I discover why Pakistan TV's relay of BBC's Forsyte Saga was so popular! - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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I discover why Pakistan TV's relay of BBC's Forsyte Saga was so popular!

Instruction at the Academy, on the ground and in the air, was conducted entirely in English. All the foreign students had to go through a lengthy English language course at Risalpur and had to reach an acceptable fluency before they were allowed to start the flying phase. Any student heard to use their own language in the air or in the flight crew rooms was punished - I never found out what the punishment was.

There was a good flight safety reason for insisting on using English: it was the one common language at the Academy and it is the international aviation language. All the Academy staff spoke excellent English in addition to Urdu as well as a bewildering number of other 'sub-continent' languages including Pushto, Bengali and Punjabi and probably others. With the exception of the Iranian students, the students spoke various dialects of spoken Arabic, not all interchangeable in speech but all the same when written. The Iranian students, who were in the majority during my time, spoke Farsi and had absolutely no intention of learning Urdu or any of the other languages their instructors and fellow students regularly lapsed into.
Above: This was the 'busy' main road (The Grand Trunk Road) out of Peshawar towards the Khyber
I was very pleased that I had brought with me from UK an Eddystone short-wave radio. (If you have read earlier pages on this website you will recall that I had been very keen on short wave radio from a very early age.) The Eddystone was my only source of international news at Risalpur. It lived on my bedside table throughout my stay and I donated it to a Pakistani instructor before I left at the end of my tour. Short wave reception was usually excellent and free of Soviet jamming and there was no requirement for an outdoor antenna. I listened every day to the BBC General Overseas Service (the earlier name for the BBC World Service) for the world news and for the daily 5-minute bulletin called "Home News from Britain". In 1969 the General Overseas Service still catered far more for expatriates than for the indigenous peoples but the BBC transmitted daily news and other programmes in more than 40 languages for non-English listeners. In between listening to the BBC, I also regularly tuned into Radio Australia and the Voice of America.
 
The embryonic Pakistani black and white single channel TV service was available in the Officers' Mess in the evenings but, unsurprisingly, there were hardly any programmes in English. One notable exception was the complete series of the BBC 1967 production of Trollope's The Forsyte Saga in English and without sub-titles. All the seats in the anteroom were filled every week with my Pakistani colleagues watching the 20-plus, hour-long episodes about the British aristocracy. I couldn't understand why it was so popular until I noticed that each episode was followed by an extremely popular Karachi-based quiz programme - in Urdu, of course - and you had to bag your seat in the TV room early for that.
 
One day our Squadron Commander, Saleem, came into the Instructor's crew room and berated the Pakistani instructors for listening to 'Indian' music on their crew room radio. "Why do you listen to that (expletive deleted) music. Either listen to Pakistani music or switch it off," he said fiercely. I couldn't tell the difference between Pakistani and Indian music.
 
I was always, from my schooldays and during my very first overseas tour in Ceylon, keen on learning foreign languages but when I started trying to learn Urdu, Saleem advised me not to bother. He said it was virtually impossible for British folk to speak Urdu because there were so many 'difficult' consonants that they couldn't get their tongues around. An odd comment, I thought, bearing in mind that most of the British military and civil services personnel and their families during the years of the British Raj seemed to converse quite happily in what was known as Hindustani, a mixture of Urdu and Hindi. However, not wishing to annoy my squadron commander, I abandoned Urdu and instead started learning Farsi - which certainly has fewer awkward consonants for English speakers than Urdu. The Iranian exchange officer and students were very willing to help. Farsi has the added advantage that when written it looks like Arabic, but without most of the diacritics, and I already knew all the basic letters.
 
A formal visit to the Academy by the Chief of the Iranian Air Force was programmed and my Iranian students coached me, at my request, in how to address and welcome him in Farsi in case the need arose. He was both a senior member of the Iranian Royal Family and a 4-star general so there was a special form of address that had to be used when speaking to him, just as there is a special form of address when greeting senior members of our own Royal Family. On the day of the visit, as I was about to deliver my formal greeting to the General, he started speaking to me in beautiful English. I decided it would be very rude to reply in Farsi - and it would probably have got right up the noses of my Pakistani hosts as well.
 
I later decided to try that Farsi greeting out on my girlfriend from the Iranian Embassy with whom I spent many weekends at the Intercontinental Hotel in Islamabad. "Tony," she said reprovingly, "you should only say that to a high-ranking member of the Shahanshah's family. To say it to any lesser person would be most improper." (Shahanshah, often shortened by foreigners to just Shah, literally meant King of King's.) As a put-down, that was most effective, but at least I must have said it correctly. By a strange quirk of memory, I can still remember the greeting that I had been coached to say in Farsi to the general but I have never had occasion to say it to anyone and now I doubt I ever will.

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