Audio Curios: The Man in The White Coat

You may have asked yourself, “who is that man in the white coat who sometimes appears at the top of our blog postings … and what is he doing?”

Well, thanks to Peter Downes’ research, we know that his name is Basil Clarke and he was part of the “listening watch” during World War II.

Basil Clarke (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection).
Basil Clarke (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection).

The photograph shows Basil in the main 2YA control room in Wellington, listening to shortwave broadcasts from the BBC, allied and enemy radio stations.  The control-room was staffed 24 hours a day, and when the operator heard a newsflash or something of importance they would do a direct recording onto an acetate disc.  This disc could then be re-broadcast to radio listeners in New Zealand (this was how news of what was happening in the war on the other side of the world reached New Zealanders, in the days before the internet, television, or even tape recording technology –which didn’t come in until the mid-1950s).

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s Sound Collection contains many of these wartime shortwave recordings – an example being from exactly 75 years ago, when news came through of Hitler’s proclamation that Germany would march against Soviet Russia:

New Zealand Broadcasting Service, 22 June 1941

As noted in Basil’s obituary on The Stage website, he was born in London and brought up in Aberdeen before moving to New Zealand. He went into journalism and worked in Melbourne and Sydney as well as New Zealand. After WWII he moved into writing, producing and voicing radio documentaries for the New Zealand Broadcasting Service.

8 February 1958, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother with Mr H.R. Chalmers, President of the Wellington Racing Club. Upper Hutt Public Library (Ref: P2-46-122).  [CC license]
8 February 1958, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother with Mr H.R. Chalmers, President of the Wellington Racing Club. Upper Hutt Public Library (Ref: P2-46-122). [CC license]

In this recording made by the NZBS for BBC audiences, Basil describes Marlborough and Dunedin – two of the places the Queen Mother visited during her two-week tour in February 1958:

“Royal Tour,” New Zealand Broadcasting Service, February 1958

[Basil Clarke] in the New Zealand Players production of "Romanoff and Juliet." Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/2046-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22702922
[Basil Clarke] in the New Zealand Players production of “Romanoff and Juliet.” Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/2046-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22702922

As a delightful aside, here’s an excerpt of broadcaster Shirley Maddock beautifully describing the preparations Wellington was making for the Queen Mother’s visit:

“Royal Tour,” New Zealand Broadcasting Service, 1958

Basil Clarke was also a keen thespian. He toured in the New Zealand Players 1957 production of The Mousetrap and the 1958 production of Romanoff and Juliet by Peter Ustinov. He moved back to the United Kingdom to pursue an acting career, then in the late 1970s moved to Sydney Australia where he continued his acting career.  Basil died in 2004.

Thanks to Peter Downes and Sarah Johnston for their help with this article.

This post is part of the Audio Curios series. Radio Collection Developer Gareth Watkins regularly comes across interesting, unique, and sometimes downright puzzling bits of audio during his accessioning work. He’s going to share some of these audio treasures with you in the Audio Curios series, which will be posted here on the Gauge blog frequently.

Sources

Audio from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Radio Collection, all rights reserved. To enquire about re-use of these items please contact sound@ngataonga.org.nz

“Basil Clarke,” The Stage website

National Library catalogue (New Zealand Players productions)

Voices in the Air, Peter Downes and Peter Harcourt. ISBN 0868651001, p. 126

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