29 APRIL 1955, Page 10

The Sound. Barrier

BY ANTHONY HOWARD (President of the Oxford Union) Sunday, 'takes extreme pains to remain detached and And I suppose they would—these professional men of good will—defend its right to say nothing just as they would its right to say everything. For it is an amazing thing : the ease and complacency with which we accept the mass period of mental quarantine which the BBC gives us whenever the political parties prescribe it for our benefit. knew how it was—religion and politics did tend rather to overlap. No, he did not actually think Darwinism would be a live political issue on the hustings but (and I could hear the nervous smile of ingratiation) one couldn't be too careful could one? Safety first, didn't I know?

I said I didn't : and surprisingly this seemed to reassure him. He would just have a little conversation with the Director of the Spoken Word; and he was sure all would be well. And so was I; after all what was the Director for if not to see that the word was spoken?

But he, it appeared, took a more sophisticated view of his function. The voice was now heavily melancholic. It had that touch of deep tragedy in it which BBC announcers customarily assume when they tell us a dead man's age. `He was'—pause for heart-break—`ninety-nine.' The debate was'—catch in throat—'cancelled.'

`Yes,' he could quite see my point of view. 'Of course it would seem to ordinary people like that.' But he was sure 1 would appreciate it was all done for the best. After all 1 couldn't promise could I that someone might not make a Joke about politics? `Why naturally that would be a very serious matter indeed.' Undoubtedly it would be brought to the attention of the Director-General, for he, like Big Brother, was always watching. `Just one little quip in an unconsidered moment, and there could be no saying what Transport House and Victoria Street might not do.' I could rest assured that I had his sympathy : I replied, quite sweetly, that he had mine. He did not seem to understand.

And so we have no broadcast. It seems odd really, because we will all be listening to Cambridge next Tuesday debating That this house will be voting Conservative at the next election.' There is something called the sound barrier. 1 had never understood about it before, but apparently it comes down with a big bang next Thursday. After that we hear no more. except for the occasional nightmare of a party broadcast.