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Writing the Radio WarLiterature, Politics and the BBC, 1939-1945$
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Ian Whittington

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474413596

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474413596.001.0001

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Versions of Neutrality: Denis Johnston’s War Reports

Versions of Neutrality: Denis Johnston’s War Reports

(p.117) Chapter 4 Versions of Neutrality: Denis Johnston’s War Reports
Writing the Radio War

Ian Whittington

Edinburgh University Press

As his job with the BBC News Division took him from the deserts of Egypt, through Italy, to the gates of Buchenwald, Irish playwright Denis Johnston struggled with a multiply determined neutrality which inhered partly in his role of war correspondent, and partly in circumstances specific to his own life. In particular, Johnston sought to balance the ideal of journalistic objectivity with the need to convey the emotional horrors of the struggle, all while serving as a politically neutral Protestant Irishman within a semi-autonomous British broadcaster. Johnston’s position as a neutral mediator was intensified by the development of newly compact recording technologies which allowed him to record actuality broadcasts, commentary, and interviews in the field—in a sense, to allow the war to speak for itself. For all these traces of immediacy, after the war Johnston would frame his experience in a heavily embellished and fantastical memoir, Nine Rivers from Jordan (1953). By weaving together Johnston’s war broadcasts, his journals, and his memoir, this chapter illustrates how journalistic objectivity and literary experiment existed in productive tension during the war; at the same time, Johnston’s postwar response to the atrocities of the holocaust reveal a journalist shaken by the moral vacuum revealed in wartime Europe.

Keywords:   Johnston, Denis, War Correspondents, War Report, Holocaust, Buchenwald, Objectivity, Ireland, Recording technology, Nine Rivers from Jordan

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