Tales, Truths & Tirades – 3 November 2016


“You gave them all those old time stars, Through wars of worlds – invaded by Mars.” Do you remember the lyrics? “You made ’em laugh – you made ’em cry, You made us feel like we could fly, Radio.”
Everyone knows “Radio Ga Ga”, which was written by Queen’s drummer, Roger Taylor. But do the names Welles and Wells ring any bells? (I’m a poet.) Need a clue? This is for you! (The “wars of worlds” should point you in the right direction).
Author H.G. Wells, one of the fathers of science fiction, wrote The War of the Worlds in 1898. It is one of the earliest stories about an invasion by an extraterrestrial race.
Forty years later, at a time when most people had forgotten about the book, Wells’ story was adapted for radio. On the evening of Sunday, 30 October 1938, an unknown young radio producer directed and narrated the live broadcast of the play for the CBS radio network. Orson Welles was only 23 when The War of the Worlds was aired.
What happened during and after that broadcast resulted in one of the most talked about and written about incidents in the history of not only radio, but also modern communication.
In a nutshell: Orson Welles’ production of this far-fetched sci-fi story was so realistic that listeners thought everything they heard was true. Panic broke out across the country. According to one account as many as a million people believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways seeking to escape the alien marauders.
When the dust finally settled the Federal Communications Commission investigated the programme but found no law was broken. Networks did agree to be more cautious in the future.
Orson Welles was an instant celebrity. His fears that the controversy would ruin his career were unfounded. Only three years later he was chosen to direct, write, produce, and star in Citizen Kane, a movie still regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
“Rosebud.” Perhaps some other time.