Radio Girls - Sarah-Jane Stratford

ONE

November 1926

Although everyone in the boardinghouse had seen the letter and assured Maisie that it was genuine, she couldn’t help continually unfolding and rereading it, until the typed words along the creases were nearly illegible, only five days after she had received it.

“You ought to be careful,” advised Lola from her perch on the straight-backed bedroom chair, where she was buffing her nails. “You’ll soon have that in pieces, and aren’t you meant to present it at your interview?”

The interview. After months of unemployment, with only the occasional two or three days of work that everyone was sure would turn into something more substantial and never did, Maisie was at last invited to interview for a full-time position. A junior secretary was needed at the BBC.

“I do hope it’s for whoever it is who puts on the plays and things,” Lola said at least once a day, with some variation. Maisie promised faithfully that, if this was the job on offer and she secured it, she would make every effort to have Lola brought in to broadcast. Privately, however, she hoped the job was as far away from the “plays and things” as the BBC’s offices in Savoy Hill allowed.

She read the letter again. The letterhead was a plain, modern type, giving the address and exchanges for phoning (Temple Bar 8400) or sending telegrams (Ethanuze, London). The text was in the succinct, formal style she associated so fondly with Britain, directing her to arrive at the office at three o’clock Thursday, November twenty-fifth, and ask for Miss Shields. She was to bring “appropriate references.”

“I wish I knew what they meant by ‘appropriate,’” Maisie said, running her finger up and down her pointy chin. She had a note from Sister Bennister, head matron of the Brighton Soldiers’ Hospital, pronouncing Maisie an effective and considerate nurse—generous, considering Maisie had scarcely been more than a nurses’ aide. The certificate of completion from Miss Jenkins’s Secretarial College was more relevant but less impressive, as it was dated 1924, from New York, and there was no great way to explain her failure to provide anything else.

“Ah, don’t fret so much,” Lola advised. “They have to say that sort of thing, don’t they? But I don’t reckon those references matter so much. It’s really all about the impression you make when they meet you.”

The longer Maisie studied herself in the black-stained mirror at her dressing table, the less encouraging that prospect became.

Both Lola and their landlady, Mrs. Crewe, had been nonstop fonts of advice since the ceremonial slitting of the envelope. Even the other boarders, women who rarely seemed cognizant of Maisie’s existence, shared the thrill. Listening to the wireless was a sore subject in Mrs. Crewe’s house, as that intractable lady pronounced the whole concept a “nonsensical passing fancy” and refused to spend her hard-earned money on such a thoroughly unnecessary and, she emphasized, unnatural contraption as a radio.

“Why on earth would anyone want to hear bodiless voices? Sounds irreligious to me, not to say dangerous. Who knows what they can do, if they can speak to you through some machine or other? First cinema, now this. It’s not right.”

Not right it may be, but Mrs. Crewe was a stout champion of “her girls,” as she described her boarders, and was willing to put aside some of her hard feeling in the cause of Maisie being properly employed.

“And once you’re working there and not growing two heads or whatnot, she’ll have to agree it’s all right and buy us a wireless!” Lola crowed. “Of course,” she went on more musingly, penciled brows furrowing, “like as not