In the history of public broadcasts there can be few as notable as the one recorded "off air" by my grandfather onto the EKCO disc below. This is the first royal Christmas message delivered by King George V in 1932 and one of the first broadcasts made to the British Empire. Received by an estimated 20 million listeners across the world and with many HMV records pressed, this metal disc may yet be the only original recording that has survived.
What impact did this message have on those overseas listeners? To them the King was a head on a coin, an artist’s portrait, a photograph reproduced in newspaper print, a silent projection in a huddled cinema. Hearing this mythological figure speak to them in their homes in India, Canada, Australia and Africa, thousands of miles from the British Isles, would have thrilled and astonished.
The King’s short message followed a carol service broadcast from a church local to his Sandringham estate. The EKCO disc contains almost the entire 3 minutes, but his voice is attenuated and obscured by noise. This noise is due to impact with the aluminium grain but may be worsened by dirt. The attenuation may be due to wear from repeated play or poor amplification or reception during the original recording. The MP3 below represents best effort to present the King’s closing words. First is a clear HMV record downloaded from iTunes followed by the original EKCO recording including my grandfather’s authenticating remarks.
Quality aside, the EKCO record is still discernible and shows the King’s “plum pudding” voice extraordinarily well suited to the occasion. His reputation as a stubborn technophobe lends the ground-breaking broadcast even greater appeal. Did "Grandpa England" (as our Queen once called him) believe the BBC had packed his subjects into little box microphones so he could speak to them?
Or perhaps he knew his voice was being sent on a new shortwave signal and bounced off the sky to defeat the earth’s curve and find the far side. For the science had repercussions far more magical. It would make meteorologists out of the BBC engineers in Daventry, now to follow sunspot activity as avidly as the latest valve technology from Marconi. Meanwhile in Broadcasting House new recording technology would be used to enable repeat BBC news broadcasts across each of the Empire’s time zones.
No longer would those bowler-hatted BBC controllers just be dreaming of their listeners in the Home Counties as they returned home daily from Broadcasting House ... but also those in Bombay, Brisbane and Canada.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England