Tuesday 6 September 2022

The BBC at 100 Symposium

The BBC at 100 Symposium

Date / time:  13 September - 15 September, 2022

Location:  National Science & Media Museum (and online)

We have, here next week, in Bradford, Yorkshire, not far from my home, The BBC at 100 Symposium...

I am presenting a paper at the Symposium on a Diaspora Studies approach to the history of the BBC (that is already there in the research literature) - I think that the approach has to be fairly broad brush, but I want to zoom in on the life and work of Denis Johnston, whose 1953 memoir, Nine Rivers from Jordan, about his years as a BBC War Correspondent, is his ungainly masterpiece.  But the book only really makes sense with the sideways look of diaspora studies.

I also want to start a discussion about the short story for radio - which is part of the study of the study of technologies and art forms, including technologies of the word.  And the ways that markets shape art forms - the BBC radio market for Irish short stories can be compared with, for example, the New Yorker magazine market for Irish short stories.  Very different markets, different technologies - how do they shape that Irish short story tradition?

And I am chairing a session on the BBC and the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'.  It turns out that one way to track the research literature through my database is to search for just one word:  'oxygen'. 




BRIEF REPORT September 20

See background...




A quick report might help put things on the agenda...

Marcus Collins, the organiser, stressed that it was a Symposium, not a Conference - and that it was 'a gathering of the tribes'.

So, the full weight of the BBC history community was there, and - as we know - these things can be clannish, and indeed tribal.  But I am already known to the community, have been to events (Before Covid), know the vocabulary and the preoccupations...  It was a hybrid event, was affected by illnesses - the technology mostly worked.  There had to be a lot of thinking on feet.  Not sure that the Symposium idea worked - a lot of sharing of truisms.  But I can see what was aimed at...

Certainly the gathering of the tribes worked - I think that everyone appreciated the opportunity to have, at last, face to face informal conversations.  We moved things forward.

1.  On Wednesday, 14th, I gave a presentation on Denis Johnston, a Diaspora Studies approach, focussing on his time as War Correspondent for the BBC, and his memoir...

Johnston, D. (1953) Nine Rivers from Jordan: The Chronicle of a Journey and a Search. London: Derek Verschoyle.

Johnston, D. (1955) Nine Rivers from Jordan: The Chronicle of a Journey and a Search. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

You may know the background, but, in essence, all debate, about neutrality, balance, guns, ends when he reaches Buchenwald concentration camp - and, just the way the session panned out, I was able to cover most of the ground and give a reading from the book...

It worked with the audience.  For example, the detail that the American edition differs from the first British edition.  Different ending.  The international audience could see a bear trap avoided.

2.  On Thursday, 15th, I chaired a session on the BBC and Northern Ireland.  I had Robert Savage and Mark Devenport as talking heads, on the big screen above me, and Jean Seaton, Craig Murray and Ella Roberts on the stage beside me.

The names that will be new here are Craig Murray, Imperial War Museum - who is curator of the looming Northern Ireland exhibition - and Ella Roberts - who is a phd student looking at BBC series about Ireland.

(I have shared my notes about the Irish Empire tv series with Ella Roberts.)

3.  I repeatedly flagged my relationship with London Metropolitan University - I think the video recordings of the Symposium will be made available in due course, so we can all critique my performance.

Thinking about the short story...  Let me leave a note here.  As I say - looking at the market forces shaping the 'Irish short story'...  Two major forces are BBC radio and New Yorker magazine - pulling in different directions, of course.  With the work that has been done on the New Yorker online, we could do something quantifiable.  Similar, but more difficult, with the BBC - bit of a gap there.

At the Symposium I was able to develop the notion of a Diaspora Studies approach to the history of the BBC - the Denis Johnston presentation laid some of the ground rules.  I liaised with people studying Jews, Italians, Germans + BBC, and so on.  A  lot on the BBC World Service, which will be of interest to colleagues at London Metropolitan University.  In the background, there is some work on Irish + BBC, which is complex but not over-complex, different but not that different.

It would not be great task to write the bibliographic discussion paper, a Diaspora Studies approach to the history of the BBC, what has been done so far, integrating strands, rewards and fairies.  As I say, complex, but not over-complex.

Patrick O'Sullivan


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