Jean-Gaspard Deburau

Today in Mailbox: the 22nd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution; the Ministry of Industry and Trade is considering cancelling a long-running health subsidy for miners; Radio Prague's correspondence with DX-ers during the Cold War; Radio Prague's English broadcasts on DRM in Europe; mystery Czech quiz. Listeners quoted: Mary Lou Krenek, David Eldridge, Bo Sundin, Daniel Kähler, Patrick Robič, Hans Verner Lollike, Li Ming, Colin Law, Charles Konecny, Jayanta Chakrabarty.

Hello and welcome to Mailbox, Radio Prague’s programme for your questions and comments. So let’s get straight to them. Earlier this month Mary Lou Krenek from Texas sent us this e-mail:

“I want to acknowledge the Czech Republic on the 22nd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. It was quite a surprise to me 22 years ago as a graduate student at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. I was half-way through my graduate thesis ‘Charter 77: The Struggle for Human Rights in Czechoslovakia’ when this phenomenon occurred. Needless to say, to complete the project became a most challenging endeavour, to incorporate the new changes as they occurred. I did not expect the changes so soon, but welcomed them as they occurred. It was a euphoric feeling to see change handled in such a peaceful and orderly manner. The Czech Republic has come a long way since that time. My, do the years go by fast.”

David Eldridge from England responded to a recent news story:

“It comes as no surprise that the right-wing regime of Petr Nečas cannot resist kicking Czech miners in the teeth. (‘The Ministry of Industry and Trade is considering cancelling a long-running health subsidy for miners’, News 29-11-2011). The proposed change is only to protect fat profits of the mine owners; that is the government’s motivation. The current subsidy is intended for actual health problems sustained by miners and not dependant on some variable date.”

Bo Sundin from Sweden enclosed a photocopy of a letter sent to him by Radio Prague’s Swedish section back in the 1950s.

“When I was young I, as many others, had as a hobby DXing. I was not that successful but for some years it was something to which I paid much attention. One of my favourite stations was Radio Praha. The radio station, with its transmissions in Swedish and correspondence, established a personal contact. I remember books – in Swedish – about life in Czechoslovakia, even a pair of stockings sent to me as a gift. The stockings are lost – many years ago – but I still have preserved some letters from our communication. And that the section paid that much attention to a young boy in northern Sweden. The letter even mentions ‘notes on your card’ which seems to indicate that the radio station had some kind of registration of the listeners. And that brings me to my question: being a professional historian of science and ideas I'm fully aware of the fact that the hobby of DX-ing during the Cold War was used by nations on both sides of the Iron Curtain for propaganda. What interests me now, as a historian, is if there still exists any archival evidence of this ‘episode’ of the Cold War. Does Radio Praha have any archives from ‘the Swedish section’? Is it possible that even ‘my card’ from the end of the 1950's could be found in such an archive?”

I’m afraid I only have a short answer to your long question. Unfortunately, no archival materials from those decades are kept at Czech Radio. Letters are discarded and scrapped on a regular basis as new ones keep coming in even in this digital age.

Staying with the DX-ing hobby; listeners in Europe might have noticed that as of November 12th our English half hour is broadcast daily from a transmitter in Bulgaria on 7590 Khz in DRM. This scheme will run until the end of January 2012 and we have already received reception reports.

Daniel Kähler heard us in Germany at 18:30 UTC:

“Nice to hear you back on air in Europe on DRM. Reception was generally good except for some drop-outs on my DRM receiver which is connected to my notebook. I remember you were broadcasting in DRM some months ago from the UK. I think Radio Prague’s website is very well designed and together with your high-quality content, it is a great possibility for people who are interested in news from your country and this region. And your SoundCzech is a very nice idea!”

And Patrick Robič heard us in Austria:

“As my hobby is listening to remote radio stations, I was very pleased to hear your station Radio Prague via Spaceline Bulgaria DRM Mix. I am 34 years old and I have been interested in remote radio stations for 21 years. I hope that this report will also be of interest to you.”

Thank you very much for your reception reports and please keep them coming. There is a brand new set of QSL cards ready for 2012, featuring Czech painters and graphic artists.

Now, let’s turn to our monthly quiz and your answers:

Hans Verner Lollike from Denmark writes:

“The person you are looking for is: Jean-Gaspard Deburau, born 1796 in Kolín in Bohemia as Jan Kašpar Dvořák. His family was a wandering troupe of artists who performed and earned their living by travelling from one place to another (just as professional footballers, tennis players and circus artists do today). He became famous as Pierrot in the French theater. He became the Pierrot of the pantomime theater for the future tradition. He died in Paris in 1846.”

Li Ming writes from China:

“The tradition of mime as an art form has been around since the days of ancient Greek plays. However, it was not until the early 1800s that Jean-Gaspard Deburau, one of the most celebrated pantomimists, initiated the advent of modern mime art. He then stayed back in France and continued to work on mime to give it a more polished and expressive feel.”

Mary Lou Krenek from the US wrote:

“At first, Jean Baptiste Gaspard Deburau was an inconspicuous member of the company, clumsy, unaccomplished and unworthy of pantomime. He was hired as a stage hand and as an attraction offered on the street to draw in the public.

“Deburau performed at the Theatre des Funambules until his death in 1846. He is the subject of a play by Sacha Guitry and of a Marcel Carnes film, ‘Children of Paradise’ (1944).”

Colin Law from New Zealand writes:

“Jan’s father, Philippe Germain Deburau was a French soldier who settled for a time in Kolin where he met and married his Czech wife, Kateřina Králová… Jan Kašpar was born in military accommodation where the family were living after a fire destroyed 147 houses in Kolin. The baby was baptised by the military chaplain in St. Bartholomew’s church and the godparents were Kašpar Steiner, a military baker and his wife Barbora. The family returned to France in 1802.

“By 1840 Deburau had problems with his health. At times his problems with breathing led to him skipping a performance, but he refused to retire from the theatre. Sadly, he was injured in a fall through a faulty trapdoor in February 1846, but despite his great pain, he finished that performance. However, he had to stop performing because of his failing health. He decided to perform again on 16 June and his last performance was Pierrot’s wedding. He returned home after the performance and died the next morning at 3am, only 49 years old. The next day, in the presence of a large crowd of admirers, he was buried in Père -Lachaise cemetery in Paris.”

Charles Konecny from the United States wrote:

“Deburau took the art of mime to new levels during his day and made the theatre of pantomime very popular, especially in France. It could be said that he made a living appearing as a character named Pierrot in many or most of his pantomime performances and how they loved him in France. Although not a fan of pantomime, I can imagine mime acting can be difficult and hard to master as a mime has to act out a story through body motions without the use of speech. Whatever one thinks of the profession, Deburau helped keep the art of pantomime alive and the names of Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Marceau, and others, owe him gratitude. Charades anyone?”

David Eldridge from England wrote:

“November's person is Jan Kašpar Dvořák or Jean-Gaspard Deburau, known best for his portrayal of the pantomime character ‘Pierrot’. Pierrot was a rather buffoonish person; at the same time not a fool: an incarnation of post-French Revolutionary people, struggling to secure a place in bourgeois society. How Jan Kašpar Dvořák portrayed the character is not easy to ascertain now, so long after Dvořák's death. You, in the Czech Republic, are often considered experts on this art form. You'll need to give us some lessons!”

And Jayanta Chakrabarty from India writes:

“A child prodigy, Jean-Gaspard Deburau transformed the very art of pantomime, refining its subject content, costume and traditions of the plebeian theatre. He gained worldwide fame and popularity and became a national French hero by his outstanding artistic creation of Pierrot in ‘Harlequin the Doctor’. His rich legacy is reflected in the modern contemporary theatre popularised by mime artist Marcel Marceau. Deburau thus is the embodiment of Czech theatrical romanticism in the cultural world arena.”

Thank you very much for taking part in our little quiz and congratulations to the winner – who this time is Peter Fredsbo Andersen from Denmark. Your prize will be in the post first thing on Monday. For those of you who weren’t lucky this time, here is another chance.

In December we’d like to know the name of the Czech patron saint considered to be the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional.

Your answers need to reach us by the end of December at [email protected]. Thanks for all your feedback and until next time, take care.