You’ll a find rather splendid radio upstairs in the museum. It sits with other radios and a really old television (the screen is tiny, smaller than my MacBook!). It looks like it’s made of wood, but it’s bakelite, the first plastic made from synthetic components. All the rage in the 1930s. The radio, with its art deco styling, got me thinking about how we received information during this period of lockdown, including that first announcement by our Prime Minister. Hands up if you tuned into Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on 23rd March 2020? According to The Guardian, 27million of us did, on differing television channels, including AmazonPrime. The radio made me curious about how other events in history have been broadcast, and what we might be saying in the future about the launch of our lockdown. The radio, because of the era, made me think about how news about World War II was broadcast. The national television channel (the BBC) had been closed down, so the radio was the main channel for live broadcasts. I am at pains to stress that I am not trying to compare the experience of lockdown during this pandemic to the world wars, merely how information is shared – these turning points in history and extraordinary events. Interestingly, Churchill’s ‘finest hour’ speech made on 18 June 1940 was the first address to be broadcast live in the ‘new medium of radio’, and was thought to have been listened to by 60% of the population (some 32million listeners).
We now have daily Government briefings about Coronavirus, but until this year, public addresses were few in the United Kingdom. The Queen’s annual speech is broadcast on Christmas Day, but that’s been about it. I wonder if it will therefore become something that we remember where we were in the years to come. Will you be able to picture yourself, where you were and who you were with when you look back and think about ‘the’ Boris briefing announcing that the entire union of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England was going into lockdown?
If I jump on this thought train, it makes me curious about other significant events in history, and the question, ‘where were you when this happened?’ I remember my mum saying that she will always remember where she was when she heard that President John F Kennedy was shot. She was in digs in Bristol during her teacher-training years, and her landlady had rushed to tell her after seeing it on the television.
I thought about key events in my lifetime that I will always remember seeing live. I remember clapping and cheering with friends, at the television, when Nelson Mandela took his long road to freedom (1990). In August 1996 I was in Nice, on holiday. I’d just come out of the shower when Sky News was relaying the same images, with the breaking news that Princess Diana had died. On 11 September 2001, I was in Germany, on the phone to my team working in the UK. The news was on in my hotel room. I remember describing what I was witnessing on the screen, the plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers, and my colleague saying that I was scaring her.
But back to Boris to end with, and his second address sharing the Lockdown Roadmap. This scored him even higher ratings than his first address, perhaps we were keener to know how we were going to be released. On 10th May 2020, 27.5million people tuned in – making it one of the highest viewing figures in British history. He topped the 2012 Olympics, but couldn’t match the 1966 World Cup Final (32.3million viewers) or the funeral of Princess Diana (32.1million).
We would love to hear from you on your memories of key events in social history, around a radio, a television… or perhaps even a smartphone.
[Photo of Ferranti Nova All Wave Radio, 1936/37]
Citizen Curator Volunteer.