Monday, November 20, 2017

BBC language controversy, Christmas 1933

On Christmas Day in 1933, the BBC broadcast a programme to the nation, made up of items from its various regions. The Northern Ireland segment was in Ulster dialect, and had an item within it called ‘The Wee Wean o Bathleamm’. When the Belfast newspapers hit the streets on December 27th there was a flood of letters, which are fascinating to read from today’s perspective. Many had their addresses printed alongside, and these show two broad reactions:

1) the urban and suburban middle class reaction was one of equal outrage and cringe.
2) the rural working class reaction was that the dialect didn't sound authentic enough 

It seems that it was a hybrid of Hiberno-English and Ulster-Scots, further interpreted through the hand of a scriptwriter, and so perhaps akin to the writings of WF Marshall. Some of the complaints were also that it was ‘too Irish’. The letters pages raged back and forth until early January, when the editors decided to publish no more. A few weeks later, Mr George Leslie Marshall, the BBC Belfast Station Director, issued a statement defending the decision to broadcast Ulster dialect to the rest of the world. The clipping below is from the Northern Whig on 10 January 1934, via the excellent British Newspaper Archive.

It just goes to show that language/dialect along with demographics and broadcasting has always been a difficult arena!

GL MArshall