Apr 182015


People who tuned into the BBC news on this date in 1930 heard the announcer say, “There is no news.” Piano music filled the rest of the program. Puzzling, certainly, until you understand the background. This stunt was a skirmish in a protracted war between the BBC and the government over which had ultimate control of content and style in delivering the news.

By 1930, the BBC was beginning to throw off the shackles of the news agencies. Reuters and the like were still supplying most of the raw material but the BBC was now taking the lead in the selection and editing of stories for its bulletins. This was made possible following the installation of a full service of news agency tape machines in the newsroom at Savoy Hill. The editorial staff was doubled, and soon found its hands full.

In addition to the output of the tape machines, information began pouring in from the various arms of government. This was largely in the form of official announcements – such as advice to post early for Christmas, and warnings about heavy traffic. Eventually, the bulletins became so cluttered with these “official notices” that a separate slot had to be created for some of them – leaving the news staff to concentrate on the real news.

But there were indications at the same time of a readiness at government level to try to exploit the real news. In 1930, for example, on the evening before Good Friday, the Home Office was desperate to deny the contents of a newspaper account of an interview with the home secretary. It was aware that no newspapers would be published over Easter so it contacted the BBC – to ensure the denial was included in the evening radio news.


Within 24 hours, however, the flood of news, official or otherwise, had dried up, presumably at the instigation of the government. To put pressure on the BBC. Hence, listeners who tuned in to hear the bulletin on Good Friday itself were informed, “There is no news,” in retaliation. An uneasy stalemate followed.

At the time what kind of animal BBC news was, was far from clear. The BBC did not hire its first journalist with newspaper experience until 1932. This is perhaps not too surprising. Radio news was perceived by the BBC from the start as being very different from the behemoths created in Fleet Street. Those in charge of the Talks Department, where News was based, drew a definite distinction between “BBC news values” and “journalistic news values”.


It was an absolute rule there should be no “sensationalism”. Parliamentary news, not known for its ability to grip the listener, was given special prominence. Yet the audience continued to grow. One factor, certainly, was the appeal of the newsreaders. Just as in entertainment and drama, appearing on the radio – if only to read the news – was a passport to celebrity. Newsreaders seemed a species apart, who dressed accordingly (since January 1926, announcers had been under orders to wear dinner-jackets in the evening, as a mark of respect to performers – such as classical musicians – also obliged to dress formally).

Also, these news readers often imparted facts that must have seemed alien to the lives of many of their listeners. For example: again in 1926, the first bulletin announcing the general strike had also carried the result of “the annual Stock Exchange London to Brighton walk” (victor: “last year’s winner, S.M. Ayles”).


Adding to the air of mystery, the BBC insisted that the announcers remain anonymous on air – though the Radio Times did sometimes publish the odd photograph. However in 1932 the Daily Express gave the names of Stuart Hibberd, T.C. Farrar, John Snagge, Godfrey Adams and Freddie Grisewood. Clearly, the public held them close to its heart. One chronicler of the BBC observed that: “An announcer could not cough during a broadcast without receiving presents of everything from cough-lozenges to woollen underwear.”

The act of rebellion in 1930 was the start of a change in the nature of journalism. Newspapers had to deal with a new kind of competition. Before then they just competed with one another. Now they had to deal with something completely different – news presented by real people whom they could relate to. Furthermore, the news was encapsulated, so you did not have to wade through page upon page. Of course that could be positive or negative. Many people liked to sit down in the evening after dinner and relax with the paper. But times were changing.

The BBC’s show of displeasure with the government’s meddling in its affairs was carried out in such a quintessentially British way that I feel the need to give you a quintessentially British recipe. But in reviewing previous posts I find that I have covered all the obvious candidates — roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pasties, steak and kidney pudding, full English breakfast and so forth. So I thought I would be as quirky as the BBC and give you chicken tikka masala, a dish of Indian origin, but now firmly established as a British favorite; some even going as far as to refer to it as a British classic (to which Indian food writers object loudly). But the title is fair. While it is true that its origins are in India, it has changed from the Indian original to suit British palates. Chicken tikka, which is centuries old, is chunks of chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, then baked in a tandoor oven, a clay pit that is very hot. Masala is a spicy sauce added to chicken tikka to accord with British tastes for gravies. A tomato and coriander sauce is common, but there is no standard recipe for chicken tikka masala. A survey found that of 48 different recipes examined, the only common ingredient was chicken. The sauce usually includes tomatoes, frequently as a purée; cream and/or coconut cream; and various spices. The sauce or chicken pieces (or both) are colored orange with food dyes or using foodstuffs such as turmeric powder, paprika powder, or tomato purée.


Chicken Tikka Masala



1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 teaspoons salt, or to taste
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthways.


1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (or more) hot chile pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons garam masala
3 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 (8 ounce) can plum tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream (or half cream, half plain yogurt)
½ tablespoon tomato purée
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro plus  more for garnish


In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, ginger, and salt to taste. Stir in the chicken to coat well. Place in a zip top back and seal with a small corner left open. Squeeze out all the air, lay flat, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat a charcoal grill or broiler for the highest heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade an grill or broil until black specks appear (turning once). Cut into bite sized pieces. It may be pink inside.

Put the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion, garlic, and chile for 1 minute or until soft but without taking on color. Add 2 teaspoons cumin, paprika, cilantro, garam masala, and salt to taste and sauté 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes and break them up with a fork until they are a mush. Add the tomato purée and cream. Simmer on low heat until the sauce is thick, about 30 minutes. Add the grilled chicken, and simmer for 10 minutes more. Transfer to a heated serving bowl, and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with basmati rice and warm Indian flat bread (or pita).