History & Changing Times – Felicity Fair Thompson


Felicity Fair Thompson, the writer behind ‘The Power Behind the Microphone’ on history and changing times

That mobile in your pocket – you can take photos, share them, talk to friends, send texts, play games, do your banking, and connect to anywhere! And thank goodness, right now, with virus problems around, order deliveries from your supermarket! 

But wait! Telephone communication was only actually invented 146 years ago in 1876. And train travel started only about 40 years before that! People stayed where they were born. The extraordinary communication that circles our world now was in its infancy.

When I was writing the stage play Voices Over Passchendaele with historian and lecturer Tim Wander, to commemorate the end of WWI, performed on the Isle of Wight that November weekend in 2018, I wanted to honour the astonishing invention of ground to air radio – communication between the flimsy little aeroplanes flying over the battlefield and the commanders and the troops below. Suddenly a wide understanding of what was happening on the battlefield was possible.

Those same radio men in ground to air technology went on to work for Marconi Wireless, based in Chelmsford in Essex. Marconi was amazing. His wireless ideas started everything off. There’s a statue of him in the square in Chelmsford, reaching upwards with wireless signals flying like birds all round his hands. He was changing everything.

Guglielmo Marconi by Stephen Hicklin, photo ©Oldpicruss

I have been writing the stage play The Power Behind the Microphone, working with Tim’s history expertise again, about those same men who were now building Marconi’s innovative ideas using radio transmitter masts 750 feet high, and creating the very first radio long range broadcasts in 1920.

On 15th June this year, exactly one hundred years ago, the world-famous Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba sang from the Marconi Chelmsford radio call sign MZX into a radio microphone – half a telephone receiver suspended from a hat stand! She sang Home Sweet Home, the very first worldwide broadcast. As part of the Chelmsford Arts Festival and performed in the Civic Theatre, the play will celebrate that magic Melba moment, and go on to show how within two years, those same men were creating the British Broadcasting ‘Company’.

The Power Behind the Microphone will now be streamed live from Civic Theatre Chelmsford, 15th June 7.10pm on their Facebook page @Chelmsfordtheatres and will be streamed on their Chelmsford City Theatres YouTube channel at the same time. The performance will be available to watch on both Facebook and YouTube afterwards.

Television came later, invented by a man who grew up in a house which didn’t even have electricity! But that’s another story. Personally, I didn’t watch a television until 1958 where I grew up in Australia! It certainly wasn’t in every home. And our telephone was still very old fashioned, cumbersome and made of Bakelite!  Now we all tune in to the BBC all the time – and on our mobile phones! How times change!

In my novel The Kid on Slapton Beach, I was writing about 12 year-old Harry, whose life changes quite suddenly in WWII. He lives in the tiny coastal village of Torcross at the end of Slapton Sands, and he, his mother and his little sister are among the three thousand people ordered to leave the south Devon coast just before Christmas in 1943. For Harry it is very worrying. His father is missing in action somewhere in Italy. His mother can’t cope and his little sister is too young to understand.

Helping a GI make friends with locals who are all very apprehensive about what is happening and where they will go, Harry makes a friend himself. He and GI Mike White get to know each other well in the lead up to the exodus. Later, after an argument with his mother and Harry goes back for his precious possession that was left behind, he and Mike will meet again. When Exercise Tiger, the ill-fated secret rehearsal for D-Day happens on Slapton Sands, they will both be on that beach.

Slapton Sands was kept secret for decades. But not now. Times do change. “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know,” said US President Harry Truman.

For more about Felicity Fair Thompson and her work go to wightdiamondpress.com

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