Last night I listened to a radio program about the BBC during the Second World War (The Friend in the Corner, episode 2 of 6, broadcast on BBC Radio 7 at 7:30pm Saturday 13th March 2010), and the above phrase in it caught my attention. It occurred in the following context:
A letter arrived from a man in Italy: "If you could only see us in the evening", he wrote, "sitting around the corner where the wireless is, listening to your words, you would think we were sick people inhaling oxygen". That man, and many like him, have been inspired by Colonel Stevens of the Italian service, Frau Wernicke of the German service, Bob of Radio Orange, and, of course, by Babar the freedom-fighting French elephant.
This was followed by a man singing a French song, presumably from one of the Babar broadcasts (my French is a bit too rusty to make out what it was about).
To me it seemed slighty surreal to think of Babar the Elephant, a fictional figure fondly remember from distant childhood, being used to encourage French resistance to the Nazis (it sounds like something from 'Allo 'Allo!), and I wanted to know more. A little Googling revealed that the Director of BBC European Intelligence during World War Two was a Jonathan Griffin (1906-1990), a poet, translator and diplomat, who actually translated Babar the Elephant into English, though it wasn't his translation that was used in the classic 1930's English edition - that was done by Merle Haas. It is not clear from what I have found, whether Griffin did his translation before or after his work for the BBC during the war, nor is it clear that he was involved in the Babar broadcasts, but it would seem a strange coincidence if he wasn't.
[Incidentally, Radio Orange was broadcast to the Netherlands by the Dutch government in exile. I have no idea who 'Bob' was, but I did find references out on the web to Colonel Stevens and Frau Wernicke in relation to BBC broadcasts to occupied Europe during the war]