Mike (augustine) wrote,

"Holy Terror: The First Great Radio Hoax"

A good article about the 1926 "radio hoax" on the BBC by Fr. Ronald Knox.

An extract from the article:

The resulting script is peppered with stylistic tics and outright jokes, which Knox evidently assumed would alert his listeners not to take it too seriously. I've rigorously excised all those jokes from the account of the broadcast opening this piece to try and duplicate the sensationalist impression most listeners seem to have taken away. But just look at the tip-offs they missed:

* Knox uses comedy names for all the characters mentioned in his report: Mr Popplebury, Sir Theophilus Gooch, Miss Joy Gush and Mr Wotherspoon. Any one of these names may be thought ridiculous enough, but taken together, they're a clear indication that something fishy's going on.

* Knox also gives his characters ludicrous jobs. The rioters' ringleader Mr Popplebury, for example, gets nine mentions in the report, and is described every time as “Secretary of the National Movement for Abolishing Theatre Queues”. Why would such a trivial figure be leading this serious unrest? The unfortunate Mr Wotherspoon is described as “Minister of Traffic”, a post which - as Knox later pointed out to his critics - did not exist.

* In parodying the BBC's news style of the day, Knox often gives the same piece of information twice, first in the active voice and then the passive. For example: “The crowd in Trafalgar Square is now assuming threatening dimensions. Threatening dimensions are now being assumed by the crowd which has gathered in Trafalgar Square”. He pushes this to the point of absurdity by using it six times in a very short piece.

* In copying the BBC's determination to educate its listeners, Knox often slips in a passage of unwanted historical detail before returning abruptly to the subject at hand. On the Houses of Parliament, for example, he says: “The building is made of magnesian limestone from Yorkshire, a material which is unfortunately liable to rapid decay. At present, in any case, it is being demolished with trench mortars.”

* Knox breaks up reports of the riot with parodies of other BBC news content, including the arrival of a spectacularly vacuous American film star at Southampton. He also includes a weather forecast which announces the weather will be “fine generally, with occasional showers in the South and a continuous downpour in the North”. Winds, he adds, will be “violent” in England and “assume the dimensions of a hurricane” in Scotland. But otherwise fine.

* Sir Theophilus Gooch's death in Trafalgar Square - and the far more serious news that his BBC talk will now have to be cancelled - is followed by a short biographical sketch. “He very soon attracted the notice of his employers,” Knox says. “However, nothing was proved, and Sir Theophilus retired with a considerable fortune.”

* Following the collapse of Big Ben, Knox explains twice that Greenwich Time will instead be given from Edinburgh on “Uncle Leslie's repeating watch”.

* After the sensational news that Mr Wotherspoon has been hanged from a lamp-post in the Vauxhall Bridge Road, Knox sets listeners up to expect a vital correction. Dragging their expectation out as far as he dares, and with fulsome apologies on behalf of the BBC, he finally admits that it was actually a tramway post.

* When Popplebury's mob reach the BBC, Knox announces breathlessly that they have entered the waiting room, where calm is instantly restored. “They are reading copies of the Radio Times,” he explains. “Goodnight, everybody. Goodnight.”

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