Revealed - BBC Booked Julie
Andrews For Doomsday
by Nicholas Hellen
Media Correspondent
The national anthem was deemed too solemn, the disco hit Stayin' Alive rejected for being too frivolous. BBC executives preferred the music of Julie Andrews when they chose programmes to be aired if Britain came under nuclear attack.
The BBC, it has emerged, distributed a supply of comedy, drama and religious programmes to an underground network of radio stations intended to maintain morale while the survivors of a nuclear blast sheltered in their cellars. The cache, packed in black boxes, included The Sound of Music, Andrews's 1965 hit.
The secret schedule was intended to be broadcast for up to 100 days of nuclear conflict. The radio stations, equipped with iron rations, tennis tables and bunk beds, were maintained until 1993.
Peter Donaldson, Radio 4's chief announcer, was designated the official "voice of doom". He recorded a warning of impending nuclear attack, which was to be broadcast on all television and radio stations. It was accompanied by "Dalek" music and strong pulses of light.
The 20 underground stations were controlled from Wood Norton, a mansion near Evesham, not far from Worcester. Staff, drawn from BBC local radio, were vetted by Brigadier Ronald Stoneham, who reported to the Cabinet Office from his base at BBC Broadcasting House.
Producers or presenters who might pose a security risk were discreetly ruled out by Stoneham and his colleagues placing Christmas tree symbols in their personnel files. Others turned down the opportunity of serving the nation because they were not allowed to take their families with them. One insider said: "I can't blame them for deciding there were better ways to go than to sit in a bunker with a group of local radio engineers."
Jim Black, a former BBC executive, assembled a schedule of classic radio comedy, including Round the Horn, Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, and Hancock's Half Hour. Drama was culled from The Afternoon Play and Thirty Minute Theatre.
This weekend Black admitted that some BBC managers refused to take the project seriously. "We had to run occasional trials to create a sense of realism," he said.
Dame Vera Lynne said this weekend that she was "delighted" that her version of We'll Meet Again, a patriotic anthem in the second world war, had been selected for the cold war. "For this to be chosen ahead of all the pop songs that went in between shows that in conflict, a certain character is required."