The history of the BBC makes for a wonderful piece of British history. (2023)

BBC: The Story of a Nation.Courtesy of David Hendy.Introduction book; 656 pages; £25

tcousinThe minister "boiled". newspaper accusesbbcSide with foreigners. In parliament, conservativesviceHe caught the president of the public broadcasting company announcing: "Sir, you are a traitor!". (“That’s it!” he replied.) There were rumors in Downing Street of cutting off the company’s funding.

This could be the scenario in 2022, when Boris Johnson's government condemns "Brexit-attacking companies" and threatens to cancel the license fees it pays. In fact, this rebellion happened 40 years ago whenbbcReports of the Falklands war pissed off Margaret Thatcher (although she still loves Yes Minister)bbcpolitical comedy). More serious disputes occurred during the Suez crisis in 1956 and during the general strike in 1926.bbcFinally, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin followed the government's line and sent engraved cigarette packets as a token of appreciation.

On the station's centenary, David Hendy's vivid new story reminds people,bbcAmerica's current struggles—government disputes, culture wars, foreign rivalries, and more—are modern manifestations of old problems. His account of the company also forms a profound history of twentieth-century Britain. Asa Briggs authored 4,000 pages of authoritative recordsbbcDuring his first 50 years, he said "writing the history of radio ... is in a sense writing the history of everything else". bright screenbbcInspired her audience.

Today, the company has 22,000 employees working in more than 40 languages ​​and operates eight national TV channels, more than 50 radio stations and the world's most visited English-language news website. But his first experiments with "radiation" (the name of the radio at the time) were amateurish. The boxy studio is large enough to accommodate a microphone and a piano. The program director and deputy director took turns reading children's stories such as "Uncle Arthur" and "Uncle Caractax". In 1930, during the public screening of the first televised work, a giant screen made of 2,000 light bulbs melted down.

but thatbbcYounger employees quickly realize that they control something powerful. "Obviously, if you put a madman on a microphone, he could do a lot of damage," wrote Cecil Lewis, one of the company's founders. Twenty years later, the first study of viewing habits finds that households are being impacted by streaming time: changes in meal and bedtime times, forgoing late-night chores, drinking less at the bar and more at home.

traces of the times

hebbcIt was minted after World War I, which marked its founder, first chief executive John Reith, shot in the cheek in France. But World War II would changebbcEven. It aired in 46 languages ​​in 1944, and after the war it had 20 million listeners in Europe. Work with the Department of Defense to smuggle coded messages into news or musical productions. On D-Day, more than 1,000 acts of rail sabotage passedbbc. Things didn't always go according to plan: As one producer put it: "They were playing with another band ... and the wrong bridge was blown up in Poland."

hebbcWartime production also reflected changes in the country. As wireless connectivity spreads to impoverished households, the show becomes more realistic: "Kitchen Front" offers advice on how to make kefir cheese and cook fern fronds. It's also forced to be more interesting. During the first winter of the war, as many as a third of Britons listened to Nazi radio stations such as William Joyce, nicknamed "Lord Haw-Haw," who played more music than Reese's serious music is hebbcHe retaliated with "Project Power," which combined news with bursts of variety and music, but with less God than in the past. This winning combination continued after the war.

The softening of social attitudes during wartime was nothing compared to what followed. Race is one of the cultural battlegrounds. 130,000 African-American parking lotsAmerican soldierbritish s forcedbbcmade its programming more racially sensitive; but in 1950, after complaints from viewers, its television controllers stipulated that "love songs between white and colored performers must be considered very carefully." The blackface "Black and White Bard Show" continued until 1978, more than a decade after a petition called for its cancellation.

The larger war is over sex. hebbcMary Whitehouse, the legendary campaigner against television "indulgence," blamed it for a national "moral collapse" in the 1960s and 1970s. ThentelevisionAntennas grow out of all the roofs and are called by some "the devil's fork". The Lisbon has retired, lamented after launching the music show "Top of the Pops" in 1964,bbc"Going with the flow in all the disgusting performances of the time". When Yoko Ono read a poem about her miscarriage on the radio in 1968,bbcGovernor Charles Hill objected on the grounds that she and John Lennon were not married.

However, in the same yearbbcTo have the audacity to play Harold Pinter's The Landscape, a work deemed too dirty for theatrical release. He previously released That Was the Week That Was, part of a national satire boom that includedprivate detectiveMagazine and stage show "Beyond the Fringe". A feeling of anti-authoritarian impertinence became so ingrained in the company thatsunday telegraphIt marks the rise of the "anti-establishment", echoing the right's current discontent with liberal elites.

Radio also reflects and contributes to the erosion of class divisions. In 1937, the general public was able to hear the coronation of George VI thanks to 58bbcMicrophones in and around Westminster Abbey. sixteen years later,bbcVideo cameras were used to film Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. Palace officials imposed a 30-foot (9-meter) limit, but did not take into account zoom lenses,bbcExchange after trial. In 1997, Princess Diana's funeral was a test for people.bbcThe fledgling site experimented with audio and video clips for the occasion.

Sussex professor Hendy combines historian's insight with eye for colortelevisionHe used to be a producer. Your account is an authorized account, iebbcAllow him access to the file, but no editing control. it's heavybbcThe first half century, three-quarters of the book; the Internet has 500 pages.

Perhaps for this reason, it's not convincing how the company should approach Hollywood streaming services, which have outperformed public broadcasters among younger audiences. mr hendy thinksbbcIt should get bigger (meaning higher cost to the public). Yet Netflix spends more than five times as much on content as other How much else should young viewers be forced to pay for entertainment they mostly reject?

Even so, in its 100 yearsbbcDemonstrated survival skills. Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher tried to ennoble it, but failed. Continental broadcasters and pirate radio stations made overtures to the public, but were rejected. Commercial TV OutperformsbbcFirst, before developing more popular programming. The YouTube era has challenged broadcasters who aim to inform, educate and entertain. But this balancing act is nothing new. "hebbc"He must lead his audience, not follow him," Reese wrote, "but his leadership cannot go so far as to escape capture."

This article appeared in the culture section of the print edition under the headline "Reflective screens"

culture January 29, 2022

  • The history of the BBC makes for a wonderful piece of British history.
  • In "Worn," a costume expert discovers their source
  • To understand the Roman Empire, read Pliny the Younger
  • 'The Man From Davos' Is a Fierce Condemnation of the Ultra-Wealthy
  • Handel's contemporaries shunned "Theodora." But it's a masterpiece.
  • Losing your mother tongue is painful. but they are recoverable
The history of the BBC makes for a wonderful piece of British history. (1)

Excerpt from the January 29, 2022 issue

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