Tag: Winston Churchill

The ’20s


THE ’20s



AS BROADCASTING grew in scope and favour, annual events and favourite personalities emerged. Running commentaries on the Boat Race were an early engineering triumph, the launch Magician being fitted with a short-wave transmitter in the stem. Children’s Hour had existed since broadcasting began. At five o’clock each day the ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ took the air. The first Wireless Orchestra concert was given in June, 1923, by Percy Pitt. Dan Godfrey was the regular conductor, Kneale Kelley first violin. Mr Churchill’s first broadcast was an appeal for ‘Wireless for the Blind’. Vernon Bartlett on foreign affairs became famous. Tommy Handley was as much at home with the ‘meatsafe’ as he is with its more elegant successors. The reading of his play, ‘O’Flaherty, V.C.’, by Bernard Shaw in 1924 was an unforgettable experience. The speeches of Philip Snowden revealed another master of Spoken English which was not stereotyped.


Speaking aloud to every ear

Speaking aloud to every ear

IN THE ’thirties, talks and discussions at the microphone took an increasingly important place in the broadcasting scheme. A number of special services were provided which came to be regarded as a regular and essential commitment — talks to women on domestic subjects, surveys of developments in science, reviews of books, films and plays, sports criticisms, talks for farmers and for gardeners, foreign language courses, talks on musical appreciation and on economic events. The pattern laid down in those years is still followed, to a large extent, today. But in addition, experiments were made, with increasing confidence, in the field of political and social controversy. A series such as ‘Whither Britain?’ brought to the microphone the sharply distinguished viewpoints of such men as H. G. Wells, Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, Bernard Shaw, and Walter Elliott. ‘Time to Spare’ brought vividly home the implications of the great social evil of the time — unemployment, by using the voices of men and women who were themselves out of work. Regional programmes such as ‘Midland Parliament’ (which is still running in 1948), and ‘Northern Cockpit’ presented the local bearing of topics which formed the basis of talk in club and pub and railway carriage up and down the country. The lives and problems of those living outside the United Kingdom were dealt with historically, pictorially, and polemically. The widely divergent opinions which were given expression on the India Bill of 1935 constituted a broadcasting landmark. ‘Unrehearsed Debates’, in which two selected speakers, with a chairman, argued without notes, anticipated the ‘Brains Trust’ technique which later became famous.



THE year 1936 was one of major importance for British broadcasting, both for the opportunities it provided for the reflection of great national events, the death and funeral of King George V at its beginning, and the abdication of King Edward VIII at its end, and in its domestic history, since after inquiry by Select Committee and discussion by Parliament, the BBC’s Charter was renewed for a further ten years. This, too, was the year in which television opened, the BBC set up a staff training school to train its recruits in the policy and practice of broadcasting, and the BBC inaugurated a Listener Research unit to keep in touch with the habits and taste of its public.

Meanwhile, the body of listeners — by the middle of the decade licences had reached seven million — had come to expect from the BBC a service which touched life at all points and which was a constant source of refreshment and recreation. In music, the Symphony Orchestra gained fresh laurels for studio performances and public concerts alike. In religious broadcasts, the ideal of proclaiming the principles common to all Christian denominations found expression not only in learned addresses, but in the simplicities of the much loved Sunday Epilogue. In entertainment St George’s Hall became the celebrated headquarters of ‘Music Hall’, concert parties, musical potpourri, sophisticated revue, and musical plays, old and new. ‘Bitter Sweet’, with Evelyn Laye, was one of many musical comedies and light operas to run for two hours thus providing an evening’s full and continuous enjoyment.

Voices of victory

Voices of victory



THROUGH the dark and dangerous days, in moods of intense anxiety which swept the whole country, over the weary building-up period, for six winters of blackout, and into the daylight of victory, the listener had at his side a magnificently stimulating companion in Winston Churchill. Never before had the personal magnetism of a wartime Prime Minister been exercised upon an entire democratic nation through the medium of the microphone. As the outstanding military leaders of the Allies emerged, they, too, used broadcasting, and the characteristic tones of Field-Marshal Montgomery in particular became familiar to those who stayed at home as to those who served under him. The BBC, during the war, became more closely linked with the daily lives and habits of the great majority of the British nation than ever before. It was used not only by the statesmen and generals but for a multitude of lesser exhortations, to save salvage, avoid careless talk, cook economically, and shop wisely, and in these campaigns the most popular figures in the world of entertainment were enlisted. Direct assistance to the industrial effort was afforded by the ‘Music while you work’ sessions, designed to lessen strain and relieve monotony in the factories, and entertainments such as ‘Workers’ Playtime’ and ‘Works Wonders’, by enlivening off-duty hours, encouraged work at war speed through the day and night shifts. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, visiting service camps, was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm by its uniformed audiences; from emergency headquarters at Bedford its broadcasts maintained its reputation as a premier instrument of European culture, and such modern and original works as Bartok’s Violin Concerto were performed for the first time.

OVER the whole programme field, the war years represented no standstill, but substantial progress. Special services, designed to meet the needs of the Forces, whose conditions of listening were largely communal, naturally concentrated on light entertainment, and much ingenuity was needed, and found, to keep this fresh and varied. But there were often demands as well for serious music, as already noted, for good drama, for intelligent documentary, and for the exchange of serious thought. The consistent presentation of Saturday Night Theatre at the same weekly time, lifted broadcast plays out of a minority appeal to one in which they rivalled ‘Music Hall’ in popularity, and it was, significantly enough, only a month or two after the war ended that the time was judged ripe to establish a regular series, known as ‘World Theatre’, of plays which had enriched the dramatic heritage of the civilized world. Broadcast ‘features’, attacking in the same spirit of enterprise the problem of telling the real life stories of men and occasions in friendly, dramatized form, also advanced in technique and in popular appeal. The ‘Brains Trust’ had an astonishing success and the original three members, Huxley, Joad and Campbell, with the Question-Master, Donald McCulloch, discovered themselves to be nationally popular personalities, while their example, of spontaneous answers to unseen questions, was followed everywhere, and set a new fashion, which persists to this day, in public meetings of all kinds. ITMA, which in typically British fashion and in a form which could belong only to the microphone, made light of every wartime inconvenience and hardship, established the genial figure of Tommy Handley as Britain’s premier radio comedian. The lights which went up on Broadcasting House on 8 May, 1945, celebrated a victory in which British broadcasting had played a strenuous and faithful part and won its honourable share.


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