Announcement of War - Bruce Belfrage, Chamberlain, Alvar Lidell
Some broadcasts are truly momentous. The announcement of War on September 3rd 1939 was one such broadcast.
Bruce Belfrage was on continuity duty that night. As the war took hold, he was to be the reader on duty a year later when Broadcasting House was bombed, killing seven people.
Chamberlain’s well documented speech is then followed by a lengthy announcement from Alvar Lidell, in which he gives notice of all the things which and must not be done. Alvar suggested he had a good reputation for major broadcasts, having delivered news of the death of Elgar and handled the Abdication speech. On September 3rd, however, he just ‘happened to be on duty’ when the announcements needed to be made. One can only imagine how it must have felt both to deliver and receive these sombre instructions. Alvar was the only person with Chamberlain in the War Room as the broadcast was delivered; and described him as a “grief-stricken, despondent man”.
The broadcast was carried by the BBC Home Service, which had come on air just two days before following the closure of the National and Regional programmes.
The BBC emerged strengthened by its Wartime reputation; although the government had originally contemplated shutting down BBC broadcasts in the event of hostilities, given they were seen as unnecessary luxuries.