Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Ode to The Langham

This brilliant poem was sent to me by one of the authors, Sarah Holmes (@CalmHolmes).  It appeared in the BBC staff newspaper in 1979 and describes so well what it was like to work at the Langham.

Ah, the 'leisurely jaunts' in the lifts ....!  Thanks to Sarah for letting me reproduce it here.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Spreading the word ...

I'd be delighted if you could join me on Wednesday 19th October at 7.30 pm at the West End Lane bookshop, where I will be talking about Portland Place and signing copies.  Free entry, but you need to register beforehand.

Meanwhile, the book has been sighted on the shelves of many branches of Waterstones, like Bridport,

Kettering (thanks to Carol Walters),

and Piccadilly (thanks to Claire Chesser)

So join us in keeping the ball rolling by adding your comments to Amazon and Goodreads;
and by giving the book a mention to your friends, colleagues, neighbours, book group, library and on social media.

My favourite tweet so far, simply for combining #sausagerolls and #liftmen!

There's also a Facebook page which you are welcome to "Like".

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

School broadcasting and sex education in 1971

In 1971 a furious controversy raged in the British press about the corruption of innocent young children at the hands of the BBC. But this wasn't about what went on in the dressing rooms of Top of the Pops; the tabloids fear was that the earnest and sober educationalists of the School Broadcasting Council were polluting the nation's youngest minds with this horror ...

In 1970 the BBC, at the request of the SBC, had started to transmit radio and television programmes about "sex education" for use in primary schools. From the moment the proposal went public there was an outcry. Some people assumed that the programmes would contain explicit scenes of sexual behaviour, whereas in fact, they were entirely age-appropriate and gave simple, basic facts about animal and human growth and development. Some objected by arguing that the subject should be dealt with exclusively by parents, or that teaching children where babies came from would encourage them to experiment. A particular point of contention was that, in the section about human reproduction, there was no mention of marriage and, in the illustration of an embracing naked man and woman, there was no evidence of a wedding ring. 

How ironic that the same newspapers which later attacked the BBC over the behaviour of popular entertainers were at the time criticising the Corporation's efforts to ensure children were properly informed about sex. 

Letters poured in to the SBC's offices at the top of the Langham building.  It was my job to open them. From memory, many came from vicars, retired teachers and, of course, people who had never seen the programmes. I was particularly intrigued by those written in green ink or which enclosed diagrams or bizarre images. 

In February 1971 the SBC published this slim pamphlet, a careful evaluation of the programmes and their use in schools. Three months later Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers' and Listeners' Association set out their objections to several schools programmes. Their solution was for the Government, in the form of the then Secretary for Education, to take over BBC schools broadcasting; that Secretary being one Margaret Thatcher.

Mrs T had other matters to attend to at the time, especially as she was in the middle of her own controversy over abolishing free school milk. 

In editing Portland Place, I noticed with some pride that I was the person who typed the first draft of the report, and I did the final checking with my boss. Less impressively, and with youthful arrogance, I described the report as "boring", probably because it required a lot of careful laying out on a manual typewriter.  I remember being amused by the point that children in rural areas couldn't see what the fuss was about, as they were used to watching animals mate.

The SBC officers were very anxious that the report should show they had taken great care in making and advising on the use of the programmes.  However, they nearly went into meltdown when the printers suggested that the purple ink on the report's front cover was the same shade as that used on condom packets.  (Was that a wind-up?)

There is another irony.  While all this was going on, one young woman with a very limited grasp of sexual knowledge was embarked on her own course of private tuition in the Langham's lift shaft. But to find out how and what she learned, you will have to buy the book!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Friday, 22 July 2016

Long ago in far-off London

Gill in 1972
'Portland Place' - a verse review!

Long ago in far-off London
Swinging sixties just gone by,
Sarah Shaw, a fledgling author,
Joined our band of fliers high.

Portland Place was our location,
Education was our game.
Stately BBC was 'Auntie'
Still upholding Lord Reith's name.

In the schools across the kingdom
Our broadcasting could be heard.
In the classroom not a whisper,
Children switched on by the Word.

But what is this? Sex education
To be introduced in schools?
Mary Whitehouse ranting madly,
Bringing out her sharpest tools!

But it's only frogs and tadpoles
On the television screens -
Hardly any frames with humans -
Yet Mrs Whitehouse raises screams!

'The thin end of the wedge is coming -
Children know not how to sift!"
Sarah, meanwhile, penning diary,
Was being switched on in the lift!

Thus it was a secret diary
Came to light in Sarah's home
And her yesterday became her present
So now I broadcast - and recommend - her tome!

by Gill Bazovsky

Gill worked at the SBC in 1971 and appears throughout my diary.  She is now a writer and teacher of English Literature at Swansea.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Interviews and reviews

Portland Place: secret diary of a BBC secretary is available now from bookshops, and online (eg Amazon, Hive) in print or as an ebook.

Thank you for reviews on Portland Place's Amazon page.  If you haven't already done so, please add your own.  
Reviews on Goodreads and other sites also welcome.


Online podcast interview with Sarah by Donna Freed on Radio Gorgeous (30 mins approx). Also a link to iTunes download.

"... he was going out of the room just as I was going in.
Interview contrasting the story in the diary with the Savile scandal.
Daily Telegraph Online 29.5.16.

Interview on background to the book  
Bridport and Lyme Regis News 2.6.16.
Dorset Echo 15.6.16.


"vivid and joyous diary"
book review by Dame Joan Bakewell
Daily Telegraph, 28.5.16.
print only

"a curious, candid chronicler of their quirky passion"
book review by Hephzibah Anderson
The Mail on Sunday 5.6.16.
print only

Syndicated to local newspapers, eg Liverpool Echo, Manchester Eve News

 Gloucestershire Echo


Irish Examiner review 2.7.16

Foyles 28.6.16.

BBC Radio London
Interview with Robert Elms
No longer available.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

"...he was going out of the room just as I was going in.”

Eleanor Steafel's article and interview from the Daily Telegraph Online (29th May) is available here.
It was quite an experience to be interviewed at the Langham Hotel, which today is so different from the glum building it was in 1971.  It was also an honour to be photographed outside Broadcasting House, even if I disappointed eager passers-by who peered at me hopefully in case I was famous.

I don't think Valerie, Pam and Gill, whose photo appears at the head of the article, ever expected to be in the Telegraph.

Joan Bakewell's excellent review of Portland Place appeared in the review section of the Daily Telegraph p.23, 28th May.