Obituary: David Graham

DAVID GRAHAM was instigator of the famous "King and Country" pacifist debate at the Oxford Union and a leading multilingual broadcaster in the BBC's External Services.

He reacted vigorously against an orthodox Anglo-Indian upbringing. His father, Sir Lancelot Graham, in the Indian Civil Service, became the first Governor of Sind, long after Sir Charles Napier had coined his "Peccavi" joke. The young David went to Rugby and then to Germany, where he learnt the language thoroughly, and became fascinated by the death struggles of the Weimar Republic. From there he went up to Balliol to read Greats and to take an active part in Union debates.

Early in 1933 Graham, by then the Librarian of the Union, suggested a controversial motion to the President, Frank Hardie, "That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country". It was debated on 9 February, proposed by C.E.M. Joad with Graham as his supporter, and opposed by Quintin Hogg, a former President. The motion was approved by 275 votes to 173. There was no particular fuss at the time but three days later, following an outraged comment in The Daily Telegraph, a group of college hearties, with some Fascist support, invaded the Union and tore from the minute book the page recording the debate. Graham was able to reconstruct the original version from his memory.

Graham stood twice for the Presidency of the Union but was defeated, first by Anthony Greenwood, then by Michael Foot. After some years spent travelling and schoolmastering, he joined the BBC's staff reserve in 1938 and was assigned to the Home Talks department. A year later, on 23 August 1939, Molotov and Ribbentrop signed their Non-Aggression Pact, making war inevitable.

Graham was at a loose end and he kindly volunteered to help Maurice Latey and me. We were desperately overworked running the small German News Talks section. Graham and Latey then prepared a brilliant feature using recordings to debunk the official statements of the Nazis and the Communists. We showed it to Gerry (later Sir George) Young, the man in the Foreign Office News Department whom we regularly consulted. Young thought it splendid, but our boss in the BBC, J.B. (later Sir Beresford) Clark, considered it wrong to pillory foreign statesmen with whom we were not at war. So it was shelved.

War was declared on 3 September. I had for some days had a script locked in my desk, a message to the German people from the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, to be broadcast in the event of a declaration of war. It had already been translated into German, and carefully checked. So that was obviously to be our news talk for this night. I went through Chamberlain's message with the announcer and Graham, Latey and I went out to dinner.

As an act of bravado, we chose Schmidt's German Restaurant in Charlotte Street. We figured that the Nazi sympathisers who regularly dined there would have been picked up by the police, and that anyway this war wasn't going to be like the last one, when it was considered unpatriotic to own a dachshund or to listen to German music.

When we returned to Broadcasting House there was all hell to pay. What did we mean by all three going out to dinner, leaving no one in charge of the German News Talks? It transpired that with the outbreak of war a new secret organisation, Electra House, had come into being, to take charge of propaganda to Germany. One of its members was Gerry Young, seconded from the Foreign Office, and he was demanding that Graham and Latey's feature programme, which had been turned down by J.B. Clark, should be broadcast in preference to the message from the Prime Minister. Nobody knew where to find it. We felt we were lucky not to be sent to the Tower.

Graham became a regular member of the German News Talks Department, which soon moved to new headquarters in Bush House. As Robert Graham (David during the war was thought to be too Jewish), he gave highly personal and idiosyncratic talks under the title Meine Meinung.

There was considerable tension between the BBC's German Service and Electra House, based at the Duke of Bedford's country house in Woburn. It was suggested that relations might be improved if the two were to meet informally, over a cricket match. And so Graham and I, neither of us great cricketers, happened to become founder members of the Bushmen, a cricket club in the summer, in the winter a dining club which discusses broadcasting issues. We had a couple of matches at Woburn, at one of which Graham played for the Electra House team, who were a man short. He claimed to have dismissed Hugh Carleton Greene.

In the post-war Germany of Allied occupation and the emerging Cold War, Graham's reporting and commentary could get him into trouble with all sides. He was fearless in his denunciation of Stalinism, but he could be equally hard on misbehaviour by the West. He discovered that the widow of the 4711 Echt Kolnischer Wasser empire was being bullied by the authorities in the British occupation zone. They wanted her to disclose the secret formula for Eau de Cologne to benefit the British cosmetic industry. Graham exposed them in the New Statesman, to the annoyance of the Foreign Office.

At the end of the war Graham married Rosemary Harris, who had been teaching in India. They had a daughter and two sons, one of whom is now the Secretary of the BBC. Graham himself was sent by the BBC back to India in 1947 to cover "the peaceful and orderly transfer of power". He and the poet Louis MacNeice, then a features producer, soon realised that their assignment was being overtaken by the disintegration of British India into communal violence on a massive scale. Instead of features, Graham filed relentlessly graphic accounts of the massacres.

In Bush House Graham moved to become, first, the Russian Programme Organiser, and then Assistant Head of the East European Service. He also spent a period with the Arabic Service before later returning to serve his old colleague Maurice Latey as a Central Research Organiser. By then I had been sent to Washington, and had lost direct contact with this offbeat, cantankerous, brilliant character.

Leonard Miall

David Maurice Graham, broadcaster: born Bombay 16 August 1911; staff, BBC External Services 1939-71; married 1945 Rosemary Harris (died 1988; two sons, one daughter); died London 12 August 1999.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor