Reading Group: ‘Never more close, intimate and cordial’: The ‘Projection of Russia Campaign’ on the BBC Home Service, 1941-45. Introduced by Claire Davison

The Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its spring reading group at 5:30 on Friday 3 March at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org). We will be reading and discussing the role of the BBC in nurturing Anglo-Russian cultural relations after Russia entered the Second World War in 1941.

The discussion will be led by Professor Claire Davison of the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. The readings can be downloaded from the link below.

Claire writes: ‘My presentation will be focusing on Anglo-Russian cultural relations as projected and nurtured by the BBC after July 1941. The explicit purpose of the ‘Projection of Russia Campaign’ was threefold: to improve public perceptions of the new Ally amongst both the British civilian population and the Forces, thereby eclipsing the dominant anti-Bolshevist sentiments cultivated in the 30s; to transmit a positive image of British solidarity to Russian politicians and diplomats; and to boost public morale in Britain, now at its lowest ebb as Nazi positions strengthened across Europe. The overall success of the campaign, and the waves of popular admiration and support for the Russian war effort, are largely acknowledged by historians, but generally omitted or sidelined by school textbooks, the film industry and the public imaginary today.

‘My quest to understand the spectacular success of the campaign, and the equally spectacular feats of collective amnesia in commemorative, cultural and historical accounts today, took me to the Written Archives Centre and the Sound Archives of the BBC, the Radio Times and The Listener. Here I was able to trace rich and sometimes dazzling examples of the campaign’s broad cultural coverage, and of the figures promoting the campaign’s success whether front stage or from the wings. I could also find abundant proofs of the successful reception of the broadcasts, as letters from listeners testified regularly. No wonder that by October 1944, Churchill could confidently assert that ‘British relations with Russia had never been more close, intimate and cordial than at present’– even as plans were being drawn up to curtail the campaign and override its impact at the earliest opportunity.

‘My presentation will be focusing on one of the highpoints of the four-year campaign: ‘Russia Night’, a three-hour long feature on the evening of November 8, 1943, broadcast on the Home Service and (in a slightly shortened and altered version), on the Forces Programme. We’ll be looking at the script for ‘The Spirit of Russia’, a forty-five minute broadcast presented as a ‘panorama of Russian life’: it adopts a pageant-type format, with sequences of narration, dramatic eclogue, poetry recital and musical interlude to conjure up Russia’s vast history, geography and resilient cultural vibrancy.’

Claire Davison is Professor of Modernist Studies at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, where her teaching and research focus on intermedial borders and boundaries of modernism: translation and reception of Russian literature in the 1910s-20s; literary and musical modernism; modernist soundscapes and broadcasting.  She was the Chair of the French Virginia Woolf Society (SEW) from 2008 until 2016. She is the author of Translation as CollaborationVirginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and S. S. Koteliansky (2014) published by Edinburgh University Press, and the co-editor of a number of recent volumes on literary modernism, including the fourth volume of The Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield, in Four Volumes (Edinburgh 2012-6); and The Collected Poetry of Katherine Mansfield (Edinburgh, 2016). Her ongoing research project has involved extensive explorations of radio archives from the war years, in preparation of a monograph on cultural diplomacy and the coverage of trans-European modernism on the BBC Home Service, in the 1930s-40s.

The readings and other material for this Reading Group is available here.