In November of 1947, Henry Reed wrote a letter to George Barnes
, Controller for the BBC's Third Programme (picture of Barnes
, later the Director of BBC Television). The letter was ostensibly about a radio adaptation of The Dynasts
, Thomas Hardy's epic verse drama of the Napoleonic Wars. Reed, however, took the time to expound on the art of broadcasting, specifically rejecting the idea that the dramatist's main role is to maintain the illusion for the listener. An excerpt from this letter appears in John Drakakis' Introduction to British Radio Drama
It is a myth
that Radio has any capacity for inducing in the mind of the listener anything in the nature of particularized visualization
. You might, once in an evening persuade him to see one
of those great stage directions; but not, I think, more than one. For when radio had to suggest a scene
to the listener, it does best to give only a brief powerful hint from which, with the help of specially written dialogue designed to an end
, the listener can without effort and perhaps only half-consciously, construct a scene from the innumerable landscapes or roomscapes (!) bundled away in his own memory.
Apparently, having had a total of two full-length plays broadcast in 1947 (Moby Dick
, and Pytheas
), Reed felt confident enough to tell the Controller how radio works, and how their listeners listen. Reed's six-part adaptation of Hardy's Dynasts
was broadcast on consecutive evenings in June of 1951. The original letter resides in the BBC Written Archives
Here are a few lines from Mercer Simpson
. Simpson was slow to publish his poetry; born in 1926, his first volume, East Anglian Wordscapes
, wasn't released until 1993. His fourth and last, Enclosures and Disclosures
, was published just last year, after his death in June of 2007 at the age of 81. Though he was born in London, grew up in Suffolk, and was educated at Cambridge and at Bristol, Simpson lived in Wales for 50 years, where he was a lecturer at the University of Glamorgan in Cardiff (formerly the Glamorgan College of Technology), and it is his studies and work on Welsh literature for which he is known.
Enclosures and Disclosures
includes a sequence of poems subtitled "Visions of War". Simpson's visions include "Edward Thomas Looks Through His Periscope" ('they are reciting/unfinished poems/left in diaries/in their dug-outs'), and "After Field Operations: Wilfrid Owen Has a Nightmare in Craiglockhart Hospital" ('Improper advances had been made on many fronts/and there had been reported instances of bleeding...'). This is the fifth and final poem from this section, from the war of words:
Henry Reed Learns Another Lesson of the War
The blank page
has a wall round it:
the guards all in white uniforms
insist, Words shall not pass!
Stop (full stop) and identify yourselves:
admit only one meaning
at a time. Remember, ambiguities
are dangerous, they provoke
revolutionaries to plant their bombs
against the established order.
The weary poets imprisoned inside
scrabbling for words in the blank-faced
snow-white indescribably pure
substitute for earth would prefer
a little dirt to illuminate the human scene.
They are waiting for the guards to admit
words that cross the line, that unhyphenate,
slide off into strange misspellings, come out
in a completely unfamiliar language.
Could it be Esperanto, even if the military
prefer Newspeak? No chance to examine a fresh consignment.
The typewriter has cancelled the invoice.
Now we get the silly old tired words
lined up on the white parade ground,
everything incredibly clean, highly polished.
The regimental-sergeant-major brings the parade
inflexibly to attention. No one dare move.
Everything is equally spaced, with the rhymes
keeping their precise distance at the end
of each line. Now the poem
is marched off into the drill shed
as it's snowing again, and we ought to be
in greatcoats instead of shirtsleeve
order. It's all a whiteout and what we've written
is completely and utterly forgettable.
You can read an excerpt from Enclosures and Disclosures
at Rockingham Press
, and the book is available for purchase from Amazon.co.uk
1510. Birmingham Post, "The Merchant of Venice," 5 March 1937.
Photograph of Henry Reed with members of the Birmingham University Dramatic Society's (BUDS) production of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock played by Ian Alexander.