Regular readers of my blog will know that I often enjoy historical fiction and one period of time I am particularly interested in is the 1920’s. I was therefore delighted to receive a copy of Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford, a story inspired by true characters and events which tells the story of the BBC and some of the remarkable women behind it.
‘There’s nothing that makes me happier than walking around London. History’s lived here. So much began here, so many stories.’
The story begins in November 1926 as Maisie Musgrave, a Canadian-American now living in London, is invited to interview at the BBC. Maisie has travelled to London to find love and a new life, and on securing a job as a junior secretary, her life becomes far more vibrant, exciting and daunting than she ever could have imagined. Still in its fledgling days, the BBC began in a time of much change, opening up a whole new world of knowledge and communication. In the midst of all this is Maisie as she settles into her new role, and finds herself a mentor in the form of Hilda Matheson. As the director of the Talks Programming, Matheson is quite an extraordinary woman and Maisie soon becomes involved with her plans for future programmes and innovation. But whilst this was a time of change for the nation and its radio network there were some people, including the formidable Director-General John Reith, who were set in their traditional ways. This meant that Maisie, Hilda and many other women had to battle to get their voices heard, to introduce their vision of what the radio should be – a way of keeping the nation informed and inspired, and to give everyone, especially women, a voice.
‘Maisie loved the bold new world, this glory they were continually inventing, but it was hard not to walk through the streets and feel that undercurrent of rage and, of course, fear. Because if so much had changed already, what might happen next?’
However, difficulties arise when Maisie discovers a surprising conspiracy concerning major business organisations and their plans to utilise the BBC for their own gains and their own propaganda. As a result, she and Hilda join forces to uncover the truth, and make their voices heard – on and off the air. Whilst this storyline is fictional I was fascinated to discover through the Authors Note how this was inspired by true events and some of the staff at the BBC were based on real people. The most notable of these was Hilda Matheson, and I found it really interesting learning about her and the impact she had in these early days of broadcasting – a woman with passion and determination in the face of adversity. I liked the way that Stratford has written an insightful story inspired by real people, told through the life of the fictional Maisie. This novel was rich in detail and I felt like I went away from this knowing a great deal more about the early days of the BBC and the impact it had. This was all the more fascinating at a time of change and political unrest, and the fight for equal rights for women. Throughout this story I was willing Maisie and Hilda on in their pursuit of their own dreams and that of the women they represent.
‘These are delicate people, and the world is really far more dangerous than a girl like you can understand…’
Radio Girls is a fascinating historical novel which left me with fresh insight into the early days of a corporation that today are a household name. It is an enjoyable read about the development of radio, and the inspiring women at the heart of it.
Radio Girls was published in paperback on 28th July 2016 by Allison and Busby. Many thanks to Allison and Busby for providing a copy for review.