Radio 4: And now an urgent SOS message…

This is a fascinating Radio 4 documentary about a BBC service that typically had a target audience of one individual.  Before the proliferation of telecommunications in the 1990′s, the BBC’s SOS message service acted as a communications link of last resort for people who needed to be urgently connected with loved ones.

This radio documentary reminded me of the fact that, even in our information age, radio can interact with a large audience of listeners who are doing everything from working to driving in a uniquely efficient manor.

I listened to this documentary yesterday, but it will be available on the BBC website for 5 more days (as of time of posting). Thanks to Andy Sennitt for bringing this documentary to my attention. 

(Source: BBC)

Radio 4 used to broadcast SOS messages – “could Mr and Mrs Snodgrass, believed to be travelling in the Cotswolds please ring this hospital where their auntie is dangerously ill”.

Eddie Mair wants to know more about them. He hears from listeners whose lives were dramatically changed through the SOS service. These short messages were transmitted regularly on The Home Service, and later Radio 4, for much of the 20th century. They appealed for relatives of dying people, often on holiday and thus, before mobile phones and internet cafes, uncontactable, to return home before it was too late.

Eddie invited readers of his Radio Times column to send in their recollections of the SOS Message Service, and little did the PM Presenter expect such a rich response of vivid memories, first person experiences and in one case, unexpected consequences as a result of the broadcast.

Some of these remarkable testimonies are told, in understated, haunting and even cheery ways in this narrative tribute to radio, and a nation, – “as it was”. Best summed up by the tale of a six year old girl in the North East who while staying with a relation in 1958, was hospitalised with a very serious illness. She survived and tells Eddie her story. In the days of very few domestic telephones, the BBC’s SOS message brought her parents to her bedside from London courtesy of an observant member of the public who heard the message and recognised the car number plate that had been announced.

The SOS Service, was the vision of John Reith, the first General Manager, and later Director General of the BBC. But its heart was the listener, as Eddie reveals.

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