FOREWORD – pp. 9-13.
PERHAPS the most serious criticism of the BBC is that its programmes are too often removed from reality, that the Corporation is too much concerned with keeping its hands clear of controversy at all costs. Whether this criticism be just or not, this much is true, that not till the declaration of war did the chance arise to treat extensively in radio-dramatic form one of the most tragic stories of our times, the story of the German National Socialist Party and its Leader, Adolf Hitler.
In October 1939 we were asked to prepare, on a basis of austere facts, a series of radio-dramas which would describe the origins of the Nazi Party, its rise to power, and the developments which eventually led to the Allies' declaration of war. Time was short.
The programmes, booked for broadcasting at fortnightly intervals, had to be written at great speed. The Features and Drama Department had already been evacuated to the provinces. We, like a lonely outpost installed in a temporary office in Broadcasting House, began to sift material from a hundred books, as well as from newspaper cuttings, confidential reports, and magazine articles, in English, German, and French, in order to work out an authoritative dramatic treatment, at once historical and topical, of the history of the Nazi Party.
We have made no statement and dramatized no incident without good authority. The short bibliography, which will be found at the end of this book, makes no pretence to completeness. It does no more than indicate some of the main sources on which we have drawn.
Newspapers made great play with the surface interest of the series. For them the sensational thing was: Who is to play Hitler? For us the personalities of the story were of secondary importance.
Our concern was rather with the history, of which the characters are but symptomatic. In a month the first script was ready and rehearsals were started. But the accumulating and sifting of material never ceased until the last script had been completed. There were those who were sorry to see Shadow of the Swastika booked for transmission, who lamented that the Corporation should lend itself to "propaganda," who complained that there was no public for a series of eight or nine three-quarter hour dramatic features on such a subject.
Our argument was that propaganda, in so far as it dealt with facts, was nothing new to the BBC, and that people to-day are deeply interested in facts, as is proved by the enormous popularity of periodicals of the Picture Post type, and such films as The March of Time. Once the Shadow of the Swastika was under way, our argument proved correct, for the Listening Barometer, the organization responsible for determining roughly how many people are listening to a given programme, found that each of the Shadow of the Swastika series had slightly more than 2,000,000 listeners. We think we are right in saying that no other broadcast feature programme has been listened to by anything like so many people.
Propaganda? We ourselves believed we were putting over a dramatic and compelling story. Apparently the public shared our belief. At least, one adult in every three in Britain considered the programmes dramatic enough to listen to week by week.
But coming upon the series in cold print, the reader may perhaps wonder why the programmes were such a great popular success. For radio features rarely lend themselves to successful reproduction in book form unless they are written, like MacLeish's Fall of the City for example, with an eye on its future as literature. These features were written for radio only and for the widest possible audience. And we urge our readers to withhold final judgment of the effectiveness of these programmes if they failed to hear them, for in print the scripts are deprived of three intrinsic elements which were an essential part of their broadcast success—the tempo and variation of the actors' voices, the sound effects, and the musical score.
We repeat, the scripts were written for radio. It is impossible for the printed page to give the same impression of the tension of such scenes as, let us say, that in which the Jewish doctor is operating on the child who has been drilled in anti-Semitism at school and in the Hitler Jungvolk. Over the air, the contrast between the child's clear dreamy voice and the brutal poem he is reciting, between the exquisite ghostly music and the matter-of-fact efficiency of the doctor's voice, created a dramatic effect which could never have come off in film or theatre, for the whole point lay in sound and sound alone. Any visual image would have been a distraction.
Effects are another important element in radio drama, especially when used as a transition between one scene and the next. Because their interest is mainly a technical one, indications for effects—like those for music—have largely been deleted from the scripts as published here. But if the form of a radio drama is to be satisfactory, then much depends on the smooth transition from one scene to the next. And for this reason also the scripts are likely to make a less satisfactory impression on the eye than they have already done upon the ear.
Generally, in writing for radio, most care, most ingenuity is devoted to creating a good impression for sound. Specifically literary graces are of secondary importance for such an ephemeral medium. This is particularly the case when one is obliged to work very fast. Each of these programmes had to be compiled and written in less than a fortnight.
A word about the style of these features. The language is apt to seem clipped and monosyllabic, to fall into mechanical patterns. (Many cuts have been made and some entire passages have been deleted from the scripts as presented here, because what sounded good and natural, especially when backed by music, nevertheless looks artificial to the eye.) This swift language is not dictated by the writers' whim. It is used because we were faced with the problem of compressing a very complex political story into a rigid forty-five minute framework. Our argument had to be full and clear so that the most politically advanced would be satisfied, and so that the most politically innocent could understand what was going on. It may be that readers will be surprised at the apparent Americanism of the dialogue. Perhaps American writing approximates closer to speech (even English speech) than most English writing does.
Be that as it may, we can only say that, in performance, the dialogue of Shadow of the Swastika did not sound American. No doubt a great deal could be said about the relation of the style of such features as this to the Commedia dell' Arte, or the Proletbuhne, or the Living Newspaper, or what you will. But this is no place to discuss such theories. Suffice it to say that the form of Shadow of the Swastika was entirely dictated by the circumstances under which it was broadcast, by the nature of the story, and by the speed with which it had to be written.
Shadow of the Swastika consisted of eight programmes and an Epilogue. Two of these eight were in the form of panoramic surveys of the whole of Nazi history from 1918 to 1940. They were made up in the main of scenes extracted from the scripts presented in this book. No useful purpose could be served by their appearance in this volume. The Epilogue was called: 'The Nazis at War.' It dealt entirely with conditions inside Germany and the conquered territories, from the outbreak of the present war until the end of January 1940. It was different in form from the rest of the scripts. Its character was more transient; its purpose was to bring the story up-to-date. This it did. But some months have gone by since it was broadcast, and already much of the material included in that programme has been dwarfed by greater happenings. It was, therefore, considered unnecessary to include it in this volume.
Here, then, are the scripts, specially edited for this volume, of Shadow of the Swastika, which dramatize Nazi history, as objectively as possible, from the last war to the present war. These are only the scripts. Much of the success of the broadcasts depended on the brilliant music of George Walter, the no less brilliant work of the producer, Laurence Gilliam, and the consistent enthusiasm and intelligence of the large group of actors who worked on the series, and helped to prove what many, both inside and outside the BBC had doubted, that fact can be more striking, more compelling, and more dramatically effective than fiction.
A. L. LLOYD
London, April 1940