Back when the BBC had just four employees... Fishbourne Literary Festival

British Comedy Award-winning comedian, writer and broadcaster Paul Kerensa promises something rather unusual at this year’s Fishbourne Literary Festival on Saturday, April 13 at St Peter & St Mary Church and Church Hall.
Paul Kerensa (contributed pic)Paul Kerensa (contributed pic)
Paul Kerensa (contributed pic)

He's going to be talking about Aunties & Uncles, a book which no one will be able to buy. He hasn't finished writing it yet – though he will have copies of the book out of which it grew, Hark! The Biography of Christmas.

"In Hark! The Biography of Christmas, I tell the tale of the first BBC Christmas when the BBC had four employees. It included the BBC’s first religious broadcast and the first radio drama, by Phyllis Twigg. That’s all part of the story I’m then unpacking in the historical novel Auntie and Uncles which won’t be available yet! I just started wondering who on earth these four people were and so I read up pretty much everything I could about them

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The general thought for many people is that John Reith began the BBC but actually he joined when it was a couple of months old. We take for granted the fact that the first voice on the BBC was Arthur Burrows who had the idea for broadcast radio four years earlier but was turned down. They couldn't see how it could earn any money and you look at the BBC this week and you realise they are still trying to work it out! But what was so fascinating about the story was that Arthur Burrows innovated genres and styles of radio which we now take for granted. They had programmes to fill so they thought ‘We could do some songs’ and then to test the signals they needed something to read. They started reading the newspapers and they decided to read the front pages first and then the back pages and that's what we still get the news and then the sport.”

The book will be a novel: “I devoured every book I could find about the era and there's so many little side routes to disappear down that are not in the history books. I'm a writer of comedy and I love characters and stories but in lot of the history books you don't get the thought processes behind things and the dilemmas. Arthur Burrows had an almost decade-long feud with one of the other first employees, and their bickering is quite hilarious. Peter Eckersley was a prankster and literally half of the BBC at that point, two of the first four employees, were at each other's throats but I think it all just gives you a sense of the uniqueness of British broadcasting that we have still got, that you have the authority but you also have the satire that undercuts it.”

As for the Christmas book, it will certainly be available at the festival, and as Paul points out the timing isn't bad: “The worst time to read a book about Christmas is Christmas. By the time we get to Christmas we're all sick of Christmas, and before we know it will be August and the mince pies will be in the shops!”

Timetable for the day: doors open from 9am. Cafe and bookshop open. 9.45-10 welcome; 10-10.45 Kate Mosse – Pirates, Secrets and Revenge on the High Seas; 11.15-12 Gordon Griffin – Speaking Volumes; 12.30-13.30 Greg Mosse, Nicola Williams and Lesley Thomson: Getting Away With Murder; 14.30-15.15 Louis de Bernières – A Writer’s Life; and 16.00-16.45 Paul Kerensa – Aunties & Uncles.

Related topics: