Inside Jokes

From August 1941 until November 1943, George Orwell served as the producer and writer of a radio talk show beamed by the BBC out to India. Physically unfit for army duty, he considered the job to be his way of "doing his bit" in the war against Hitler. The image of Orwell as a chief of propaganda is ironic—and was ironic to Orwell himself He stood the job as long as he could, but eventually resigned, taking up instead a much more congenial position as literary editor for the independent left-wing magazine Tribune. For some 40 years, the work Orwell did at the BBC was lost in the disreputably haphazard BBC archives (priceless voice-recordings of Orwell at work were also destroyed by the BBC bureaucracy during the 1950's, as part of an economy measure). But last year William West, an amateur Orwellian, accomplished what no professional Orwell scholar has been able to do; rediscover the BBC scripts. Much of it had been filed, for some reason, under the name of one of the Indian ladies responsible for reading over the air some of the scripts Orwell wrote.

West has now published in America the first batch of the recovered material under the pretentious title The Lost Writings. But Orwell had explicitly discounted the value of much of what he wrote at the BBC, and frankly, this first selection (consisting of radio-essays on general political and literary topics) is disappointing. Some of the new material is...

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