August, 1970: 4 million viewers contacted the offices of ABC concerning the content of a section of The Smothers Brothers Summer Show. For the first time they were not complaining about references to religion or pot smoking – they wanted to find a copy of a Peace Poem recited by the author, Kendrew Lascelles
The poem was first broadcast on US television on the 22nd of July in 1970 on ABC’s The Smothers’ Brothers Summer Show. The reaction was dramatic and immediate – such that he was asked to recite it again on the 12th of August. No one expected the reaction.
Audited statistics showed that around 20 million people watched the show – with 20% of those viewers – 4 million – actually contacting the station to find out how to get a copy. (A 45 rpm vinyl pressing was released by Media Arts immediately.)
At the time Lascelles was a writer on the show. Tom and Dick Smothers had seen him on Broadway performing in his co-written anti-apartheid revue Wait a Minim. A show that had toured the world for seven years (1962-69), with two years in London’s West End and another two on Broadway. After the tour ended Kendrew stayed in America and The Box was written in 1970.
The poem has been taught in American schools across at least two generations and there are millions of people who know it, or parts, by heart, but not the author. Half the world believe the internet supported false attribution to Lascelles Abercrombie – a poet dead almost half a century before the poem was written – with the more thoughtful commentaries marveling at the author’s prescience. The other half believe John Denver penned the work because of its inclusion in his album, Poems, Prayers and Promises.
Some, however, must have worked out the truth because over the years Kendrew has received countless letters of thanks from fans who can still recite the poem from memory 45 years after first hearing it.
First broadcast was in 1970, now 45 years later Kendrew has just recorded a video version which can be seen on YouTube.
Since the ‘70s Lascelles has focused more and more on writing, with a string of produced stage plays, two films and a number of novels to his credit. He is currently developing new projects through his production company Dry Eye In The House.
Featured image courtesy of Dry Eye In The House.