B.B.C. Talks on Fiction. The Change of Policy. To the Editor of The Times
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[ 399 B.B.C. Talks on Fiction The Change of Policy. To the Editor of The Times The Times (22 Dec 1931) 6 Sir,—Wedesiretoexpressourprofoundregretatthechangeofpolicyimplied in the recent decision of the B.B.C. to exclude all references to contemporary novelsfrombroadcasttalks.Manyofthesignatoriestothisletterareengaged in the creation, manufacture, distribution, and criticism of books. Some of us are, therefore, directly affected by this ban, and to that extent may be said to be prejudiced. But we base our protest on a reasoned view of the place which contemporary literature should hold in the national life, and of the place which the art of fiction holds in literature. We do not need to argue what no one will dispute − namely, that nothing is of greater value to a nation than its literature. It is, however, too often forgotten that the value of a literature depends on the extent to which it is a living growth, maintained by a wide and intelligent popular interest. Only those professionally engaged in literature realize how small a proportion of the population of Great Britain has that interest or how far this country is behind many other countries in this regard. There are three ways in which a popular interest in books can be stimulated − by the Press, by educational institutions, and by the B.B.C. Mr. Alfred Noyes thinks that it can all be left to the Press. “Let the written word,” he says, “take care of the written word.”1 But the newspapers which the mass of the nation reads take a limited interest in books; and, even if they took more, those who do not read the written word are unlikely to read the written word about the written word. There is a virtue about the spoken word, heard in almost every home in the country, which gives the B.B.C. an incomparable opportunity for raising the standard of public intelligence. In this respect it is superior even to the schools, for the simple reason that none of its listeners is under any compulsion to listen. The B.B.C. has hitherto shown itself so alive to the responsibilities which this opportunity carries with it, by the proportion of programmetime allotted to the criticism of books, as well as by its choice of critics, that Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1931 400 ] its new decision must be taken as a seriously retrograde step. If there is any truth in our contention that an interest in contemporary literature ought to be encouraged by any possible means, how can fiction be left out? What would recent English literature have been without Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Meredith, Stevenson, Hardy, and Arnold Bennett? The influence of these and of other novelists on the life and character of the last hundred years is incalculable. Yet, if the B.B.C. had been in existence while they were writing and had imposed then the ban which it has seen fit to impose now, no broadcast reference to any of their writings would have been permitted until long after they were safely dead and buried. By this new restriction and the scope of its talks the B.B.C. is deliberately placing itself in a position of inferiority to the newspapers , and refusing to literature the treatment which it gives to art and music. It is not impossible that the B.B.C. may have been influenced by angry letters of protest from members of the public whose views do not happen to coincide with those of a particular wireless critic. Most authors, reviewers , and publishers have had similar experiences, and can sympathize with the authorities at Savoy Hill.2 But the very fact that the B.B.C. has hitherto attached no more importance to such protests than they deserve, and has insisted on keeping open house for different views on religion, politics, and literature, has given it a unique position among similar institutions throughout the civilized world. We understand that the action of the B.B.C. is due to the fact that critics have refused to accept the condition laid down that certain writers must never be referred to. If this is so, we must venture to suggest that such a condition ought never to have been imposed. That some limitations on broadcast speech are necessary no one will deny. But we are unable to see why these should be other than the ordinary limitations placed on public speaking by social usage and the law of the land...


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