The Limits of Authorship: The Radio Broadcasts of Irene Greenwood, 1936-1954

John Richardson


In November 1940 Greenwood produced the second in her series of propaganda talks for The Department of Information. These were broadcast on short wave and targeted at North American audiences, presumably with the intention of winning US sympathy for the war effort at a time when the loyalties of that country were in the balance. Greenwood's talk was entitled "Katharine Susannah Prichard".1

Prichard, during the period before Russia entered the War, was difficult material to handle. One of Australia's leading novelists, she was also a founding member of the West Australian branch of the Communist Party and a hard line Stalinist. Greenwood focussed on her literary achievements, compressing Prichard's Soviet connections into four lines of script:

After a further period of travel in Europe and the USSR she wrote "The Real Russia". A broadly international outlook has always characterised Katharine Prichard; and she is directed in her interests and activities by an opposition to fascism in all its aspects.

Greenwood went on to publicise a number of Prichard's books. But could Prichard the writer be separated from Prichard the communist? Not according to Greenwood:

The professors of English at the University of Western Australia divorced the woman and the writer, but knowing Katharine so well as I know her I knew that she wasn't to be broken up into various parts. She was one complete whole. She was absolutely a committed socialist and a Marxist. She was absolutely sincere in her wish that writers should know the liberating theories that she herself espoused in The Real Russia.2

"Katharine Susannah Prichard" went to air on the 16th of November 1940.


The motif of most of the discussions held at the 1946 Australian Women's Charter Conference was, according to Greenwood, "scientific discovery to be used for life, not for death".3 In January 1946, some seven months before the Conference, the ABC returned to Greenwood a script entitled, "Professor Peter Kapitsa - Soviet Physicist, and his Associates of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR".4 Attached was a note which read,

We are enclosing herewith two copies of your script - "Peter Kapitsa". We regret that it could not be used for broadcasting and have no doubt that you will find use for it in other directions.5

Greenwood reorganised the talk and resubmitted it under the title: "Professor Peter Kapitsa - Physicist and Engineer. Director of the Institute of Physical Problems of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR".6 The revised talk went to air on 24 Feb 1946.

The introduction of the rejected script reads as follows:

When the first atom bomb was dropped on Japan, the scientists came sharply to the forefront of the world's news. Round them, and their epoch making discovery, discussion has centred ever since. Now, with the meeting in Moscow of the three Foreign Ministers of Britain, America and Russia, the spotlight turns on Soviet Scientists.

Who are they, these Russians around whom there seems to be such a fog of obscurity; about whom the outside world knows so little? (beyond a few vague press rumours,) How do they work? "The Soviet Union is nearing the discovery of the secret of atomic energy" said Reuters' man in Moscow the other day. What grounds did he have for such a statement? On the answers to these questions depends an understanding of the part the Soviet scientists have contributed to the greatest discovery of the age, and the uses they intend to put it.........[sic] for there is little the Soviet does not know of atomic research as you shall hear.

In 1946 the consequences of atomic warfare were fresh in the minds of the public. With the old East-West antagonisms already resurfacing, news of Soviet prowess in atomic research must have been construed as either alarming or alarmist. Either reading would have left the script prone to censorship.

In the introduction Greenwood lays the groundwork for what will later become a critique of Western censorship: "Who are they, these Russians around whom there seems to be such a fog of obscurity; about whom the outside world knows so little? (beyond a few vague press rumours)". The sentence appears to be innocent enough in its current form, taking its place as one of a number of rhetorical questions which the listener can expect Greenwood to answer as the talk progresses. But in the mid section of the script "the fog of obscurity" is reactivated. Here, a paragraph is introduced which raises the unspoken question "who laid the fog of obscurity?" Greenwood can neither ask the question proper nor name the guilty party. She does, however, narrow down the suspects considerably.

It is no fault of the USSR that Soviet scientists are not better known in other countries. Inside Russia scientists are public heroes and Soviet newspapers and journals feature the achievements of scientists and the gatherings of the various Institutes of the Academy of Sciences, in the same way that Australian papers report test cricket or American papers play up in baseball matches.

In the introduction of the successfully re-worked script "the fog of obscurity" dissipates. Greenwood's metaphorical "spotlight" is turned squarely away from "Soviet Scientists". It now settles upon an international chorus line of talented individuals, among them "a Russian":

Knowledge never can be the closed preserve of any one nation. Scientific discovery leaps national boundaries to add to the pool of human ideas. From Copernicus to Einstein this has been so. The impact of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima awakened us to a new awareness of this fact. From Marie Sklodovska-Curie (Polish French-woman) to Lisa Meitner (German expatriate to Sweden) the research workers of the atom who made possible that world shaking act came from many and diverse nations.

One among them was a Russian, yet he was a student of the great English scientist, Lord Rutherford. Peter Kapitsa who is a Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR is also a Professor of the University of Cambridge.

Soviet science as a whole is now condensed into the persona of Peter Kapitsa. Kapitsa's own "Sovietness" is displaced by his connections with the British establishment. These are promoted from the mid-section of the rejected script to the privileged introductory paragraphs of the re-draft. Kapitsa's appropriation of the mantle of Soviet Science continues throughout the script. The paragraph originally used to imply Western censorship now becomes:

In the minds of Russia's millions - who follow the achievements of scientists as we follow test cricket, or Americans follow baseball games - Kapitsa is identified by two buildings. His great laboratory is one. The other is a big factory building near Moscow . . . .

The rejected script includes a number of references to the advanced nature of Soviet atomic research, some of them highly detailed:

The Leningrad Physico-Technical Institute has since built an even larger cyclotron at its Atomic Nucleus Laboratory where a large group of physicists are constantly working on atomic problems at the present time. And at the Kharkov Institute there is the world's largest electrostatic generator with a 33 foot valve and a 5 million volt lightning generator as a part of the Soviet equipment for storming the atom.

This and related material on atomic research span approximately one page of script. In the re-draft the passage is compressed into four lines:

To aid Kapitsa in the storming of the atom, the Leningrad Radium institute built one of the first cyclotrons ever constructed in Europe. It was in 1930 that this institute received its first grants for storming the atomic nucleus.

In one instance the pseudonym "certain work" stands in for "atomic research".

Also deleted from the rejected script is some one and a half pages which describe Soviet scientific advances of a general nature. These have no particular bearing on Kapitsa, their focus is the strength of the Soviet post-war reconstruction programme:

The Academy is the nerve centre controlling the tremendous organism of institutes, laboratories, universities and research groups who all work as teams with the fullest initiative for the fulfilment of a five year plan. In war time the plan was directed to improvement of methods of defence and attack. In peace-time it is already full blast ahead in the planned programme of re-building on a gigantic scale.

Replacing this endorsement of socialism, its ability to mobilise on the grand scale for the public good, is a description of Kapitsa's work on liquid oxygen and other gasses. This is expanded from eight lines in the rejected script to one and a half pages in the re-draft.

Greenwood begins her conclusion of both scripts with a brief exposition of Kapitsa's work with cosmic rays. In the rejected script she closes by underlining the public responsibilities of Soviet science and its commitment to the development of its discoveries for the social good:

This would have terrifying prospects [Kapitsa's cosmic ray research] were it not that Soviet science progresses according to one set principle. From Lenin, who can truly be said to have visualised the possibilities of Soviet science, to Stalin, this definition has stood, "Soviet science is one which stands in no awe of fetishes, boldly discards everything outdated, and always remains science for the people" [Greenwood's emphasis].

In the re-draft the social is again displaced by the individual, an effect which is amplified by the introduction of a number of quotes from Kapitsa. Now, it is Kapitsa himself who stands as guarantor of the constructive use of science. His legitimacy is emphasised by a reprise of the British connection.

Remembering Kapitsa's oft repeated statement that "science must provide the knowledge which is necessary to transform nature in such a way that it will serve the needs of man's cultural development" and his belief in the creative role of the scientist, we can feel assured that this new source of energy will be put to constructive use.

In this he quotes his old master, Rutherford, who used to say "Kapitsa, do you know, it is only because of my pupils I feel so young". "I too" says Kapitsa, "feel that this intercourse with youth safe guards all that is new and advanced in science".

Kapitsa, then, is promoted from the background role which he occupied in the rejected script to become the receptacle of Soviet science. He also stands in for what Greenwood sees to be the beneficial figures of socialism - its enhanced ability to "push back the frontiers" and to harness new discoveries for the public good. The displacement of the social by the individual was not a technique invented by Greenwood, it is a common trope of narrative fiction. The shoe horning of "factual data" into a narrative structure became a common mode of production for Greenwood the author. The end result may not have been Greenwood's preferred format but, as with "Countess Constance", it was a format which enabled the script to be broadcast.


1 "Katharine Susannah Prichard", Overseas Broadcasts VLQ No 333 b, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Department of Information (Broadcasting Division), 16 Nov 1940.

2 Irene A. Greenwood and Grant Stone, "Katharine Susannah Prichard", The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University, Audio Tape.

3 "Personalities at the Australian Women's Charter Conference", The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 19 Sept 1946.

4 Irene A. Greenwood, "Professor Peter Kapitsa - Soviet Physicist and his Associates of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR", rejected radio script, 24 Feb 1946. See Appendix 2(a).

5 Ian W. Greville (Talks Officer ABC), Letter to Irene A. Greenwood, 2 Jan 1946, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

6 "Professor Peter Kapitsa - Physicist and Engineer. Director of the Institute of Physical Problems of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR", People in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 24 Feb 1946. See Appendix 2(b).

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