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Neither a failure nor a success.

Dick Perceval's staff file - held at BBC Written Archives Centre

For many years, the only evidence that I had for Dick Perceval's life was contained in his journals, but, in July 2018, project producer Claire Soper contacted the BBC Written Archives Centre, and we discovered that Dick Perceval's staff file had been preserved. Dick worked at the BBC Monitoring Service from 1949 - 1964. I have previously written about his work there for the Connected Histories of the BBC website.

In this blog post I want to share some of the information preserved in Dick's BBC staff file, because it gives additional information about the man that he was, and helps to fill in a few gaps in what I know about his life story, as this staff file covers years in which he was rarely writing in his journal.

Dick had been trying to get a job with the BBC since 1938, when he unexpectedly lost his job with Amalgamated Press because (as he tells it) he asked for a pay rise on the day that the editor was due to go on holiday and was given 2 weeks notice instead (see episode 4).

He applied for a range of positions at BBC both before and after WW2 and was rejected 7 times before being offered a job as report writer for the Monitoring Service.

Even after his appointment to the BBC Monitoring Service, he continued to apply for jobs within the BBC that might offer him a little more creative opportunity. In July 1953, he applied to the German Topical Unit, In 1955 he applied for a Talks Assistant Role and for the position of scriptwriter/adapter. In 1957, he applied to be senior sub editor of the German News Service.

After applying for the German Topical Unit, which required him to audition his German speaking skills, the appointment board made the following observations.

"No gift at all for expression or communication" - this surprised me, as his journals are often full of passion and very expressive. I enjoy the description of his "Voice Personality" being "tame, phlegmatic. Goes through script picking his way like a cat on the dresser". Written by someone who has never lived with a cat, I suspect.

I imagine that this steady stream of rejections had an impact on his confidence and sense of self-worth. In addition, his annual reports suggest that he received criticism of his working methods - mostly for being too conscientious and a bit slow, although his reports also show that his patience, rigour and willingness to work hard were much appreciated.

The file also contains records of support offered by the BBC to their employees, including providing a loan for Dick to buy a colour television, and letters of condolence on the death of both his parents, and on the death of Sorina. In a letter, which he wrote to his supervisor two days after Sorina's death, he proposes that he will return to work after taking just one week off to recover. He writes,

Dear John,

Very many thanks for your kind letter. My wife’s death is, indeed, a terrible shock and I still cannot realise it’s full significance. The great blessing is that she had a wonderful last day and died at the end of it, as a result of a sudden heart attack, and I think without any pain. It was so fortunate that I had taken that day off in order to go with her to a wedding, after which we visited a friend and then dined out together at a restaurant. She enjoyed it all so much and was in great form throughout. And, of course, I was with her throughout the day and right up until the end. She had been unwell and receiving medical treatment during the past month but had seemed to have made a complete recovery.

It is most kind of you to tell me that I can take off all the time I want. At the moment it is difficult to know what I need and what is best to do in this respect. But if I may, I think I would like to remain away until Monday 1st February, and I will assume that this will be all right unless I hear from you to the contrary.

Thank you again for so kindly writing.

Yours sincerely,

Dick Perceval.

On the occasion of his marriage to Sheila, he was delighted to receive a wedding gift of £20 from the BBC (around £450 in today's money). Then, when he was finally offered a chance at promotion in 1962, he turned the offer down.

I assume that the nervous condition that he is referring to is the sleep paralysis that he received treatment for during his time at Bletchley Park (see Episode 7). I wonder why that made him feel that he could not work with certain teams? I think that he knew that he was going to take early retirement and didn't want the stress of moving into a senior position.

Dick retired in 1964, and his leaving note shows that he and Sheila moved to Torquay. (His journal shows that they only lasted one winter in Torquay before returning to live in London). He worked at Caversham Park for the BBC Monitoring Service for 14 years, six days a week. He tried so hard to improve his lot through applying for internal appointments, but remained a report writer - 'always conscientious and hardworking'. In his words, (see Episode 17) "neither a failure, nor a success".

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