Murrow at CBS, Europe, 1935/37-1946

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Transporting The Listener - Writing for the Voice

Murrow's broadcasts - their language, content, and style -- were a tribute to his speech instruction at State College of Washington and his intensive training by professor Ida Lou Anderson. A friend who was reading to Ms. Anderson, whose eyesight was waning, recalled:

Cover of the book 'Ida Lou Anderson - A Memorial,' 1941"Frequently, as I was reading to Ida Lou on Sunday afternoons, I would notice her eye on the clock. I knew that was always a sign that it was approaching the hour when Ed Murrow's voice would come in over her radio with his familiar announcement, "This - is London." From then on, no one was allowed to speak or even move in Ida Lou's dark room; with her eyes closed she became a bundle of concentration as every muscle tensed to listen more intently to each inflection, each tone of the voice of her beloved friend and pupil. Generally her comments at the end of his broadcast would be full of price and nothing but praise, but one in a while she would find some criticism of Mr. Murrow's broadcast and immediately she would want to write him her thought or suggestion. These comments were always valued by Ed Murrow and his replies were filled with gratefulness for her level judgment and her keen comments. She told me one afternoon that Mr. Murrow had urged her to cable him in London a brief message or comment at his expense every week, and that he would include it in his broadcast back to the United States. But Ida Lou, with her great lack of any desire for publicity, wrote her ideas to Mr. Murrow - for his personal use..."
Ida Lou Anderson, A Memorial, 1941, p.15-16.

 

It was Anderson who advised Murrow on how to speak his famous phrase 'This is London;' an intonation that many broadcasters still attempt to copy to this day. It was R. T. Clarke, BBC's senior news editor and former military historian and classics scholar, who instructed Murrow on how to adjust a script to the peculiarities of radio broadcasts. Clarke was responsible for BBC news to be 'written for the voice.' BBC scripts were dictated to typists so as to be more informal, direct, and leaner in presentation.4 1943 telegram regarding Edward R. Murrow's Sunday commercial slotMurrow adopted this technique that also took care of his spelling difficulties, a weakness that Murrow thought might have been dyslexia. Guided by Clarke's learned discussions of historical events, Murrow began to incorporate larger and historical contexts into his stories. And adapting how the queen and Londoners wished each other 'So long and good luck' during the Blitz of London, turned into Murrow's 'Good Night and Good Luck' signature line of later years.

Murrow's scripts demonstrate what transnational broadcasts were supposed to achieve in his opinion: to transpose the listener to a new location or situation, and to provide analysis and facts for them to make up their minds. A good listener, Murrow encouraged people from all walks of life to talk to him without being self-conscious, and then quoted these soldiers, cab drivers, women, children, or workers. He expertly wove everyday details such as sounds, laughter, smells, change in dress code, or individual worries and woes into his political and economic analyses and put them on the air. He and other correspondents chafed at the rigorously adhered to objectivity standards of American broadcasting, which tended to veer into dangerous appeasement or neutrality on issues where there appeared to be no neutral side. Murrow's solution was to use the common British citizen and his views as an anonymous aggregate to express his own personal analysis and proposals. And Murrow was graceful in acknowledging on the air when he did not know something or when he was speculating so that listeners realized that others besides Murrow were frequently also only speculating or did not know.

London Broadcasts

London Blackout
Talking for the first time about blackouts in London, Murrow stated: “I don't know how you feel about the people who smoke cigarettes, but I like them, particularly at night in London. That small dull, red glow is a very welcome sight. It prevents collisions, makes it unnecessary to heave to, until you locate the exact position of those vague voices in the darkness. One night several years ago I walked bang into a cow, and since then I've had a desire for man and beast to carry running lights on dark nights. They can't do that in London these nights, but the cigarettes are a good substitute.”



London without Children
He reported on the evacuation of London in 1939, of course, mentioned developments in official opinions in London regarding the war, and then went on. "I neglected to tell you one thing about London. As a matter of fact, this particular aspect of the war didn't hit me with full force until this afternoon -- Saturday afternoon over here. It's dull in London now that the children are gone. For six days I've not heard a child's voice. And that's a strange feeling. No youngster shouting their way home from school. And that's the way it is in most of Europe's big cities now. One needs the eloquence of the ancients to convey the full meaning of it.
Edward R. Murrow's passport, World War Two
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There just aren't any more children."



Women's Wear and London at Night
Most of his reports concern official statements, political developments, and news of the war, but he would also include tidbits about daily life, e.g. that tailor-shop windows were now filled with uniforms and new women's wear, “a sort of coverall arrangement with zippers and a hood – one piece affairs, easy to put on. They are to be worn when the sirens sound. So they are called appropriately enough siren suits.” He talked about how the streets and monuments looked different under a state of war noting that London on a wet Sunday afternoon in wartime resembled London on a wet Sunday afternoon in peace time. “The real changes come at night to London. Then it is a city of sound, generally slow, cautious sound – what it really looks like at night I can't tell you because I never have been able to see more of it than has been disclosed by the beams of my puny flashlight.”



Conversation - A Casualty of War
He spoke about what people read, what people invented now that the war had started. Murrow noted that, contrary to dear British custom, people did not talk about weather any longer since public weather information had become a censored item. And ..."that's the sort of thing that doesn't crop up in the course of man-made conversation in London. Something has happened to conversation in London. There isn't much of it. You meet a friend, exchange guesses about the latest diplomatic move, inquire about a mutual friend who has been called up, and then fall silent. Photograph of Edward R. Murrow standing next to a taxi cab in London, 1938-1940Nothing seems important, not even the weather. ... Wit, happiness, manners, and conversation sink gradually. Conservation is about to become a casualty."



No Poet, No Popular Song, No Hate
On December 11, 1939, Murrow observed: “Sometimes, while reading long articles, listening to speeches, asking questions of so-called experts, one gets the strange feeling that perhaps no one really understands at all – that the machinery is out of control, that we are all passengers on an express train traveling at high speed through a dark tunnel toward an unknown destiny. We sit and talk as convincingly as we can, speaking words someone else has used. The suspicion recurs that the train may have no engineer, no one who can handle it – no one who can bring us to a standstill. Maybe that's why more people seem to be reading their Bibles these days [he mentions elsewhere, however, that church services are less frequented at the same time]. Perhaps that's why this war has not produced a poet or a really popular song, why it hasn't even produced much hatred.”

Broadcasts from Afar

Edward R. Murrow's broadcast script on March 14th, 1938 from Vienna, Austria
March 14, 1938 Script 1 | 2
Edward R. Murrow's broadcast script on March 15th, 1938 from Vienna, Austria
March 15, 1938 Script 1 | 2 | 3




His second and third broadcast from Vienna, Austria, on March 14 and 15, 1938, show Murrow at the beginning of what was to become his famous manner of reporting. When you read the script, do not forget that German censors might rather cramp a correspondent’s style.

Edward R. Murrow's field notes from Tunesia in Spring of 1943
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Edward R. Murrow's broadcast from London based on Tunisia field notes on April 11, 1943
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Murrow courted danger. He was frustrated at being stuck in London and, instead, wanted to report on bomb attacks and developments on the front but he rarely got the opportunity to do so.

On the left, are field notes he took while accompanying the British attack towards Pichen and the valley leading down to Fondouk, both Tunesia, North Africa in late March and early April of 1943. On the right, is a broadcast Murrow wrote based on these field notes. Murrow's polished style when he reported from London turns frayed and disjointed, mirroring the reality of life at the front and of reporting about combat. And yet, the broadcast shows all the elements for which he had become famous.

Edward R. Murrow's field notes from Marauder bomber attacks at St. Trond, Belgium, February 1944
Notes Pages 1 | 2 | 3
Edward R. Murrow's broadcast from London based on the St. Trond field notes, February 1944
Broadcast Pages 1 | 2 | 3

Broadcasts from London differ in style and quiet demeanor. This holds true even when Murrow reports about Marauder bombers attacking a German airfield at St. Trond, Belgium, an attack he witnessed and took notes about at the front. He later described the attack from the BBC station in London in late February 1944.

Not that life in London was easy and safe. Murrow's office was bombed four times and numerous colleagues and friends were injured and killed in bomb attacks throughout the city.

Edward R. Murrow's Buchenwald broadcast script, April 15th, 1945
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Telediphoned to CBS, London, on April 15 1945, Murrow's Buchenwald broadcast was less dire and less overwhelming than other concentration camp broadcasts. And perhaps, it became more famous precisely because of this, and because of the fame of its author. More palliative and less shocking, Murrow's text was widely covered in the press. It was translated, reprinted, or re-broadcast repeatedly in Germany and England, for instance.

Throughout the war, Murrow and a few of his 'Boys' had reported about discrimination against Jews and about concentration or extermination camps. However, these broadcasts had been exceedingly rare. Nor did their broadcasts offer any analysis or opinion about what an appropriate allied response might be and this is in marked contrast to other topics about which Murrow and others offered cogent analysis and criticism.5 In this, Murrow and CBS were like most other correspondents and networks.

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4 Kendrick (1969) p. 214
5 The field notes to Murrow's Buchenwald broadcast are in the Edward R. Murrow and Janet Brewster Murrow Papers, Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.

Credits

Text and Selection of Illustration Susanne Belovari, PhD, M.S., M.A., Archivist for Reference and Collections, DCA
Digitization Michelle Romero, M.A., Murrow Digitization Project Archivist
Images All images: Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA, Tufts University, used with permission of copyright holder, and Joseph E. Persico Papers, DCA.

Partial Bibliography

For a full bibliography please see the exhibit bibliography section.

Books consulted include Persico (1988) and Sperber (1986); also Kendrick (1969).

The Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA, especially Murrow's scripts and Murrow Broadcast from London about the campaign in North Africa, April 25, 1943; also Joseph E. Persico Papers and Edward Bliss Jr. Papers both at DCA.

Ida Lou Anderson: A Memorial (The State College of Washington: 1941). This book contains a short biographical note about Ms. Anderson and memories by family members and students including Murrow's. Murrow also contributed financially to its printing. The Edward R. Murrow Room, Tufts University, contains three copies of the book.

In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow 1938-1961. Introduction and edited by Bliss, Edward Jr. (Alfred A. Knopf: New York 1967).

Briggs (all volumes).

BBC Year Book 1943 (Jarrold & Sons, LTD., Norwich & London).

Times Magazine article on Raymond Gram Swing as the news analyst in the U.S. in 1939/1940, FIND, January 8 1940, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,763171,00.html accessed March 1, 2008. See also: http://www.coutant.org/swing.html

Hyde Ed. "Edward R. Murrow - WWII's Greatest Front Line Newsman," Bluebook Bonus, July 1965, p. 23-80.

Landry, Robert J. "Edward R. Murrow," Scribner's Magazine, vol. 104, no. 6, Dec. 1938.

McLeod, Elizabeth. Max Jordan -- NBC's Forgotten Pioneer, http://www.midcoast.com/~lizmcl/jordan.html

Murrow, Edward R. "Transatlantic Broadcasting, 1st December 1942 first proofs," BBC Year Book, in: The Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA.

Burton, Paulu. British Broadcasting: Radio and Television in the United Kingdom (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1956).