Friday, 14 July 2017

The mysterious case of the vanishing BBC ...

In November 2017 my diary for 1971 will be published in paperback as "The secret diary of a 1970s secretary".  Observant readers will note that this title has changed from the hardback one by ditching “Portland Place" and the reference to a "BBC" secretary.

It's no particular hardship to me, a rose by any other name and all that, and I'm not entirely sure of the reasons for the change myself, but it raised a few thoughts.

Portland Place: The Langham, All Souls & Broadcasting House

We originally chose “Portland Place” for the title because it was the classiest one that conjured up the London area around Broadcasting House and the Langham, where so many of the events take place.  “1971”, the title of the original self-published version, had just been taken by David Hepworth with his excellent book on rock music, “1971: Never a dull moment”.

But does “Portland Place” make you think “BBC”? It turned out that even older folk didn't always connect the address with the corporation, despite the frequency with which the address used to be mentioned on air. Nor was it memorable enough.  Perhaps my husband was not alone in calling the book on more forgetful days, “Peyton Place”?

More than that, maybe book browsers who licked their lips at the prospect of juicy backstage gossip were disappointed to find themselves reading the ramblings of a junior secretary. 

Perhaps it's just that the idea of the BBC in the seventies has become too toxic.  That makes me cross.  I've gritted my teeth on a number of occasions, answering questions which presupposed that a romance on BBC premises between two lowly members of staff must be considered in the same light as the abuse of children by sociopathic, highly-paid, popular entertainers. Our secret, charming, curious romance could have taken place in any office, then and (possibly) now, and the fact that it developed in a department making sex education programmes for schools is a hilarious irony.  Ours was a consensual relationship. I was not a victim, Frank Browne was not a manipulator and … well work it out for yourself: Who got most out of that relationship?

Above the entrance to Broadcasting House

It's true the BBC, local radio stations and the BBC Alumni Group apart, has been jittery about the book. Characterisations of the bosses in the diary may have offended some of the BBC elite, but given a little thought I am sure they saw that what is unique about the diary is the author's youthful candidness.  Besides, I'd like to think that the diary goes some way to redefine the reputation of the Corporation by offering an authentic account of what it was like to work there in those days;  bureaucratic, friendly, worthy, anxious and occasionally boring.

So, which title do you prefer?  How important are book titles?

Twitter: @Dymvue

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Latest news


Here's the You Tube channel - please view and share.

Heffer's Bookshop, Cambridge, May 23rd

Thanks to a kind invitation from Kate Fleet, Events Manager at the bookshop, I had the honour and pleasure of speaking about 'Portland Place' in the area where I had lived and worked for over thirty years.

I was very fortunate to be interviewed by Torin Douglas, the former BBC Media Correspondent and an expert in keeping wayward interviewees on track.

Photographs taken in 1971 gave a flavour of the times, and I spoke in some detail about my experiences working for the Corporation in the School Broadcasting Council, schools' radio and television drama.  

Of course there was an opportunity to discuss with the audience the extraordinary relationship that developed between myself and the liftman, Frank Browne. I hope that the various readings from "Portland Place" gave a glimpse of the humour and affection in that affair which differentiates it so clearly from the recently publicised behaviour of some celebrities.

Then it was time for questions!  I can't remember them all but a couple were: "Do you have a favourite memory from the diary?" and "Did you leave anything out when you edited it for publication?"

Then it was time to sign some copies and answer private questions.

A great evening. Many thanks to Torin and to Kate and her excellent team.

Wimborne Literary Festival 18th May

Not nervous, am I? Not at all - but here I am checking the slides before my first ever talk at a Literary Festival!

If you are ever in Wimborne Minster, pop into Gulliver's Bookshop.  It's a super bookshop and they do a fantastic job putting together an annual LitFest.  I was very excited to be asked to speak there.  Several weeks of planning and publicity later and I was well prepared.  I very much enjoyed talking about "Portland Place" to the 30+ audience.

 At the book signing session afterwards, I was interested to share memories with other ladies of around my age who had also worked as secretaries in the 1960s and 70s. Ah, the days of carbon copies and Pitman's shorthand!

The paperback edition will be published under the title "Secret diary of a 1970's secretary" in November 2017.

Oakhill's audio version, read by Anna Bentinck, can be borrowed from UK public libraries.  It will be available as a download from Audible also in November.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

News and reviews

Portland Place: secret diary of a BBC secretary is my recently rediscovered diary for 1971.  It's available now in hardback or as an ebook from bookshops, Amazon, Hive and other online retailers.

Liverpool Echo
"Evocative . . . vivid and joyous diary"
Joan Bakewell, Sunday Telegraph

"Sue Townsend meets Lynn Barber; the innocence and wit shine through this account . . . I found it charming! Such genuine innocence / ignorance girls had back then though! So captures that!"

Jill Dawson, Sceptre author and Orange Prize short-listee

"Entertaining story . . . a constant delight."
Belfast Telegraph

"It's not often I say I love a book but I loved Secret Diary of a BBC Secretary. From the start I was engrossed in a world not that long ago (1971) but often a million miles away. I became involved with the characters and their lives. I worried about them. I cared about them. I couldn't put the book down. Now that's I've finished it I still want to know what happens next. A jewel of a little book. Read it and you'll be glad you did."

Gail Renard, chair of the Writer's Guild

"She's a curious, candid chronicler . . . and it's oddly soothing to read about the drabness of everyday life at a moment when the psychedelic Sixties had faded and the flashy Eighties were still a decade away."

The Mail on Sunday

Gloucestershire Echo

"I spent a lot of time in the Langham on training courses and when I worked on the Today programme. I knew the place had many mysteries. But Sarah's book reveals a few more, and it is a fascinating glimpse into a time that feels very different to today."

Roger Mosey, formerly Editor of Radio 4's Today programme, Controller of BBC Five Live and Head of BBC TV news.

"This is quite the finest book I have read in many years. It is a turns touching, moving, informative, engaging and I was riveted. It was touching to read Sarah's honesty and her observations of the world around her at a time when London was swinging, but clearly only for certain people. Still, the book paints a picture of a slightly less frenetic city working patterns, coupled with horrible doses of sexism that taken for granted, and had to be fought off. Against this vivid background though is a delightful love story that slowly develops and had me completely entranced, but reminds us of the firm class divide that still exists today. How beautiful that despite these circumstances love blossomed and grew -and here we see the uncertainties, vulnerabilities and sense of moral duty being played out as the relationship develops. What a character dear Frank must have been and how fitting that this wonderful book tells a story that yearns to be told and for us all to learn and reflect on."
Vinnie - Amazon.

"Sarah's style and sense of honesty makes it memorable. It's a brave book, though not at all sentimental. It's (very) funny, deadpan, and specific (it made me cringe at times, but in a good way - not like the sort of gush I was writing at the same age (19)); and is a moving and touching read. Knowing that it covered only a year, I was worried it might just leave everything in the air. It didn't: it was satisfying in itself, and Sarah rounds it all off with a welcome 'update'.
I kept reading chunks out to anyone who'd listen, and I'm going to be buying it for birthday presents."

Clem - Amazon

"What gives Portland Place an edge over ‘celebrity diaries’ lies in its fearless openness, which stems from the teenage Shaw’s assumption that these contents of these entries would never be shared."
Read more on Justin Lewis's blogpost here

"Sarah's diary is witty, searching and achingly truthful and asks some surprisingly important questions about societal convention, love and sex. I devoured it in two sittings."
Andy Priestner (Classic tv - Amazon

Russell Cook, The And Review, October 2016
"I loved this book. I read it three weeks ago and it is still making me think. Sarah Shaw has captured the essence of being a young woman in a vibrant and exciting world. She is an innocent but learning and observing life and becoming part of a new generation. She tells us about shopping, food, families, and coping with awakening feelings. She loved Frank but I only feared for her as she recorded their encounters. Happily she survived none the worse for her romance. Her account of life at the BBC is revealing in both its fascination and its recording of the everyday and the ordinary. This is a book you must read!"
Dorothy P. Hobson - Amazon

"The detail and long-forgotten trivia of time and place that pop up in such a matter-of-fact way throughout these diaries - the BBC sausage rolls... Peter Robinson... trying to avoid certain lunch companions.... the Mid-day Sun made this a wonderfully compelling read for me. But her romance with the (much older) lift man is something else - utterly innocent, definitely strange, and extremely erotic at the same time! - and takes this book to a different level. A fantastic read."
Stephanie Zia (Blackbird - Amazon

"I was lucky enough to read this early on, and was enchanted. Wonderfully well written - smart, sweet and funny. Great to see it getting the attention it deserves - can't recommend highly enough."
Sarah Harrison - Amazon

read more Amazon reviews

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.

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.