Seventy-three years after leaving the BBC on bad terms, George Orwell will return as an 8ft tall bronze statue by sculptor Martin Jennings.
The proposal to erect a statue honouring the talks producer and author of ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ was rejected by the BBC in 2012. At that time, Orwell was considered too controversial. Then BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson, deemed Orwell “too left-wing a figure for the BBC to honour”. Fours years on, The Guardian reported yesterday (9 August) that Westminster city council has now granted planning permission for the project, which will be funded by private donations through a trust founded by late Labour MP Ben Whitaker.
Orwell left his employment at the BBC in 1943 after just 27 months complaining that his work was “was wasting [his] own time and the public money on doing work that produces no result”. As Talks Producer at the Indian Section based at the corporation’s Oxford Street HQ, he prepared commentaries on the daily news and produced programmes on political and literary issues. He described the atmosphere at the BBC as “something half-way between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum”.
When Tony Hall took up the helm as the BBC’s new Director-General the project to commemorate Orwell was reinstated. After Whitaker’s death in 2014, his wife Janet assumed responsibility for the statue. “George Orwell was my husband’s hero and he thought the BBC was the ideal site because of the values of truth, clarity and freedom of expression which Orwell exemplified”, Mrs Whitaker said. Martin Jennings, the sculptor behind the statue of the poet John Betjeman at London’s St Pancras Station, also reveres Orwell. He hopes to complete the work by early 2017.
The sculpture will be situated at the entrance to the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in central London. Head of BBC history, Robert Seatter, told The Guardian that Orwell “will stand in the fresh air reminding people of the value of journalism in holding authority to account”.