A seasonal offering. Purely by chance, I’d discovered this series of broadcast transcripts from Australia to England via Paris, dating from Christmas 1932 and describing a game of cricket. Not just any game, mind. They consist of the ‘cables’ from the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), covering the action in test matches in the infamous ‘bodyline’ series between England and Australia [more on bodyline at the State Library of New South Wales or at Wikipedia]
“Due to restrictions on commercial radio in the United Kingdom in the 1930s, radio stations were established on the continent to beam programs directly to the United Kingdom. The main station was situated in Paris. One of its advertisers was the Gillette Safety Razor Co. which sponsored reporting of the controversial 1932-33 cricket series played between Australia and England in Australia. These were the days before live radio and television broadcasts of international sporting events. Each day a reporter cabled very brief descriptions of play to Paris where they were transformed into full scripts which were then broadcast to the United Kingdom.”
The communications technology of the time attenuated the bandwidth available to the reporters to an almost unimaginable degree by today’s standards.
The reports are dispatched without punctuation and merely consists of two- or three-word phrases breathlessly running on after each other. But note how the action still comes through loud and clear nonetheless.
“Fine warm 50000 before toss wicket good larwood voce fastest making ball fly adopted leg theory attack virulent batsmen ultra cautious"
"bradman crudest stroke first ball bowes wild pull missed crowd bitterly disappointed england decided advantage 3/67 poor result perfect wicket fingleton 50 141 minutes grand defence riskless wearing down attack fielding admirable nothing given away”
“larwood resumed scoring slow hard toiling weather warming hundreds fainted in dense throng contest always interesting bowlers making batsmen earn every run none capable forcing scoring continually on defensive bowlers”
"one side unplaying cricket ruining game"
"oldfield struck head ball larwood staggered fell crowd hooting field crowded round after five minutes oldfield supported by woodfull walked off holding towel to head play resumed crowd still hooting"
You need a little knowledge of cricket to parse all of it - or to detect the layers of Imperial intrigue that underpin the bodyline story - but it’s fascinating to see how the technology affected communication to this extent. Although the radio broadcasts in England were subsequently altered to remove references to the bodyline controversy - the cables mention "leg theory" rather than the "bodyline" that was reported in Australia - these raw transcripts of the cables are a supreme exercise in concision and compression. Here the content was compressed to fit the signal, and then expanded upon by broadcasters at the other end of the world. It's dependent on creative interpretation by humans, with the compressed signal only visible to the system, not the ultimate receivers.
It might also give us pause to consider how available bandwidth, politics, and business models always affects communication, and how much information might be lost in today's polynodal yet low-resolution transmissions via email and IM, Twitter and status updates, audio and video streaming and so on.
Either way, I love reading these cables. The language is crafted so perfectly, despite the constraints. They’re caught between poetry and machinery.
Some more excerpts below [all cables here]
December 30th.1932 1st day Broadcasting
Melbournecg152/149 30 1610
“Fine warm 50000 before toss wicket good larwood voce fastest making ball fly adopted leg theory attack virulent batsmen ultra cautious 42 prelunch record low scoring batsmen frequently hit by ball only one four ingleton stubbornest woodfull just settling when bowled off pads larwood twice burst boots faulty ball replaced after two overs post lunch fingleton caught wyatt noball 27 lunch score 1/42 slowest record obrien outrun hesitating call by fingleton bradman crudest stroke first ball bowes wild pull missed crowd bitterly disappointed england decided advantage 3/67 poor result perfect wicket fingleton 50 141 minutes grand defence riskless wearing down attack fielding admirable nothing given away fingleton mccabe 50/52 minutes scoring rate steadily increasing as attack lost virility partnership firmly established tea fingleton 67 mccabe 24 3/120 fingleton 67 woodfull allen ten 1/29 obrien outrun ten 2/67 bradman bowes nil 3/67 mccabe 24 extras nine 3/120 tea +
Ln ps ord 22 Melbournecg 81/79 30 1704
Posted eleven added mccabe easily slip jardine partnership 64/76 minutes voce injured righthand fielding unserious larwood resumed scoring slow hard toiling weather warming hundreds fainted in dense throng contest always interesting bowlers making batsmen”
1st day Broadcasting (con.)
earn every run none capable forcing scoring continually on defensive bowlers varied leg off theory repeatedly splendid exhibition offensive bowling crowd keenly appreciated desperate fight fingletons pluck unwavering larwood altogether offfield 60 minutes 150 223 minutes five oclock 4/151 fingleton 79 richardson ten +
ps 24 Melbournecg 44 30 1745
fingleton clean bowled 234 minutes 3/4 dogged defence courage took innumerable blows distinct triumph english attack hold australia leading batsmen completely bowling tired but win loose batsmen no liberties attendance 63993 worlds record receipts L 5577 richardson only aggressive 30/70 minutes 4/4
fingleton allen 83 5/165 mccabe jardine voce 32 4/131 richardson hammond voce 34 6/188 grimmett sutcliffe voce two 7/194 oldfield 13 extras 10 7 for 194 bowling overs maidens runs wickets larwood 17 1 35 nil voce 17 3 39 three allen 17 3 41 two hammond 9 3 19 nil bowes 19 2 50 one stumps five 55 +