TV broadcasts from the BBC began in 1936 from Alexandra Palace in north London. Only a small area in and around London was able to receive them but all TV broadcasts stopped on 1st September 1939 at the outbreak of war as the Government was worried the transmitter would help enemy aircraft target London for bombing raids. They did not begin again until June 1946.
With television off the air, people relied on radio and the cinema for information and entertainment. Eighty percent of families in Britain owned a radio (known as the wireless) and besides the news, there were music programmes, talk and comedy shows. “ITMA”, short for “It’s That Man Again”, was a wartime comedy which began in 1939 on the BBC Home Service starring the comedian Tommy Handley. Its name came from newspaper headlines of the time, where the phrase “It’s That Man Again” was regularly used as an ironic reference to Hitler. Making fun of Hitler (and the German war effort in general) was the basis of the series.
Before the war, no news had been broadcast on the BBC before 7pm as a result of an agreement with the newspaper industry. From 25th August 1939, with war looming, the BBC began broadcasting daily morning and lunchtime news bulletins and a war report at the end of its evening news bulletins.
Cinema audiences grew from 20 million to 32 million making ‘going to the pictures’ the most popular form of entertainment during the war. In between the films, the Pathé News was shown to keep the public informed (and misinformed) on how the war was progressing. Government information films were also shown at the cinema to explain to people how to behave and act during wartime.
Music played a huge part during the war in keeping up morale with big bands and swing music all the rage. One of the most admired singers of the time was Vera Lynn, known as The Forces’ Sweetheart, whose songs included, ‘We’ll meet again’ and ‘There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover’.
Into The Unknown’s Charlie Butler loves big bands and swing music, especially the Glenn Miller Band, who were hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Kate Sheridan is unfamiliar with this style of music, or even how to dance to it, when Charlie brings her to his favourite club but is soon won over.
London on 3 September 1939 is in upheaval. War is inevitable. Into this turmoil steps Kate Sheridan, newly arrived from Ireland to live with her aunt and uncle, and look for work. When she meets Flight Lieutenant Charlie Butler sparks fly, but he is a notorious womaniser. Should she ignore all the warnings and get involved with a ladies man whose life will be in daily danger?
Charlie Butler has no intention of getting involved with a woman. But when he meets Kate his resolve is shattered. Should he allow his heart to rule his head and fall for a nineteen-year-old Irish girl while there is a war to fight?
Private conflicts and personal doubts are soon overshadowed. Will the horrors of war bring Kate and Charlie together or tear them apart?
Giving him her hand, they walked around the corner and into a dark and smoky nightclub. They sat at a table with an unlit candle in the centre, overlooking the crowded dance floor as a band played a style of music she hadn’t heard before. Kate stared through the gloom at one energetic couple as the man lifted his scantily-clad partner off the floor and swung her around. This was certainly different from the sedate afternoon tea dances she was used to in Ballycarn and she couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.
“What kind of music is this?” she asked Charlie.
“Jazz,” he replied, sounding a little surprised she hadn’t recognised it. “What would you like to drink?” He asked as a waiter approached their table.
“A glass of red wine, please. And to have the candle lit, too, please.” She glanced up at the waiter, speculating wildly on whether Charlie had brought her to a dark table on purpose.
The waiter lit the candle, Charlie ordered her wine and a whiskey for himself, and they sat in the candlelight listening to the music for a few minutes. Will he ask me to dance, she wondered as the drinks were brought to their table, and, more importantly, was she going to make a fool of herself trying to dance to this jazz music?
“To peace, and soon.” He held up his glass, and she touched it with hers.
“I hope so,” she replied. They sipped their drinks.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked, putting his glass down and holding out a hand as the band began a slow set.
She nodded, rising, and taking his hand. Dancing with a man while wearing a pair of trousers felt peculiar, but moving slowly around the floor amongst the other dancers, she found herself savouring his closeness again. One of his hands clasped hers, the other was in the small of her back holding her against him. He smelled of a mixture of soap and cigarettes. This was dangerously nice.
“We don’t have clubs like this in Ireland,” she told him. “Well, not where I came from, anyway. So this is lovely.”
“I’m glad,” he replied and, to her relief, led her back to the table as a more up tempo set began. She saw him fighting to gather his thoughts together by the way he gripped his glass tightly in one hand, while rubbing the side of his nose with the other. “Would you like to go out with me again, Kate?” he asked, sounding surprisingly nervous.
“Don’t you have plenty of other women you could take out?” she joked, instantly regretting it when hurt sprang into his eyes.
“I want to take you out,” he said and put his glass down. “I’ve really enjoyed this evening. It’s been the first time in ages that I’ve been to the pictures and actually watched the film.” He grimaced, and she knew it was his turn to regret hasty words. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound like that.”
“I know, but you pleasantly surprised me.”
“Yes, by not trying to kiss and touch me,” she explained. “Thank you.”
He sat back in his seat and sighed. “I was warned not to. I wanted to kiss you.”
Picking up his glass, he drained it. “But I thought I’d better not; I might give you the wrong impression of me. I have to admit that I’m no angel.”
It was the first time he had acknowledged that he had a reputation and she couldn’t let it pass.
“In what way?” she asked.
His eyes widened at her bluntness. “Well.” She saw him glance at his glass, clearly wishing he hadn’t emptied it. “I’m rarely short of a date, let’s put it that way.”
“Oh, I see. So I really am just the latest in a long, long line of women?”
“Well, er, yes, you are,” he confessed, his face contorted in embarrassment.
“I’m curious, that’s all. You ask me out, Bob warns you not to do anything improper, and you think, ‘This one’s going to be too much trouble—just be nice, watch the film with her, and get the date over and done with—then move on’.”
“It was my father, actually,” he told her frostily. “Not Bob. And I don’t want to ‘move on’.”
“Your father, my uncle.” She shrugged. “What does it matter? Is this ‘date’ just a complete waste of time for both of us?”
He shook his head. “I hope not. I asked you out because you’re beautiful. I never intended to do anything inappropriate this evening and I didn’t need to be warned. I may be no angel, but I do know how to behave with a lady, and I certainly don’t see you as being ‘too much trouble’.”
“I’m very glad to hear it.”
“I really do want to see you again, Kate.”
“Despite being warned off me by your father?” she asked.
“He didn’t. He told me to treat you properly, which I have, and you’ve appreciated it.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Kate.” He leaned forward, having to raise his voice against the music. “I would like to take you out again on New Year’s Eve. We could come here, if you’d like? I’d be happy to teach you to dance to this music.” He jerked a thumb in the direction of the jazz band.
“Yes, thank you, that would be very nice,” she replied straight away.
“Great.” He looked and sounded taken aback at her lack of hesitation. “Well.” He sat back in his chair. “That’s settled, then.”