Eighty years ago: an emptily symbolic Royal visit, keeping the BBC weak and bloodthirsty rituals in Spain




The state visit to Paris of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth finally took place after having been postponed because of the death of the Queen’s mother. It passed off very successfully with gorgeous ceremony and spectacle all around. It seemed to echo the famous visit of Edward VII, the King’s grandfather, in 1903, which opened the way for the entente cordiale, laying the ghost of centuries of Anglo-French hostility and heralding the full-scale alliance of the two countries against Germany in the First World War. Appearances deceived: Britain and France were no nearer anything approaching a common front against Nazi Germany, still less a military alliance. Beneath the superficial goodwill Neville Chamberlain was terrified that the French alliance with Czechoslovakia might lead to a war with Germany if the Sudeten question were not settled in Germany’s favour. Britain would inevitably be dragged into such a war.

The new Director General of the BBC in succession to Sir John Reith was announced. He was Frederick Ogilvie, the President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast. He was an academic economist who had distinguished himelf by identifying tourism as an important economic force. He had no experience of journalism or broadcasting. He was a poor compromise between elements in the BBC who had hoped for an internal candidate and the heads of the Civil Service who had aimed for a civil servant, thus transforming the BBC into an undisguised arm of the state. In the eyes of the Civil Service chiefs, the BBC was already well-provided with “intellect and culture” and required no more at the top. Under Reith the BBC had practically surrendered its independence so  a weak Director General would be in no hurry to claw it back. A docile BBC was a key component in the media strategy that accompanied appeasement.

Franco’s Nationalist Spain celebrated the second “Africa Day” to commerorate the anniversary of the arrival of the rebel generals from Africa to begin the revolt against the Republican government. It featured lavish parades and bullfights rather as though military victory were already secure. The remaining Republican forces certainly had little prospect of winning but still staged a dogged resistance on the Teruel-Castellon front. On the one hand the Republican troops had little hope of quarter but on the other Franco had little interest in a swift and decisive victory. Killing as many Republicans as possible on the battlefield offered a practical version of the corrida with which he was entertaining the inhabits of the zones under his control.

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