(Roughly) Daily

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed!”*…

As a teenager I was completely suckered in by a television documentary hoax (Forgotten Silver, by Peter Jackson pre-Lord of the Rings). For many years it was quite a sore spot for me that I was duped. I imagine the many people who believed that The War of the Worlds depicted an actual Martian invasion felt the same way. And twelve years before Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio play another hoax on the airwaves was terrifying the innocent public.

Broadcasting the Barricades by the mystery writer [and Catholic priest] Ronald Knox was performed on BBC Radio in early 1926. Styled like a news report, it described a Bolshevik revolution running through the streets of London. Government ministers were captured and strung up; the Savoy Hotel and the Palace of Westminster were both blown up (thus toppling the Clock Tower and Big Ben too).

Now, there were plenty of clues that it was a hoax. Not least of which was that they told everyone it was not real at the start. Not everyone caught that [as was the case with World of the Worlds], or the many announcements to the same effect on the same channel later that night. Complicating matters, a snowstorm prevented the next day’s newspapers getting out of London, stoking fears that the capital city was in ruins or occupied by revolutionary forces. And 1926 UK was a tense place already: four months after Broadcasting the Barricades, 1.7 million workers joined a general strike in support of locked out coal miners…

The radio hoax that presaged– and inspired– Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds: “From the Barricades.”

The BBC’s own account of the occasion (the source of the image above) is here. And here is the amusing tale of an Australian variation on the theme, broadcast a year after Knox’s pioneering effort.

Oh, and Forgotten Silver is wonderful!

* “Reporter Carl Phillips” (Frank Readick), The War of the Worlds

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As we check our sources, we might recall that it was on this date in 1843 that John Browne Bell published the first of his London-based newspaper, The News of the World. Bell’s competitive strategy was to focus on the sensational and the lurid– basically, crime and vice… a strategy that served him and subsequent owners, most recently Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., extremely well. Indeed, its long suit in celebrity scoops, gossip, and populist news– especially its somewhat prurient focus on sex scandals– gained it the nickname News of the Screws.

In 2011, 25 years after Murdoch had made it into the Sunday edition of his paper The Sun, The News of the World was closed… sort of. In its last decade it had developed a reputation for exposing celebrities’ drug use, sexual peccadilloes, or criminal acts, by using insiders and journalists in disguise to provide video or photographic evidence, and covert phone hacking in ongoing police investigations. Many of these allegations proved true. On July 4, 2011 it was revealed that, nearly a decade earlier, a private investigator hired by the newspaper had intercepted the voicemail of missing British teenager Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. Amid a public backlash and the withdrawal of advertising, News International announced the closure of the newspaper three days later.

After a brief hiatus, the fun continued in The Sunday Sun (with many former News of the World staffers), but without several senior News of the World editors, who were arrested and indicted for illegal wiretapping, bribing police officers for information, and other offenses.

Front-page of the first issue

source

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