The Book Of Bush Tales Is Nearly Ready – Hamid Ismailov

BBC World Service is in the process of moving from its historic headquarters, Bush House, to New Broadcasting House.

Many services have already moved, others will eventually join them and by the end of this summer Bush House as a broadcasting centre will be closed.

As you may remember, to celebrate its history, I announced a project for a book – Bush House Tales. Now the book is nearly ready; the anecdotes have been collected, classified, edited, and the cover has been drafted.

Just to give a taster of the book, here are some stories from the language services:

When I joined the BBC there was a Pashto service program called The World of Youth. For it, we were supposed to either translate some of the packages about new discoveries or interview some Afghans inside Afghanistan or outside.

And I proposed to my editor that I could write for children – that was something I thought was lacking, something for five or six-year-olds.

And then a colleague suggested that I use a special machine which would allow me to change my voice to create a character. My character was a rabbit. I would talk to her and read a story, and then she would interrupt me, asking all sorts of silly questions, the kind of questions children usually ask.

My daughter was five at that time, so I used to read my stories to her and then put her questions into the rabbit’s mouth. I wrote a story about a little girl who lost her mother and she stopped washing her face and brushing her hair. Then she sees her mother in her dream and the mother says, well, I’m still there, I’m still watching you. When she wakes up and starts brushing her hair, it’s a step in the right direction.

My colleague went to Kabul. He came back and he said, “Najiba, this big Taliban commander came to me and whispered in my ear, ‘Who is this rabbit? Is that a little girl? How old is she?’” I had to change my accent then – that was one way to convince people that it was not me. – Najiba Kasraee from the Pashto Service

One morning when I came to the office, my secretary told me that there was a call for me from Scotland Yard and the caller, Mr Ewing, would like me to ring him back. I became nervous and wondered what could be wrong. I tried to remember my movements on previous days, then I rang the chap to arrange a meeting, and he came to see me.

Inspector Ewing wanted to know about the telegram sent to Hyderabad which said: “Broadcasting next week, please listen on 12, 18, 21 and 23.” This, the inspector said, sounded like a code. I explained that it was quite simple; when students record a message, you can’t give them the exact date of a broadcast, so we give them a number of possible dates when their message would be included in the programme.

Apparently, this student wanted his family to listen to his message on all those days.
This satisfied the inspector. He then sat there chatting, enquiring about my various colleagues who were not there at the time. I was rather surprised and asked him how on earth he knew them. He said that it was his job to keep an eye on all the Indians, who they were, what they did and where they got their money from. – Iqbal Bahadu Sadeen formerly worked for the Hindi Service.

The Russian Service had a dedicated language supervisor who was public enemy number one. One day several of his colleagues got together and presented him with a piece of paper. It was a master copy, or rather, it was a master sheet produced by the duplicating system we had then, which just looked like a typed script. Anyway, there was this sheet labelled “Insert for literary magazine” and he processed it in the usual way, leaving no sentence unturned. When his colleagues saw it they said, “Didn’t you know that it’s Chekhov?” To which he replied, “Anton Pavlovich made mistakes too, you know.” – Milada Haigh tells the story from the Russian service.

But Bush House as well as the book about it is not all about the language services. Here’s another tale from Lynne Plummer:

I was a studio manager at Bush for seven years from 1961.  There was a rumour that a ghost walked at night on the ground floor of the South East wing. I was doing the dawn chorus, as the series of back-to-back 15-minute transmissions was known to us. While the man was reading the news in front of me in the studio, the main door was opened and steps vibrated down the little passage beside the cubicle and towards the studio…  I leapt to the cubicle door to protect my presenter, but although the footsteps were clearly audible there was nobody there. Spooky? Definitely!

*Reproduced by the kind courtesy of the BBC World Service.

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