Albert Eric Maschwitz OBE (10 June 1901 – 27 October 1969), sometimes credited as Holt Marvell, was an English entertainer, writer, editor, broadcaster and broadcasting executive.
Life and work
Born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, and descendant of a traditional German family, Maschwitz was educated at Arden House preparatory school, Henley in Arden, Repton School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
As a lyricist, Maschwitz wrote, often credited to his pseudonym "Holt Marvell," the screenplays of several successful films in the 1930s and 1940s, but is perhaps best remembered for his lyrics to 1940s popular songs such as "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" (music by Manning Sherwin) and "These Foolish Things" (music by Jack Strachey, famously reinterpreted in 1973 by Bryan Ferry on his first solo album of the same name). According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Maschwitz had a brief romantic liaison with British cabaret singer Jean Ross, and their relationship inspired the lyrics for These Foolish Things. (Other sources have suggested that Maschwitz's wife Hermione Gingold or Anna May Wong inspired the lyrics, but Maschwitz's autobiography contradicts these claims citing "fleeting memories of [a] young love.")
Maschwitz started his stage acting career in the early 1920s, playing Vittoria in the first successful modern production of Webster's The White Devil (Marlowe Society, Cambridge ADC Theatre, 1920). He joined the BBC in 1926. His first radio show was In Town Tonight. While at the BBC he wrote a radio operetta Goodnight Vienna, with the popular song of the same title co-written by George Posford. In 1932 it was adapted as a film starring Anna Neagle.
Between 1927 and 1933, Maschwitz was the editor of the weekly broadcast listings magazine Radio Times.
From August 1939, he was a postal censor in Liverpool. From November 1939, he served with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)/MI-6 D Section (sabotage). In 1940, he briefly worked to establish a resistance organization in Beverley, Yorkshire, and for Army Welfare in London before being assigned to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). In 1940 he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps. He was then sent to New York City to work for the British Security Coordination (BSC). In 1942, he returned to London, briefly supervising radio programmes for the troops. He then transferred to the Political Warfare Executive (PWE). He ended the war as chief broadcasting officer with the 21st Army Group, leaving the army as a Lieutenant-Colonel. Maschwitz, along with Major John MacMillan (members of "No 1 Field Broadcasting Unit"), was responsible for taking over the "Reichssender Hamburg" on 3 May 1945. This requisition enabled the British occupation troops to start broadcasting programmes for their soldiers in northern Germany, and was the nucleus for the British Forces Network (BFN), inaugurated with Maschwitz's help in July 1945, eventually to become the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).
In 1947, Maschwitz became Chairman of the Songwriters Guild of Great Britain, which was founded by Ivor Novello, Sir Alan Herbert, Eric Coates, Haydn Wood, Richard Addinsell and others, for the encouragement and protection of British popular music. He was the first Vice Chair and Chairman from July 1948 for one year, and again between December 1954 and April 1958.
In 1958, near the start of the BBC/ITV ratings wars, he rejoined the BBC as Head of Television Light Entertainment. About the job he said, "I don't think the BBC is a cultural organisation. We've got to please the people. The job of a man putting on a show is to get an audience." By 1962, he was serving as assistant to the BBC's Controller of Programmes, and it was in this capacity that he requested the recently formed BBC Survey Group to examine possible ideas for a science fiction drama series; the results of the study led to the creation of Doctor Who the next year.
Maschwitz left to join the rival ITV in 1963.
During the course of his varied entertainment career, Maschwitz also adapted French comedies such as Thirteen For Dinner; wrote the book and lyrics for numerous musicals, amongst them Balalaika, Summer Song, which used the music of Dvorak, Happy Holiday (based on Arnold Ridley's play The Ghost Train), and Zip Goes a Million, which was written specially for George Formby; and he was the creator of the radio series Café Collette. He also edited the Radio Times, and even turned his hand to the detective novel: Death at Broadcasting House, co-written with Val Gielgud and published in 1931, revolves around a radio play disrupted by the murder of one of the cast.
Maschwitz was married twice: first to Hermione Gingold, who was granted a divorce in 1945, and then immediately to Phyllis Gordon, who remained his wife until his death.
He was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1936.
- Took, Barry, ‘Maschwitz, (Albert) Eric (1901–1969)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 19 Aug 2009
- Parker, Peter (September 2004). "Ross, Jean Iris (1911–1973)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/74425. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Frost, Peter (31 December 2013). "Jean Ross: These Foolish Things". Morning Star. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
- Gingold 1989, p. 54.
- Maschwitz 1957, pp. 77-79.
- "Radio Times Facts and Figures". radiotimesarchive.co.uk. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
- BFI database page on Eric Maschwitz
- See Ahrens, Michael, Die Briten in Hamburg: Besatzerleben 1945 - 1958. München: Döllin und Galitz Verlag, 2011, p. 50.
- See Taylor, Doreen, A Microphone and a Frequency: Forty Years of Forces Broadcasting, London: Heinemann, 1983, pp. 36-49; Zöllner, Oliver, BFBS: "Freund in der Fremde". British Forces Broadcasting Service (Germany) – der britische Militärrundfunk in Deutschland, Göttingen: Cuvillier, 1996, pp. 18-21.
- "Success Story, 1947-1968". 1968.
- Maschwitz, Eric, No Chip on My Shoulder: An Autobiography. With Plates, Including Portraits, London: Jenkins, 1957. British Musical Theatre, archived from the original on 20 August 2008, retrieved 19 August 2009