Echoes of 1932 are a series of the earliest recordings my grandfather made in 1932. This was a landmark year in the history of public broadcasting. After BBC Broadcasting House began operating it hosted the world's first TV broadcasts, the first "world service" broadcast and the first royal Christmas broadcast. The purpose of this series is to use my grandfather's recordings to explore this new world. The first is "Brave New Home" covering the first ever radio broadcast from Broadcasting House on 15th March 1932.
Before introducing that broadcast, Broadcasting House itself requires introduction. As the first public broadcasting facility in Britain it provided an ideal "Home" for the BBC. Driven by function and technological constraint, its design included unconventional and innovative features. Instead of a stairwell and atrium, the core of the building housed a complexity of windowless studios, listening rooms and concert halls. It was a self-contained world which required heating and ventilation of ground-breaking capability. Located down in the basement, that system featured anti-vibration mounts for its pumps and acoustic baffles for its ducts, with steam pipes to heat the air in winter and water sprays to cool it in summer. Meanwhile the top floor housed all the studio amplifiers in a single control room, allowing economic use of the valves and avoiding any need to distribute the batteries that supplied them.
Self-contained like an ocean liner, the outside of the building is similarly streamlined. Only a pair of statues above the entrance break its clean lines. These are the characters Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Prospero is an exiled magician served by Ariel his messenger of the air. Together they signify the modern magic of broadcasting.
But Broadcasting House was not the only new model of modernism with which The Tempest shared parallels that year. Also produced in 1932, the futurist novel "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley is the story of the outcast son of a woman left abandoned among aborigines. Self-educated in the works of Shakespeare, John is rescued by his mother's modern civilisation, just as Prospero's daughter Miranda is rescued by her father's. Both exclaim "O Brave New World" at their salvation. Both outbursts are later proved ironic. For John discovers that the material benefits of an urbanised and industrialised future have come at the cost of his heroic Shakespearean values. His "Brave New World" harbours a "slave" population, subjected to selective breeding and infantilised by diversionary thrills and drugs.
It is reported Huxley was inspired by a visit to the Billingham chemical plant in Teeside so it follows his controlling technology is biochemical. But what if he had visited the new Broadcasting House in London instead? Perhaps he would have enslaved his population using the audio-visual technology more familiar today. The first broadcast from the BBCs new "home" is known to have been "live" music. That should give us some comfort since we are probably justified in thinking that music and song are benign forms of entertainment whose gentle enslavements endure and remain welcome. Below an image of the EKCO disc which may contain it, labelled "New BBC Band" and dated 15th March 1932.
The 15th March 1932 is known to be the date of the first radio broadcast. But little else seems known other than it was by Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra. This EKCO disc contains little voice-over introduction but it certainly contains "live" dance band music which meets expectation. Side 1 contains the song "Home" followed by the opening to "Rio de Janiero", while Side 2 contains the song "Sycamore Tree" followed by an introduction to "Blue of the Night". Below is a sample of "Home" after which there is a hesitant voice-over introduction to the next song. This matches critical reviews of the first broadcast which describe the band leader Hall as being nervous throughout.
Familiarity with "Home" may have an unlikely source, but one which provides authentication. Below is a link to a scene from a Stanley Kubrick film called "The Shining". Set in the haunted Overlook Hotel, the same gentle melody and vocal can be heard contrasting with the menacing dialogue.
The film soundtrack shows it to be the song "Home" as recorded by Henry Hall and the Gleneagles Hotel Band. This is the band which Hall is known to have led at the Gleneagles Hotel just before taking up his post as band leader at Broadcasting House. This leaves little doubt that he took the song with him for that first broadcast. So the fact that he now forever leads a phantom band playing "Home" in a hotel ballroom not only authenticates my grandfather's recording, but renders it a suitably haunting elegy.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England