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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 1999, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
The BBC plays its part
Many people in Britain discovered that war had been declared on Germany by hearing it announced on the radio.

The day the war began
Prime Minister Chamberlain's famous speech was broadcast at 11.15 on 3 September 1939 on the Home Service Programme - the BBC's domestic radio channel.

The radio announcers - the presenters of the time - drew listeners' attention to the upcoming speech by trailing it all morning and urging them to stay tuned. All around the country people gathered around their nearest wireless to wait for the news.

Throughout the rest of the day the radio presenters repeated bulletins, paraphrased the prime minister's speech and read out long lists of government announcements to the public.

Little archive audio from the day exists because it was not the practice to record news bulletins in the early days - but a rare recording of the nine o'clock evening news, read by announcer Bruce Belfrage, has survived.

In it he reads: "The following advice is given: to keep off the streets as much as possible; to carry a gas mask always; to make sure all members of the household have on them their name and address clearly written; to sew a label on children's clothing so that they cannot pull it off..."

In what seems like an effort to maintain calm Prime Minister Chamberlain's speech was sandwiched between pre-recorded scheduled programming.

This included 'Making the most of tinned food' by Anne Beaton - after all, fresh food would soon be in short supply. It was followed by a number of musical tracks including Woodland Pictures played by the BBC Military Band and the Lowland Love Song played by Norman Allen.

An article entitled "We shan't forget yesterday's radio", published by The Star newspaper on 4 September 1939, praised the professionalism of the radio presenters, who also included Stuart Hibberd and Lionel Marson.

"For the announcers it was a day of utmost strain. They took long spells of duty and spoke hundreds of thousands of words... Over and over again they recorded the happenings of a fateful day. Only rarely did they let the strain of the day creep into their voices."

The newspaper continued: "There were many incidents that burned into the memory.

"The break in the voice of the Prime Minister and his prayer as he closed; the announcers comment of the fact that when Mr Chamberlain left Downing Street he was carrying his gas mask.

"They will remember how the prime minister and the announcers dropped the 'Herr' and called the German leader Hitler.

"Above all we remember the measured voice of the King speaking to his people.

"A day of unequalled nervous tension - with radio a comfort, a solace and a link between order and authority and the citizens of Britain. The BBC played its part."

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John Snagge on life at the BBC when war broke out
John Snagge describes life at the BBC in London in the first days of the war

With footage courtesy of the Imperial War Museum
The BBC's crucial role in informing people from the documentary 'The Day War Broke Out'

Laurence Gilliam describes the BBC's Evesham outpost
Laurence Gilliam on life at the BBC's Evesham outpost when war broke out

Bruce Belfrage describes the outbreak of war
Announcer Bruce Belfrage describes the atmosphere in Whitehall as people hear war has been declared

Announcer Bruce Belfrage read out government advice
Bruce Belfrage reads out government advice on how to minimise air-raid casualties

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