Thursday, 27 December 2007

Nothing new under the sun


The day was gentle and fair…. It was curiously quiet everywhere, not so much silent as hushed and muted. Although the West End pavements were packed with a vast multitude it was a subtly different crowd from any that the authorities had seen before. What had happened was that this most stately public show was being observed with an intensely private emotion…. As the coffin was carried in to the Abbey there was a sense of release…. After the funeral came the homage. In five days over a million people visited the grave and left a hundred thousand wreaths….

Ronald Blythe, The Age of Illusion: the burial of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey, 1920

But the worst outcry of this sort came after a talk on birth control by Julian Huxley and Cecil Lewis and was caused by a well-rehearsed voice breaking into the discussion, with a dramatic, ‘I protest… I never… It’s indecent… I protest!’ The discussion stopped, as though shocked, then continued as before. It was all a put-up job by a realistic producer, and when this came out the B.B.C. was loudly condemned for going in for such stunts. The Manchester Guardian likened it to a man who blacks himself all over to play Othello.

Ibid.: the era of Reith at the BBC