Listening to War 

28 April 2017

In August 1939, a bus load of men and women of various European nationalities and diverse talents was driven from Broadcasting House in London to Wood Norton near Evesham in Worcestershire. On arrival they plunged at once Into a demanding round-the-clock routine.

  • ‘It was something worth doing that I could do … lovely job.’
  • ‘The atmosphere was hectic but rather cheerful …’
  • ‘A tremendous experience, humanly, professionally, politically…’
  • ‘An extraordinary experience, like being in a new planet…’

Alvar Lidell narrates the story of the BBC’s Monitoring Service during the Second World War.

Script: Norman Longmate; Interviews: Robert Rowe; Reader: Sean Arnold; Producer: Barbara Crowther.

First broadcast on 14 January 1981 on BBC Radio 4 UK.



You Say

4 responses to this article

David Smith 28 April 2017 at 12:56 pm

Alvar Lidell’s grandson Dorian is a TV quiz regular, turning up on Only Connect and Pointless among other shows…

Kitty schafer 21 May 2017 at 10:29 pm

Reading the BBC’s report and the excellent readings of Alvar Lidell, whom I vividly remember, I just have to let you know of my great disappointment that “MY” section – the Hellschreiber Dept. was not mentioned, even though it was also of utmost importance and required a lot of skill as the news were received by tape and the important ones had to be translated into English immediately and sent to the War Office.

I do not know how many of my colleagues have “survived” – due to age – but my friend and former colleague Lesley Wyle – nee Eisinger – and me Kitty Schafer – nee Kaufmann – are both 96 yrs old and live in Toronto, Canada, and have very many happy experiences of our 5 yrs working for this section – first in Evesham and then in Caversham.

We therefore feel a little bit hurt that our section was not mentioned and hope you can amend the report to include us! Or perhaps send out something additional. However it is wonderful that this report has been done as it it is important for others to learn about it.

Yours sincerely,

Kitty Schafer, Toronto, Canada.

Russ J Graham 22 May 2017 at 10:27 am

Hi Kitty

This documentary is from 1981, so we have no practical way of editing it to include additional information – it is what it is. Sorry.

There is a possibility that the Hellschreiber Department was still classified in 1981: there was a range of WW2 declassifications in 1995, after the end of the Cold War, of technology and related fields that had continued in use after the Second World War aimed at the USSR. If this was one of them, Robert Rowe would not have been allowed to include it in this piece.

Thanks for writing in,

Russ J Graham, Editor-in-Chief

Kate Terkanian 6 March 2018 at 6:41 pm

Russ, would it be possible for you to pass my email to Kitty Schaeffer? I am working on a thesis on women at the BBC during the Second World War and would be happy for her input on her work in Monitoring.

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