Why the BBC must open its archives in its 100th anniversary year


Those who did know about Khan would still have been swept away by the delicious incidental details, such as how female undercover wireless operators, forced to lug about suitcase-sized radios, would hide them in prams. I laughed aloud hearing the notes squabbling spymasters scribbled in the margins of Khan’s final training report. “Not overburdened with brains,” wrote one. “Nonsense!” snapped back another. 

Khan’s parents, meanwhile, sound almost as remarkable as their daughter. A director and writer who married against their parents’ wishes, in Paris they mingled with Debussy and Sarah Bernhardt; in London, with Gandhi and Tagore. They moved to Moscow, but fled amid the first stirrings of revolution, escaping the country safely thanks to Tolstoy, who lent them a sled. 

In this centenary year, I’d like to offer the BBC just one new year’s resolution: unlock the drama archive. Its treasury of audio drama is unique in the English-speaking world. Give us the great radio plays of Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard, of Dylan Thomas and Harold Pinter, of Caryl Churchill and Louis MacNeice. Put them all on BBC Sounds, and air one a week on Radio 3, which would also give the channel a better balance of words and music. Achieving this would undoubtedly involve jumping through a few admin and budgetary hoops, but it would be the 100th birthday present Auntie and her listeners deserve.


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