Wierd secret messages on the radio.
June 4, 2009 3:44 AM   Subscribe

When I was a child there used to be cryptic messages on BBC Radio Four between the news and weather etc. that were weird and cryptic (as in they shouldn't have been on mainstream radio), but dull - stuff like "Mrs. Smith from Doncaster needs to contact her family in Hull". I have been told they were used for spies to communicate - does anyone know any more about this? I think it's something like those code words on the Tube that get announced if there's something going on. And numbers stations of course!
posted by debord to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I also wondered that, but the wording I always remembered was Ms Bloggs currently on holiday in France to get in touch about her father who is dangerously ill. Searching under dangerously ill gives this interview from The Independent in 1998 with Simon Surtees of the BBC who was responsible for the messages. No suggestion in that of them being anything but real.
posted by boudicca at 3:58 AM on June 4, 2009

boudicca: your link is to a comic article by the Independent's regular humorist, Miles Kington; it is a joke, and all the details are invented. But here is a genuine article from 1997 which gives some details:

The BBC first broadcast an SOS message in 1923, one year after the Home Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation was founded. A six-year-old boy was missing, and his parents and the police were worried for his safety. The BBC allowed a 30-second broadcast, asking for news of sightings. As a result of reports from listeners the boy was found safe and well ..

In recent years the BBC has devised much stricter criteria for broadcasting the SOS messages. They no longer take calls for missing persons, only considering cases where someone is dangerously ill, and a close relative is out of contact. There must also be a high probability that the person will be listening when the SOS goes out.

posted by verstegan at 4:19 AM on June 4, 2009

I haven't got any sources for this, but I think the timing of the disappearance of the messages is a pretty strong clue that they weren't secret spy communications: their decline coincided with the near-universal take-up of mobile phones in the UK.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:31 AM on June 4, 2009

Wow, so no conspiracy there then - just genuine stuff.
Thanks for that though - it all seems logical!
Would be nice to think the was some subterfuge in there though...
posted by debord at 6:03 AM on June 4, 2009

During WWII "Aunty" used to broadcast coded messages to the Maquis and others in occupied Europe. This was normally prefixed by "This is London Calling".
posted by adamvasco at 6:14 AM on June 4, 2009

Yeah, there was lots of this going on in WWII, but though you didn't mention your age, I assumed you aren't old enough to have heard them.
(Great scene in the classic DDay movie, The Longest Day, where resistance guys are sitting around waiting thru the nonsense codes and suddenly hear the message meant for their cell and start rushing around, thrilled the day has finally come. Meanwhile, a smart nerdy German has also heard the code and tries to warn his bosses the invasion is at hand, but they sneer at him. Great stuff.)

Oh look. Here is the BBC's coded broadcast "to our friends in occupied countries" for June 5, 1944, 65 years ago tomorrow, the eve of DDay. "Don is growing a very long beard this week." etc.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:49 AM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

This doesn't answer your question but I think it's pretty cool.
posted by 913 at 6:33 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

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