Revealing HG Wells archive letters made available

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The Independent Culture

As one of the most prominent writers of his day, H G Wells's regular BBC addresses captivated the nation. But private letters, released for the first time, reveal how the novelist – regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction – had to be repeatedly cajoled into entering the broadcasting studio.

At one stage Wells, whose novels included The War Of The Worlds and The Time Machine, was offered a "wireless" by the BBC to familiarise himself, but he declined.

The correspondence is revealed in a new set of documents in the online BBC Archive. Wells was already a noted public figure by the time he turned to broadcasting and was respected for his views on social and political affairs.

In one letter from June 1929, the BBC's "Director of Talks" Hilda Matheson – a former MI5 worker – asks in the latest of many attempts to acquire his services: "Is there any chance that you would be willing to go on the air, as they say in America, on 5 or 10 July for half an hour?

"It is most awfully important just now, at this moment, that you should say yes, because the stars in their courses are favourable and there is a breath of greater freedom in the wind. I would like to see you about it if I might? Could I come and see you soon and discuss subjects and the rest?

"It is fun to address 12 million or so British Islanders and some dozens of millions of Europeans in one breath – I do assure you it is. You will be bound to enjoy the full possibilities of broadcasting sooner or later – only why not sooner?"

Another letter sent five days later thanks him for agreeing to talk about world peace, a speech based on Wells's address to the German government, at the Reichstag in April of that year.

Ms Matheson writes that the talk should be "constructive rather than destructive" and adds: "We are supposed to avoid the controversial handling of religious, industrial or political subjects except in discussions or debates."

The correspondence also includes a plea by Ms Matheson to Dame Rachel Crowdy, asking her to dine with Wells at the Savoy Grill prior to the broadcast to put him at his ease.