More trawling of the Manchester Guardian archive has come up with an article from November 9th, 1929, just before the B.B.C. radio Remembrance Day broadcast of Journey’s End. It casts an interesting light on current attitudes to swearing.
The article explains that ‘A certain number of pungent words contained in the play… have been excised.’ and explains that ‘This has been done at the wish of the author, Mr R.C.Sherriff, and not by the B.B.C.’
The Director of productions claimed that: ‘If Mr Sherriff had said that he did not want a word cut out of the play the B.B.C. would not have cut it. There is no rule that swear-words shall not be broadcast. The B.B.C. is not bound by red tape in these matters, but is influenced by common sense and good taste.’
When asked about the cuts, Sherriff said:
I took the line that in the case of broadcasting one must think of old ladies and families in country vicarages who might be shocked by these expressions, and I have retained them only where they are necessary to maintain the natural character of the dialogue. After all, listening to the play on the wireless and seeing it are two different things, and one must make allowances. Certain words in common use in the army during the war will be heard, but I don’t think there will be anything to which anyone could reasonably take exception. I may say that on stage certain adjectives are used more frequently than they appear in my original manuscript, but I have no fault to find in them, and as a matter of fact in the revised book of the play I have incorporated some of them.
The comment about country vicarages reminds me of that most eminent Victorian, Leslie Stephen when editor of the Cornhill Magazine, urging Thomas Hardy to ‘Remember the vicar’s daughters!’ when writing a serial for the magazine. Were even Victorian vicarage girls as delicate as all that? Certainly not all of them were – think of the Bronte sisters.
Sherriff goes on to explain that the radio version will be ‘nearer to the stage version than the talking picture which is being made in Hollywood’. In the film, apparently, ‘all the “pungent” adjectives had had to be omitted on account of the censor, and even the word ‘Boche’ could not be used, although when he heard the play in Germany the use of this word caused no trouble.’
The film was made in America because no British studio had the sound facilities to cope with it. This was before the Hays Code came in to neuter American films, so I’m not entirely sure which censor Sherriff is talking about. Did they run the script past the British censor, who was always very keen to protect the working classes from words that might corrupt them?