Magazine

The first FOOC

Roland Fox (1956)
Image caption Roland Fox, one of the reporters on the first From Our Own Correspondent

On 25 September 1955 the BBC launched a new radio programme - From Our Own Correspondents. Sixty years later it is still going strong - though at some point along the way it lost its last letter and became From Our Own Correspondent (singular).

"This is the BBC Home Service. From our own correspondents. We are broadcasting now the first of a new series of programmes in which BBC correspondents will deal with current affairs as seen from their own posts in various parts of the world," said the announcer at 10:15 that Sunday morning. There then followed six reports, with short introductions by a presenter, Colin Doran.

1. THE UNITED STATES AND THE CHANGE IN ARGENTINA- by Christopher Serpell in Washington DC

A military coup had taken place in Argentina nine days earlier, abruptly ending Juan Peron's second presidential term (he was back again 18 years later). Christopher Serpell considered whether Peron's successor, Gen Eduardo Lonardi, would seek to soften what one writer had referred to as Argentina's "aggressive nationalism… expressed mainly in hostility to the so-called Yankee imperialists" - or whether he would ratchet it up even further.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Juan Peron, days before he was deposed in 1955

The country's shaky economy had already obliged Peron to permit some US investments and seek credits from US banks, leading to the construction of a Kaiser (later Kaiser Jeep) car factory in the country and a contract that allowed Standard Oil to explore and extract oil deposits. The Standard Oil contract had been attacked by Peron's opponents as a "ruinous sell-out of national interests", Serpell reported, but on the other hand Lonardi had quickly made "professions of friendship towards the United States".

The American press had "enthusiastically hailed the downfall of what it has called one of the most important and unsavoury dictatorships of the post-war world", Serpell noted, with some writers expressing the hope that "other countries, now under totalitarian rule, even in Eastern Europe, may eventually be inspired by Argentina's example".

2. EAST-WEST RELATIONS- by F D Walker in New York

The Cold War was in full flow, but F D Walker was interested to note a mini-thaw at the 10th General Assembly of the United Nations. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov had actually been seen smiling and shaking hands with his US counterpart, John Foster Dulles, before the opening.

Amazingly, Molotov's speech even contained kind words for US President Dwight Eisenhower and British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden. Great importance had been attached to Eisenhower's statement at a summit in Geneva earlier in the year, he said, and Eden's political experience was "valued by us all".

Image copyright ALAMY
Image caption Seated from left: Dulles, Eden, Soviet PM Nikolai Bulganin, Molotov (smoking), and French foreign minister Antoine Pinay (Geneva, 1955)

When Molotov suggested that China should be represented at the UN by the communist government in Beijing rather than the nationalist government in Taipei "nobody had ever heard the regular Soviet Union proposal put so mildly" said Walker. He didn't even call them "the Quomintang clique". (It was not until 1971 that the People's Republic of China took its seat at the UN.)

Dulles, in his speech, repeated Eisenhower's proposal that the US and USSR should give each other maps of their military installations and permit them to conduct aerial surveillance. Molotov said the USSR was studying the idea. Before long Moscow rejected it - and soon after that Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for the use of high-altitude U2 spy planes.

3. ASIAN-AFRICAN ATTITUDE TO UNITED NATIONS - by Roland Fox in New York

In the years after World War Two, demands for self-determination were creating one headache after another for colonial powers. At this UN General Assembly Greece, backed by the Asian-African group of nations, wanted a debate on self-determination in Cyprus, then a British colony. The UK was opposed "and found 27 other nations to back her argument that it would be a bad thing all round to bring Cyprus before the spotlight of discussion," Fox reported.

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Image caption British commandos look for hidden arms in a village in Cyprus (1955)

He noted that year after year the Asian-African group of 14 states, including India, Pakistan and all the Arab countries, had "taken a leading part in the Assembly's consideration of the race conflict in South Africa, of Somaliland, which is now on its way to becoming a sovereign state, of the French territories in Tunisia and Morocco".

This year the group was also trying to arrange a debate on self-determination in Algeria, where the first events in what later became known as the Algerian War had taken place 10 months earlier. The French position, Fox reported, was that "since Algeria is by law part of Metropolitan France its problems are essentially France's business".

4. MOROCCO - by Thomas Cadett in Rabat

Thomas Cadett, the BBC's chief Paris correspondent, had been studying France's problems in North Africa. The situation was "sombre and uncertain", he reported - except in Tunisia.

In Morocco the French authorities had been negotiating for some time "with nationalist leaders of various tendencies" and with the exiled Sultan in Madagascar, and had a number of agreements, including one on the creation of a representative Moroccan government.

"The first two items on this menu, highly unpalatable to the Sultan himself, to many French settlers here and to the Right Wing in France, were to be the Sultan's departure and the appointment of the Regency Council," Cadett reported.

Meanwhile a "very great display of French military force" had prevented any large-scale disorder. "But individual terrorist attacks with bullet, knife, grenade and bomb," Cadett said, "are a constant reminder that this may be no more than an uneasy lull."

5. MALTA - by Robert Stimson in Valletta

Like Cyprus, Malta was part of the British Empire at the time, and a round-table conference in London was discussing whether to extend to the island the British system of taxes and social benefits.

Image copyright Getty Images

Reporting from Malta, Robert Stimson had been finding it hard to get good statistics about the number of taxpayers on the island. Only a few thousand, he guessed, as income tax yielded accounted for only £500,000 out of a total revenue of £8m. "It's worth noting, by the way," he added, "that in Malta the tax on lotteries yields more than the income tax."

He had also tried and failed to find out how Maltese people would be affected if they had to pay income tax at United Kingdom rates. The best information he could get was that an average Maltese family did not pay income tax, and would not pay it under the UK system either, because average earnings in Malta were no more than about £4 and 10 shillings per week.

6. NEW LOOK IN GERMANY - by Guy Hadley in Bonn

Since German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had returned from a trip to Moscow, Guy Hadley had detected signs that "something [had] happened" to him in the Soviet Union. "It was not a change of heart or purpose, but rather a change of approach," he reported.

Image caption Hadley in Berlin in 1954

Adenauer had previously refused to make any concessions to Moscow unless he got in return "a tangible Soviet move towards his views on the vital issue, that of German reunification". But now the lower house of the German parliament had unanimously approved the opening of diplomatic relations between Bonn and Moscow, without any conciliatory gestures from the USSR. On the contrary, the Soviet government had signed a treaty granting full sovereignty to the East German Communist regime.

What's more, the East German leader, Walter Ulbricht, was now threatening to restrict the transport corridor linking Berlin with West Germany unless Adenauer's government stopped cold-shouldering with his regime, and started to deal with it like an equal.

"One must live in West Berlin, as I've done for much of the past year, to realise fully its isolated and precarious position," Hadley wrote.

A difficult period lay ahead for Germans, he added, that would test to the full their psychological strength, their political stability and their will to unite.

How to listen to From Our Own Correspondent:

BBC Radio 4: Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:30 BST

Listen online or download the podcast.

BBC World Service: At weekends - see World Service programme schedule or listen online.

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