Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Catching up

I was mildly chastised yesterday for not marking the granting of planning permission for a statue of George Orwell in the Entwistle Piazza of Broadcasting House.

Orwell worked hard at the BBC from 1941 to 1943, as a talks producer in the Eastern Service, broadcasting to India. But overall, he wasn't ever sure about Auntie as an organisation, as his diaries show.

"I have now been in the BBC about 6 months. Shall remain in it if the political changes I foresee come off, otherwise probably not. Its atmosphere is something halfway between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum and all we are doing at present is useless, or slightly worse than useless. Our radio strategy is even more hopeless than our military strategy. Nevertheless one rapidly becomes propaganda-minded and develops a cunning one did not previously have".

Four months later...

"The thing that strikes one in the BBC – and it is evidently the same in various of the other departments – is not so much the moral squalor and the ultimate futility of what we are doing, as the feeling of frustration, the impossibility of getting anything done, even any successful piece of scoundrelism. Our policy is so ill-defined, the disorganisation so great, there are so many changes of plan, and the fear and hatred of intelligence are so all-pervading, that one cannot plan any sort of wireless campaign whatsoever. . . . One is constantly putting sheer rubbish on the air because of having talks which sounded too intelligent cancelled at the last moment. In addition the organisation is so overstaffed that numbers of people have almost literally nothing to do."

From 1942, Orwell wasn't based at Broadcasting House, but at 200 Oxford Street, formerly a wing of the Peter Robinson department store, and now home to Urban Outfitters. It was requisitioned in 1941 as a wartime home to the Empire Service. This probably why Orwell, a pub connoisseur, used the Argyll, across Oxford Street, and his willingness to stroll to an old favourite, The Wheatsheaf, in Rathbone Place.

At the end of the war, Orwell had rented in Canonbury Square, Islington, and is said to have written most of 1984 in the garden of The Canonbury Tavern. The naming of Charrington in the novel - a shopkeeper who's also a member of the Thought Police - is believed to have been prompted by the prominent name of the brewery above the doorway to The Hen and Chickens, on Highbury Corner.

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