In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
Victory through Harmony: The BBC and Popular Music in World War II. Christina Baade. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xiv + 275. $45.00 (cloth).

If there is a downside to the emergence as a field of what one might call modernist radio studies, it’s that for the most part its focus and terms of reference still reflect the English departments from which it sprang. While early scholarship that tended, in its reclamation of modernist radio presence, to concentrate on documenting readings, scripts, and broadcasts by literary modernists has been augmented by work more attentive to the lessons of media studies, discussions of the spoken word continue—unsurprisingly—to dominate. Yet this word-centeredness drastically distorts our map of the period’s soundscape: on the BBC in the 1930s, for example, spoken word broadcasts (even including schools programs) rarely totaled more than thirty percent of programming; music of various kinds always constituted the vast majority of broadcasting.

It is for this reason, among others, that Christina Baade’s Victory through Harmony represents such a valuable addition to current work on the culture of World War II and on radio more broadly; masterfully grounded in original archival research and sophisticated in its treatment of musical form, it extends our understanding of BBC propaganda and morale-building beyond the realm of language, tracing the deep national divisions that broadcast popular music both exposed and worked to resolve. Baade’s volume extends a wave of revisionist scholarship by Sonya Rose, Siân Nicholas, Patrick Deer, and others in identifying the national fissures and fractures that underlay the constructed fiction of British wartime unity. Rather than casting popular music as “a compliant soundtrack underscoring People’s War themes of unity and shared sacrifice,” then (11), Baade argues that its deployment by the BBC in the service of morale in fact resulted from, revealed, and helped reshape contests over the proper image of the nation in wartime. Concerns about inclusivity, about gender roles, about the creeping specter of cultural Americanization, became more deeply charged as the war went on, and the emotive potential of popular music—“a spiritual power that can be translated into a dynamic force,” in the words of Music While You Work producer Wynford Reynolds (68)—made it a key locus for the expression and resolution of these tensions.

The BBC’s role as musical gatekeeper—on one hand inclined by the high-culture prejudices of its educational mission against popular entertainment, on the other, the largest employer of musicians in Britain (3)—was only made more complex, Baade explains, by the demands of a war that saw most dance band musicians conscripted even as the need to keep morale high prompted a new emphasis on “light” music. Dance music, in the parlance of the BBC, was not in fact “music” at all, falling under the control of the Variety Department—a circumstance that paradoxically made wartime program innovation more possible.

After a brief introduction and a first chapter that offers overviews of prewar BBC policy and the growth of dance music as a popular leisure form, Baade’s book hones in on several of these wartime innovations. Each of her brief chapters highlights a different program, musical subgenre, or controversy, beginning with the scramble to provide morale-boosting programming during the Phoney War and the launch of the Forces Programme in 1940. Baade is particularly deft at depicting the pressure that shifts in wartime conceptions of audience put on the BBC hierarchy, causing the Corporation to modify its institutional resistance to the “tap” listening so often rhetorically connected—as Michelle Hilmes has shown—to the American broadcast model. Yet her sketch of “traditional” BBC practices in the 1930s is itself somewhat misleading, both overestimating the extent of programming choice made possible by the Regional Scheme and overemphasizing “the tired businessman listening at leisure in the privacy of his home” [End Page 592] as “the traditional object of the BBC’s address” (48). Though the wartime shift toward group listening (by soldiers, in factories) was undoubtedly significant in terms of the various modes of distraction this listening entailed, in fact listening groups had...

pdf

Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.