Obituary: Konrad Syrop

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The Independent Culture
KONRAD SYROP started the BBC's programmes in Polish at the beginning of the Second World War, and subsequently had a long and distinguished career in the World Service.

In 1939 he had been working for two years as the London correspondent of the Polish liberal newspaper Kurjer Polski. Shortly before the outbreak of war, he happened to meet the Press Attache outside the Polish Embassy in Portland Place, who told him that the BBC, further down the road, were planning to start broadcasting in Polish and were looking for suitable staff. Syrop agreed to let his name go forward to the Overseas News Editor, Arthur Barker, son of Sir Ernest and the former diplomatic correspondent of The Times.

Barker was supervising the rapid expansion of BBC broadcasts in foreign languages. He invited Syrop to come to Broadcasting House for a voice test at 11 o'clock on Sunday 3 September. The voice test was delayed because everyone was listening to Neville Chamberlain's declaration of war against Germany. There was a further delay caused by London's first air-raid warning, in fact a false alarm.

Syrop and two others were engaged and on 6 September these newcomers, who had never broadcast before, were given a dry run to familiarise them with the mysteries of BBC studio procedures. The next day the first Polish bulletin went out, preceded by an announcement in English, and an introduction by the Polish ambassador, Count Raczynski.

The BBC's Polish broadcasts, like others in its developing European Service, were essentially news, for the most part translated and announced by Syrop. The broadcasts were also used for sending private messages and "musical codes" for the use of the Polish Resistance. These were played by "Lieutenant Peterkin" of the Polish General Staff, who worked closely with SOE and brought a gramophone record, identified by a code number, to the studio each day. There was also a daily service of quotations from the British press, not in code, edited by Michael Roberts, the husband of Janet Adam Smith.

The bulk of the European Service moved to its present home, Bush House in the Strand, in March 1941. Syrop was steadily promoted. He became a Polish sub-editor and by the end of the war he was a Senior Producer in the European Production Department. He stayed in Bush House, eventually becoming Head of the Central European Service and Chairman of the Bush House Modernisation Working Party. He was appointed OBE in the 1975 New Year's Honours list.

Syrop married Sara Joelson, his Polish fiancee, in 1940, after she managed to escape from Riga. They had been engaged before Syrop came to England and she was granted a wartime entry visa only on condition that she genuinely intended to marry him. They had three daughters and a son, and the family became British in 1946.

Syrop retired from the BBC in 1974, remaining a loyal attender at the functions of the Bushmen, the cricket club founded during the war, which continues to play matches in the summer and to discuss broadcasting issues at convivial dinners during the winter.

Writing remained an important part of his life. In 1957 he published Spring in October: the Polish revolution of 1956. He translated The Elephant and The Ugupu Bird, both by S. Mrozek, and wrote two books about Poland, Poland Between the Hammer and the Anvil (1968) and Poland in Perspective (1982). He also contributed a number of radio documentaries to the BBC: The White Divorce, The Search for Utopia and Marxism for the Marxists. Since 1983 he had been chairman of the Copyright Licensing Agency.

Leonard Miall

Konrad Syrop, broadcaster and writer: born Vienna 9 August 1914; staff, BBC 1939-74, BBC Polish Service 1939-45, European Productions 1945-69, Head of European Productions 1955-69, Programme Editor, General Talks and Features 1969-71, Head of Central European Service 1971-73, Chairman, Bush House Working Party 1973-74; OBE 1975; married 1940 Sara Joelson (one son, three daughters); died London 25 July 1998.