The young women the BBC attracted - a particular type working more for the kudos than (low) salary - variegated the terrain. Enjoying the panoramic rooftop bar and restaurant of the fashionable St George’s Hotel built on the bomb-site of the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place (opened in 1963), conscious of BBC planners and radio stars doing business (Kenneth Williams coyly furtive), we’d mischievously ‘look down’ on Broadcasting House berthed to the right, many decked and port-holed, momentarily imagining ourselves superior to the captains of the waves who sailed her. Mitra, the Persian beauty of love and light with her chauffeur and liking for dots at the end of sentences, hours 10-4 … Liz, leonine heiress to a frozen-food dynasty ... Cathy, who left to run a sheep-farm in Australia ... Pre-Raphaelite Laura ... Eighteen-year-old Josephine, the gap-year pre-classical girl with a liking for violin concertos on her way to Leeds and Alexander Goehr – who never went but became my wife. Deryck and Hazel came to our wedding.
I spent four summers and winters at Yalding House. At the Royal Albert Hall I enjoyed a seat in the Director-General’s Grand Tier box. Horenstein's Bruckner Five (September 1971). The contentious first performance of Ronald Stevenson's Second Piano Concerto under del Mar (August 1972). Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic celebrating Britain's Euro entry, Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies flaming the ether (January 1973). I contributed various Prom programme notes - from Beethoven Seven, through Liszt and Tippett, to Stockhausen’s Mantra and Carré for four orchestras, the latter receiving its British premiere (September 1972). At studio sessions I shadowed Eleanor Warren, Alan Walker. Occasionally I scripted, presented and produced ‘trailers’ previewing forthcoming broadcasts. A refuge to ponder, run through repertory, or practice a duet or two was provided by the intimate staff library and piano on the top floor. In the summer of ’74, my first book appeared, The Proms, a socio-cultural history, in the event much truncated and weakened from the original draft commissioned by Tom Stacey but culminating in a tolerable enough survey of the Glock era. Though vetted and approved by BBC officialdom, The Proms gained me few friends within an institution where levels of public exposure went unspokenly with seniority of grade, an organisation to which I was obliged further to give my every working hour - evenings and weekends being set aside for recuperation rather than personal endeavour (that they weren’t wasn’t the point). It didn’t surprise me. Any more than the rain of arrows which greeted my attempts to ensure proper and fair script-writing acknowledgement - something Deryck, in his self-effacement, had never, so far as I was aware, felt the need to battle for.
Radio 3 those days, contrasting other wings of the BBC, advocated anonymity – disagreeably so I thought. Within the ranks neither personality cults nor value judgements were encouraged. Dispassionate, dignified objectivity was our brief. At ‘live’ concert relays announcers introduced, linked and closed proceedings, their words were the ‘BBC’s’ not an individual’s, they resisted improvising unscripted continuity. Working for Radio 3 was about subjugating oneself to the will of the Corporation. So, broadly speaking, though the voices may have been familiar, the styles of scripts distinctive, the public had no ready means of knowing who anyone was or who was responsible for what. The BBC employed producers, studio managers (tonmeisters) and writers of the very highest standing – but who where they? Very occasionally we were told, but not often. Scripting an ambitious, historically complex series for Bob Simpson, juxtaposing music written in the same year (Cross-Section), I felt I should be credited my due. So the programme commentaries went out under my name. The powers reacted swiftly. The inner coterie of Yalding House elders – Cooke, Keller, Simpson himself – might get away with this, but certainly not anyone else, least of all a coal-face underling. I argued my right to identity. Bob backed me. Deryck threatened to resign were further action taken. Part of the growing vanguard that consciously eroded away media and product anonymity in Britain during the 70s (even The Times Literary Supplement, bastion of the unsigned review, gave in), it felt like I’d won a moral victory however small. But the murkier, the more obstructive, the more red-tape the atmosphere the more apparent it became that this was no longer the climate for me or my temperament (‘there are two kinds of people,’ the witticism goes, ‘those trying to get into the BBC and those trying to get out’). I wanted the adventure of other things, new challenges.
Sir William, who'd radicalised BBC music and turned the Proms into the longest of global celebrations, coaxing Pierre Boulez to the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1969, left in 1972, to be succeeded by Robert Ponsonby, an ex-Oxford organ scholar of military bearing and glacial disposition (Eton, Scots Guards). Reminding of John Mills's character in Tunes of Glory - 'officers' privileges and amateur dramatics' - his aloofness and bruising style, surnames barked out parade ground style, didn't sit well. Increasingly, too, despite initial overtures - including the carrot of a BBC Music Guide on Schumann's orchestral music, which subject I failed to appreciate hence never finished (Hans Gál took it over from me) - I felt uneasy with the Music Division's long-standing Assistant Controller, the polymathic Lionel Salter, proof reader supreme, he of the well-oiled smile and ingratiating flattery who'd signed off my Proms book. Minor stags of the glen, Establishment administrators, neither man offered the kind of programming or creative vision, the fantasy and liberty, I needed personally. They piloted their ships along well-plumbed channels, they cellophane-wrapped rather than nakedly lived their music. Or so it seemed to me, watching from the lower cobbles of 'empire'. Passion wasn't in their dictionary. Losing out to Hugh on a production vacancy - I pitching the Romantic Revival movement, he going on to edit the New Oxford Book of Carols: we were very different people - turned the tide. Richer in knowledge, wiser in life, I resigned, leaving the Corporation in January 1975. Deryck died the following year.
Turkish version Andante, İstanbul 2004
English original revised Christmas 2021
© Ateş Orga 2004, 2021
not to be reproduced without permission
1 The Listener, 1 February 1968, reprinted in Vindications, London 1982.
2 Tim Hayward, Financial Times, 10 October 2020.