A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
On Sunday the 4th of September I received a message from Robert Chandler. You might know Robert for his translations of (among others) Grossman, Platonov, Pushkin and Apollinaire; you might recall his post here on Vulpes Libris about translating Everything Flows (link). Here is his message, reproduced with permission, in full:
Many of you will know that the BBC is about to do a long dramatization of Vasily Grossman’s LIFE AND FATE. This is based on my translation of the novel. This is a dramatization, not a reading, and therefore it does not use only the words of my translation. Nevertheless, most episodes use a large number of my words, and at least one – The Last Letter – uses few, if any, words that are not mine.
If you read through this press release, you will find credit duly given to directors, producers, dramatizers, actors, composers and players of music. There are no prizes for guessing who is not mentioned: the invisible translator.
Some of you will have noticed that this seemingly wilful ignoring of the role of translators is a part of the culture of the BBC. If you listen to a translated novel on the programme “Book at Bedtime”, the translator is usually credited after, on average, one in five episodes – whereas both reader and adaptor will be mentioned after each episode. And it is the same with all too many programmes.
Nowadays no respectable newspaper or journal treats translators in such a cavalier manner. Why the BBC behaves in this way I do not know – but I think it is important that we do what we can to change things. I’ll be very grateful to everyone who can write a brief letter of complaint. Here is an email address:
In the words of the Unesco Nairobi Recommendation on the Legal Protection of Translators (1976), “the protection of translators is indispensable in order to ensure translations of the quality needed from them to fulfil effectively their role in the service of culture and development.” In other words, if translators remain as undervalued as they generally are, it is very difficult for them to earn a living. And if it is difficult for them to earn a living, it means that much good literature either gets translated badly or does not get translated at all. Which is a loss for all of us.
Robert’s email received a warm response from his friends, colleagues and supporters. As one (anonymous) writer responded:
How frustrating. I am hugely sympathetic. Sadly, this behaviour is typical of the BBC, who display a lordly disdain for craftsmanship of all kinds — but especially the kind of skills which make things possible, and without which their stars and attending orbiting egos could not shine.
Three days later, Robert’s particular case was resolved. As he wrote:
MANY THANKS to everyone who wrote to the BBC about the omission of my name from the press release for the forthcoming Radio 4 dramatization of Life and Fate! Well over 100 readers and colleagues have already made complaints. I have not yet heard from the BBC myself, but my editor at Random House has just received this from them:
I understand that the Controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams, is speaking direct to Robert about the unfortunate omission. However, I can assure you that he is credited in the Radio Times; he will be credited on-air in the first and last episodes; a revised press release is being issued including his name and the commercial download and the public service podcasts will all credit him.
I apologise again that this has happened but trust all will appreciate that we have taken appropriate steps to remedy the situation.
This is progress. Originally, I was informed that I would only be credited on air after the last of the ten episodes…
All the best, and thank you again for your heartening support!
So, dear VL readers — and I know there are a few translators among you, not to mention fans of BBC adaptations — I’m opening the floor. What do you think about the case of Robert Chandler? Have you ever witnessed or experienced this kind of oversight? We’d love to hear from you…