Thursday 19 June 2003
All together now, let's all do the anniversary waltz
'The 50th anniversary of Orwell's death was in 2000. That's why it went unnoticed. It was the millennium year'
Yesterday I tried to explain how we get so many of these anniversary programmes - on the Coronation, George Orwell, the climbing of Everest etc - by bringing you a transcript of a secret meeting of broadcasting heads. This took place when they all got together last year to allocate all the anniversaries and centenaries for 2003. I think it might be instructive to bring you more of this little-known session...
Chairman: Well, I think that's got the Coronation stuff sorted out. Any more offers for the death of Stalin?
Russian delegate: Don't forget the death of Sergei Prokofiev. We shall be doing a lot on that.
Chairman: Oh, yes, and the death of Prokofiev, which also took place in 1953. Poor Sergei. It was a bad time to choose. Radio 3, I expect you will be wanting to do something on that?
Man from Radio 3: Yes, we're always very grateful for a few anniversaries. It's amazing how difficult it is to fill up even a week of Radio 3 without falling back on a few dates and birthdays. We've actually discovered another Russian composer whose centenary falls due in 2003.
Russian: Really? Who is that?
Radio 3: Aram Khachaturian. He was born in 1903.
Russian: Oh, him. He is not so important. He wrote nice film music, but...
Radio 3: Well, we're making him Composer Of The Week in the month of his birth...
Chairman: Ah! Now, this is very important, gentlemen! It is vital that we try to keep these anniversary programmes, not just to the year, but to the month as far as possible.
ITV man: Why is that?
Chairman: Because otherwise we get bunching. Everyone is tempted to put their programmes either in the first month of the year, to jump the gun, or at peak viewing times, to catch the audience. But we must try to space it out. For instance, next year is the centenary of the birth of Malcolm Muggeridge...
Russian delegate: Who?
Chairman: An English broadcaster who went to Moscow in the 1930s and told the world that Stalin's Russia was a failure.
Russian: My goodness. Is he still alive?
Russian: I am not surprised.
Chairman: his birthday is in March, so I'd be grateful if all Muggeridge tributes could be done then. Ditto for Django Reinhardt in May, and Bix Beiderbecke in March...
Russian: Who is Bix Beiderbecke?
Chairman: He is an American jazz trumpeter who died tragically young. He was born in 1903.
Russian: And Django Reinhardt?
Chairman: He is a gypsy jazz guitarist who died tragically young in May 1953.
Russian: Do all jazz musicians die tragically young?
American: If they have any sense.
Chairman: On the other hand, George Orwell is such a major figure that I don't think that we can restrict him to any one month.
Russian: Who is George Orwell?
Chairman: You are joking, surely?
Russian: Yes, I am joking. I know who George Orwell is. George Orwell is the writer of Animal Farm, which comes out in the 1940s. Fifty years later, Communism collapses. This prove the power of satire.
Chairman: Yes, well, that's very droll, but Orwell has proved very prophetic in what he wrote, and in the 50 years since he died...
Radio 3: Not 50 years. He died in 1950. That's 52 years ago. It's his birth centenary that comes up in 2003. The 50th anniversary of his death was in 2000. That's why it went a bit unnoticed. It was the millennium year.
American: Although many of us still think that the millennium should have been in 2001...
Chairman: Oh, for heaven's sake! Don't let's open that can of worms again! So George Orwell was born 100 years ago...
BBC 1 man: And didn't leave a single foot of film behind, and no record of his voice.
Radio 3: Same is true of Django Reinhardt. A couple of seconds of film, without sound. But no speaking at all. Unless you count what he said on his records.
Chairman: What did he say on his records?
Radio 3: Well, you can hear him saying "Yeah!" Also, "One more time!" But I think that's all.
Chairman: Gentlemen, you all have a hard time ahead of you. Go forth and memorialise. I wish you luck. We meet again this time next year.
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