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Music, Poetry, Propaganda

Constructing French Cultural Soundscapes at the BBC during the Second World War

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Claire Launchbury

Offering new perspectives on the role of broadcasting in the construction of cultural memory, this book analyses selected instances in relation to questions of French identity at the BBC during the Second World War. The influence of policy and ideology on the musical and the poetic is addressed by drawing on theoretical frameworks of the archive, memory, trauma and testimony. Case studies investigate cultural memories constructed through three contrasting soundscapes. The first focuses on the translation of ‘Frenchness’ to the BBC’s domestic audiences; the second examines the use of slogans on the margins of propaganda broadcasts. In the third, the implications of the marriage of poetry and music in the BBC’s 1945 premier of Francis Poulenc’s cantata setting of resistance poems by the surrealist poet Paul Éluard in Figure humaine are assessed. Concentrating on the role of the archive as both narrative source and theoretical frame, this study offers a new approach to the understanding of soundscapes and demonstrates the processes involved in the creation of sonic cultural memory in the context of global conflict.

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Chapter 3 - Translating Cultural Memory in Features and ‘French Night’ at the BBC 55

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Chapter 3 Translating Cultural Memory in Features and ‘French Night’ at the BBC If through acts of remembrance – particularly through the transmission of texts (literary, visual and musical) – shared frames of reference are con- structed, then the job of the BBC in its invention of Frenchness was simul- taneously to acknowledge those frames and then make them understandable to a dif ferent and sometimes sceptical listenership. In this chapter I examine how the presentation of France was manipulated by the construction of a sense of Frenchness in broadcasts to the BBC’s domestic listeners with an eye, nevertheless on the eavesdropping audiences in occupied Europe.1 This is contextualised by considering the presence of French musical culture in London more generally since the presence of the Free French had brought a strong political aspect to the British capital and indeed to aspects of its music-making. Periodical publications in French such as La France libre founded by André Labarthe and the dissemination of resistance poetry – both in French and English – formed part of a complex of cultural activity in which French cultural memory was being constructed outre-Manche. It was a cultural memory that in its displaced translation became in Rigney’s terms, doubly vicarious.2 It is this mediated process of the translation, and displacement of cultural memory that is central to my analysis here. By concentrating on the BBC’s own presentation, conception and programme making associated with France I focus specifically on the creation of radio 1 BBC WAC E2/188/1 Foreign General/European Intelligence Papers/Studies...

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