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!
- 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.
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- 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.
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- 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.
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...