The British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa

100 Years of the BBC, Radio and Life as We Know It.
Be informed, educated and entertained by the amazing true story of radio’s forgotten pioneers. With host Paul Kerensa and rarely-heard clips from broadcasting’s golden era. Original music by Will Farmer. www.paulkerensa.com

Episode 41 (aka Season 3 episode 2):

On January 2nd 1923, John Reith interviewed Miss Frances Isobel Shields for a job at the BBC, to be his secretary. At the time the BBC had four or five male staff members. Miss Shields started work on January 8th, instantly making the BBC a 20% female organisation. It's been greater than that ever since.

This episode's fab guest is Dr Kate Murphy: academic, former producer of BBC's Woman's Hour and author of Behind the Wireless: A History of Early Women at the BBC. Her book is brilliant and highly recommended for a deep dive into the subject.

Hear Isobel Shields' tale, plus the women who broadcast before her: Britain's first DJ Gertrude Donisthorpe, 2LO's first children's presenter Vivienne Chatterton, and one of our first broadcast comedians Helena Millais. (You can hear their fuller tales if you go back to the earlier episodes on this podcast.)

And hear about some of the women who joined the BBC soon after Miss Shields, like telephonist Olive May and women's staff supervisor Caroline Banks. Plus hear about some of John Reith's unusual management practices, from taking his secretaries to the cinema to his brutal firing criteria.

But we dwell on his hiring not firing, as well tell the origin story of British broadcasting. 

And Dr Murphy will return on future episodes! With tales of the first Women's Hour (not Woman's Hour) in May 1923, and the early female managers, like Mary Somerville and Hilda Matheson. To catch those episodes, you'll have to stay subscribed to this podcast

While you're there, would you give us a review where you found this podcast? It all helps bring new listeners on board. And that helps grow the project.

If you'd consider sharing what we do too, please do tell anyone who might like this - either on social media or in a real-world conversation! Just drop us in. You never know, next time you meet, you could be discussing the inner workings of Marconi House.

If you REALLY like what we do, please consider supporting us on patreon.com/paulkerensa or ko-fi.com/paulkerensa. It all helps equip us with books and web hosting and trips to the amazing BBC Written Archives Centre.

In this podcast I mention my latest Patreon video, going behind-the-scenes of my broadcasting history trawl, inc. a glimpse at my new (old) crystal set radio, 'on this day' on the 1923 BBC (with a nice surprise), and a reading about Reith. This video's available to all Patreon folks whatever their 'level' - www.patreon.com/posts/60853999 - so if you like, join, watch, then cancel. Or stick around for more videos and writings each month.

You can follow us on Twitter or our Facebook page or join our Facebook group, and say hi, or share anything of broadcasting history.

Paul's one-man play The First Broadcast tours the UK in 2022. There's now an official trailer you can watch here. The first date's in Surbiton on Feb 2nd, then Leicester Comedy Festival on Feb 3rd, Banbury on March 3rd, Barnes on March 25th, London's Museum of Comedy on April 21st AND Nov 14th, plus Bristol, Bath, Blandford Forum, Kettering, Guildford... and your place? Got a venue? Get in touch.

We also mention the BBC 100 website - inc. the 100 Objects, Faces and Voices. Who's missing? Let us know!

 

OTHER THINGS:

  • Original music is by Will Farmer.
  • Many of our archive clips are old enough to be public domain. BBC content is used with kind permission, BBC copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • This podcast is 100% unofficial and NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and dogsbodied by Paul Kerensa.
  • Be on the show! Email me a written ‘Firsthand Memory’ (FM) about a time you’ve seen radio or TV in action. Or record a voice memo of your ‘Airwave Memories’ (AM), 1-2mins of your earliest memories of radio/TV. Get in touch!
Next time: All change! Mics, Callsigns and Phone-in Requests - we race through week 1 of 1923 as the BBC prepares for the first Outside Broadcast...
 
 

Happy New Year, 1923! And Happy New Season: 3, that is, as we tell the story of the BBC's 3rd-6th months. Formative times at Auntie Beeb, as the staff grows from 4 in one room to a new premises at Savoy Hill.

Season 3 begins with this, episode 40 overall, on New Year's Day 1923. John Reith, Arthur Burrows, Cecil Lewis and Major Anderson begin work in the one-room BBC, like an Amish schoolhouse. Each day, the number of staff and visitors grow - and helpfully Reith, Burrows and Lewis all wrote vividly about the manic days of Magnet House - home to the BBC for the first four months of 1923.

We're grateful to the books:

  • Broadcasting from Within by C.A. Lewis
  • The Story of Broadcasting by A.R. Burrows
  • The Reith Diaries, edited by Charles Stuart
  • Broadcasting over Britain by J.C.W. Reith
  • Into the Wind by J.C.W. Reith

Plus you'll hear from the 5th (or 6th) BBC employee, Rex Palmer in a rare clip of 1920s broadcasting.

More up to date, 'Diddy' David Hamilton is our guest - the man with the greatest listening figures in the history of British radio.

David's books, The Golden Days of Radio 1, and Commercial Radio Daze, are available at ashwaterpress.co.uk

Part 1 of our interview with David was on episode 30, and part 3 will be on a future episode.

Want to watch, in-vision, the full interview? Join our band of matrons and patrons on Patreon - the full video is here. And THANK YOU to all who support us there, and keep us afloat as a one-man-band of a podcast.

You'll also find on Patreon, my readings-with-interruptions of Cecil Lewis' book Broadcasting from Within - the first book on broadcasting. Part 1 and Part 2 will be followed, of course, by Part 3 - and if you want it sooner, dear Patreon subscriber, just ask and I'll read/record/upload pronto.

We also mention in this episode:

 

OTHER THINGS:

  • Be on the show! Email me a written ‘Firsthand Memory’ (FM) about a time you’ve seen radio or TV in action. Or record a voice memo of your ‘Airwave Memories’ (AM), 1-2mins of your earliest memories of radio/TV. Get in touch!
  • Please do rate/review us where you get your podcasts - it helps others find us. We are a one-man operation! We need your help.
  • Archive clips are old enough to be public domain in this episode.
  • This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and dogsbodied by Paul Kerensa.

Original music is by Will Farmer.

Next time: The story continues with the first female employee of the BBC, Isobel Shields...
 
www.paulkerensa.com

Hullo hullo-ho-ho! Welcome to 2021's Christmas special, unwrapping a dozen Christmas broadcasting presents, from the past, to see what makes a classic BBC Christmas schedule.

Our guest Ben Baker is a podcaster and author of festive books including the new Ben Baker's Christmas Box: 40 Years of the Best, Worst and Weirdest Christmas TV Ever (available on Amazon or Linktree). Like the Ghost of Broadcasting Past, he guides us through the Queen's Speech, Top of the Pops, Noel Edmonds, Christmas films, bizarre hospital visits, and ample more.

Your host Paul Kerensa is a Christmas cultural fanatic - and quotes amply from his book Hark! The Biography of Christmas, especially the bits on royal Christmas speeches and Morecambe and Wise viewing figures. Paul's book is available in paperback, ebook or audiobook. Or get a signed copy direct from Paul (£10 inc p&p).

Buy both books! Ideal Christmas present - any time of the year...

Plus do you hear what I hear? Two monarchs with their landmark Christmas messages - the first on radio and the first on TV. And back by popular demand, some genuine 1923 ads from Popular Wireless magazine brought to vocal life, by broadcaster Paul Hayes and my kids.

Paul Hayes also has a blog we mention - he's watching every version of A Christmas Carol that he can find, and reports the results on watchingthecarol.blogspot.com. That's a lot of humbug.

Speaking blogs, host Paul Kerensa has a 'Yule blog', on festive history, going back far beyond the birth of broadcasting.

This is our last special before we embark on season 3, and 1923. So next episode, it's full steam ahead into Magnet House as the six-week-old BBC gets a staff and one office. Aw. Join us!

 

OTHER WAYS TO BE PART OF THIS BROADCASTING HISTORY MEGA-PROJECT:

  • Be on the show! Email me a written ‘Firsthand Memory’ (FM) about a time you’ve seen radio or TV up close, a recording, a live broadcast, a studio, an OB. What surprised you about it? Or record a voice memo of your ‘Airwave Memories’ (AM), 1-2mins of your earliest memories hearing/seeing radio/TV. Get in touch!
  • Paul's new one-man play The First Broadcast is now booking for dates in 2022. Got a venue? Book me for your place. Here's one - The Museum of Comedy. Join me there on November 14th 2022, the exact date of the BBC's 100th birthday!
  • Please do rate/review us where you get your podcasts - it helps others find us. We are a one-man operation! We need your help.
  • Some of you actually like the podcast enough to financially support it! Just a few quid a month all adds up and keeps us on books, research and web-hosting. I'll soon be visiting the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham - but it all costs! Fancy chipping in? Patreon.com/paulkerensa means I give you extra video, audio, advance writings etc in return for a few pounds...
  • ...or Ko-fi.com/paulkerensa tips me the price of a coffee as a one-off. Thanks! It all helps make more podcasts.
  • Join our Facebook group!
  • Follow us on Twitter!
  • Join Paul's mailing list! inc info on his writing, writing courses (one starts in January), stand-up, radio etc.

Archive clips are old enough to be public domain in this episode.

This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and dogsbodied by Paul Kerensa.

Original music is by Will Farmer.

Next time: Season 3 begins with New Year 1923 at Magnet House. Join us... 
 
www.paulkerensa.com

 

Marconi may have invented wireless, and the wireless, but he didn't see broadcasting coming.

A special for episode 38, as we bring to life an interview with Guglielmo Marconi on what he made of broadcasting, two months into the BBC's existence.

Our source is Popular Wireless magazine, January 27th 1923 issue. Read along if you like (plus bits from December 1922) - thank you to WorldRadioHistory.com for housing this long lost magazine.

Needless to say, we don't claim any rights to the wonderful old magazine, and while we THINK it's either public domain or its rights owners are untraceable, we humbly defer to whoever DOES own the rights - and are ever grateful to the original journalists, editors, owners... and of course to Marconi himself.

Given that Popular Wireless magazine was full of ads for radios and parts - and given the BBC then and now is ad-free - we thought it might be fun to bring some of those ads to life too, thanks to listeners who've sent in recordings. Applause for Gordon Bathgate, Alan Stafford, Andrew Barker, Paul Hayes, Lovejit Dhaliwal, Neil Jackson, Philip Rowe, Richard Kenny, Wayne Clarke, and my kids.

There's a grateful thanks to Radio Times for making us their Podcast of the Week - and a little more about the pictures they featured of radio's female pioneers (see below for links to episodes about them).

We wrap up with a summary of what the BBC has planned for its BBC100 season, now that its centenary programming has been announced - everything from Dimbleby to Horrible Histories.

 

OTHER THINGS WE MENTION:

You can email me to add to the show. eg. Your ‘Firsthand Memories’ - in text form, a time you’ve seen radio or TV being broadcast before your eyes: a studio, an outside broadcast - what were your behind-the-scenes insights? Or record your ‘Airwave Memories’ (AM) - a voice memo of 1-2mins of your earliest memories hearing/seeing radio/TV. Be on the podcast!

My new one-man play The First Broadcast is now booking for dates in 2022. Got a venue? Book me for your place. Here's one - The Museum of Comedy. Join me, in April or in November on the very date of the BBC's 100th birthday!

Thanks for joining us on Patreon if you do - or if you might! It supports the show and keeps us in books, which I then devour to add the podcast melting pot. In return, I give you video, audio, advance writings etc.

Buy me a coffee ko-fi.com/paulkerensa? Thanks! It all helps make more podcasts.

Join our Facebook group... Follow us on Twitter... Rate and review this podcast where you found it... It all helps others find us. 

My mailing list is here - sign up for updates on all I do, writing, teaching writing, stand-up, radio etc.

Archive clips are either public domain or used with kind permission from the BBC, copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Oh yes they are.

This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and dogsbodied by Paul Kerensa.

Original music is by Will Farmer.

Next time: The Twelve Shows of Christmas: Your Fantasy Schedule, from Noel Edmonds to the Queen's Speech via Mrs Brown's Boys. Alright not 'fantasy'... 
 
www.paulkerensa.com
It's the BBC’s 99th birthday! Well it was on the day this episode landed. So for episode 37, here’s the podcast’s story so far...
 
Between season 2 (covering the BBC in 1922) and season 3 (the BBC in 1923), we’re on a run of specials. So here we summarise EVERYTHING we’ve learned so far. 36 episodes condensed into one.
 
Condensed, yet also extended - because we recorded a shorter version of this episode for The History of England Podcast. So to lure in folks who’ve heard that already, I’ve added a ton of new stuff, including some brand new bits. By which I mean, very old bits. As well as hearing the voices of:
  • First teenager to listen to the radio in his bedroom GuglielmoMarconi
  • First major broadcast engineer Captain HJ Round
  • First voice of the BBC Arthur Burrows
  • First regular broadcaster Peter Eckersley
  • First slightly terrifying boss John Reith
…You’ll now also hear from:
  • First broadcast singer Winifred Sayer
  • First BBC pianist Maurice Cole (the most wonderful accent, “off" = "orff")
  • First BBC singer Leonard Hawke (although WE know from episode 28 that the Birmingham and Manchester stations broadcast music the day before - but the BBC didn't know that)
That's a lot of firsts. Plus more recent voices - hear from these marvellous experts:
 

SHOWNOTES:

  • This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and dogsbodied by Paul Kerensa
  • You can email me to add something to the show. eg. Send your ‘Firsthand Memories’ - in text form, a time you’ve seen radio or TV being broadcast before your eyes: a studio, an outside broadcast - what were your behind-the-scenes insights? Or record your ‘Airwave Memories’ (AM) - a voice memo of 1-2mins of your earliest memories hearing/seeing radio/TV. Be on the podcast!
  • My new one-man play The First Broadcast is now booking for dates in 2022. Got a venue? Book me for your place. Here's one - The Museum of Comedy. Join me, in April or in November on the very date of the BBC's 100th birthday!
  • Thanks for joining us on Patreon if you do - or if you might! It supports the show, keeps it running, keeps me in books, which I then devour and add it all to the mixing-pot of research for this podcast. In return, I give you video, audio, advance writings, an occasional reading from C.A. Lewis' 1924 book Broadcasting From Within etc.
  • Thanks if you've ever bought me a coffee at ko-fi.com/paulkerensa. Again, it all helps keep us afloat.
  • Like our British Broadcasting Facebook page, or better still, join our British Broadcasting Century Facebook group where you can share your favourite old broadcasting things.
  • Follow us on Twitter  if you’re on the ol’ Twits.
  • I have another podcast of interviews, A Paul Kerensa Podcast, inc Miranda Hart, Tim Vine, Rev Richard Coles and many more. Give us a listen!
  • Please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. 
  • My mailing list is here - sign up for updates on all I do, writing, teaching writing, stand-up, radio etc.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops, inc Hark! The Biography of Christmas. Coming in 2022: a novel on all this radio malarkey.
  • Archive clips are either public domain or used with kind permission from the BBC, copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Oh yes they are.
Next time: What Marconi Thought of Broadcasting - plus 1920s adverts, voiced by listeners...
 
 
 
APPROX TRANSCRIPT:
 
  • Marconi himself appeared on the BBC in 1936, playing himself in a reconstruction of when he first sent Morse code across the Atlantic in 1901...

 

  • Those are Marconi’s last recorded words before he died, there with his assistants Pagett and Kemp, though Kemp was played by an actor. They’re recreating the moment when they sent Morse Code from Poldhu in Cornwall to Newfoundland, 2000+ miles away. Prior to that 255 miles was the wireless record.

 

  • Marconi was always outdoing himself. As a teenager he’d sent radiowaves across his bedroom – a transmitter and receiver ringing a bell. Then outside, asking his assistant across a field to fire a gunshot if the wireless signal reached him. Then over water. Then... in 1896 the 21yr old Marconi came to England. The Italian army weren’t interested in his new invention, so he thought he’d try the influential engineers of London. I think it’s that decision that set London and the BBC as the beating heart of broadcasting a couple of decades later.

 

  • There was a magical moment where Marconi strode into Toynbee Hall in East London, with two boxes. They communicated, wirelessly, and he simply said: “My name is Gooly-elmo Marconi, and I have just invented wireless.” That’s a drop mic moment. If they had a mic to drop.

 

  • Others played with this technology. In December 1906, Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden managed to make a very faint speech broadcast for ships near Brant Rock Massachusetts – making the first entertainment show for radio. He played a record, Handel’s Largo, played O Holy Night on violin, and read from Luke’s gospel, chapter 2. Well it was Christmas Eve.

 

  • This was actually my way in to this whole radio story. I wrote a book on the history of Christmas, called Hark! The b of C. So I researched Fesseden’s Christmas entertainment first... and also the first BBC Christmas of 1922. When I read that the Beeb had 35,000 listeners at that point, but 4 employees, I had to know who these 4 employees were! I started digging. When I discovered that 2 of those people had an on-air feud, one of them was John Reith, an arguably immoral moralist, and the 4th was soon sacked by him... I thought, there’s a book in this. So as I research and write that, I’m podcasting as I go on the BBCentury. I love that this medium of podcasting owes so much to those early pioneers... and I’m no engineer. For me, it’s all about the characters. We’ll get to the BBC pioneers soon enough, but Marconi, he was one of those characters.

 

  • Through the 1910s, business was booming for Marconi, but he still saw radio as a two-way thing – we ‘radio’ for help. Marconi took the credit for radio’s use in catching criminals – Dr Crippen, who’d escaped on a ship across the ocean. And saving lives, onboard Titanic. Soon every major vessel carried radios and a Marconi operator – for a fee of course. He made his money in sending messages, the world over, between two people. The broadcast aspect was an accident – a pitfall of radio being too ‘leaky’. So the first listeners were actually called ‘listeners-in’ – the messages weren’t intended for them.

 

  • So it was at a more amateur level – the radio hams – who’d be experimenting with ‘broadcasting’. Britain’s first DJ, technically, was a woman called Gertrude Donisthorpe in WWI. Her husband Horace was the eager experimenter, an army wireless trainer by day, and at night the couple would cycle to a field near Worcester, he’d set up one side, her on the other, and she’d play records and recite rhymes just for her audience of 1 – her husband, to see if it worked. She’d cycle across the field to see if it had, often finding he’d cycled off to tell her via a different route. As they progressed, they started transmitting limited wireless concerts for some local troops. And they were popular. Radio amateurs enjoyed what they heard, when they could hear it. There was demand for wireless entertainment... just not much supply.

 

  • But the engineers like those at the Marconi Company, were continually strengthening and improving the technology. Marconi’s right-hand man Captain Round for example...

 

  • No fan of red tape... this Churchill lookalike, round face, cigars and no-nonsense... joined 1902, genius... designed radios... especially for aircraft... Jutland direction-finding... But Captain Round is a name to watch.

 

  • After the war, 1919, just months from the birth of broadcasting, The Marconi Company still had no real interest in radio as an artform or entertainment or anything other than point to point messaging. Apart from one person, their Head of Publicity, Arthur Burrows...

 

  • In 1918 Burrows wrote: “There appears to be no serious reason why, before we are many years older, politicians speaking, say, in Parliament, should not be heard simultaneously by wireless in the reporting room of every newspaper office in the United Kingdom. . . . The field of wireless telephone, however, is by no means restricted to newspaper work. The same idea might be extended to make possible the correct reproduction in all private residences of Albert Hall or Queen’s Hall concerts or the important recitals at the lesser rendezvous of the musical world. . . . There would be no technical difficulty in the way of an enterprising advertisement agency arranging for the interval in the musical programme to be filled with audible advertisements, pathetic or forcible appeals—in appropriate tones—on behalf of somebody’s soap or tomato ketchup.” We’ll come back to Arthur Burrows.

 

  • Around the same time in America, future radio mogul David Sarnoff sent a memo referring to a “radio music box”, that could “listeners-in” could have in their homes, playing the music broadcast by wireless stations, that were cropping up, especially in America, and a steadily increasing rate.

 

  • In Britain, Captain Round of the Marconi Company continued to experiment. Rightly medalled after the war, he switched his attention from using radio to find enemy ships, to using radio to transmit the human voice further and stronger than ever before. This meant tests.

 

  • Now the nature of radio, the quirk of it, is that it’s not private. You can’t experiment without anyone with a set listening in – and since the war there were more and more ex wireless operators and amateur radio “hams”. So as Round experimented, in Chelmsford at the end of 1919, with his assistant William Ditcham, across Britain and even into Europe, people heard him. Ditcham had to read out something into his microphone – just the candlestick part of an old telephone. Ditcham would begin by addressing those listening – the ‘leaky’ nature of these radio experiments meant the engineers actually used those cheekly listening in to find their range and signal strength. So Ditcham would begin: “MZX calling, MZX calling! This is the Marconi valve transmitter in Chelmsford, England, testing on a wavelength of 2750metres. How are our signals coming in today? Can you hear us clearly? I will now recite to you my usual collection of British railway stations for test purposes... ...The Great Northern Railway starts Kings cross, London, and the North Western Railway starts from Euston. The Midland railway starts from St Pancras. The Great Western Railway starts from...”

 

  • Railway timetables! And they were a hit. Mr Ditcham became an expert is this new art of broadcasting, before the word was even invented. He noted: “Distinct enunciation is essential and it’s desirable to speak in as loud a tone as possible!

 

  • Word spread. Letters to newspapers said how much radio amateurs were enjoying Ditcham and Round’s wireless experiments... but the content could do with being a bit more exciting. How about a newspaper?

 

  • So in January 1920, William Ditcham became our first broadcast newsreader, literally reading the news, from a paper he’d bought that morning. Well, he’d sit on it a day, and read yesterday’s paper... The press might have a problem with their copyrighted news being given away for free. And thus begins the rocky relp between broadcasters and the press. It’s worth keeping them on side...

 

  • In Jan 1920, there are 2 weeks of ‘Ditcham’s News Service’ – that’s Britain’s first programme title. That gains over 200 reports from listeners-in, as far as Spain, Portgula, Norway... up to 1500 mi away. So the transmitter is replaced, from 6kw to 15kw. Ditcham ups his game too. Throws in a gramophone record or two. 15mins of news, 15mins of music. A half hour in total – that seems a good length for a programme – really it was what the licence allowed, but it’s clearly stuck – at least till Netflix and the like mean programme length has becoame a little more variable, a century later.

 

  • Then in Feb, there’s live music – just a few fellow staff at the Marconi Works in Chelmsford, including Mr White on piano, Mr Beeton on oboe and Mr Higby on woodwind.

 

  • At Marconi HQ, Arthur Burrows, that publicity director who wrote of possible wireless concerts and ketchup sponsors, he gets behind this in a big way. He heads to Chelmsford, supports Ditcham and Round, and even joins the band.
  • And you know who else joins the band...

 

  • ...from the neighbouring works building – Hoffman’s Ball Bearings - a singer, Miss Winifred Sayer. Now as she’s not a Marconi employee, she needs to be paid... so she’s radio’s first professional

 

  • Previous broadcasts had been a little luck of the draw, but this one, well it would be nice to tell people it’s going to happen. So Captain Round sends out the first listings – the pre Radio Times, radio... times... you can hear Winifred Sayer and the band: 11am and 8pm, Feb 23rd till March 6th That memo goes out to all the Marconi land stations and ships at sea. The first song Winifred sang was called Absent – she later called it a “punch and judy show”, and enjoyed her ten shillings a show. As she left, the MD of Marconi’s said to her: “You’ve just made history.”

 

  • So, we have radio, right? Not so fast! The fun is just beginning...

 

  • The press, you see, were worth keeping on side. The Daily Mail got wind of this. Arthur Burrows, that publicity chap and radio prophet, he became friends in the war with Tom Clarke, now editor of the Daily Mail. And the Mail loved a novelty. They’d sponsor air races and car dashes and design-a-top-hat competitions. Radio was right up their fleet street.

 

  • But they’d need a bigger singer than Winifred Sayer from Hoffman’s Ball Bearings. They wanted to see how big an audience there’d be for broadcasting – a word just coming into use, a farming term, about how you spread seed, far and wide, scattershot, never quite knowing how far it reaches, and whether it will be well received and grow into something. So the Daily Mail fund one of the world’s biggest singers: Dame Nellie Melba – of Peach Melba fame. She was over in England at the Albert Hall doing some shows, so for a thousand pounds – enough to buy a house – she came to Chelmsford. Outside broadcasts didn’t exist at the time, given the size of the kit. Ditcham and Round prepared the Chelmsford Works building, although that involved a small fire, a carpet Melba rolled away as soon as she saw it, and a microphone made from an old cigar box and a hat rack. Arthur Burrows gave Madame Melba a tour when they weren’t quite ready... She took one look at the 450ft radio mast and said “Young man if you think I’m going to climb up there, you are greatly mistaken.”

 

  • She broadcasts on June 15th 1920, and it’s a huge hit, despite a shutdown just before finishing her last song. Captain Round makes her do it again, without telling her of the shutdown, by simply asking for an encore.

 

  • Arthur Burrows gives the opening and closing announcements, instead of William Ditcham, because this has been Burrows’ dream. Broadcast radio concerts. So what next? It spanned Britain, reached Madrid, parts of the Middle East...

 

  • But it’s too successful. The Air Ministry finds planes couldn’t land during the concert. It dominated the airwaves. So despite a few extra professional concerts from Chelmsford that summer – opera stars like Lauritz Melchior, and Dame Clara Butt – the govt step in and shut all radio experiments down.

 

  • Arthur Burrows finds himself at sea, literally, that summer, demonstrating radio to the press on the way to an interionational press event... but without govt backing, journalists now see radio as maybe a means to communicate newsroom to newsroom. Ditcham’s news and Melba’s music seem to be all that broadcasting amounted to.

 

  • For 18 months, nothing. Radio amateurs, and indeed Arthur Burrows at Marconi, petition the PostmasterGeneral to reconsider. And finally... it worked.

 

  • Because while the ether had fallen silent in Britain, it continued in Holland, a bit in France, and in America radio is booming. Not wanting to be left behind, the British govt say ok, you can have one radio station. The Marconi Company is granted a permit. But much to Burrows dismay... the job lands on the desk of another person I want to introduce you to... Peter Eckersley

 

  • Eckersley was with the Designs Dept of the Aircraft Section of Marconi’s. His team had helped create air traffic control; Eckersley had been there in the war for the first ground to air wireless communication, and now in their spare team, his team in a muddy field in the village of Writtle in Essex, not far from Chelmsford, would have to fit this broadcasting malarkey in in their spare time, for an extra pound a show, not much.

 

  • It was odd. Radio amateurs wanted it. Burrows the Marconi publicity guy wanted it. Eckersley and his team couldn’t give two hoots about it – in fact they celebrated when the govt banned radio 18 months earlier, as finally the airwaves were clear for them and their serious work, instead of constant blinking opera from Chelmsford.

 

  • But it’s Eckersley’s job, to start Britain’s first regular radio station: 2MT Writtle. And from Feb 14th 1920, for the first few weeks it sounds pretty normal. They play gramophone records, chosen by Arthur Burrows at head office. Burrows has arranged a sponsorship deal – not with ketchup with a gramophone company, who provide a player so long as it’s mentioned on air. Peter Eckersley’s team of boffins break the gramophone player. There was a live singer – the first song on the first regular broadcast radio show was the Floral Dance, though the Times called it only “faintly audible”. It is not a hit. For 5 weeks this continues, bland introductions to records, a live singer or two. And Peter Eckersley, the man in charge, goes home each night to hear the show his crew put out on the wireless. Until week 6, when he stays, for a pre-show gin and fish and chips and more gin at the pub. Then he... runs down the lane to the hut and reaches the microphone first! And he starts talking......

 

  • Eckersley talks and talks and mimics and carouses... He plays the fool, plays the gramophone records, off-centre, or covered in jam...

 

  • ...the strict licence meant closing down for 3mins in every 10, to listen for govt messages, in case they have to stop broadcasting. Eckersley doesn’t shut down for 3mins. The licence limited them to half an hour. Not Eckersley. Over an hour later, he stops. And sleeps it off. Next day, his team gather round and tell him what he said.

 

  • Our man Arthur Burrows gets in touch. A stern admonishment! Burrows’ dream of broadcasting, had been dashed on the rocks by Eckersley, a man drinking, on the rocks. But accompanying Burrows’ angry missive came a postbag of listener fanmail. “We loved it” they said. “Do it again.” Burrows was a lone voice against Eckersley’s antics, so the following Tuesday, and every Tuesday in 1922, Peter Eckersley seized the mic again and again.

 

  • Demand for radio sets boomed. Ports stopped receiving ships when Peter Eckersley was on. Parliament even closed their sessions early to hear him. He was our first radio star. And he helped spawn an industry.

 

  • Burrows is still fuming, but there is no greater demand for radio. So he applies for a 2nd licence, for a London station – let’s do this radio thing properly. 2LO in London is granted that licence, and Burrows isn’t taking any chances – HE will be the primary broadcaster.

 

  • Poetry readings, sports commentary, opening night boxing match. Later in the summer, garden party concerts. And as Burrows is a publicity and demonstration man, many of these broadcast concerts are for private institutions, charity events, a chance to show what broadcasting can do.

 

  • Other wireless manufacturers other than Marconi’s express an interest, they ask the PMG for a licence to broadcast too. MetroVick in Manchester, they want in, so the PMG says fine. Kenneth Wright is the engineer at MetroVick who gets the job of launching in Manchester.

 

  • Wright continues in Manchester... Eck continues in Writtle in Essex... Burrows continues in London...

 

  • But Eckersley mocks Burrows. In fact people write to Arthur Burrows saying how much they enjoy his broadcasts on 2LO London, but could he stop broadcasting every Tuesday evening for the half hour Eckersley’s on, cos listeners want to hear Eckersley lampoon Burrows. For instance, Burrows played the Westminster chimes in the studio – this is 18mths before Big Ben’s chimes would be heard on the BBC. So Eckersley outdoes Burrows by finding all the pots, pans, bottles and scrap metal he can, and bashing it all with sticks. Messy chaos! He loved it.

 

  • He’s another, retold by Eckersley and Burrows themselves, some 20 years apart... You see, both would close their broadcasts with a poem.

 

  • All through the spring and summer of 1922, each broadcast is still experimental. Official broadcasting hasn’t quite yet begun – because no one knows if there’s a future in this. In fact the Marconi Company largely thought all this was one big advert to show consumers how easy wireless communication is, and how they should all pay Marconi’s to help them send point-to-point messages.

 

  • But the bug grows. The press want in. The Daily Mail apply for a licence for to set up a radio station. They’re turned down – it would be too powerful for a a newspaper to have a radio station. It only took Times Radio 100 years...

 

  • In Westminster, the PostGen is inundated by applications for pop-up radio stations. He can’t just keep licensing all of them. What is this, America?! Arthur Burrows...

 

  • In May 1922, the PostGen says to the wireless manufacturers, look. I can’t have all of you setting up rival radio stations. But I will licence one or maybe two of you. Get together, chat it through, work out how you can work together.

 

  • For a while, it looks like there will be two british Broadcasting companies – a north and a south. Kenneth Wright...

 

  • ...but after weeks, even months of meetings, primareily with the big 6 wireless firms, an agreement is struck.

 

  • ...You may wonder where Reith is in all this. Wasn’t he meant to be the fella who started the thing!? He arrives when the BBC is one month old. For now, he’s leaving a factory management job in Scotland, settling down with his new wife, having moved on from a possibly gay affair with his best friend Charlie... and he’s about to try a career in politics. He’s never heard of broadcasting at this stage. But for those who have, in the summer of 1922, Parliament announces there will be one broadcasting company, funded by a licence fee.....

 

  • One British Broadcasting Company. Marconi, MetroVick, Western Electric, General Electric and so on... each will have one representative on the board of this BBC, and then broadcasting can continue, they’ll all sell wireless radio sets, and to fund the operation, there’ll be a licence fee.

 

  • The name ‘BBCo’ is coined by one of the wireless manufacturer bosses in one of those meetings, Frank Gill, who notes in a memo before the name ‘broadcasting company’, the word ‘British’. A few lines down, he’s the first to write the word ‘pirates’ regarding those broadcasting without a licence.

 

  • But there’s one more hurdle to conquer – news. That takes some time to iron out with the press, and finally it’s agreed that us broadcasters will lease the news from them, for a fee, and no daytime news, to ensure readers still bought papers.

 

  • The press and the broadcasters still have an uneasy relationship, so whenever you see the newspapers having a pop at the BBC, know that the Daily Mail sponsored the first ever broadcast with Dame Melba, they were turned down for a radio station when they applied, and for years they were annoyed this radio upstart was trying to steal their readers.

 

  • With the starting pistol sounded, Arthur Burrows gets his dream: he’s convinced his employer, the Marconi Company that radio isn’t just about sending messages to individuals, it’s about reaching many listeners... or better still, it’s still about reaching individuals, just lots of them. Flash forward to Terry Wogan’s sad goodbye from his Radio 2 Breakfast Show. “Thank you for being my friend.” Singular. Radio – even podcasts like this – still speak to one listener at a time. I make a connection with you. Arthur Burrows and Peter Eckersley, were among the first to realise that.

 

  • But which of them would launch or join the BBC? The wild unpredictable Eckersley, who created demand for radio, and was still mocking Burrows in his field hut in an Essex village? Or the straight-laced Arthur Burrows, who’s prophesied broadcasting for years?

 

  • I think we know the answer to that. Playing it safe, The Marconi Company kept 2LO as part of this new British Broadcasting Company, as well as 2ZY Manchester under MetroVick, and a new station in Birmingham, 5IT, run by Western Electric. Marconi’s would also build new stations, in Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow, and more, growing in reach and ambition.

 

  • But it starts in London, on November 14th 1922, with a souped-up transmitter, rebuilt by good old Captain Round, the Marconi whizz who helped start it all. Arthur Burrows is before the mic, achieving his dream, to see broadcasting come to fruition. There are no recordings of that first broadcast, but we recreated it...

 

  • The next day, the Birmingham station 5IT launches – they quickly bring in the first regular children’s presenters, Uncle Edgar and Uncle Tom. An hour after they launch, Manchester 2ZY starts under the BBC banner, with more children’s programming there, plus an early home for an in-house BBC orchestra.

 

  • When the jobs go out for the this new BBC, bizarrely after it’s actually launched, there are just 4 employees hired before the end of the year, and Burrows is first, a shoo-in for Director of Programmes. John Reith applies for General Managership, having tried a bit of politics, but been pointed towards the BBC advert by his MP boss. On arriving, one of the first things he says is: ‘So what is broadcasting?’

 

  • As for Peter Eckersley, he continues at 2MT Writtle, every Tuesday evening into January 1923. The only non-BBC station to share the airwaves till commercial, pirate or... well there’s Radio Luxembourg but that’s for a future episode. But Eckersley too is ultimately convinced to join the good ship BBC. And all it takes is an opera, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House in January 1923 – one of the first outside broadcasts.

 

  • A penny drops for Eckersley, and he realises the power and potential of this broadcasting lark. Reith convinces him to stop his frivolous Tuesday show in Essex, and offers him a job as the BBC’s first Chief Engineer. And here Eckersley prospers, giving us new technology, nationwide broadcasting, the world’s first high-power long-wave transmitter at Daventry, he brings choice to the airwaves, with a regional and national scheme. Without Burrows, without Eckersley, without Reith, British broadcasting would look very different.

 

  • There’s one other name, among many, I’m particularly enthusiastic about: Hilda Matheson. An ex-spy who becomes the first Director of Talks, who reinvents talk radio and gives us the basis for Radio 4 and speech radio and indeed podcasting, you could argue, as we know it. She’s a fascinating character – part of a gay love triangle with the poet Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf. She’s the only BBC employee allowed to bring a dog to work.

 

  • And so much more, we’ll unpack on the British Broadcasting Century podcast, plus the Pips, the Proms, the Radio Times, and everything else you know and love, tolerate or loathe about British broadcasting today.
 

1922 (and season 2 of the podcast) closes with, you guessed it, New Year's Eve. But this one's special. For the first time, Brits don't need to go out to celebrate. They can stay home and listen to the wireless: concerts, dance music, no Big Ben's bongs yet (the only BBC New Year without them)... and a preach from Rev Archibald Fleming.

We bring you all this - including the voice of Rev Fleming himself, along with Reith, some newspaper cuttings of the day, and everything you never knew you needed to know about December 31st 1922 on the air.

Plus a guest! BBC producer and presenter Paul Hayes has written a new book on the birth of the modern Doctor Who. We talk about The Long Game - 1996-2003: The Inside Story of How the BBC Brought Back Doctor Who. Get your copy by clicking that link, from Ten Acre Films publishing. Paul also tells us about his radio documentaries, Eric Maschwitz, John Snagge, Emperor Rosko (who you can hear on our early episodes) and lots more.

A huge thanks to Andrew Barker for being our Newspaper Detective again and finding the listings in this episode.

This may be the end of season 2, but the specials begin very soon, then very soon we'll be embarking on 1923: the year that made the BBC. So stay subscribed for more of this, and see below for transcript and shownotes.

Thanks for listening!

 

SHOWNOTES:

  • This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and corralled by Paul Kerensa, who you can email if you want to add something to the show on radio history. Your contributions are welcome.
  • My new one-man play The First Broadcast is now booking for dates in 2022. Got a venue? Book me for your place. Here's one - The Museum of Comedy. Join me, in April or in November on the very date of the BBC's 100th birthday!
  • Thanks for joining us on Patreon if you do - or if you might! It supports the show, keeps it running, keeps me in books, which I then devour and add it all to the mixing-pot of research for this podcast. In return, I give you video, audio, advance writings, an occasional reading from C.A. Lewis' 1924 book Broadcasting From Within etc.
  • Thanks if you've ever bought me a coffee at ko-fi.com/paulkerensa. Again, it all helps keep us afloat.
  • We talk about the Doctor Who memos on the podcast this time. The reports in 1962 on a possible sci-fi show. Want to read them? Here they are! Five reports - just scroll down to 'Doctor Who'. Fascinating reading.
  • We post more interesting links like that in our British Broadcasting Century Facebook group. Join us there!
  • I post similar things on Twitter too - The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Do follow.
  • My other podcast of interviews is A Paul Kerensa Podcast. Have a listen!
  • Please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. 
  • My mailing list is here - sign up for updates on all I do, writing, teaching writing, stand-up, radio etc.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops, inc Hark! The Biography of Christmas. Coming in 2022: a novel on all this radio malarkey.
  • And don't forget Paul Hayes' book The Long Game - 1996-2003: The Inside Story of How the BBC Brought Back Doctor Who is available now.
  • Archive clips are either public domain or used with kind permission from the BBC, copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

 

APPROXIMATE TRANSCRIPT:

Previously on the podcast...

  • 1922, what a year! In January, PostGen Mr Kellaway announces he’ll allow 15min of speech and music alongside 15min of Morse, from just one station, and only to calibrate wireless sets.
  • In February, 2MT Writtle goes on the air, with that weekly 30min transmission, again, just for calibration purposes. Yeah right.
  • In March, Peter Eckersley seizes the mic on 2MT Writtle, and wins over the hearts and minds, but mainly ears of the nation
  • In April, Reith leaves Scotland for London to find work.
  • In May, Marconi’s begins a second station, 2LO London, and MetroVick began 2ZY Manchester.
  • In June, the PostGen insists the companies get together and thrash out how to get along!
  • In July, the companies decide to form not two companies, but one.
  • In August, the BBC is formed – when govt tell them to get a move on.
  • In September, a big wireless exhibition, to sell radios to the masses.
  • In October, the press problem is hammered out.
  • In November, the BBC launches!
  • In December, the first four staff are hired.
  • What a year!

 

This time, year’s end – the sun sets on British broadcasting’s birth year. We’ll bring you the programming for the first BBC New Year’s Eve, including the voices of those who rang the year out.

 

No Big Ben’s bongs just yet. Just the end of the beginning, and the end of season 2, pretty much.

 

Plus our special guest, BBC Radio Norfolk’s Paul Hayes, with tell of his new book on Doctor Who.

 

This is the last episode of Season 2. See, my original plan was to call it season 2 all the way to end of 1923. But now we’ve reached the end of 1922, it does feel, a change is coming in the fledgeling British Broadcasting of the early 20s.

 

For 10 or so episodes, we’ve covered the pre-Reith BBC. The pre-Magnet House BBC. The make it up as you go along BBC.

 

So I feel we should mark the move to the Reith era with a new season. Season 3! A line in the sand, as they cross the threshold into the New Year, and into Magnet House.

 

Here’s the plan – you’ll recall we had a few specials on the podcast between seasons 1 and 2. Well I think let’s have at least one special, next time, and we’ve got one ready and waiting.

 

So after New Year this ep, next ep will be the special episode we recorded for The History of England podcast. It’s essentially the entire podcast so far told in half an hour. Some clips you’ll have heard her, some you won’t have. If you’ve heard The H of E podcast special, you’ll have heard most of next time’s episode, but a) it’s nice to have it all in one place, and b) I’ll add some new bits.

 

Meanwhile, one more episode of season 2 then – this one, on the first BBC New Year.

 

Dec 30th: John Reith’s first day of work.

 

Well one thing we didn’t mention last time is he ended his first day in charge by writing a letter, to his former best friend, and perhaps one-time lover, Charlie Bowser. See episode 15: John Reith Mastermind for details of Charlie.

 

He was Reith’s best friend and then some. Reith was always finding Charlie deputy roles in every job Reith worked in – from the army to Beardsmore’s Glasgow factory. Reith wanted Charlie Bowser by his side. Until, that is, they had a massive falling out, over, you guessed it, women. They both got married, and maybe they were never destined to. Reith’s wife Muriel seemed to fit in ok – though both John and Charlie loved her – John Reith even thought Charlie loved Muriel more than he did, and he was married to her.

 

But when Charlie married a woman Reith nicknamed ‘Jezebel’, it drove a wedge between the two men.

 

Still, Reith always wrote to Charlie on his birthday. So he did in late 1922, and got a rather blunt reply from Charlie.

 

“Smug little cad” wrote Reith in his diary after his first day of work. “Of course if only things had been otherwise, he could have been Assistant General Manager of this new concern.”

 

He had left Charlie behind.

 

If they hadn’t had such a falling out, I’ve no doubt Charlie would have been Deputy DG, and Reith-era BBC would have been somewhat different – possibly more relaxed.

 

Instead, the no2 job of the BBC, would ultimately go, in 1923, to Admiral Charles Carpendale – a man who came to see each BBC building as a ship, with decks, and crewmates. And some say Broadcasting House was even constructed that way. You see NBH today, it still looks like a small ocean liner. With a Starbucks.

 

But Charlie was not to be part of it – and Reith gloated about that fact.

 

But on a more optimistic note, the BBC was booming, with demand for licences sky-rocketing.

 

By Dec 31st, 1922: 35,774 licences issued by GPO...

With just 4 employees

What 2LO London had for their first New Year’s broadcast:

For the kids, Baden-Powell gave a message to the Scouts.

Then the original listings say that NYE closed after a concert, bedtime at 10:30pm.

 

As NY grew nearer though, a plan formed to stay up late.

 

But it was a Sunday, so forget dance music, Reith knew what he wanted.

 

Dec 31: ‘I had told Burrows – my first order to him – that we would observe Sundays and that we should ask Dr Fleming of Pont Street to give a short religious address tonight.’

 

Yes, the first order of Reith’s reign! To engage an End of Year Watchnight religious talk from Rev Dr Archibald Fleming, of the Church of Scotland, London branch.

 

Just before midnight, the hymn was sung solo: O God Our Help in Ages Past. Then there were no Big Ben chimes – but there were Burrows’ tubular bells in the studio.

 

Popular Wireless magazine: “2LO’s chimes sounded the hour and then gave a lifelike imitation of the local belfry in full swing. The peals came out excellently on a loudspeaker, and the bagpipe solo must have been a joy to any Scotsman listening-in.”

 

Oh yes, there were bagpipes, from Mr R Marshall, an actual piper in the studio, alongside a Mr Kenneth Ellis who sang Auld Lang Syne.

 

2LO’s Musical Director Stanton Jefferies announced in the New Year, then Burrows said: “Hullo everybody! 2LO, the London Broadcasting station speaking. We hope you have enjoyed our little concert. I expect this is the most original way of passing watchnight you have ever experienced. 2LO wishes you a happy and prosperous New Year. May you have the best of luck! Goodbye everybody. Goodbye and the best of luck!”

 

Next time: The specials! Beginning with The Story So Far... So stay subscribed, tell others, and join us then.

Next episode released on the 99th birthday of the BBC...

Reith Begins!

December 29th-30th 1922: General Manager John Reith begins work! The good ship Broadcasting finally gets its captain.

On Episode 35 of The British Broadcasting Century, we bring you the complete tale of not only Reith's first day - the liftsman, the lone office, the "Dr Livingstone, I presume" moment - but also his commute to work, from Scotland to London via Newcastle. Here he investigates/interviews/interrogates poor Tom Payne, director of Newcastle 5NO, a BBC station that's only five days old, temporarily running from the back of a lorry in a stable-yard.

We'll hear from Reith, Payne (who claims to be the only person to bank-roll a British radio station), Birmingham director Percy Edgar, early BBC governor Mary Agnes Hamitlon.

Plus we'll hear from Mark Carter of BBC Radio Sussex, BBC Radio Surrey, Susy Radio, Wey Valley Radio, across which he's been presenter, producer and now Executive Editor.

There's also a treasure trove of radio memoribilia including 'the green book' of what you can and can't say on the radio - in 1948 - courtesy of the collection of former BBC Head of Heritage Justin Phillips. We're ever so grateful to his family for sharing that with us.

 

SHOWNOTES:

  • This episode leans on several books, the chief of which is probably Garry Alligan's 1938 book Sir John Reith, but also Asa Briggs' various books, Brian Hennessy's The Emergence of Broadcasting in Britain, and The Reith Diaries edited by Charles Stuart. Plus about a dozen others. 
  • Join us on Patreon for a tour of my radio history bookshelf, plus extras, audio, video, an occasional reading from C.A. Lewis' 1924 book Broadcasting From Within, plus the glowing feeling of supporting this podcast. Thanks to all who support us there and keep us ticking over.
  • For a one-off contribution, you could buy us a coffee at ko-fi.com/paulkerensa. Thanks! It all helps keep us afloat.
  • This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and corralled by Paul Kerensa, who you can email if you want to add something to the show on radio history. Your contributions are welcome.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook page is here. Join us there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook group is here. Join us there too.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Join us there three.
  • My other podcast of interviews is A Paul Kerensa Podcast. Have a listen!
  • My mailing list is here - sign up for updates on all I do, writing, teaching writing, stand-up, radio etc.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops, inc Hark! The Biography of Christmas. Coming in 2022: a novel on all this radio malarkey.
  • Archive clips are either public domain or used with kind permission from the BBC, copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • Please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. 

 

 

APPROXIMATE TRANSCRIPT:

Previously on the BBCentury...

 

The 6-week-old BBC now has 4 plucky stations! Yes, the Geordies have joined the Cockneys the Brummies and the Mancunians... Except 5NO Newcastle has had a few teething troubles. No one there’s run a radio station before! So on Christmas Eve Eve 1922, their first is broadcast from the back of a lorry in a stableyard.

 

But fear not, with Christmas behind us, Head Office are on the case! And the BBC’s first and only General Manager John Reith is well-rested, he’s even asked a friend what broadcasting is, and he reckons he’s ok to take control. He’s always liked fishing. That’s what broadcasting is... isn’t it?

 

THIS TIME...

Still puzzling out what his job is, John Reith begins work! We’ve got all the info on his legendary first day, his ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’ moment... and his first task of running the Beeb: fixing Newcastle. He seeks to inform, educate and entertain, but first troubleshoot.

 

Plus bang up to date, we’ll hear from a man with radio in his very fibre... local radio executive editor and presenter, from BBC Radio Sussex and BBC Radio Surrey, and Susy Radio, and Wey Valley Radio... Mark Carter

 

As we mark the start of the Reith era, buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Here on the BBCentury

 

TITLES

 

Hullo, hullo...

 

We’ve seen a few eps ago, how Reith, and Burrows, and Anderson and Lewis were all hired as the first 4 founding fathers at the BBC. But they start work at New Year. Of course, we know that those of them who were broadcasters, Burrows and Lewis – they were already workig super-hard, planning and presenting almost 7 days a week, even through Christmas.

 

But the start of the BBC’s new era, with a head office at Magnet House, till Savoy Hill opened, all of this happens after Christmas 1922, going into New Year 1923.

 

So this ep, I’ll tell you about Reith’s first day, Dec 29th. Next episode, we’ll round off with a rather sweet New Year’s Eve bit of programming. Then I think we’ll have a bit of a recap and a breather, before starting 1923 proper, when the BBC exploded into life, with a booming staff, the first proper live concerts from the royal opera house, and so much more.

 

What a tale! What an era! I wish I was there. I can’t be, so next best thing, I’ll spend a pandemic researching and recording this... The BBCe, now with the first day of work from John Reith!

 

STING

 

But before he starts in London, we’re going super-geeky, super0detailed, and I’ll actually tell you about Reith’s JOURNEY to London. Because that’s really notable too.

 

Having been appointed, and spent a day or two with Burrows and co, scouting for offices, puzzling out what broadcasting is, Reith has spent Christmas in Scotland, staying with his mum...

 

“I told her that I wanted her to live to see me a knight anyhow. I feel if this job succeeds and I am given grace to succeed in it, I might nt be so far off this. I do want a title for dear mother’s sake, and Muriel’s...” 

 

That from Reith’s diary, Dec 28th 1922. So he’s keen on this job, for the authoritative position it gives him, it seems, to begin with, at least. He’s turned down good deputy jobs before this point. He wanted to lead something. Anything. Even a thing he doesn’t understand.

 

Here’s a snapshot what Reith would have been completely unaware was on that Christmas, on each of the BBC’s stations:

 

  • We told you all about the London Christmas last time, but from Boxing Day, you’d hear more from the brand new 2LO Orchestra, and a triumphant Boxing Day Peter Pan, Uncle Jeff and Uncle Arthur holding the fort, rewarded with many gifts from the listeners. Demand for radio sets outstripped supply. The radio boom was booming.
  • In Brum: Percy Edgar gives his Dickens, artistes don’t turn up. Callout on air. Frederick Warrander turned up, with his pianist!
  • Manc: Christmas stories for kids, then grownups, Handel’s Messiah, ghost stories
  • Newcastle: Hawaiian band

 

Then there’s 2MT Writtle, who’ve had the week off for Christmas – that’s not a BBC station, but they’ve done the groundwork earlier in the year, and now Peter Eckersley is there pondering whether he should keep going, in this Marconi station out in Essex, now that proper broadcasting has begun – and the big boss is on his way to start work.

 

So Friday 29th December, Reith says bye mum, I’ll come back when I’m knighted, and leaves Dunardoch for London – raring to start work the next day, a Saturday, but he wanted to get in before his small staff turns up after the weekend.

 

But, his Director of Progs Arthur Burrows, who knows more than almost anyone about how all this runs, he’s asked his boss to make a stopover en route to Magnet House in London. Burrows wants Reith to get off the train at Newcastle, and check in on the baby station, 5NO. We talked about their launch last time – so at this point it’s only 5 days old, and it’s the first BBC station to be built from scratch.

 

Burrows has his doubts about the Newcastle staff. New station director Payne is out on a limb, setting up this new station in the northeast – with the smallest, most abandoned staff....

Probably adding to Burrows’ doubts were Tom Payne’s announcing habits: he kept repeating the callsign over and over: ‘This is 5NO calling, this is 5NO calling, this is 5NO calling...”

 

Payne was popular locally already in amateur radio circles – but would he have the chops to broadcast nationally, on radio? To fit in, with what Burrows had set in motion?

 

Reith’s a bit reluctant to break his journey in Newcastle. Doesn’t quite see why. Doesn’t quite know what a radio station is. But he’s quite keen to see one in action – although Newcastle’s version is a stableyard, so not really your typical radio station...

 

‘Newcastle at 12:30. Here I really began my BBC responsibility. Saw transmitting station and studio place and landlords. It was very interesting. Away at 4:28, London at 10:10, bed at 12:00. I am trying to keep in close touch with Christ in all I do and I pray he may keep close to me. I have a great work to do.’

 

Reith is dumbfounded. He’s got off the train, and found Tom Payne alternating between announcing what’s on the radio, playing some live musical instruments, and trying to shut up a howling dog in a nearby kennel. So did he let Mr Payne off the hook?

 

“As the temporary Station Director knew more than I did, as he had produced programmes of some kind or another for 5 days already... I rather naturally left him in possession for the time being.”

 

As for the tech setup in Newcastle, that doesn’t improve too quickly. Reith will be shocked in the New Year of ’23 to discover their new control room is in fact a standard public phone box installed in the middle of the studio. Forget the engineer through the glass. This was an engineer in the glass, in a glass box, closed in from before the programme started till after it finished, no ventilation, no seat, no dignity.

 

Come January, Reith would personally seek new premises for those provincial stations that were lacking. Eventually.

 

For now though, on Dec 29th, Reith leaves Newcastle, after a stopover of less than 4hrs, and continues to London.

 

So Reith has arrived in London, slept off his train journey, and awoken ready for his first day at the BBC.

London at 10:10, bed at 12:00. I am trying to keep in close touch with Christ in all I do and I pray he may keep close to me. I have a great work to do.’

At 9am that Saturday, Reith arrives at the GEC offices in Kingsway, London. “where I had been informed temporary accommodation had been at our disposal.” This is Magnet House., first offices of the BBC.

 

He has doubts what he’ll find, but is pleased to see a large notice in the foyer: “Brit Broad Company, 2nd floor”

 

“This was rather reassuring. One was therefore not altogether unexpected and there really was such a thing as the BBC. Before I was permitted to enter the elevator, an enquiry was naturally made regarding my business. ‘BBC’, I said deliberately. “Nobody there yet, sir,” he replied. So I told him that this was it, or part of it, one quarter approximately.”

 

How delightfully drole, of both Reith and the liftsman.

 

“A room about 30fr by 15, furnished with 3 long tables and some chairs. A door at one end invited examination: a tiny compartment 6ft sq, here a table and a chair, also a telephone. ‘This,’ I thought, ‘is the general manager’s office’. The door swung to behind me. I wedged it open; sat down, surveyed the emptiness of the outer office. Though various papers had accumulated in the past fortnight, I had read them all before. No point in pretending to be busy with no one to see.”

 

It’s an unusual start for Reith then, still a little clueless as to what’s required of him. He needs his staff to arrive before he can quite figure out what to do, how to run this BBC. So he picks up the phone, a bit like Manuel when he briefly takes charge of Fawlty Towers. “Manuel Towers! How are you today!” Or Alan Partridge picking up the hotel phone to find he’s reached reception.

 

In Reith’s case, he’s delighted a female voice answers. Yes? “Having been unexpectedly answered, I trued hurriedly to think of a number which at 9:15am I might be properly expected to call up, on BBC business. Naturally without success. As there was no BBC business to anything with. So I enquired, somewhat fatuously, and with some embarrassment, if she had had any intrusctions about calls for the BBC or from them, and that if so, the BBC was there.” Now. Just.

 

 

This receptionist would connect many calls to R over the coming months, and years, Miss Isobel Shields.

 

Reith was a fan of Mr Gamage of the GEC. He was not a fan of Major Anderson, his new, brief secretary.

 

 

1/2hr later, Major Anderson, Sec, arrived 9:30am, “with some manifestation of authority”.

 Silk hat, two attache cases, legal-looking books under his arm. Reith described it as a bit “Livingstone and Stanley”, each presumed the other was the Secretary or General Manager.

 ‘I hadn’t seen him before. It was an awful shock. I saw at once that he would never do... Conversation was not brisk...”

 

Then Mr Gamage, Secretary of the GEC, lovely welcoming fella. For 10 weeks, Gamage sees to their every need, and refuses all offer of payment for the room, lunch, tea, phone calls. GEC’s guest.

 

That night Major Anderson the Sec goes home to type a letter, to invite Miss Isobel Shields to stop working for General Electric, be poached by the BBC, and become one of the first six staff members, and the first female employee.

 

Next time: New Year 1922!

It's Christmas! (Well not now, it's Sept 2021 as I write/record this, but it was Christmas, in 1922.) Time for a 4th BBC station... the first to be constructed from scratch under the BBC banner.

Hear the voices and the troubled tale of Newcastle 5NO's shaky start, on the back of a lorry in a stableyard. Plus we'll see what 5IT Birmingham and 2ZY Manchester looked like six weeks into the BBC's being. So we'll hear from original BBC pioneers like Percy Edgar, Victor Smythe and Tom Payne as they tell us all about it.

We've also got an Airwave Memory from Leila Johnston, aka The Punk Hotelier.

New this time, below, a transcript. Of sorts...

 

SHOWNOTES:

  • We mention Paul Hayes' marvellous documentary on BBC Radio Norfolk, on Nexus: Norfolk's Forgotten TV Station.
  • Dead Girls Tell No Tales is the dramatisation of ITV's launch night vs The Archers special.
  • The full Amateur Wireless article from Dec 30th 1922, on the Manchester Broadcasting Station in all its technical geekery, is here on our Facebook group. Do join it and join us!
  • Join us on Patreon for extras, behind-the-scenes things, bonus video and audio, and the British Broadcasting Century Book Club, where I'm currently reading at you Broadcasting From Within by C.A. Lewis. And thanks to all who support us there, keeping us ticking over.
  • For a one-off contribution, buy us a coffee at ko-fi.com/paulkerensa? Thanks! It all helps keep us (me) in books and caffeine.
  • This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and corralled by Paul Kerensa, who you can email if you want to add something to the show on radio history. Your contributions are welcome.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook page is here. Do like. I post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook group is here. Do join. You post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Do follow.
  • My other podcast of interviews is A Paul Kerensa Podcast. Have a listen!
  • My mailing list is here - sign up for updates on all I do, writing, teaching writing, stand-up, radio etc.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops, inc Hark! The Biography of Christmas. Ho ho ho.
  • Archive clips are either public domain or used with kind permission from the BBC, copyright content reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Alright? Sreserved.
  • Please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. 

Next time: Reith begins!

 

=======

 

Now, we've never done a transcript before. But then I just thought... I have oodles of notes each episode, so why not just post that? It's 80% of the podcast right here. So transcript fans, read on for essentially the podcast in text form (without the articles and guest bits)

 

LOOSE TRANSCRIPT (it's loose, so excuse spelling errors or weird word clangs):

Previously on the podcast...

Christmas 1922, and the BBC has been on the air for 6 weeks, in London, Birmingham and Manchester. But when the govt agreed this BBCo could exist, the deal wasn’t for 3 stations that already existed, but for 8! All across Blighty.

So where the blazes are they? Isn’t it time for a new pop-up radio station to, well, pop up?

Wouldn’t that be the best Christmas present a Geordie radio listener could ask for?

 

This time...

Let it 5NO, let it 5NO, let it 5NO!

Newcastle 5NO joins the airwaves, in time for Christmas? Just. Maybe.

Plus behind-the-scenes at 5IT Birmingham and 2ZY Manchester as we tune into Christmas 1922 – AND hear the voices of the three wise station directors of the BBC’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th stations.

Christmas Eve 1922 is where we find ourselves this episode, which is why we’ve broken out the jingling bells in our backing music! So whether it’s Christmas or not, hop on our time-sleigh set for 99 years ago – Christmas in Newcastle! On the British Broadcasting Century...

 

TITLES

 

Hullo hullo, PK calling. Are we coming through clearly?

That’s how they’d start their test transmissions in 1922, and over the past 33 episodes we’ve seen how those early voices and wireless manufacturers all brought together science, art and a bit of magic to make British broadcasting a thing. 

Thanks for your lovely feedback on last couple of eps, btw. We got very geeky about the studio design of Marconi House, ...thanks to Andrew Barker our Newspaper Detective, article after article has been available to us of when the printed press were invited in in late Dec ’22, so we had a lot to get across.

And we’ve got a bit more along those lines this episode, but further north. Before we get to Newcastle and the launch of their new station, there was more than just London on the dial... This episode we’ll tour the other BBC stations, and hear rare clips of each of their station directors: the 2nd BBC station in Brum, the 3rd in Manc and the 4th in Newcastle, which has yet to begin...

 

STING

 

But we’ll begin then in Birmingham – it’ll help us appreciate their civilised environs, when you see the ramshackle joint Newcastle have to deal with.

 

In December 1922, Birmingham is a primitive setup... I don’t mind the whole city, but er, well, see Peaky Blinders for details.

 

The Birmingham 5IT station, out in Witton, was just a month or so into its life, as its first station boss Percy Edgar later recalled from a comfier space...

 

  • CLIP: EDGAR: modern studio vs old

 

Back then, the station director did most things – announce, book the acts, sing, play... and Percy Edgar found it a real song and dance hiring performers who loved a song, and a dance...

 

  • CLIP: EDGAR: 5IT studio: player-piano, platform - soubrette up and down

 

Well the listeners couldn’t tell – and in fact those who switch between London and Birmingham stations often find that Brum had the edge. The stations, all part of one BBC, are slightly in competition with each other at this stage. No bad thing if it encourages a boost in quality....

 

Boston Guardian, 16th December 1922

 

 

...Praise indeed for the Birmingham’s announcer, who likely by this point, is Percy Edgar.

 

  • CLIP: Edgar: “Within a few weeks, Harold Casey joined me as Assistant Station Director...”

 

So while Percy edgar is adding to his Birmingham team with a loyal Ass St Dir, up in Manchester, another of the first 3 BBC stations, the team is expanding too.

 

On Dec 19th, that’s the same Tuesday when the London squad find their new home of Savoy Hill. the Manchester station also gains a new employee: Victor Smythe... He’d been interested from the start a month earlier...

 

VICTOR SMYTHE CLIP

 

Victor Smythe catches the bug in late Nov, by mid-Dec he’s applying for a job at 2ZY Manchester. On Dec 19th he starts work. In one show, he’d read the news, do a funny story, do a talk as Mr X... And when they started doing full days, he was known to be announcer from 9:30am to midnight!

 

Now I said earlier we’d have the voices of 3 station directors. So, alright, Victor Smythe became deputy station dir at 2ZY Manchester. The station dir Kenneth Wright, we’ve had on here before – go back to our 2ZY episode for his voice. But as deputy, Victor Smythe was a Manchester stalwart for 3 decades. So this episode, you’re getting him.

 

So what was 2ZY Manch like at the month-old BBC? Well just as the London station invited the press into the studio, likewise in mid-December...

 

Now, the long article they published was very technical. Too technical for me. Too technical for you? Difficult to say. I don’t know the threshold of our listeners. So if you want to read the full article, join our Facebook group – I’ll post a link to the article in the shownotes – join our group for more like that, and thanks Andrew Barker for sharing these articles with us.

 

So that’s Birmingham and Manchester that first BBC Christmas, with London, making the first 3 stations.

 

But the summer before, the Post-Gen in the H of C said the BBC would consist of 8 stations across the country. It was to be a broadcasting service for everyone – or at least most, though the first Chief Engineer Peter Eckersley would have plans soon enough to reach even the furthest farmer – but the tale of relay stations, and longwave, and Daventry... is all a few years away yet.

 

Here’s an even later Chief Engineer of the BBC, Harold Bishop – who back in 1922 was an engineer at the London studio:

 

CLIP: Harold Bishop Dec 24th 1922 on 5NO, then Cardiff, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Bournemouth

 

So yes it’s about time they built that 4th studio – the first to start life under the BBC! The first of a new plan to build stations in city centres, unlike Birmingham and Manchester, which were out in industrial works far from travel hubs, and needing artistes to travel after dark to the middle of nowhere.

 

You want a nearby railway station, a hotel, the bustle of a city – or at least near as 1920s cities got to a bustle – to welcome a regular turnover of guest performers. For that, Newcastle 5NO turned to W.P. Crosse’s Concert Agency, and a separate local agency to receive and transcribe the news from Reuters.

 

So far so good. But you also need a high point for the aerial – a giant chimney or tower of some kind.

 

The Marconi Company are the ones to build this, and the local station-in-waiting is promised to Newcastle’s ears by Christmas. A bit of a rush, but they rise to the challenge.

 

The plans begin on Dec 10th – so only a fortnight before the promised launch date. Impressive!

 

24 Eldon Square is rented at £250/year, that’s to be a studio and artistes’ waiting room, with 4 offices above it for the Station Director and support staff.

 

Peel Conner microphones are installed – not too reliable, ok for speech but can’t get the full range when music was attempted.

 

This is the first station to have the studio and transmitter at separate sites, a mile apart, linked my phoneline. So over in West Blandford St, the 1½ kw transmitter, there’s the stableyard of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, surrounded by horses and carts. Their 140ft chimney was perfect for the aerial.

 

That transmitter is the new Marconi Q type transmitter – the first of its kind, a slimmed-down version of the prototype used at London’s 2LO. The London version was vast and unwieldy and the result of lots of trial and error to get the best quality, low hum – the quality of a radio broadcast had to be more pleasant than the quality of a phone call. So London’s transmitter, while legendary and still in the Science Museum today, was a bit of a bodge job. It’s a Frankenstein of a transmitter.

 

So in Dec 1922, the plan was for Newcastle, then Cardiff and Glasgow, to have slimline versions of this same transmitter – now they knew it could work.

 

It was of course developed by our good old friend Captain H.J. Round, remember him? There at the start, giving us speech test broadcasts from Chelmsford in our first few episodes. You’ll have heard Round’s mega-talk in one of our specials, and at this point he was working a new better microphone to roll out in the New Year, having just designed these new Marconi Q type transmitters, for Newcastle and the other new stations. Round was always working on the next technological breakthrough.

 

As you heard from Brum and Manc, BBC station directors were normally also the main announcers – they did everything! But in station director Tom Payne’s case, he was setting up ex nihilo, building something from nothing. So he was a little out of his depth, I think it’s fair to say. London, Birmingham and Manchester had all grown out of existing wireless manufacturing companies: Marconi’s in London, MetroVick in Manchester, Western Electric in Birmingham. But Newcastle? Just a skeleton crew who’d never done this before... principally the Marconi engineer E.O.P. Thomas, and the station boss Tom Payne.

 

Word reached head office that Tom Payne was having troubles. December 23rd, they tried to launch...

 

E.O.P. Thomas, Marconi engineer puts it like this: “A hitch arose and there was  no hope of connecting studio and transmitter. As a last resort I had several empty horse drays wheeled into the stable yard, chairs were placed on them and microphones connected to the nearby transmitter. The inaugural programme of 5NO was punctually carried out.”

 

A howling dog in a nearby kennel ruined much of the broadcast.

 

Thankfully next day, Christmas Eve, the link-up to the studio is fixed and Newcastle 5NO is officially launched, after this pre-show from the stableyard.

 

Technical limitations persist though - it restricts hours of broadcasting too, so station boss Tom Payne recalls, when dealing with Marconi engineer Mr Thomas.

 

Yes, Newcastle has a greater limit on time than its southern cousins.

 

So as we stampede forward in our tale, let’s leave Newcastle, and check in what was on air from the BBC in London for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Now we featured this in much fuller detail in our Christmas special, episode 20, but it’d be rude not to mention what was on while we’re here chronologically here.

 

So, the first London BBC Christmas, in a nutshell!

 

  • Christmas Eve in a nutshell – Truth About FC, John Mayo...

 

Hear the fuller version of Rev John Mayo’s Christmas address, and more on Peter Pan, the 2 stations with different versions of O Come All Ye Faithful, and much much more on our Christmas special about 10 episodes ago.

 

Next time, Reith begins! But en route to Head Office, his first task will be a stopover in Newcastle, to inspect that station: that stableyard, that lorry, that howling dog, that Tom Payne.

 

Plus Reith’s incredible first day at the London office. The end of the beginning, the start of the BBC proper. Finally!

 

If you like what you hear, please spread word of us. It’s the best way for new listeners to discover us. And if you like us, your friends are going to love us. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, buy us a coffee at ko-fi.com – links to all in the shownotes, and join us next time for the beginning of Reith...

Our story of early British broadcasting reaches the week before Christmas 1922. The BBC staff of four have found Savoy Hill, made an offer, but for now have one room at GEC's Magnet House lined up for the first few months of 1923. But while Reith goes off on his hols, and Major Anderson the secretary puzzles out the new BBC accounts (see last episode), the other two head office staff won't wait for a Head Office, because they're still broadcasting down the road at Marconi House... Arthur Burrows as Uncle Arthur and Cecil Lewis as Uncle Caractacus.

Here we meet other broadcasters, including the first couple of the BBC, L Stanton Jeffries (Uncle Jeff) and Vivienne Chatterton (not an official radio 'Auntie', even though she was second voice on London's first Children's Hour - AND married to an 'Uncle'). Married in 1921, on air in December 1922, you'll hear their voices from years later.

Plus we have reminiscences from Harold Bishop, Cecil Lewis and Arthur Burrows, and press cuttings of the day courtesy of our Newspaper Detective Andrew Barker.

There's also the return of our AMs and FMs - Airwave Memories and Firsthand Memories. Send us yours, in word form or voice form via an emailed Voice Memo to paul at paulkerensa dot com. That's what Poppy did, and she brings her tale of trying to Michael Bentine back on air.

  • Poppy's podcast is confessionsofaclosetromantic.com.
  • This podcast is NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - it's entirely run, researched, presented and corralled by Paul Kerensa, who you can email if you want to add something to the show on radio history. Your contributions are welcome.
  • Thank you to all who support us on Patreon - discover extra things there, including our new British Broadcasting Century Book Club, where I read and explain/interrupt Cecil Lewis' Broadcasting From Within, the first book on broadcasting, from 1924. You can hear Cecil Lewis' voice on this podcast. THANK YOU if you support us there, or with one-off chip-in tips at ko-fi.com/paulkerensa.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook page is here. Do like. I post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook group is here. Do join. You post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Do follow.
  • My other podcast of interviews, from Rev Richard Coles, Miranda Hart, Milton Jones and more is called A Paul Kerensa Podcast - and the latest episode there is the FULL chat with Gareth Jones, who appeared on this podcast some episodes ago, with tales of children's broadcasting in the 1990s, ITV companies, and his wonder for all things science. Have a listen! And subscribe there for more like that.
  • My mailing list is here - do subscribe to keep up with things.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops.

Archive clips are either public domain or the BBC's or someone's domain but the mists of time has hidden from us whose they are. Thank you, all rights holders! And we hope this is ok with you...

Do please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. 

Next time: All I want for Christmas 1922 is a new radio station: Newcastle 5NO is born! Just.

December 22nd 1922: The Chairman of the Broadcasting Committee writes to the Postmaster General urging him to address the licence fee problem. "Listeners-in" are already dodging the tariffs... and John Reith hasn't even started yet!

Here on episode 32, aka season 2 episode 5, we look at the problems facing the pre-Reith BBC with regard to income. Gladly a hundred years later, the BBC has solved that licence fee problem... er... nearly.

And the return of radio reverend Cindy Kent, with tales of commercial radio, announcing celebrity deaths and the joys of pandemic Poirot.

Plus we have news of a meet-up! May 22nd-ish 2022 - Writtle, Essex. More info soon.

AND radio historian Alan Stafford plays us on his piano one of the earliest songs about radio: Ernest Longstaffe's 'Everybody's List'ning In'.

  • We are a one-man band - we're NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - this podcast is entirely run by Paul Kerensa, who you can email if you want to add something to the show on radio history, offer any correspondence, or send us a short audio clip of your earliest broadcasting memories (not as old as 1922, don't worry) for inclusion on a future episode.
  • Thank you to all who support us on Patreon - if you'd like to join this growing band of marvellous people, I upload extra things there, about half of which are to do with this podcast and radio history (the latest of which is a reading of Cecil Lewis' Broadcasting From Within, the first book on broadcasting, in 1924), and about half of which are general comedy/writing things more like to the weekly Facebook Live I do. Join us on Patreon, and keep us in books and web hosting. It all helps keep us making episodes - we'd genuinely have stopped by now if no one had! So THANK YOU.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook page is here. Do like. I post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook group is here. Do join. You post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Do follow.
  • My other podcast of interviews, from Rev Richard Coles, Miranda Hart, Milton Jones and more is called A Paul Kerensa Podcast - and I'm adding more interviews all the time. Do listen.
  • My mailing list is here - do subscribe to keep up with things.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops.

Archive clips are either public domain or the BBC's or someone's domain but the mists of time has hidden from us whose they are. Thank you, all rights holders! And we hope this is ok with you...

Do please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. 

Next time: The staff grows! We look at Marconi House in late December 1922, with the first couple of the BBC. Aw...

Subscribe / share / thanks!

Closing down now, closing down.

Season 2 Episode 4 (aka Episode 31 in total) flashes us back to Arthur Burrows' pre-BBC days, and brings us to December 17th-20th 1922, when 4/5 of the BBC workforce (ie. 4 people of the 5) tour central London searching for a building.

They can use Magnet House for now, on loan from General Electric, but after that, where? After deciding against a gold-flatting mill (now a Gym Box), they discover a nice little premises on Savoy Hill.

But before that, Arthur Burrows shows John Reith the ropes, via a chart, of everything this new BBC will need, from engineers to commissionaires a lady's assistant. Reith is still baffled.

But before THAT - several years before that - Burrows was the lone voice trying to convince the Marconi Company that broadcasting was a Good Thing. The Marconi bosses didn't agree. Our special guest knows all about this: Professor Gabriele Balbi, Associate Professor of Media Studies at USI in Switzerland, has written a paper called 'Wireless’ Critical Flaw: The Marconi Company, Corporation Mentalities and the Broadcasting Option'. He fills in Burrows' back-story, explains how several voices can be heard within a company's culture, and is a lone voice in academia too, suggesting that the Marconi Company still didn't get behind broadcasting even when the Melba concerts showed it was possible. Even then, he argues, the transmissions were just to show home-users that wireless communication was easy.

So perhaps when Burrows was explaining to Reith everything about broadcasting, he was STILL fighting the corner for his vision of what radio was, and could be.

And broadcasting has clearly reached its pinnacle in this podcast, so thank you for supporting it...

  • We are a one-man band - we're NOTHING to do with the present-day BBC - this podcast is entirely run by Paul Kerensa, who you can email if you want to add something to the show on radio history, offer any correspondence, or send us a short audio clip of your earliest broadcasting memories (not as old as 1922, don't worry) for inclusion on a future episode.
  • Thank you to all who support us on Patreon - if you'd like to join this growing band of marvellous people, I upload extra things there, about half of which are to do with this podcast and radio history (the latest of which is a reading of Cecil Lewis' Broadcasting From Within, the first book on broadcasting, in 1924), and about half of which are general comedy/writing things more like to the weekly Facebook Live I do. Join us on Patreon, and keep us in books and web hosting. It all helps keep us making episodes - we'd genuinely have stopped by now if no one had! So THANK YOU.
  • I guest-presented an episode for The History of England podcast. Hear it here! It's essentially the entire first season of this podcast, squidged into half an hour. (If it vanishes from their feed, we'll be posting it as a special episode on this podcast in a few months' time). 30,000 people have heard that episode now - 100 times the listenership of our episodes here! So welcome if you've joined us from there...
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook page is here. Do like. I post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook group is here. Do join. You post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Do follow.
  • My other podcast of interviews, from Rev Richard Coles, Miranda Hart, Milton Jones and more is called A Paul Kerensa Podcast - and I'm adding more interviews all the time. Do listen.
  • My mailing list is here - do subscribe to keep up with things.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops.

Memos included in this episode are BBC copyright content, reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation, all rights reserved. Archive clips are either public domain or someone's domain but the mists of time has hidden from us whose they are. Thank you, all rights holders! And we hope this is ok with you...

Do please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. 

Next time: The staff grows! We look at Marconi House in late December 1922, as Rex Palmer joins, but experimental licences cause a headache for those hoping for any income from this new 'BBC' experiment.

Subscribe to get this next time.

Closing down now, closing down.

"I had little idea what broadcasting was." So said John Reith after his job interview to become General Manager of the brand new BBC.

On this exciting episode, meet your first General Manager (Reith), Director of Programmes (Arthur Burrows v Cecil Lewis - who'll get the job?), Secretary (Major Anderson beats 245 others to it, but doesn't last six months) and Chief Engineer (R.H. White - nothing to do with the lemonade - he's appointed but doesn't last the weekend...).

Spanning December 7th-16th 1922, we've got the nerves, the prayers, the interviews, the winks, the nudges, the near-misses (discover who turned down the top job before it was offered to Reith - how different it could have been...) and the programmes.

You'll hear Charles Penrose's The Laughing Policeman, Peter Eckersley spoofing the chimes, A.E. Thompson literally nailing down where the police band sit... plus complaints, correspondence and memos about the broadcasts one month into the BBC's being.

Our special guest is 'Diddy' David Hamilton (who was not one of the first staff, to clarify our episode title). David's a delight, and brings tales of playing Elvis to Elvis, introducing the Beatles and the Stones, and his latest radio home, Boom Radio.

 

LINKS FOR YOUR CLICKING PLEASURE:

  • Watch the full David Hamilton interview, including his face, my face + audio from a future episode, here on our Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/posts/47583443. You'll need to sign up to our Patreon, but a) you only need sign up to the minimum level to watch the video, b) you can cancel any time, and c) it all helps support this podcast and keeps us in web-hosting and books. Books like...
  • David Hamilton's fab radio books are The Golden Days of Radio 1 and Commercial Radio Daze - recommended.
  • I guest-presented an episode for The History of England podcast. Hear it here! It's essentially the entire first season of this podcast, squidged into half an hour. (If it vanishes from their feed, we'll be posting it as a special episode on this podcast in a few months' time). 30,000 people have heard that episode now - 100 times the listenership of our episodes here! So welcome if you've joined us from there...
  • The Britishbroadcastingchallenge.com is on a mission to open up the future of public service broadcasting
  • Want to hear the full version of Charles Penrose's The Laughing Policeman? Course you do...
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook page is here. Do like. I post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook group is here. Do join. You post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Do follow.
  • My other podcast of interviews, from Rev Richard Coles, Miranda Hart, Milton Jones and more is called A Paul Kerensa Podcast - and I'm adding more interviews all the time. Do listen. 
  • My mailing list is here - do subscribe to keep up with things.
  • My books are available here or orderable from bookshops.
  • Support us at patreon.com/paulkerensa or paypal.me/paulkerensa - Thanks to those who do/have/will!

We're nothing to do with today's BBC - we're talking about the BBCompany, not made by or anything to with the BBCorporation. But they have loaned us the memo we read out - so that's BBC copyright content, reproduced courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation, all rights reserved. Archive clips are either public domain or someone's domain and we don't know whose. But we thank them and reiterate that all copyright belongs to them, whoever they are...

Do please rate and review this podcast where you found it... and keep liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps others find us. We are a one-man band. I mean, I am. Not we. I.

Email the podcast here. Your comments are always welcome.

Next time: Burrows' broadcasting company vs Marconi's messaging company. Who'll win? Both! 

Subscribe to get the podcast in your in-tray.

Thanks for listening! Now stand for the National Anthem.

Yellow highlighters at the ready - the listings have arrived! Except it's weeks 2 + 3 of the BBC, back in Nov/Dec 1922, and the Radio Times is nearly a year away. So how do we know what's on the wireless? And is it called radio yet?

A few trusty local newspapers printed a few listings - though watch this space, as they'll decide differently in a few episodes time. From The Pall Mall Gazette to The Derby Daily Telegraph, we've cobbled together the first BBC listings, thanks to our newspaper detective Andrew Barker.

Plus a few memos read by the early BBC staff who received them, an insight into the first Children's Hour, and the debuts of comedian Norman Long and the 2LO Wireless Orchestra.

There's also the return of the Parliamentary Podcast Players to shine a light on some dodgy dealing in Westminster (Government sleaze? At least that's no longer with us). It's all down to ex-Postmaster General F.G. Kellaway, who negotiated with the Marconi Company and co to help set up the BBC, now becoming a Marconi Company director. Could he have set up his own company for a windfall? We also whizz back to the Marconi Scandal of 1912, when shares were scooped up by government ministers thanks to some alleged insider dealing.

Our guests are Andrew Barker and Alan Stafford (Alan's books include It's Friday, It's CRACKERJACK).

Hear rare archive clips from:

  • 2LO Musical Director Stanton Jefferies
  • 5IT Chief Engineer A.E. Thompson
  • 5IT Station Director Percy Edgar
  • Comedian Helena Millais
  • Percussionist Billy Whitlock
  • Comedian Norman Long
 
And thanks to our Parliamentary Podcast Players:
  • Mr Speaker - Wayne Clarke
  • Captain Benn - Edi Johnston
  • Mr Short - Lynn Robertson Hay
  • Mr Hurd - Philip Rowe
  • Mr Middleton - Paul Stubbs
  • The PM Mr Bonar Law - Daniel Edison
  • Mr Neville Chamberlain - Pete Hawkins
 

SHOWNOTES:

  • Our Norman Long excerpt is from AusRadioHistorian - see his Youtube channel for hundreds more old gramophone records.
  • We mention singer Topliss Green - you can see and hear him sing, later, in this footage from British Pathe
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook page is here. Do like. I post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Facebook group is here. Do join. You post things there.
  • The British Broadcasting Century Twitter profile is here. Do follow.
  • Paul Kerensa's other podcast of interviews, from Miranda Hart, Sally Phillips and Tim Vine (scroll way back for those) to more recent mid-pandemic catch-ups with comedians and writers, can be found here.
  • Paul's mailing list is here - do subscribe to keep up with his (my) goings-on.
  • Paul's books are available here or orderable from bookshops.
  • The first few chapters of Paul's new historical novel on the BBC origin story - the novelisation of this podcast, pretty much - will be available soon on patreon.com/paulkerensa - and joining there also helps support this podcast... 
  • ...or one-off tips of a few quid are most welcome at paypal.me/paulkerensa - it all keeps us (me) in web-hosting and books. The more I can research, the more complete this podcast gets.

 

We're unconnected to the BBC - we're talking about the BBCompany, not made by or anything to with the BBCorporation.

I thank you for rating and reviewing this podcast where you found it... or liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online. It all helps bump us up the social medias.

Email the podcast here. Your comments are always welcome.

Next time: the first four employees... including the arrival of John Reith.

Subscribe to get the podcast in your in-tray.

Thanks for listening! Now stand for the National Anthem.

Season 2 begins! So please welcome to the microphone: entertainment! The very first.

Journey back to November 16th 1922 - Day 3 of the BBC - to meet Auntie's first entertainers. But history being history, nothing's easy...

Discover why the BBC's first entertainers weren't the first after all, whether London, Birmingham or Manchester brought us the BBC's first entertainment concert - and why each of them has a claim to it.

Our fabulous guest is comedian, actor, writer and professional liar Lee Mack, with tales from Not Going Out, Would I Lie To You and his earliest memories of broadcast comedy (who remembers Wait Till Your Father Gets Home?).

You'll also hear rare clips of the original broadcasters (there are hardly any recordings from 1920s' broadcasts, so these are clips looking back), including Percy Edgar, Peter Eckersley, Hugh Bell, Leonard Hawke, Helena Millais, Ernie Mayne, Tommy Lorne and the Ziegeld Follies.

Plus BBC Radio Norfolk's Paul Hayes brings us a follow-up from the previous Percy Edgar special, with tales of Barrie Edgar, footballing firsts and archive clips of Jimmy Jewell and Richard Dimbleby.

From Billy Beer to Bobby Ball, via the first BBC song (Drake Goes West - or was it?), the first song about the BBC (Auntie Aggie of the BBC), the world's first radio song (List'ning on Some Radio) and the earliest live British TV football coverage still available (from 1949), we've compiled everything that kickstarted British broadcast entertainment.

 

SHOWNOTES:

 

We're a lone operator, unconnected to the BBC - we're talking about the BBCompany, not made by the BBCorporation.

We're just one person really, who you can help with the podcast via tips at paypal.me/paulkerensa... or via monthly shrapnel in exchange for extra audio/video/writings on patreon.com/paulkerensa... or via rating and reviewing this podcast where you found it... or via liking/sharing/commenting on what we do online - it all helps bump us up the social medias.

Email the podcast here. Your comments are always welcome.

Next time: the first listings - nearly a year before the Radio Times.

Subscribe to make sure you get the podcast in your in-tray.

Thanks for listening!

Ahead of season 2 (covering the first year and a bit of the BBC, from November 16th 1922 to December 31st 1923), here's a recap of season 1 - told by the people who were there: eleven broadcasting pioneers.

 

GUGLIELMO MARCONI: Inventor of 'wireless'

H.J. ROUND: First to send speech west across the Atlantic

PETER ECKERSLEY: First regular British radio broadcaster

WINIFRED SAYER: First woman on the radio, first professional radio performer

DAME NELLIE MELBA: First star broadcaster

ARTHUR BURROWS: First voice of the BBC

KENNETH WRIGHT: First director of the BBC in the North

JOHN REITH: First General Manager then Director General of the BBC

ERNIE MAYNE: First British novelty record about broadcasting 

HELENA MILLAIS: First broadcast character comedian 

A.E. THOMPSON: Second voice of the BBC

+

LEE MACK

DAVID HAMILTON

...who are a little more recent in terms of broadcasting.

Hear them on season 2 of the podcast, as we explore the first entertainers, the first staff, Magnet House, Savoy Hill, Women's Hour, the Radio Times, battles with the press and the government and much more.

 

As ever, we are nothing to do with the current BBC.

As ever, we're on Twitter.com/bbcentury and Facebook.com/bbcentury, with a more interactive group at Facebook.com/groups/bbcentury

As ever, your support at patreon.com/paulkerensa is very much appreciated. Watch the full David Hamilton video interview there, tour Paul's radio history bookshelf, and know you're helping to keep us (me - there's no one else here) making podcasts. 

 

Stay informed/educated/entertained/subscribed.

 

Season 2 soon...

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