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Review comments for Stephen Potter at the BBC

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‘Stephen Potter's Gamesmanship was published in 1947, to public delight but to the displeasure of the BBC, who paid his salary but thought he should have asked permission to write it. Throughout the Second World War he had been the ideas man of the Corporation Features Department, in which specialized techniques of radio were developed and refined. His real mission, as he saw it, was to keep literature and poetry alive in dark times, but he lent a hand to morale-raising programmes. Most popular were his "How to..." programmes with Joyce Grenfell; these began as instructional but soon waxed satirical. Julian Potter's well-chosen extracts from his father's diaries are a welcome reminder that there was more to wartime radio than Handley's ITMA and The Brains Trust. He is unlucky in that, while printed ephemera have thei/r Colindale storehouse, almost all those "heyday" programmes vanished without record.’ E.S.Turner, Times Literary Supplement, August 6 2004

‘Now,......... hardley anything of all this creativity remains. On his last day at the BBC, 1947, Potter records in his diary: No regrets at leaving. Simply a profound depression. Why? Every available drop of my smallish productivity went into the job for years - years. Is it really all dropped like an old packing-case, full of dirty old bits of paper, to the bottom of the sea - to leave nothing for the ebb-tide? So, it might have been if his son, 50 years later, had not put together this necessarily piecemeal portrait of an extraordinary outpouring of talent and energy, well worth recording, as we wish more of it had been - on vinyl.’ P. J. Kavanagh, When Auntie was young and carefree, The Spectator

‘For oldies like me, who remember the golden age of radio, Julian Potter vividly evokes the achievements of his outstandingly talented father, with collaborators such as Joyce Grenfell, in the famed BBC Features Department of the 1940s. For younger generations, keen to research and understand that halcyon era of broadcasting, this is a finely researched and lavishly informative handbook about the days when radio was king, and making programmes meant more than pointing microphones at celebrities.’ Humphrey Carpenter

‘Everybody remembers or has heard of the international reputation that the BBC had during World War II for news, but not many remember the extraordinarily high standards it maintained where the arts, education and entertainment were concerned…. Stephen Potter’s contribution in all three is of historical interest…. He was largely responsible for using radio as a new art form with an astonishingly wide spectrum of subject matter, generically known as ‘Feature Programmes’…. Julian Potter has contrived a fascinating account of his father’s work and unique contribution to radio; just homage to an artist whose innovative brilliance has not until now been given its due.’ Elizabeth Jane Howard

‘It is a hymn of praise to the craftsmen and women who created, in Britain, an art form which remains to this day almost uniquely ours: the well-constructed radio feature. Long may we remember the brilliance of pioneers and craftsmen like Stephen Potter. His son, in this book, does him proud.’ Libby Purves

About the reviewers

Before writing his well-known biographies (including his prize-winning Benjamin Britten), Humphrey Carpenter worked for seven years within the BBC. He is the author of The Envy of the World, the definitive history of the Third Programme and Radio 3, and is still to be heard on that channel.

Elizabeth Jane Howard, the novelist, is author of The Cazalet Chronicle, which has recently been televised.

Libby Purves has presented Radio 4's Midweek programme since 1983, was the youngest ever presenter on the Today programme, and is the author of Radio: a true love story.

See more about Stephen Potter at the BBC.

About the author

Julian Potter, Stephen Potter’s son, grew up during the events described in this book and met many of the people in it. Sixty years on, he acquired photostats of his father’s diaries from the University of Texas and saw that there was much new to be told about the BBC in the war years. Supplementing the diaries with his own research, largely at the BBC archives at Caversham (where many wartime files have only recently been released), he has produced this account of how Features were written and produced during Stephen Potter’s ten years at the BBC.