George Orwell at the BBC | The writer of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' holds true to his ideals
Controller (Overseas Services)
19th January, 1943
1. A.C.(OS) 2. E.S.D.
I listened rather carefully to one of George Orwell's English talks in the
Eastern Service on, I think, Saturday last. I found the talk itself
interesting, and I am not critical of its content, but I was struck by the
basic unsuitability of Orwell's voice. I realise, of course, that his name
is of some value in quite important Indian circles, but his voice struck me
as both un-attractive and really unsuited to the microphone to such an extent
that (a) it would not attract any listeners who were outside the circle of
Orwell's admirers as a writer and might even repel some of these, and (b)
would make the talks themselves vulnerable at the hands of people who would
have reason to see Orwell denied the microphone, or of those who felt critical
of the B.B.C. for being so ignorant of the essential needs of the microphone
and of the audience as to put on so wholly unsuitable a voice.
I am quite seriously worried about the situation and about the wisdom of our
keeping Orwell personally on the air.
JBC/GMG (J.B. Clark)
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Document Type | Memo
19 January 1943
JB Clark, the Controller of Overseas Services, is the author of this memo wondering whether Orwell should be kept on the air due to the unattractive nature of his voice. Clark feared not only that the talks might be compromised by Orwell's vocal delivery, but also that the BBC could be criticised for giving airtime to somebody with such an unsuitable way of speaking.
Old Etonian Orwell would certainly have had an upper-class accent, but contemporaries recall that he had a somewhat strangulated delivery even before the bullet wound to his neck that he received fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The injury was such that it was not thought possible for Orwell to recover his voice, yet recover he did, and there is no evidence of his being taken off air as a result of this memo.
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