Sunday, February 15, 2009

Radio Memories: Wartime England

“Don’t judge us by the lobbies of the few hotels in London… see us as we are.”

This entry in our weekly series of posts devoted to remembering the halcyon days of radio drama follows the above advice, first offered over 65 years ago by a young RAF pilot, as we remember a Great Britain at war, a nation seen through the eyes of… An American In England.

An American In England was an unusual summer 1942 CBS series actually broadcast from London, where it was to be re-broadcast domestically in the US through a technologically challenging, hit-or-miss short-wave radio arrangement with the BBC. (The show got off to a rocky start when lead actor Joseph Julian gave such a convincing performance of a man struggling to hear a telephone call in the opening moments of the series’ first episode, that a stateside technician assumed the dramatized technical difficulties he was hearing were genuine, and cut the live broadcast off the air..!)

The background: in 1942, at the beginning of the US' entry into World War II, popular American radio playwright Norman Corwin had been asked by CBS to spend four months doing research in Great Britain. His assignment: to write and direct a package of 10 radio plays, from London, based on his on-the-scene observations, that would allow American audiences to better appreciate the wartime struggles and day-to-day experiences of the besieged British people.

One of radio's most distinguished writers, Corwin used his poet's eye for detail to leave us a remarkable time capsule, an audio diary of daily life turning at an agonizingly slow pace for the better, assisted by a perseverance forged in the grueling test of faith from a few months before. Taking the forementioned RAF pilot's advice to get out and meet the people, Corwin found a nation short of food, stressed for labor, and crowded for space, by continental refugees dreaming of returning home as well as fresh US troops getting their first taste of war.

The focus of the episode of An American In England served up this Sunday is self-evident, I guess, given the title: “The Women Of Britain”. It was originally broadcast on Monday August 24th, 1942, a week after the failed Canadian landings at Dieppe the previous Wednesday, in the middle of fierce Japanese counter-attacks at Guadalcanal, and amid news of an increasingly demoralized government bureaucracy at home. Its examples of British tenacity, endurance and hope, therefore, could not have come at a better time... then, or now.

Previous Radio Memories posts:
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock

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