Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
BBC Archive script for drama Correio Brazilianse_Daniel Thomaz ;

Restaging the archive: King's students revive forgotten Brazilian radio drama

Dr Daniel Mandur Thomaz

Lecturer in Lusophone Studies and Global Cultures, King’s Brazil Institute Fellow

01 September 2023

In 1943, the BBC Latin American Service (LAS) commissioned Brazilian novelist and playwright Antônio Callado to write a radio drama as part of its anti-fascist campaign during World War II. The drama was forgotten, unknown to biographers and media historians, until recently when the script was found in the BBC Archives. Now, a group of final-year students at King’s have revived the drama under the guidance of Dr Daniel Mandur Thomaz.

A group of final-year students from the Faculty of Arts & Humanities translated and recorded a radio drama originally commissioned by the BBC Latin American Service (LAS) to Brazilian novelist and playwright Antônio Callado (1917-1997) in 1943. The drama script was unknown to biographers, media historians and Latin Americanists until recently, when it was found at the BBC Archives. It was written and produced as part of anti-Fascist (and pro-British) campaigns targeting Latin American audiences during World War II, designed by the BBC LAS in collaboration with the Ministry of Information (MOI) and the Foreign Office.

The radio drama sheds light on the role played by Latin American intellectuals in the British war propaganda apparatus. As these plays were recorded on acetate vinyl for a single broadcast during the war, the original performances did not survive. Restaging one of these dramas has opened up different ways of studying and teaching this archival material.

Students Rachel Weller (Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures), Natasha Swan (History) and Myrto Katsoulidou (DLLC) translated the drama script Correio Brazilianse (The Brazilian Mail), originally broadcast in Portuguese, into English, and restaged the play, which is now available to the public in an audio format. The project, funded by von Schlippenbach research funding scheme, was coordinated by Dr Daniel Mandur Thomaz.

The Brazilian Mail

The script was written by Antônio Callado in 1943 and centers around 19th century Brazilian journalist Hipólito da Costa, editor of what is considered by media historians to be the first Brazilian newspaper: Correio Braziliense (The Brazilian Mail). The paper was edited from London between 1808 and 1822 and shipped clandestinely to Brazil in order to circumvent Portuguese colonial censorship. Da Costa was in exile in London, after escaping imprisonment and prosecution by the Portuguese inquisition for spreading liberal ideas and criticising Portuguese colonial rule.

BBC Archive script for drama Correio Brazilianse_Daniel Thomaz
A page from the script of 'Correio Braziliense' found in the BBC Archives.

The first part of the script portrays a fictional meeting between Da Costa and British historian and poet Robert Southey, who wrote a history of Brazil published in 1810. The second part of the drama takes the audience to the Pernambucan Revolt of 1817, a liberal uprising that paved the way for Brazilian independence in 1822, an event also dramatised at the end of the script.

Through dialogues and sound effects, the drama represents the allegorical friendship between Brazil and the UK, creating a trans-historical reference to both the early British recognition of Brazilian independence (in 1825), and the alliance between Brazil and Britain against Nazi-Fascism during WW2 (Brazil declared war against the Axis powers in August 1942). The choice of a political exile in London (Da Costa) as protagonist is particularly relevant, as Antônio Callado constructs a multilayered allegory: the importance placed on fighting tyranny and censorship in the play can be read as a reference to Nazi totalitarianism, but also as a veiled criticism of the regime ruling Brazil in 1943 – Getúlio Vargas’ authoritarian Estado Novo (New State).

Listen to the restaged drama: The Brazilian Mail (1943)

BBC LAS: entertainment and war propaganda

Radio dramas were, in the 1930s and 40s, the new frontier for experimentation with modernist aesthetics and the dissemination of political propaganda. Authors such as George Orwell and Louis MacNeice were commissioned by the BBC to write and deliver ambitious radio programs combining these two elements for different Services. The Latin American Service was created in 1938 to broadcast news bulletins, documentary features and entertainment shows targeting Latin American audiences in Portuguese and Spanish – it was a clear response to the Nazi-Fascist propaganda that had been disseminated in the region since the mid-1930s. BBC LAS programmes were shaped by a series of propaganda guidelines elaborated as a result of collaboration between the BBC, the MOI and the Foreign Office1.

In order to write, produce and deliver these shows, a plethora of Latin American intellectuals were hired and brought to London, which created unexpected networks between intellectuals from different countries. The role of Antônio Callado at the BBC during the war – and his position as a key player in the transatlantic circulation of ideas between Britain and Latin America in mid-20th century – is the topic of a new book coming out this year (2023) with Pittsburgh University Press: Transatlantic Radio Dramas: Antônio Callado and the BBC Latin American Service during and after WW2. The book shows how Callado and other intellectuals co-opted by British war propaganda apparatus were also using the space on air given to them to push their own personal agendas. In the case of Callado, this included experimenting with creative writing and delivering a veiled criticism of Vargas’ regime – an objective that fell beyond the scope of the BBC and MOI propaganda guidelines.

Cover of book Transatlantic Radio Dramas by Daniel Mandur Thomaz
Cover of upcoming book by Daniel Mandur Thomaz titled 'Transatlantic Radio Dramas'.

Archival research and creative methods

Archive work and historiographic research are activities that require methodological rigor but have also been theorised as demanding a good dose of imagination2. The project to translate and restage the drama Correio Braziliese, supported by von Schlippenbach research funding in 2022, represented an opportunity to explore a historical source recently found at the BBC archives though creative methods. Two factors were important in conceptualising its restaging. First, as the BBC LAS productions during the 1940s had a very limited budget, they were usually recorded not by professional actors, but by the journalists and other staff members working at the Section. This understanding helped the students to embrace an amateur theatre approach to the script. Secondly, the fact that there is no recording of the original performance of the play – and the limits imposed by the sound effect indications in the script – demanded from the students both research and translation skills, as well as historical imagination.

From a pedagogical perspective, the process gave the students an immersive experience in linguistic and historical research: they had to find translation solutions for a drama written in the 1940s, set in the early 19th century, and restaged in the 21st century. From a research perspective, recording the drama also had an interesting impact on our reading of the script: performing the lines written by Callado highlighted and brought to the fore some dramatic strategies implicit in the script. For example, the role of irony in some of the dialogues, particularly when power dynamics were being represented, such as in the conversation between Da Costa and Southey.

One of the project’s aims was to use a WW2 radio drama to foster a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between aesthetics, media, and political propaganda, in both historical and contemporary contexts. It aimed at engaging students, and the public, through a combination of teaching, research, and dissemination. The ways in which these practices cross-fertilized each other were, in the end, unexpected but very rewarding.

1 For more on the relationship between propaganda and entertainment in BBC LAS programmes during WW2, see Mandur Thomaz, Daniel (2022) Propaganda and Entertainment in the BBC Latin American Service During WW2, Media History, 28:1, 142-159

2 See, for example, Gale and Featherstone (2011). "The Imperative of the Archive: Creative Archive Research", in Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, edited by Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson, 17-40, Edinburgh University Press.

About the author

Daniel Mandur Thomaz is a historian and cultural studies scholar with interests spanning literature, history, the media and popular culture in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, with an emphasis on Brazil.

He has a DPhil (PhD) in Modern Languages from the University of Oxford, and a BA and an MA in History from the University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).

In this story

Daniel Mandur Thomaz

Daniel Mandur Thomaz

Lecturer in Lusophone Studies and Global Cultures

Latest news

Demystifying Impact 6

21 June 2024

Demystifying Impact 2024

IoPPN researchers and NHS Trusts staff discussed the effect and importance of partnerships and…