East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Reading “Radio Girls”

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As I mentioned the other day, I am reading a good book, and good books are a (relatively) cheap gateway to escape dread and depression.
And to learn new things.
The novel I am reading is Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford.


Set between 1926 and 1930, Radio Girls is the story of Maisie Musgrave, a Canadian anglophile that is hired as a secretary for the newly created British Broadcasting Company (later Corporation), and becomes a witness in the early development of what is going to be called “talk radio”.
But hidden beneath the comedy and the mystery plot of the novel, is a well-researched story – the story of Hattie Matheson, the first director of the “talk” department of the BBC.

Matheson was a real-life wonder, a woman of culture and intelligence that almost single-handedly created the formats and the good practices of what is one of the staples of radio information.
A former employee of MI5 during the Great War, and before that the secretary of Mary Astor, she intuited the power and the importance of radio communication, and as a woman was obviously aware of the sort of empowerment that comes from the diffusion of culture and knowledge through cheap, flexible tools.


Ina time when radio speakers had to wear evening clothes and the BBC had no right to write its own copy (but only read news as provided by Reuters), under Matheson’s direction, the “talks” of the BBC hosted such characters as H.G. Wells and G.B. Shaw, Virginia Wolfe and Vita Sackville-West (that would later become Matheson’s lover).

According to the BBC website

Hilda Matheson was the first to realise that there is a specific art to talking on the radio, and she introduced high production values. In December 1931, she had a spectacular falling out with the BBC’s managing director, John Reith, leading to her resignation. She went on to oversee The African Survey and to run the Joint Broadcasting Committee during WWII.

Sarah-Jane Stratford’s novel is funny, filled with snappy dialogue and has a great eye for detail. The historical reconstruction is very solid, and it throws a light on the origins of the sort of entertainment I still love today (as I have told you quite often).
Add to that a strong, non-conformist woman, and I could not possibly resist this book, that is well worth checking out.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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