J.B. Priestley’s Postscript broadcast on the “last Sunday of the first year of the War” is a difficult one to paraphrase because it is pure atmosphere. Priestley took a day all his listeners would remember, the first day of the War, and reflected on how strange it had been and how he had felt. No doubt many listeners had seen similar sights, experienced similar feelings: one of Priestley’s great literary skills was articulating such shared experiences.
He had travelled from his Isle of Wight home to London to broadcast the first installment of his new novel, Let the People Sing. It was a day of fear and contrasts, everywhere far busier or far quieter than usual. Sirens going off in Staines, the “long vacant roads of Kentish Town and Camden Town, as empty of life as the old cities of the plague”, Broadcasting House (home of the BBC) felt like a First World War headquarters. Paddington railway station “looked as if it had had six consecutive Bank Holidays”, “reeked of weary humanity, thick with wastepaper, half eaten buns and empty bottles”.
Looking out of the train window on the way home, Priestley saw a dragon-shaped cloud against the sunset sky, a magnificent sight. Did anyone else remember that?
Priestley mused that he could not have foreseen what was to happen in the War, but he had expected the British people would rise to the challenge, and he believed they had: “Talk about giving courage and confidence – you’ve given me more than I could ever give you: not only courage and confidence in the outcome of this war, but also faith in what we can achieve after this war”.