On this day…24 November

On 24 November 1931 a BBC radio programme on Joyce was cancelled at the last minute.

The programme was to be presented by writer and diplomat Harold Nicolson, but he was pressured to cancel the talk at the last minute. Nicolson protested afterwards, and the programme was finally broadcast in December.

Harold Nicolson had worked as an attaché in the British Diplomatic Service and later joined the Foreign Office. He was elected as a MP in 1935, and held positions in Churchill’s wartime government. From 1941 to 1945 he served on the Board of Governors of the BBC. He wrote numerous books including biographical works on Tennyson, Swinburne, Verlaine, and Byron, and the official biography of George V. He was married to Vita Sackville-West.

Joyce had met Nicolson at a lunch in July 1931, and Nicolson decided to give a talk on Joyce and his writing for BBC radio. The talk was scheduled to be broadcast on Tuesday 24 November 1931 at 8.30pm. In honour of the occasion, Adrienne Monnier hosted a dinner for Joyce and his friends, and all gathered around the radio at 8.30 for the broadcast.

What they heard was Nicolson apologetically announcing that the planned broadcast would not go ahead because of pressure from the BBC. The proposal to broadcast a talk about Joyce, whose Ulysses was still not available legally in England, had drawn protests from a number of quarters, including from Alfred Noyes, who had described Ulysses in a review in 1922 as being ‘simply the foulest book that has ever found its way into print.’

Joyce and his friends went on with their dinner party, but Nicolson took his protests to the head of the BBC, John Reith, and eventually the broadcast went ahead on 8 December. A version of Nicolson’s broadcast was published in BBC’s Listener magazine in December in which he called Joyce ‘the Einstein of English fiction.’


Sources & Further Reading:

Deming, Robert H: James Joyce – The Critical Heritage, vol. I 1907-1927, vol. II 1928-1941, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.