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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Press Release

BBC Archive releases radio broadcasts and never-before-seen letters between BBC and novelist HG Wells

HG Wells

BBC Archive is releasing a collection of national radio broadcasts by HG Wells, and a small selection of never-before-seen letters and memos between the BBC and the father of science fiction himself.

The collection has been released to coincide with the BBC Four adaptation of the author's thrilling sci-fi romance The First Men In The Moon (19 October, BBC Four, 9pm).

Radio items in the collection, HG Wells On The Future, provide a unique insight into the confident genius that gave us science-fiction classics such as The Time Machine and War Of The Worlds, whilst the letters reveal a need to reassure the reluctant broadcaster of the virtues of radio communication with the nation.

The broadcasts from the Thirties and Forties reveal how the author predicted the changes technological advance would bring, from the rapid spread of the motor car to the proliferation of printed media and the spread of literacy. Wells also predicts the evolution of technologies to aggregate news and provide accessible, encyclopaedic and constantly-updated "bibliographies" to capture and "modernise the distribution of knowledge".

In a letter to Wells, the infamous social commentator and first BBC Director of Talks, Hilda Matheson, urges the author to think of the full possibilities of broadcasting to millions after many failed attempts to lure him on air. In another letter, Matheson encourages her friend, Dame Rachel Crowdy, to join her at a Savoy Grill gathering to put Wells at his ease in advance of an agreed evening broadcast as would become customary for his subsequent radio appearances.

Other communication within the BBC, and between the Corporation and Wells himself, reflects anxiety around Wells' potentially controversial opinions on Russia and commitment to impartiality in the lead up to a live broadcast. These are escalated to Director-General of the time, Lord Reith, but are later defused over a lunch conversation between the author and Matheson in which he pledges to criticise Russia only "from the standpoint of a scientific historian".

BBC Executive Producer Jamie Laurenson says: "It is great to be able to accompany a fantastic new adaption of HG Wells' The First Men In The Moon with such a rich archive resource that further reveals how prescient he was in so many of his thoughts and writings."

The fascinating collection of letters and broadcast excerpts is available now at Archive: HG Wells On The Future.

About the BBC Archive

The BBC Archive is one of the largest multimedia archives in the world, held in 27 locations across the UK. As well as close to a million hours of TV and radio programmes it also holds six million still photographs, over four million items of sheet music, and over half-a-million documents and records.

The BBC Archive website allows you to explore over 80 years of UK and BBC history. Programmes, documents and images bring the past to life and reveal forgotten stories, available to UK audiences.

Notes to Editors

Audio items within collection:

Short extract from a talk for the BBC National Service in which Wells discusses the failings of Stalin's Five Year Plan for the economic recovery of Russia, (broadcast 1931).

Extract from longer talk in which Wells addresses the financial insecurity that he believes is plaguing the country. He speaks bleakly about the pressures faced by ordinary people and observes that the country is still paying off the debts of the last war, even as preparations for the next begin, (broadcast 1932).

Short extract from a longer talk in which Wells calls for the appointment of "professors of forethought" to explore the implications of the development of new inventions and devices. He believes that now is the time to create a faculty of professors who can prepare the country for the changes that advances in technology will inevitably bring, (broadcast 1932).

Intentionally provocative talk in which Wells rejects patriotism and, speaking of his great desire for a future "world unity" where barriers between countries are dissolved. While acknowledging his own great pride in being an Englishman, Wells decries both the increasing nationalism that is plaguing the world and the march towards war, a catastrophe that many believe is now inevitable, while still hoping for peace and co-operation if the courage and imagination can be found, (broadcast 1934).

Talk for the Empire Broadcasting Service in which Wells celebrates the power of the English language to bring together diverse communities and asks whether we are doing enough to capitalise on the possibilities it offers. Wells believes that such media as the printed word, the cinema and the radio have helped to draw the world towards speaking English as a common tongue. He also looks towards a time when people all over the English-speaking world might be able to search "bibliographies" containing information about every book available in order to buy the volumes they want, and when constantly updated, freely accessible encyclopaedias could put knowledge within easy reach of all, (broadcast 1937).

Broadcast from the Foyle's Literary Luncheon in which Sir Ronald Storrs introduces Wells, noting his prophetic ability to foresee such arrivals as the aeroplane, the wireless and the television. Wells apologises for having been unable to prepare properly for this introduction, yet speaks eloquently and at length about his admiration and respect for "the very great European statesman", (broadcast 1939).

Talk for BBC Radio in which Wells celebrates remarkable innovation of the printing press. Wells looks back through the history of book-making, describing how written literature was historically a privilege of the few, which prevented ordinary people from gaining knowledge. Now, the printing press has led to the proliferation of newsletters, newspapers and books, cheaply available for everyone. Wells insists printing has led to real democracy and that the widespread ability to read and write means we are all "lords and masters of our fate", (broadcast 1940).

Wells looks to the future and asks whether humanity can adapt and forge a "new world" free from "economic and political aggression against each other". He stresses the requirement for a centralised, global power, above that of individual nations, and the need to ensure that there is no further use for slavery, (broadcast 1943).

Wells addresses the British Association Conference on the topic of "Science and the Citizen". In typical provocative style, he dismisses the medium of the newspaper as dead and the art of journalism as prostitution. He claims that reports in newspapers are unreliable and predicts that people might prefer to receive a constantly updated news summary through their telephones rather than being forced to buy "three or four newspapers to find out what is being concealed from us", (broadcast 1943).

A selection of letters accompanies the audio items.


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