Things I Learned From the Radio Last Month Holiday Special

In which The Author brings you a bumper bonanza of bizarre facts

  • Alexander Korda’s 1940 fantasy epic The Thief of Bagdad was the first film to employ the blue-screen technique for special effects. (Front Row, Radio 4, July 19.)
  • Charles Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and both James and John Stuart Mill were once employed as clerks by the East India Company. (Lucy Kellaway’s History of Office Life, Radio 4, July 22.)
  • The German-born Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann was a prisoner of war twice. The second time, he was captured by two British soldiers, one of whom said, ‘Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?’ (Last Word, Radio 4, July 21.)
  • In Tudor times, it was common for a royal birth to be attended by over a hundred people. The birth was not considered to have officially taken place until it was confirmed by both the Home Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury. (1500 BST news bulletin, Radio 4, July 22.)
  • For fear of ridicule, water company spokesmen very reluctantly admit that they employ dowsers to discover new aquifers. (The Bottom Line, Radio 4, July 20.)
  • According to Michael Buerk, ‘If we weeded out [the work of] every drunk, deviant or libertine, we wouldn’t have much left to read, look at or listen to.’ (Trailer to The Moral Maze, Radio 4, July 31.)

And finally…

  • The most welcome thing I’ve heard this month was the sentence, ‘And that was the last in the current series.’ (Continuity announcement after My First Planet, Radio 4, July 18.)
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A Cautionary Tale

In which The Author recommends a radio play

A very good but extremely disturbing play called The Gestapo Minutes, based on a true story, has just finished on BBC Radio 4. I don’t know whether it’ll be on the iPlayer (it depends on repeat rights), but it gave a terrifying insight into the plight of ordinary Jewish families during the Second World War.
The particular family around whom the play revolved weren’t deported to the death camps. As a retired lawyer and a respected individual, the man was ‘asked’ to ask as a liaison between the Nazis and the Jewish community in Mainz. In between a dramatic scenario played out between the lawyer and his ‘handler’ (so to speak), the BBC newsreader Robin Lustig read extracts from the rules which governed the lives of Jews in the Third Reich.
What really made my blood run cold was the extent of the forensic detail to which these petty bureaucrats were expected to carry out their duties. Throughout the play, I kept having visions of the main office of the Department of Work and Pensions, with the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ emblazoned above the doors.
If it’s available on the iPlayer, please take 45 minutes to listen to it – and reflect on the fact that the Third Reich only lasted as long as it did because ordinary working people just did what they were told.