FRASCATi's WAS my favourite restaurant in war-time London. Its gilded Edwardian cherubs, its plush chairs and elderly waiters held a nostalgic echo of my Paris eating places. I could be sure of meeting no one there who knew me, and there was ample space between the tables so that my guests and I could talk without being overheard. But the most compelling attraction of all was that the bins in Frascati's cellars held a collection of clarets and champagnes which was unrivalled in the London of 1942- Many of my most successful `black' ventures were born there under the inspiration of a Moet Chandon 1819- (I have an almost necrolatrous passion for old champagne)-and a superb Ausone 1923.
No suggestion, however, was more fruitful or more important than that which Donald McLachlan put to me at a Frascati lunch just before Christmas 1942. For that meal with Donald saw the conception of the counterfeit radios Deutscher Kurzwellensender Atlantik and Soldatensender Calais.* Camille, our Ni~ois waiter, had just made his customary promise of gastronomic prestidigitation: " I have sornetings upper ma sleeve for you, gentlemenmoshroomps on toast." Donald had politely savoured the aged Moet Chandon, as though he shared my admiration for it. And now we were ready for business.
" I have a very important proposal for you from the Admiralty," Donald began in his methodical way. "You know we are now conducting a knockout offensive against the Uboats. We have a whole arsenal of new weapons for detecting and destroying them, which will make going to sea in a U-boat `German Shortwave Radio Atlantic' and `Soldiers Radio Calais'. about as attractive as a cruise in a coffin. It may well be that we shall cause the first real crack in the morale of a German fighting service. And if the U-boatmen crack it is bound to spread to other arms. Do you agree?"
Donald had a trick of asking people whether they agreed, when he knew they most certainly did. I remembered only too well the Kiel mutiny of the Germany Navy in the previous war, and how it spread its infection all over the country.
" Well, in view of all this, the Admiralty planners are anxious to step up our Psychological Warfare attack on the German navy and the U-boat crews in particular. The main instrument of that attack should, in their view, be not the B.B.C. but `Black'. What do you think of reinforcing Gustav Siegfried with a new station specially beamed at the U-boats? How about a `black' news bulletin?"
Donald, of course, knew that a `black' news bulletin mixing truth and calculated fiction had for long been my dream-if only to try out my ideas for a new and livelier style of news writing and news selection. I longed to show the B.B.C. the difference between the stodgy news presentation of the oldfashioned journalism to which the B.B.C. bowed down, and the sharp and vivid style of my side of Fleet Street which I hoped to adapt to radio. I wanted to demonstrate the mass appeal of the significant `human story', until now absent from the air, the technique of `personalising' the news. But how could it be done?
I reminded Donald how I had tried to launch a `black' news bulletin with a station called `Wehrmachtsender Nord'. It was a short lived venture. Very soon I had come to the conclusion that it did not sound right, because, like all `black' transmissions at that time, it had to be pre-recorded. Radio news to be news, and sound like news, I had discovered then, must be broadcast live. It must be up to the minute, changing from bulletin to bulletin.
But unfortunately our `black' studios could not handle live broadcasts. And after a few weeks of experimentation I had abandoned the recorded `Wehrmachtsender Nord'. " If we could get facilities for a live broadcast then I am all for it," I said. "We could have a counterfeit Forces Programme ostensibly for the benefit of U-boat crews and the troops in France. It could model itself on those Forces Stations the Germans have set up in Belgrade and Lvov. But how on earth are we to get the facilities for live transmissions ? Besides they'll turn live broadcasts down on security grounds."
" Don't forget you have the Admiralty behind you," said Donald. "A word from Charles Lambe to Dallas Brooks* will work wonders. And as for security, surely all you need is a switch censor ?"* * I was still unconvinced because of the lack of a studio. And then I suddenly had an idea. My department had recently put up a huge 600 kilowatt medium wave transmitter at Crowborough, and had built studios for it at Milton Bryan near Woburn.
The transmitter had been designed and built for the purposes of intruding on enemy frequencies. It was intended to drown the voice of the enemy station, and impose its own voice on it by superior strength. But for the time being it had been lent to reinforce the B. B.C. No one was using the studios at Milton Bryan, why should we not be allowed to use them? The other regions would be sure to protest, but with the help of the Admiralty, who knows, maybe we might be awarded the necessary priority. Donald and I left Frascati's in a state of high elation-not exclusively due to the Moet Chandon-determined to fight for the right to broadcast live, an unheard of innovation for `Black'.
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Many of my most successful `black' ventures were born there under
the inspiration of a Moet Chandon 1819- (I have an almost necrolatrous
passion for old champagne)-and a superb Ausone 1923.