We all know that Virginia Woolf was on the BBC. Her essay, “Craftsmanship,” was broadcast as part of BBC Radio’s “Words Fail Me” series on 29 April 1937.
The piece took up about 21 minutes of air time, but less than eight minutes were actually recorded. To those of us who love her work, it seems tragic that her voice reading every word of her essay is not preserved on tape. But tape was expensive, and more of her words were preserved than was typical for such broadcasts. Three to four minutes was the standard, according to the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain.
But until now, I didn’t know that Woolf also recorded her thoughts about the BBC in her diary — and that those thoughts would be used in a current-day analysis of BBC objectivity. Here’s what Woolf recorded in her diary for 6 May 1926:
There is a brown fog; nobody is building; it is drizzling. The first thing in the morning we stand at the window & watch the traffic in Southampton Row. This is incessant. Everyone is bicycling; motor cars are huddled up with extra people … It is all tedious & depressing, rather like waiting in a train outside a station. Rumours are passed round – that the gas would be cut off at 1 – false of course. One does not know what to do … A voice, rather commonplace & official, yet the only common voice left, wishes us good morning at 10. This is the voice of Britain, to which we can make no reply. The voice is very trivial, & only tells us that the Prince of Wales is coming back, that the London streets present an unprecedented spectacle.
These words of Woolf’s are used to introduce an 18 August 2014 piece in The Guardian that questions whether this trust in the BBC is still well-placed. The article quotes Woolf extensively in its review of BBC coverage of the General Strike of 1926.
One quote shares Woolf’s response to Winston Churchill’s efforts to make the BBC an offshoot to the British Gazette, the government’s short-lived publication that served as an effective propaganda tool for the government. Churchill, a correspondent in the Boer War, shaped the paper’s editorial stance, all while he was serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Winston … said it was monstrous not to use such an instrument [as broadcasting] to the best possible advantage.