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

John Richardson


The drive for "unbiased broadcasting" left in its wake a number of aborted programmes and disillusioned broadcasters. Unlike Frank Beasley and others, Greenwood persisted in her attempts to transmit her political message. Between 1936 and 1954 she adopted a number of strategies which allowed her to explore the margins of the vaguely specified constraints. Armed with these she both complied with and attempted to appropriate the practices and technology of the institution. Greenwood worked to the letter, but not to the spirit of the law. But she did not do so without a degree of loss. There is no access to a "preferred message", her scripts were shaped by the constraints even before they were written. Some were formally censored, re-worked, re-submitted and finally approved. Others were approved without alterations. In the more successful of her efforts the voice of the "political activist" superimposed itself on that of the "institutional narrator".


On the 8th Feb 1939 Greenwood received Charlton's instructions to delete disparaging references to fascism from her "Pioneer Social Worker" script,1 the sterilised talk went to air on the 10th. A week later Greenwood's topic was "Countess Constance de Marciewicz - Irish Patriot and Republican".2 This script was apparently approved for broadcasting in its original form. Set in the historical context of the 1916 Sinn Fein rebellion "Countess Constance" probably went as close as possible towards a condemnation of British colonial politics and an endorsement of republicanism - neither of which was without relevance to late 1930s Australia.

The opening paragraphs of the talk function as an introduction. Like most introductions this establishes a theme and alerts the audience to the argument which will follow. Such is the audiences expectation. As with other media which employ a transient message with no opportunity to question the lecturer or to turn back the pages, the role of the introduction in the broadcast talk is vital - it must be strongly directive. Greenwood began her talk as follows:

The cables this past week or so have told of bomb outrages all over England, which have been attributed to members of the Irish Republican Army, who had previously sent a sensational ultimatum to the British Foreign Secretary (Viscount Halifax) in which they demanded the withdrawal of all British troops from Ireland within a certain time, or else they threatened to take "appropriate action". The whole affair has caused quite a sensation culminating in a statement from Mr De Valera, the Prime Minister of Ireland, that he would, if necessary, invoke those Clauses of the new Constitution which permit of dealing with offenders by trial without jury.

So far the scenario is one of righteous "outrage". The British have been delivered an ultimatum and bombed. The villains of the peace are the IRA, an illegal organisation and as such beyond the scope of favourable representation. "Balance" has been maintained, the tone is pro-British. But in the closing lines Greenwood inserts a cue - "trial without jury" - which she activates as the parable slides from the contemporary to the historical time frame. The second paragraph commences:

This stand by Mr De Valera has caused great surprise among those who remember that period of Irish history which brought Mr De Valera himself to prominence. This was in Easter 1916, when members of the Sinn Fein movement staged a rebellion in Dublin, seized the Post Office and other prominent buildings and declared an Irish Republic. The rebellion was soon crushed, by measures like those which Mr De Valera now threatens to use, but the Republican movement spread.

"Trial without jury", sleeping in the dynamic of outrage and retribution, is now levered closer to the foreground. De Valera's proposed use of the deterrent is implied to be hypocritical. As a deterrent "trial without jury" is in any case ineffective ("but the Republican movement spread"). Britain, which once took "measures like those which Mr De Valera now threatens to use", has begun its transition from wronged to wrong-doer, democratic to draconian, positive to negative. This transition can only be complete when the narrative is firmly set in the historical dimension. Meanwhile Britain is unnamed as the oppressor ("the rebellion was soon crushed" - by who?) and it must remain unnamed by Greenwood (the institutional narrator), even when its metamorphosis through time is complete.

The rest of the introduction sets the historical scene. Greenwood continues,

At the elections of 1919, Sinn Feiners captured 73 out of the 80 seats allowed to Irish3 representatives of the Irish Free State in the British House of Commons, but they refused to take their seats, and instead, met in Dublin and declared themselves the Dail Eireann, the parliament of Ireland, and Mr De Valera, the President of the Irish Republic. [Greenwood's strike through]

The Sinn Feiners are vindicated by democratic process. The Republic is declared with its own democratically elected parliament. The role reversal between Britain and the Republican movement, in which the two movers have already been placed in a relationship of opposition, now accelerates. The democratic/undemocratic couplet becomes the standard for positive/negative attributes.

Finally, Constance Georgine Gore-Booth, the nominal subject of the talk, is introduced. Her credentials are established not in the least by her marriage to Casimer de Markiewcz, "who was a Pole by birth but a Russian subject". The Countess's involvement provides the clue as to Greenwood's special interest in the IRA and/or the Sinn Fein:

Women were admitted to the movement on exactly the same terms as men and in the rebellion of Easter week they took their place in the Irish Citizen Army beside men and shared in the marching, and digging trenches, and even fought at the barricades.[Greenwood's emphases]

With the tale firmly located in Ireland at the time of the "troubles" Greenwood approaches the task of naming Britain as oppressor. To do this she employs a number of surrogates which speak for her, including the authoritative and "unbiased" Encyclopedia Britannica:

Ireland was now enduring a period of armed terror and outrages, a most unhappy time of which the "Encyclopedia Britannica"4 (unbiased)5 writes; - "As the result of the activities of the Black-and-Tans and Auxiliaries, the houses of those suspected of being revolutionaries were destroyed . . . . Many murders of real or suspected revolutionaries were committed. There was a competition in crime and the British Government winked at the performances. "The Weekly Summary", a paper printed and published by the authorities at Dublin Castle, was a direct incitement to murder". [Greenwood's emphasis]

The practice of citing Britain's proper name in connection with atrocities continues with only a single exception throughout the script. For instance:

During the rebellion she was second in command to James Connolly, and she writes;- "The work was very exciting when the fighting began . . . . A group of girls who were attending to the wounded were caught by English machine gun fire which continuously raked the Green". [England and Britain are used interchangeably throughout]

And similarly:

[The Countess was] interested in the Sinn Fein and its founder Arthur Griffiths, (who, by the way,6 has been called "The Father of Sinn Fein" and declared its object to be "The removal of England's hand from Ireland's pocket and England's hand from Ireland's throat".)7

The spoken effect of the parentheses and the modifier "by the way", added to the typed script in Greenwood's hand writing, relegate the effects of "England's hand" to incidental status. But Greenwood's "incidentals" are worthy of special attention. It was often by incidental rather than overt means that she was able to broadcast her politics.

Having peppered the script with the opinions of her surrogates Greenwood names "Britain as oppressor" in a different voice. In the single exception to the citation rule, she delivers what is, for her, the most damning indictment of all - Britain as destroyer of the heroine's house and home: "After her arrest, her house had been raided and wrecked by the British military authorities and she never again had a home of her own".

When Britain is named elsewhere in the script it is in the context of enlightenment and democracy:

Meanwhile, in England, the public consciousness was at last awakening to Ireland's injustices. In 1920 the House of Commons passed a new "Government of Ireland Act" providing for two separate Parliaments, one for Southern Ireland and one for the six northern counties of Ulster.

Broadcast in the wake of the London bombings and at a time when Britain was continuing its diplomatic efforts to forestall war in Europe, Greenwood's topic was highly controversial. Her defence of Irish Republicanism (embroiled as it is here with notions of sexual equality) was certainly open to being read as an attack on British imperialism. The shape which the talk took on may not have been Greenwood's ideal, but it was a shape which allowed it to be broadcast.


1 "Pioneer Australian Woman Social Worker, Peace Worker and Leader of Women's Movements", Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 10 Feb 1939.

2 "Countess Constance de Marciewicz - Irish Patriot and Republican", Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 17 Feb 1939. See Appendix 1.

3 "Irish" is Greenwood's hand written insertion.

4 "Britannica" is Greenwood's hand-written insertion.

5 "(unbiased)" is Greenwood's hand written insertion.

6 "by the way" is Greenwood's hand written insertion.

7 The parentheses are hand-written insertions.

New: 25 March, 1996 | Now: 1 May, 2015