Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The mysterious case of the vanishing BBC ...

In November 2017 my diary for 1971 will be published in paperback as "The secret diary of a 1970s secretary".  Observant readers will note that this title has changed from the hardback one by ditching “Portland Place" and the reference to a "BBC" secretary.

It's no particular hardship to me, a rose by any other name and all that, and I'm not entirely sure of the reasons for the change myself, but it raised a few thoughts.

Portland Place: The Langham, All Souls & Broadcasting House

We originally chose “Portland Place” for the title because it was the classiest one that conjured up the London area around Broadcasting House and the Langham, where so many of the events take place.  “1971”, the title of the original self-published version, had just been taken by David Hepworth with his excellent book on rock music, “1971: Never a dull moment”.

But does “Portland Place” make you think “BBC”? It turned out that even older folk didn't always connect the address with the corporation, despite the frequency with which the address used to be mentioned on air. Nor was it memorable enough.  Perhaps my husband was not alone in calling the book on more forgetful days, “Peyton Place”?

More than that, maybe book browsers who licked their lips at the prospect of juicy backstage gossip were disappointed to find themselves reading the ramblings of a junior secretary. 

Perhaps it's just that the idea of the BBC in the seventies has become too toxic.  That makes me cross.  I've gritted my teeth on a number of occasions, answering questions which presupposed that a romance on BBC premises between two lowly members of staff must be considered in the same light as the abuse of children by sociopathic, highly-paid, popular entertainers. Our secret, charming, curious romance could have taken place in any office, then and (possibly) now, and the fact that it developed in a department making sex education programmes for schools is a hilarious irony.  Ours was a consensual relationship. I was not a victim, Frank Browne was not a manipulator and … well work it out for yourself: Who got most out of that relationship?

Above the entrance to Broadcasting House

It's true the BBC, local radio stations and the BBC Alumni Group apart, has been jittery about the book. Characterisations of the bosses in the diary may have offended some of the BBC elite, but given a little thought I am sure they saw that what is unique about the diary is the author's youthful candidness.  Besides, I'd like to think that the diary goes some way to redefine the reputation of the Corporation by offering an authentic account of what it was like to work there in those days;  bureaucratic, friendly, worthy, anxious and occasionally boring.

So, which title do you prefer?  How important are book titles?

Twitter: @Dymvue

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