Tuesday, 3 December 2013
A Great British Interculturalist Has Died in Germany
A radio presenter has died. No, I didn't know him. But in the deepest recesses of my brain his name produced a faint echo: Chris Howland.
The interesting thing is he was a British radio journalist whose career happened exclusively (apart from one unsuccessful stint at home which only lasted a year) in Germany. He was born in London in 1928, became a professional beekeeper, and in 1946 started as a radio presenter for the British army in occupied Hamburg, working for BFBS.
Soon his radio show became the preferred listening for German youths fed up with the staid and pompous way German radio was then presented. And apparently Chris Howland's show was just what they were looking for - all the great new music (rather than some outdated operetta tunes that German radio would have served up) presented in a laid-back and funny way. Apparently once he told his audience: "Don't worry about the lyrics [of an English song] I don't understand them myself". Just the sort of witty, uplifting remark people needed in those days.
In the 60s Chris Howland got his first show with a German radio station and again managed to turn it into a great success, thereby even saving the almost defunct broadcasting station from ruin by being so popular. Later on, when TV became the more important mass medium, Chris Howland got a show called "Hidden Camera" which must have been hilarious, especially given the uptight, head-down German post-war era. It involved putting people in awkward or absurd social situations and filming their reactions. Ethnographers of today, take note! So for example, traffic lights were set up in a forest (absolutely no traffic!) and the good Germans were filmed standing there obeying the red lights 'til the cows came home (or until they were being told it had been a joke.)
Without making a big song and dance about it, Chris Howland who made his strong British accent his trade mark, managed to alert Germans to their post-war weaknesses - a strong allegiance to aurhority, humourlessness, and an unquerying mind.
Chris Howland died last Saturday near Cologne. He'd made Germany his home, and did radio shows right to the end. I think he deserves to be remembered as one of the first post-war interculturalist who was not afraid of going against the grain. I wonder for example what his BFBS colleaagues made of his decision to stay on in "enemy territory"? He also calmly sailed through the storm when a German politician complained that his "Hidden Camera" was irreverent and impolite.
I think we need more Chris Howlands - unafraid, humorous and bridging cultures!