sincerely, Barbara Woodhouse."
And as if all that wasn't enough, she added a post-script.
"PS - I have just been on the Hamburg television for one hour,
"all in German, self taught in three weeks."
Over 30 years after she first wrote to the BBC,
Barbara's dogged persistence finally paid off.
And in 1980, she was given her own series.
It was a letter, of course, that did it.
"Dear Mr Cotton,
"I know you realise animal programmes are popular
"because for the umpteenth time you are showing sheepdog trials
"but from the dozens of people who write to me and say, 'When are you
"'going to have a series on television training dogs
"'your quick method?'
"I feel you are missing out on something
"that would draw an enormous audience."
Come on. Walkies.
"This may sound all very boasting to you
"but I am going to boast. I have a gift of training animals
"which I doubt if anyone else in the world has."
OK, off you go. Walkies.
"I have trained 16,000 dogs plus,
"and am in the Guinness Book of Records
"as the world's top dog trainer.
"Yours sincerely, Barbara Woodhouse."
There's no such thing as a bad dog, only an inexperienced owner.
Wheee! Oh, that's rather fast.
I can't keep up, I'm old.
-Come! Good girl.
-Put her on the lead.
The peke hasn't come. We've lost the peke in the grass.
However, not everyone was as confident of their potential for
television success as the indefatigable Mrs Woodhouse.
I've got a story to tell you. It's all about spies.
Impossible as it is to believe now,
Alec Guinness was less than convinced of his suitability to
play George Smiley, despite a direct approach by John Le Carre.
"Dear Sir Alec,
"I write to you as an unbounded admirer of your work for many years.
"The BBC has just acquired television rights in
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -
"a novel which I wrote a few years back,
"of which the plot, narrative and heart
"are all sustained by one character - George Smiley.
"Already we are all of us agreed on one thing.
"That if we were to cry for the moon,
"we would cry for Guinness as Smiley,
"and build everything else to fit."
"Dear Mr Le Carre,
"Thank you so much for your very handsomely generous letter.
"There is no question
"that I would love to have a shot at playing Smiley.
"I have a few reservations about my ability to do so satisfactorily.
"My anxieties can be listed simply, I think.
"One - at the age of 64, as I shall be shortly,
"I am about ten years too old for Smiley, I imagine.
"Though I suppose make-up and acting
"can knock off perhaps four or five years.
"Two - although thick-set, I am not really rotund and double-chinned
"and both things would be helpful in presenting him.
"Three - I have done very little TV indeed - three or four, I think -
"and never a series.
"What worries me about the likely schedule,
"so far as a series is concerned, is my slow memorising.
"I know hasty learning would interfere disastrously
"Four - I am rather anxious about the fact that Arthur Lowe,
"an actor I greatly admire, has already been seen in the part.
"Are you confident about the change over? I'm not."
So I can tell the minister you'll do it, can I?
You'll take the job, clean the stables?
Go backwards, go forwards, do whatever's necessary.
It's your generation, after all.
Another performer the BBC were keen to sign up was Tony Hancock,
who impressed from the start
when he auditioned with his comedy partner, Derek Scott.
"Two pleasant young men in lounge suits.
"Not untalented and perform with verve.
"Should prove suitable TeleVariety or Revue."
Hancock was soon making regular radio appearances
but as his star rose so did his neuroses.
He felt he deserved star billing in the Radio Times
for his role in the series Educating Archie,
but the BBC thought that belonged to another of the show's stars -
Hancock's concern is shown in this letter from his agent to
Pat Hillyard, Head of Variety.
"I am sorry to have to take up your time with the following matter,
"but trivial as it may seem to you, with us it is all-important
"and we find ourselves in a somewhat difficult position with
"our client, Tony Hancock.
"In today's issue of the Radio Times, other than for the fact
"that Mr Marks' name is not in the heavy type,
"he has been given top position after the title,
"which we feel is unfair to Tony Hancock and, I repeat,
"it has placed us in a most difficult position with him."
By 1953, Hancock's status was such that when an inevitable mistake
was made, the BBC were quick to try and mitigate the situation
with their touchy star.
"Dear Tony, If you have not already seen
"next week's edition of Radio Times you will get something of a shock
"when you look at the billing for the Saturday repeat
"of Forces All-Star Bill.
"We seem, inadvertently, to have starred Messrs Jewel and Warriss
"and I have written to them explaining that this is a mistake
"on the part of Radio Times
"for which they take full blame and, indeed apologise.
"Anyhow, it occurred to me that it may be even more galling
"to the leading comedian who really is in the show
"and I therefore write to tell you that we are jolly sorry and
"I am posting it today in an effort to get it in first before you come
"on the telephone and challenge me to a bout of golf if not fisticuffs.
"Yours sincerely, Pat Newman."
The more in demand he got, the harder Hancock became to pin down,
goading Variety Booking Manager Patrick Newman to write...
"Tony, it's a damn sight easier to book
"the 14 Lai Founs than it is to book one Hancock.
"Various gentlemen have been on the phone to me
"and what I have set out in my letter is what they tell me
"you require so I hope everything is now in order.
"I toyed with the idea of coming up to see your epic
"but I know one young lady who lives there and who says,
"'Nottingham is not very pleased with your friend Tony Hancock.
"'They think he acts in the manner that a Nottingham panto
"'is beneath him.' I am sure such is not the case
"but there would not be much point in my expressing any judgment
"even if I got up there to see it,
"for I suspect I'd probably much prefer you acting in the manner
"that a Nottingham panto is beneath you."
Unsurprisingly, given Hancock's need for approval -
of which Newman was fully aware -
the response was Hancock at his most humble.
"Regarding the remarks of the young lady from Nottingham,
"I found them a little hard to take after carting 14st of exhausted
"Hancock twice a day, to The Grand,
"solely for the pleasure of the children.
"However, we had excellent press and the theatre is full.
"I hope the lady's remarks won't stop you coming up here if you can.
"Best wishes, head down, left arm stiff, foot pointing to the sky.
"Happy New Year to you too. Tony."
BBC Television presents...
What's my girl like, Sid?
-Well, I've told you.
-Go on, tell me again.
You know I'd like to hear it. Go on.
She's about five foot three, or four.
Beautiful auburn hair cascading down to her alabaster shoulders.
After a slow start, Hancock's Half Hour became
one of the most popular programmes on radio and television.
In fact, it was almost a victim of its own success.
What's her name?
"This series has been the first occasion on which I have ever had to
"ask my studio manager to hold audience laughter down -
"and with some of the mad hysterical fan audiences we have had,
"this has often proved extremely difficult.
"At present, I have taken the only three practical steps I can -
"short of actually stopping the general public getting
"hold of tickets for the show. These are...
"A - I have had the position of the audience microphone shifted.
"B - have asked the studio supervisors to see that no
"get near the to the front of the theatre.
"C - I have been telling audiences that whilst we welcome their happy
"laughter, we want neither applause or hysteria after gags.
"Short of barring these hysterical guardians of Britain's
"future from the studio, I don't see what else we can do.
"Dennis Main Wilson."
Despite the show's huge popularity,
the BBC were starting to lose patience with their difficult star.
"He is a highly nervous, and to a degree, temperamental artist
"and 13 weekly shows are just about the limit of his capabilities.
"In fact, his 'rest' when Asian flu
"took him out of the series for a week was a blessing in disguise.
"And without this enforced break, I believe the latter shows
"in the series would have suffered in performance."
References to Hancock's health problems pepper the archive
with only a couple hinting at one of the real sources of the problem.
In a short 1961 letter,
the Chief Assistant, General Light Entertainment
wrote to Hancock's agent.
"My dear Roger, I hesitate to approach you
"concerning a couple of small debts incurred by Tony
"during his recent series for us.
"They are in respect of a bottle of gin, 37 shillings sixpence,
"and brandy, ten shillings,
"bought by two dressers and supplied in his dressing room.
"If you could arrange payment
"of two pounds, seven shillings and sixpence,
"I will see the persons involved are reimbursed."
And a letter from Tony Hancock
sent from Enton Hall Dietetic and Osteopathic Hydro and Health Farm
to Patrick Newman shows his ambivalence towards
one of his many periods detoxing.
"Very sorry I can't make it tomorrow but they made a special arrangement
"for me to get in here for a week
"and I feel I must take advantage of it while I can.
"I would be only too pleased to exchange hot water and lemon
"for a full-scale booze-up, but perhaps we can meet
"sometime next week. Tony."
Hancock's ruthless streak is evident.
The files show he switched agents three times,
refused to sign any sort of a long-term contract with the BBC
and got rid of his co-star, Sid James.
In 1962, he switched sides to ITV.
A memo from Tom Sloan, Head of Light Entertainment,
marks the closing of Hancock's file
and reveals the frustration with which he was now held.
"Basically, the situation is that Hancock was primarily
"interested in making television films in which he could
"retain full control of domestic and overseas rights.
"I pointed out that the BBC did not do such deals.
"Quite clearly he has found an organisation which does
"and he has gone there for that reason.
"His loss is to be greatly regretted but one must remember that he
"will be without his producer, Duncan Wood,
"and his scriptwriters, Galton and Simpson, and Sidney James.
"The result could well be unfortunate.
"Hancock is a moody perfectionist with a great interest in money
"and no sense of loyalty to the Corporation.
"I am satisfied that we did everything possible
"to keep him within the fold."
While some files shine a light on the all too human frailties of our
televisual heroes, others show the fallibility of the BBC itself.
Harold Abrahams' win at the 1924 Olympics would be immortalized
in the film Chariots Of Fire.
By 1935, he was the BBC's most respected athletics commentator.
This presented the Corporation with a dilemma.
Should they send him to cover the Berlin Olympics the following year?
The problem? Abrahams was Jewish.
He was quite willing to go, but felt it would be safer for him to travel
as an official BBC representative rather than as a private individual.
I'll let the BBC's Director of Outside Broadcasts
take up the story.
"You will remember that at a programme board meeting
"in the late autumn we discussed the advisability
"of using Mr Harold Abrahams as our commentator at the Olympic Games.
"It was then felt that,
"while we were not prejudiced against him for racial reasons,
"it might be advisable to postpone a final decision as to
"his employment by us until nearer the time, when we should be able to
"see the state of feeling in Germany and the consequent probability
"of their differentiating against him in the matter of facilities.
"Mr Abrahams came to see me a few days ago,
"and while he had no wish to force us into a decision that we did
"not wish to make, he said that it would be a great help to him
"to know now whether he was likely to be our official commentator.
"His point is that he does not feel justified in provoking
"a possible unpleasantness by going as a private individual, but he
"would not have any scruples about going in some official capacity."
"The point about this is, of course, that Abrahams is a Jew.
"He is our best commentator on athletics.
"Apparently, if we are prepared to come out into the open
"and label him the BBC commentator for the Olympic Games,
"he is quite ready to go to Germany.
"The question arises as to whether or not we should do this.
"We all regard the German action against the Jews as quite
"irrational and intolerable and on that score we ought not to hesitate,
"but should we, as between one broadcaster and another, put aside
"all views of this kind and take the line that however irrational
"we regard another country's attitude to be,
"it would be discourteous to send a Jew commentator
"to a country where Jews are taboo?"
It seemed no-one had an answer to that question
as the various executives argued it out by memo.
"I am inclined to think it would be wise not to
"send Abrahams to the Olympic Games.
"I noticed the other day that the American Games authorities
"had only by a small margin agreed to participate in the games at all.
"As a result, I imagine,
"of the restrictions alleged to be imposed in Germany upon
"the training and entry of German athletes.
"There are so many possibilities of friction in the situation
"that I feel it would be wiser to avoid the risk.
"There is even the minor danger that if Abrahams went, and were
"courteously received, Germans would make capital out of their courtesy,
"as showing that their ways with the Jews were misrepresented."
"I don't agree with the control of public relations since
"by all accounts, there will be no discrimination
"and Abrahams is a good commentator.
"I think CPR's first argument might be used to show that we should
"leave the Games alone - not so as to rule out Abrahams.
"His second argument is, with great respect, a shade far-fetched."
In the end, the BBC decided not to send him.
Not because they were worried about his safety
but because they didn't want to offend the Germans.
"I have had the opportunity of talking unofficially with someone
"closely connected with the German Embassy.
"He was reluctant for me to pass on anything he said
"but I think you should know that his opinion about Abrahams
"and the Olympic Games was that it would be definitely
"impolitic for us to send Abrahams as our official commentator, but
"that there would be nothing unwise in using him if he was out there.
"I would suggest therefore that we stick to Control Board's
"ruling against sending Abrahams as our special commentator,
"and feel free to use him discreetly for some of the athletics.
"If you approve of this, I will explain the position to him
"and there the matter can rest."
Ich verkuende die Spiele von Berlin
zur Feier der elften Olympiade
neuer Zeitrechnung als eroeffnet.
So the most respected athletics commentator in the United Kingdom
travelled to the Olympics as a freelancer
with the BBC still planning to use him,
but without offering him the protection of their name.
A truth carefully hidden in this letter
to the German broadcasting organisation.
"The names of the two representatives we are sending
"to the Games are Mr AM Wells and Mr TBR Woodrooffe.
"As we previously explained, it is the intention
"of our representatives to secure the services of commentators from
"among the sportsmen and journalists who are present at the Games.
"Perhaps you could therefore be kind enough to provide them
"with a sufficient number of passes to admit the commentators
"as well as themselves to the microphone positions.
"No doubt you will give these to them on the spot,
"but meanwhile we should like to know with whom
"they are to get in touch on their arrival in Berlin.
"Yours faithfully, The British Broadcasting Corporation."
But Abrahams would have the last word -
rather a lot of them in fact -
as his emotional commentary on the 1,500-metre race
would become a landmark,
changing the face of sports commentating forever.
'Come on, Jack. 100 yards to go.
'Come on, Jack!
'Jack, come on!
'Lovelock wins. Five yards, six yards. He wins! He's won!
And that almost ends our delve into the secret files.
But before we sign off,
I couldn't resist one last little diversion
via a man who is perhaps the most celebrated person
in the history of British television.
The subject of our finale foray joined the BBC on
a three-month training scheme.
And in a career that has spanned seven decades,
he's produced party political broadcasts,
hand-reared baby parrots, grappled with foreign governments,
trekked his way across the world,
been Controller of BBC TWO
and changed the face of natural history programming.
David Attenborough's letters to his colleagues
provide a wonderful record of his early travels as a producer
and presenter in the Talks Unit. Here's just one of them.
"How I wish I were doing party politicals in London.
"Please do not take this as a permanent wish,
"it will fade in three months' time.
"We are, however, having a frightful time.
"In spite of all our letters and assurances from the
"Indonesian Embassy in London,
"everyone here is being as difficult as possible.
"On arrival, our travellers' cheques and English pounds were confiscated
"and all our gear and film impounded in customs.
"Forms, regulations and restrictions are everywhere.
"So far, we have encountered the following problems.
"A - import duty on the equipment and film of £2,600.
"B - absolute refusal to allow us to catch the wretched dragon.
"C - a state of terrorism in most of the places we want to visit.
"D - a warning that each island has its own customs department
"which resents any instruction from Jakarta.
"E - an artificial exchange rate which trebles
"the price of everything.
"If these, at the moment, are our major worries,
"we have, of course, numerous minor ones which I need not detail.
"As fast as we hobble over the hurdles however,
"new and more formidable ones arise in front of us.
"If all we had to do was bash through jungles
"and catch a few animals, our lives would be easy.
"I know I am in no position to complain.
"Well, the boy would go.
"And, in fact, I am not doing so with any seriousness, for I feel
"sure that we shall at last get free of officialdom and into the islands.
"When we do, I am convinced we shall get material
"which will knock ants into a cocked hat.
"Meanwhile, I am afraid our expenses are going to be more than
"I anticipated and we may be sailing close to the limit of our bank
"balance by the time we approach the end of our trip.
"For safety's sake, would it be possible for Cyril to
"arrange for another £500 to be put to our credit in the bank?
"I don't think we shall need it but we should assuredly
"be in a frightful mess if we did and hadn't got it.
"Remember me to anyone in the department who still recalls me.
"I feel we've been here for years. Yours, as ever, David."