Stringing together ‘pearls from the archives’

While these foot-shaped plates helped women cross gratings outside a German department store in the 1960s, women at the SBC were asked to leave high-heeled shoes at home Keystone

Since its creation in 1931, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) has amassed around two kilometres of documents in its archives. Here are some of the more bizarre and entertaining examples of internal communications and letters from livid members of the public. 

This content was published on December 31, 2018 - 11:00

From complaints about sex films and stilettos (unconnected) to a management discussion in 1995 about whether the SBCExternal link,’s parent company, should use the internet, we hope you enjoy the following insights into the minds of Swiss managers – and some of the testing situations they had to deal with. These are all taken from a series currently being displayed in SBC lifts called “Pearls from the Archives”.  

In 1982, SBC director Leo Schürmann told a lifestyle magazine that, faced with a difficult decision, he always asked his wife what he should do. A member of the House of Representatives, directing a parliamentary question to the Federal Council, wondered: “Wouldn’t the decision process be sped up and made more transparent if the Federal Council were to make Mrs Schürmann director of the SBC?” 

The Federal Council replied that the SBC’s governing board was responsible for the choice of director. “Whom the director consults for advice is up to him. The Federal Council has no recommendation on the matter.” 

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Had Mrs Schürmann got the job, she might have had to keep an eye on her footwear. In this internal memo to female staff from 1962 (nine years before women got the vote in Switzerland), management felt “compelled to point out that ladies’ shoes with pointy heels are highly detrimental to the linoleum floor”. 

“Certain areas are already showing the consequences. We would be very grateful if, during office hours, you would wear shoes with flat heels. As unpopular as this measure may be, in the interest of extending the life of the floor covering and in maintaining the well-kept appearance of the new offices, we hope we can count on your support.” At least there wasn’t a slipper stand for 200 people by the main entrance. 

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Who would have thought a play about three Swiss mountain farmers would cause so much fuss? In 1981, a late-night showing of Sennentuntschi, in which the drunk and lonely farmers build a doll which comes to life and with which they have sex, triggered outrage and resulted in the SBC being sued for blasphemy! It wasn’t so much the sexual abuse but rather the giving a doll a soul that bothered the church. 

This letter, claiming to be from “many angry men and women in Zurich and Winterthur” – so angry they couldn’t change channel – was one of many to fill SBC postbags. 

“A sex film was broadcast at 10pm on Monday May 18, 1981. This was too much of a good thing! Has your television studio turned into a brothel? We’re very angry about this. Aren’t you ashamed to show sex films? These belong in the rubbish bin. You’re just giving bad ideas to youths and people in discos, where enough mischief is already going on.” 

The letter ended with a warning that “if you show another sex film, your studio will blow up”. 

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If the SBC isn’t being accused of pornography, it’s environmental destruction. From 1985: 

“Dear Federal Councillor Egli, the death of the forests keeps me awake at night. I am increasingly convinced that radio and television masts are among the main causes of this. […] It is time that also in Switzerland those responsible are made to pay and accept the consequences. I remain at your service for further information. Kind regards,” 

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In 1968, things were heating up in Switzerland – politically and literally. Here is a memo from the SBC finance department: 

“In the current heat, the thermometer in office 412, home to the Rank Xerox machine, reaches 39 degrees Celsius [102.2 Fahrenheit]. We hereby request you use the photocopier ‘with parsimony’, that is to say, collate all the documents you need to copy and do this if possible just once a day. If a certain level of discipline cannot be met, we shall be forced to block the machine at certain times.” 

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Photocopiers appear to be a repeated source of aggravation. A couple of years earlier, a memo sent to the head office and the shortwave radio service noted that the number of photocopies had “rocketed” since the installation of a Rank Xerox machine. 

“Usage is increasing from month to month. Supervision is insufficient and there is no guarantee that people are copying only what is necessary. What’s more, they are going to the post room at all times of the day to make copies, constantly disturbing the staff there.” 

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At least people were working – a few months earlier the director general had written to the heads of departments at the SBC telling them to crack down on shirkers – or else! 

“Since July 10, 1961, work hours have been 07.40-12.00 and 14.00-18.00. Unfortunately, it has repeatedly come to our attention that certain individuals are coming to work late at 07.40 as well as at 14.00, which we cannot tolerate. Department heads are responsible for discipline in their departments. You are therefore obliged to keep a very close eye on when your staff begin work. We would regret being forced to take other measures.” 

This was sent right in the middle of the 1966 football World Cup. Whether that played a role we’ll never know… 

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Finally, to surf or not to surf? In 1995, three years before the creation of Google, the SBC management held a discussion entitled “Should the SBC use the internet in future?”  

“There is greater interest in using the internet (in particular for research) than in delivering SBC content over it. Possible cost factors: future charges for use; time loss as result of playing around. For consideration: the effect on the in-house documentation service. Up-to-date regulatory requirements do not exist. […] Records will be kept on who uses the net, where and when.” 

As it turned out, was born in 1999, with Swiss Radio International making its final broadcast in 2004.   

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