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Lord Haw-Haw, the BBC and the Creation of a Modern Archive

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Chris Jones Chris Jones | 17:52 UK time, Thursday, 4 February 2010

hawhaw.jpgThe latest addition to the BBC's burgeoning Archive site was launched last weekend - a collection of material detailing the rise and fall of infamous Nazi propaganda broadcaster, William Joyce, aka Lord Haw-Haw. And it throws a fascinating light on the first steps towards defining the Corporation's independence. I caught up with BBC Archive producers, Emma Papworth and Kate Wheeler, to discuss how the written and audio records have been used to tell the story.

In the first years of World War Two, the morale of the British population - who had already recently endured 'the war to end all wars' - was not good. To add to the gloom, the BBC had chosen to adhere to the government's recommendation to cancel all entertainment as unnecessary, leaving the populace faced with a dull diet of officially sanctioned news and organ recitals. As a result, even as early as September 1939, listeners began tuning into enemy broadcasts from Hamburg. At one point the figures approached 9 million.

It was apparent that the nation's broadcaster had to do something to stem the flow as well as playing a role in boosting flagging spirits. As a letter from an army major pointed out at the time, there was: ''only one real remedy and that lies entirely in the hands of the BBC''. Director General Frederick Ogilvie decided that a break from strict government guidelines was in order and thus was born a service that was tailor made for entertaining the troops as well as reinforcing British values through a broad range of cultural programming. In this sense we can thank Lord Haw-Haw for helping define the BBC we know and love today!

Emma who has led this project, has spent a lot of time drawing on both the BBC's document archive at Caversham as well as the audio library at Windmill Road. and is fast becoming the team's 'war expert'. Both producers were keen to point out the importance of the war, not just from a cultural perspective but also as a key moment in the BBC's archive itself as BBC staffer, M G Farquharson, realised how interesting these historic moments would be for future generations and more than doubled the amount of material that was preserved.

Kate's assessment of Ogilvie's brave decision is that it not only confirmed the importance of the Corporation's independence, but also ushered in a new era of British satire, as broadcasts like ITMA made fun not only of the Nazis, but also home front inconveniences such as food rationing.

2010 looks set to be a great year for the Archive site with more material being uncovered from the Corporation's war years, as well as key additions to the BBC's Year of Science and fascinating glimpses into past incarnations of Dr Who. Watch this space!


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