STANLEY TOMLINSON held a wide variety of different posts in the course of a long consular and diplomatic career but few were as bizarre as his wartime work in San Francisco for the British Political Warfare Mission.
'Tommy' Tomlinson had a remarkable physical similarity to Clark Gable. He had joined the Consular Service in 1935 two years after graduating in economics from Nottingham University. He served for six years in consulates in Tokyo, Kobe and Yokohama, becoming fluent in Japanese. He was transferred to Saigon in 1941 but was soon put under house arrest by the advancing Japanese army. Thanks to the Red Cross he was released 10 months later. He returned to London and was assigned to the British Political Warfare Mission in the United States, headed by David Bowes- Lyon, the youngest brother of the then Queen.
Tomlinson became the liaison officer with the San Francisco branch of the Office of War Information, which broadcast American news and propaganda to the Far East. In 1943 Bowes-Lyon negotiated an arrangement which gave his mission six periods of broadcasting time on the OWI West Coast transmitters beamed on Asia. For the preceding year the BBC had been relaying the OWI's New York short-wave broadcasts in European languages over its powerful bank of transmitters beamed on Europe and this offer of time on the Pacific transmitters was a reciprocal gesture.
A small British radio operation was established in San Francisco. Tomlinson was in charge of the commentaries broadcast in Japanese. Others looked after programmes in Cantonese, Mandarin, Burmese, Malay and English. I organised the newsroom. We were unable to get adequate accommodation in the same office block as the OWI and were forced to go to an old building down the street. It was approached by an antiquated lift which was started by pulling a rope sideways.
Tomlinson's Japanese programmes had to be produced under conditions of Heath Robinson complexity. During the war, in the name of security, all Japanese and Japanese-Americans had been expelled from the state of California. So Tomlinson's translators and announcers were working in Denver, Colorado - a thousand miles away - under the supervision of other British consuls who had served in Japan. We wrote the news items and the talk in English and teleprinted them to Denver. When they had been translated, rehearsed and timed a Japanese announcer would read them down a landline from Denver to San Francisco. The landline, which in fact was a music line not used by one of the American networks after 11pm, wandered all over the place through Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and many other points, at each of which an engineer, being paid overtime, was standing by.
Local censorship regulations prevented programmes spoken by Oriental announcers from being broadcast live. Moreover although our men in Denver were all extremely able Japanese linguists the programmes had to go through the OWI Switch Censor, known locally as the 'checker', whose job was to make certain that the spoken translation matched the English text.
The checker in this case was an aged female missionary. By the time Tomlinson's programme was put to bed around 11pm the checker had already gone to bed. By an ingenious piece of engineering the programme, which had already come through all the largest cities of the Rockies and the West Coast, and past the expensive engineers, was also fed to the telephone of the old lady tucked up in her nightie. What would happen if anything went wrong we never dared to enquire.
When we were both leaving Washington in 1953 Tomlinson sardonically said of the San Francisco political warfare operation: 'It was all great fun, but as far as anyone seemed able to discover after the war, almost totally ineffective. But so were a lot of other things done during the war and I cannot believe we did any positive harm.'
In the meantime he had reopened the British Consulate in Manila and later served for a spell in the Foreign Office. He was to go on to spend a year as an instructor at the Imperial Defence College, a useful prelude to his later posts as Deputy Commandant in Berlin and Minister on the UK Permanent Delegation to Nato. He had a further American posting as Consul-General in New York before becoming High Commissioner in Colombo. He was a Deputy Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the last three years of a distinguished professional career split three ways among the Far East, Europe and the United States.
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