Monday, July 21, 2008

BBC World Service (English) in 1970s

I have discussed a few radio stations, viz Akashwani (All India Radio),Vividh Bharati and Radio Ceylon (later Sri Lanka Broadcasting corporation) in detail. In fact, I have even discussed Jhumri Tilaiyya, the small town with a penchant for sending farmaishes (requests)to radio stations for playing Bollywood film songs.

But there were other popular radio stations too,that had their own loyal audience. One such radio station was BBC.

When a typical Indian radio listener of 1970s said BBC, he/ she did not necessarily mean the world service of BBC that was broadcast in English. Of course, I was a loyal listener of this English service too. But for many Indian listeners, BBC meant its programmes in languages such as Hindi and Urdu.

Let me first discuss the English language world service. I used to listen to it on shortwave 31meter band, and my favourite BBC programme was the sports round up, a 15 minutes programme that discussed sports news. I would wait for this programme at 6:15 PM in the evening IST as well as at 11:15 PM, even if the latter time was regarded as too late in those days.

Another programme was obviously the BBC TMS ( test match special) where running commentary of test matches ( called ball by ball coverage) was broadcast. In those days, when there was no TV in India, Indians of all generations, including my generation grew up following BBC TMS. Listening to the voices of great names like Jim Swanton and John Arlott was as pleasing to one's ears as was listening to Ameen Sayani presenting Binaca geetmala ( obviously on a diferent topic on a different radio in a different language). Both of these commentators retired from commentary in 1970s, and their retirements were big news. For instance, I recall that it was covered in sportsweek magazine ( India's only English language sports magazine).

In case it rained in cricket matches, All India Radio covering the match would start playing classical instrumental music.How I hoped that they would play instumentals of recent Bollywood hit songs instead, but then All India radio bigwigs were not known for catering to lower class tastes like mine. BBC on the other hand would not do anything likethat. They would continue to discuss cricket. It was just that instead of discussing the match on hand, they would switch into the nostalgia mode and would begin discussing cricket matches and cricketers from the past.Radio listeners like me, who were so starved of cricket information, would latch on to every single word lest we miss out on some valuable nuggets of wisdom.

Of course, BBC was renowned for its impartial news. Considering how the All India radio was used as a propaganda tool by the government of India, Indian listeners relied on BBC news to find out what was going on in their own country.

Most of the news of BBC were world news, and Indian news formed very small part of it, though there were some specific times when South Asian news would be presented. And that was an eagerly looked forward to programme for those who were interested in such news.

And I was there beside my radio when India toured England to play three test matches in 1974. The way the Indians ( who regarded themselves as a top cricket team, having won three test series in a row) were made to look foolish is now known to all cricket fans. In fact, it was during this season that I discovered BBC (English as well as its Hindi/Urdu services).

Next year, Indians were back in England, this time to play in the inaugural world cup. No one, including many players had much clue about these limited overs matches. India selectors picked Venkatraghawan as the captain of the team simply because he was exposed to this brand of cricket in England. In reality, he was not a regular in the limited over team of his county Derbyshire. So the India team was being captained by a player who was not good enough to find a place in the playing XI of an English county.

Others in the team were worse,which became obvious as the world cup began. And no one showed his ineptitude more dramatically than one Sunil Gavaskar, who crawled to his infamous 36 not out in an innings lating 60 overs. And all these news came to us via BBC coverage of the event.

Another sports coverage that I looked forward to was the Wimbledon. And I was glued to my radio during men's final of 1981 when John McEnroe managed to break Bjorn Borg's Wimbledon starnglehold after a hard fought 4 sets victory. A few years later, TV era dawned in India, and we had a single TV channel called Doordarshan. First Wimbledon that I saw on TV was in 1985 when Becker made history, by winning the men's Wimbledon title at 17. He in fact , was younger than the boy's champion, Leonardo Lavalle. And I also recall a unique record about Jimmy Connors, which no one else except me noticed. Connors lost in the semifinal ( i.e played 6 matches), and his six opponents were born in six different continents.

Next year, when Becker won again, this time beating Lendl in straight sets in the final, I followed it on TV in the common room of my hostel ( like the previous year), but I did one more resourceful thing this time. I borrowed the "two-in-one" (Radio cum tape recorder) of another person, put on one blank audio tape and switched it on to record the BBC commentary of the Wimbledon men's final. After watching the telecast, I came to my room, and found a very decent quality audio recording ready in the "two-in-one".

I did the same thing a few months later during the world cup football final of 1986. While I was watching the final on TV in the TV room, the BBC commentary of the most crucial moments of the match between Argentina and Germany, including the spree of goals in the last few minutes of the match were getting recorded in my room. The recording once again came out very well.

I would often play these two recordings in my room to relive those magic moments. One of my hostel mates spread the information that I religiously listened to these recordings two times a day every day. A good laugh it may have been for all, but he was not too far off the mark.

Of course BBC had many quality programmes up their sleeves apart from news and the seasonal sports coverage such as TMS specials and Wimbledon.Every programme had its own signature tune, and one could know by the tune which programme was being aired. I took these signature tunes for granted, before I listened to one special programme, where we were informed that BBC had their own inhouse section where these theme tunes were created.

BBC also had music programmes, but most of it went over my head. However hard I listened to it, I could not make much of it. Brought up on Bollywood music that I was, I tried to look for similarities between the two kinds of music, but I could find none, and as a result I could never become a fan of that kind of music.

In addition to BBC English service, they had services in other languages tailor made for many countries. For South Asia, for instance, they had programmes in Hindi, Urdu,Bangla,etc and they were very popular. I will discuss Hindi and Urdu service of BBC in my next article.


Raja Swaminathan said...

Atul, there are tears in my eyes as I type this.

This is virtually a 100% representation of my experiences with BBC.

That SW31 meter band....
That 6.15 p.m and 11.15 p.m sports news...
That listening to BBC TMS (and often being "party" to Indian wickets falling)
That avidly listening to discussions about old cricket matches when rain would play spoilsport....
That listening to World Cup 1975 commentary...
That listening to Wimbledon commentary...

Oh, it is all so nostalgic....thank you, thank you, thank you.

Koi lauta de mere beetey hue din
Beetey hue din wo mere, pyare palchhin

squarecut.atul said...

Raja, when I wbegan writing about BBC, I had no idea that there was so much to discuss about the world service itself.

Afterwards, I was myself surprised that I had so many memories associated with BBC English service. I thought my memories would not fill more than one paragraph.

I am pleased that you liked this article.

I am also surprised that I could write so much on various radio stations. So much of nostalgia was lying hidden somewhere in the back of my mind all these days.

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Gosh! Atul BBC was always a treat. Thanks for the nostalgia......
Thanks too for visiting my blog and leaving your 'footprints'.....

squarecut.atul said...

Blogging is about spreading cheer, as well as being cheerful. For the former, I write these posts. For the later, I depend on reading feedback like yours, as well as visiting blogs like yours.

Thanks for visiting again.

SATTA KING said...