On the evening of 30th November, look towards the top of Crystal Palace Park to mark the Great Fire of 1936, or visit the top of the park to pay your own tribute.
This was the BBC’s first ever out-and-about live radio broadcast to capture the event, and made a milestone event in radio broadcasting history, that also marked the end of an era for The Crystal Palace… broadcast live on top of the “small cafe on a corner of the Parade” now known as Cafe Paradu. The cafe kindly provided a telephone line… and history was broadcasted to the Nation… giving “live commentary from the fire on the air – crackling flames, splintering glass and all… It was the first ‘flying squad‘ outside broadcast” by the BBC (A Word in Your Ear, The broadcasting of an Era, 1923-65, Robert Wood)/
FIRST REPORTER: “It’s a pretty clear sky and a moment ago it was almost a full moon looking straight at me across this blaze of smoke and ruins. It’s a fairly strong wind. I’m up on the top of a house here. There’s somebody got an umbrella behind me trying to shield the microphone and I don’t quite know how much wind on the microphone you may be getting, but I hope you can hear what I am saying. [Noise of fire engine bell]. There goes one of the bells. I don’t know what that means. By the North Tower there…. there’s eh…the.. the.. um… building just behind me the South Tower… It’s beginning to blaze up and I can see smoke coming through all the tiles on the roof…
BBC4 Radio4 “The Friend in the Corner 1936 Broadcast”, and on CD (75 Years Of The BBC (1997).
The Daily Mirror reported on 1st December: With flames rising to a height of 500 feet, streams of molten glass forcing back firemen and sparks being hurled three miles… Millions watched the fire. It could be seen in Brighton, fifty miles away. An air liner pilot in mid-Channel, eighty miles away, sighted the glow… For three miles around roads were completely blocked by cars. Many fire engines found it impossible to get within half a mile…The tremendous heat could be felt half a mile away. Firemen could not work near the flames for more than a minute. Several were injured and taken away. The noise as the roof crashed could be heard five miles away.
Winston Churchill described the loss as “The end of an age“. Churchill, as First Lord at the Admiralty oversaw The Crystal Palace to become Royal Navy Division training base in 1914. formally known as HMS Victory. The base was very soon endearingly called “HMS Crystal Palace”. 125,000 Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves trained at HMS Crystal Palace for the Great War, as commemorated by the HRH The Prince of Wales on 6th June 1931 in the park.
Books, photos, videos about the Great Fire can be found from http://www.crystalpalacefoundation.org.uk/shop/fire