The MP3 above was produced on the 20th July 2016 from the aluminium EKCO disc entitled “Abdication of Edward VIII” dated 6th January 1937. This is a BBC broadcast which makes an announcement ...
“Ding! Dong! This is London! A quarter of an hour ago the Prime Minister came to the bar of the house and handed to the speaker a message from His Majesty the King”
But this is a lie because it is not a "live" broadcast. The presenter is not a reporter nor a newscaster. This is not a newscast. Instead it is a narration of the previous year's events.
The narration uses dramatic reconstructions with voice actors and incidental music. Edward VIIIs letter of abdication is read out but his abdication speech (broadcast "in a private capacity") is missed out. On the other hand George VI is proclaimed with a triumphal fanfare and his speech concluded by a jaunty rendition of the national anthem. This broadcast is an early docudrama.
Wikipedia defines “A docudrama (or documentary drama) is a genre of radio and television programming, feature film, and staged theatre, which features dramatized re-enactments of actual events” (the word did not enter common use until the 1960s)
The 1930s "newsreels" shown at the cinema contained the earliest docudramas. But while a film-goer could not confuse cinema with "live" events what of a radio listener? Even astute listeners of the BBCs announcement might think another crisis was at hand. Perhaps American audiences would later sympathise. In 1938 they would hear Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast. Fictitious events were portrayed as happening "live", in this case a Martian invasion. Despite that absurdity some listeners phoned the police. An outraged news media demanded tighter broadcasting regulation. But instead Orson Welles was rewarded by RKO pictures with a contract to make a movie. This became the greatest film ever made about the power of the media, Citizen Kane.
Over 50 years later the BBC would echo the Orson Welles' broadcast with 1992s "Ghostwatch". This was a recorded TV programme which was broadcast as if it were "live". It featured the supernatural abduction of TV presenter Sarah Greene and the demonic possession of Michael Parkinson. 30,000 concerned calls were received from the public in the first hour. But in this case no one in the BBC was rewarded with a movie contract and the programme has never been re-shown in the UK since.
Returning to the BBCs 1937 broadcast, its purpose was not to provide news. It was to grab the listener's attention with the "live" pretence and enforce a narrative. Edward VIII abdicates and precipitates a crisis which is resolved by George VI. The broadcast is designed to strengthen George's position at the beginning of his first year of reign.
There is nothing untrue in the BBC broadcast. It is not fictional but neither is it balanced. The actual events involved real people in a complex situation where there were many factors social, moral, legal, political and personal. By ignoring Edward VIIIs reasons and the role of the Government the broadcast qualifies as propaganda.
Below is another narrative based on the crisis. In this one the Government threatens resignation in response to Edward VIIIs intentions. This precipitates the crisis.
This narrative echoes the romantic myth of Edward and Wallis, as the English gent paired with the modern spirited American. Beloved by Hollywood the glamorous romance has echoed down the century influencing many dramas: Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978); The Woman He loved (1988); Wallis and Edward (2005); Any Human Heart (2010) and W.E. (2012). But this transatlantic romance is just as distorted as the BBCs broadcast. It is quite likely the free-spirited Wallis left the country on the expectation that Edward would remain, then was trapped into marriage when he abdicated to join her.
Despite the Hollywood obsession with Wallis and Edward, The King's Speech (2010) did finally return the spotlight upon the neglected King George. Perhaps at last this was an echo of the original BBC 1937 broadcast.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England