Paul Anderson, review of The War Broadcasts by George Orwell, edited by W.J. West (Penguin, £4.95) and The War Commentaries by George Orwell, edited by W.J. West (Penguin, £4.95), Tribune, 24 July 1988
From 1941 to 1943, George Orwell was employed by the Indian section of the BBC’s Eastern Service. He wrote a weekly piece analysing the war as it happened, designed to counter Axis propaganda broadcasts to India; and he wrote and produced less regular talks and discussions, mainly on cultural themes. In 1984, the scripts of Orwell’s programmes were unearthed by W. J. West, who edited them into two volumes, which are now published for the first time in paperback.
The weekly news programmes, most of which were not spoken by Orwell himself, are collected in The War Commentaries; The War Broadcasts contains the scripts of the talks and a large selection of (not particularly interesting) business correspondence between Orwell and his various contributors.
There is plenty of concise English prose in both volumes that any writer would profit from reading; but the main interest of both lies in the light they shed on British wartime propaganda and Orwell’s love-hate relationship with his role as propagandist (which he eventually abandoned to write Animal Farm and become literary editor of Tribune).
Unfortunately, despite the editor’s excellent introductory essays and intelligent footnotes, neither book sheds its light very directly: to get the most out of the Broadcasts and Commentaries, I found I had to refer constantly to the second volume of the Penguin Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, which covers the same period. Although the publication of the Broadcasts and Commentaries in paperback is welcome, their contents are unlikely to be appreciated as widely as they should be until they are integrated into a new edition of the Collected Essays.