Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Music of the War Years

The late, great Glenn Miller.

In conjunction with my novel research, I now have ten WWII Air Corps vets acting as technical advisors (welcome aboard, Ben). A recent question sent out to my panel asked for input on what were the big songs of 1943 that the flyboys of the Air Corps listened to and enjoyed.

Here are the top six, in no particular order:

1. String of Pearls
2. Moonlight Serenade
3. Tuxedo Junction
4. Serenade in Blue
5. White Cliffs of Dover
6. He Wore A Pair of Silver Wings
On Air Corps veteran Marshall Stelzriede's excellent website, there is a copy of an article from the New York Times published in 1985 that suggests the theory that Miller's plane was downed accidentally by RAF bombers. The link is http://www.stelzriede.com/ms/html/mshwma22.htm. The link also has interesting audio clips, such as Miller speaking to German soldiers in 1944 and news reports of his death.

Of course, this isn't news to most WWII aviation people, but it's still very interesting.


Richard Havers said...

Hi Rob this is from my forthcoming book on the BBC.

With so many American military personnel in Europe a radio station dedicated to their needs was a must. The American Forces Radio Service had begun broadcasting in 1942 but a move to Europe did not take place until, somewhat appropriately 5.45 p.m. on 4 July 1943 when Corporal Syl Binkin became the first man to be heard on the newly renamed American Forces Network. The new service used studio facilities and technical support from the BBC, with initially around five hours of programming every day, along with news bulletins provided by the BBC. AFN could be heard across the whole of the UK much to the delight of the American service personnel who were probably bemused by the humour of the BBC’s Forces Programme, as well as confused by some of the sports commentaries such as The Army v Navy cricket match!

There were some tensions between the BBC and the AFN, with the Corporation feeling perhaps strangely under threat as the national broadcaster. Given that the broadcasts went out on the medium wave there was nothing stopping anyone in Britain listening to the AFN shows – whether they were a soldier or a civilian. Because of the popularity of the American Big Bands and their singers, like Frank Sinatra and Ray Eberly, it was none too surprising that British people tuned in. With the large numbers of Black G.Is some of their favourite artists were introduced to the British audiences. Nat King Cole, and from 1944 onwards the great Louis Jordan were just two who found an audience in Britain in part because of the AFN.

The brilliant Louis Jordan

The BBC did in fact make a rod, or perhaps a baton, for its own back in that they were not keen to broadcast American Big Bands, in particular the most famous, and perhaps the best of them all, Major Glenn Miller and the American Band of the AEF. In October 1944 the BBC decided that Glenn Miller’s music was “unsuitable for the British public.” It sparked a furious row with many of the biggest stars in British music, including the bandleaders, Harry Roy, Geraldo, Victor Sylvester, and Jack Hylton all demanding that the BBC should feature Miller’s band.

Richard Havers said...

This is from the Melody Maker in May 1941.

Headline of artcle...
Nazi Airmen Listen To Entertainment Provided By British Air Force Bands!

Every afternoon at 4 p.m., on 373 metres, a new form of blitzkrieg descends on Germany. But it's not the RAF, which delivers it this time, only the
best dance orchestras in Britain, presented with the acme of showmanship.

Wednesdays are the high spot. For then the programme is specially presented for the entertainment of the German Luftwaffe and on several occasions’ bands composed of RAF
players have actually broadcast to their German counterparts! A week ago an RAF band with some famous players included in the personnel aired on this programme, and the show they gave has already resulted in a surprisingly large number of letters from listeners, all over the world-and some of them from Germany

For the daily airings Geraldo has become almost the house band, although Ambrose, Mantovani and Jack Payne have already broadcast in the series. On Wednesdays it, is the BBC policy to include as many of the RAF combinations as possible,

The entertainment angle in these programmes is definitely swing, with only a small proportion of sweet tunes thrown in to make up the balance. The success of the Wednesday afternoons has caused the BBC seriously to consider two special Luftwaffe airings each week, and a neutral journalist who recently arrived in this country after touring Germany and Occupied France is said to
have told the officials of the Corporation that he actually heard the programme being received in the officers' mess at a German aerodrome!

Too much credit has been given to Dr. Joe Goebbels for his propaganda. We, for our
part, tip our hats to the BBC for its realisation of the persuasive powers of really good dance music put over with imagination and skill for the cause of Britain.

r morris said...

Great info, Richard. I may have to create another story using your info and crediting you.