Journal Article

BBC features, radio voices and the propaganda of war, 1939-1941


BBC Radio drama, and especially feature programmes, became a crucial vehicle at the beginning of the Second World War for articulating a sense of national unity and for providing accounts of the war that could counteract Nazi propaganda. This essay will explore the feature series Shadow of the Swastika (1939–40), Terence Horseley’s Narvik (1940) and Cecil McGivern’s The Battle of Britain (1941), examining how the aesthetics of this radiogenic genre developed through encounters with the propaganda politics of the British nation at the outbreak of war and in response to the reactions of radio listeners. For the writers of Shadow of the Swastika, the ‘sound alone’ of radio was crucial for creating an effective actuality in a feature, but the empathetic force of this sound actuality—its ability to stand as/for the real—raised important political and moral questions at a time of national crisis. Examining the broadcasts themselves, and drawing on audience responses to features, the essay will uncover the tensions between political and aesthetic conceptions of the radio feature between 1939 and 1941. As the essay will argue it was in this period, which spans the Phoney War and the first major British military campaigns, that friction arose between anxieties about the presence of the radio voice and its reception by listeners, and the BBC’s attempt to use the power of the radio medium to present a real account of the war. Political expediency, technology, radio aesthetics, the exigencies of war and the affectivity of sound were all negotiated through radio features as the Second World War escalated. By 1941, in response to these competing factors, the key parameters of BBC war features had solidified and they would go on to function, in the subsequent years of the war, as white propaganda binding the nation together in the struggle against Nazi Germany.

Attached files


Goody, Alex

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\Department of English and Modern Languages


Year of publication: 2018
Date of RADAR deposit: 2018-04-26

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