Murdoch shut the paper last July amid a torrent of allegations about alleged ethical and legal lapses by its staff. In two letters, dated March 10 and 11, Pike suggested that the BBC might be pursuing the hacking story for business or political reasons rather than for journalistic motives. In his March 10 letter, Pike noted that the BBC was planning to broadcast Panorama’s investigation at a time when the British government was actively considering Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB’s remaining shares. BSkyB is a principal competitor with the BBC in Britain. Pike said it was “quite apparent” that the program the BBC was preparing was “yet another attempt to undermine New Corp’s bid for Sky” (sic).
In response to a request for comment, the BBC told Reuters: “Panorama investigations always come from a point of public interest and operate within the BBC editorial guidelines and Ofcom’s code. A spokesperson for News International, Murdoch’s principal newspaper publishing company in Britain, said the company had no comment on Pike’s accusation that the BBC had pursued the phone hacking inquiry for ulterior motives. The Guardian also reported that the BBC had referred Farrer & Co to a disciplinary authority for British lawyers because of this aspect of Pike’s letter. The BBC confirmed that it had “written to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. In Britain, solicitors are lawyers who handle most out of court and pre-trial litigation, while barristers are lawyers who handle trials and appeal proceedings in higher courts. Pike did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment. But a representative of Farrer & Co. disputed the Guardian’s interpretation of Pike’s letter and what Pike had said to Parliament. The firm had no further comment on its accusation that the BBC had acted for commercial or political motives.
It is also right to keep a steady eye on what areas the BBC should operate in, and where it should draw back to allow other voices to flourish, whether they be local newspapers, the national press, or independent podcasts. Nevertheless, however tempting it may be in the moment to taunt it as the “Brexit Broadcasting Corporation” (or whatever the current anxiety may be), it is also right to take the long view of the BBC. That must surely mean defending its importance as a bastion of the UK’s democracy, culture and identity. The BBC was formed from a set of enlightened decisions taken during the birth pangs of broadcasting.
If one considers the conditions of the world we live in now, these decisions look especially prescient. Today, this promise of broadcasting in the public interest means not commodifying your data against your will, or giving you fake news. The threats to democratic discourse presented by the filtering of information via the algorithms of multinational companies have become obvious. We are beginning to digest how politics (in Britain and overseas) may have been influenced by the use of data acquired on Facebook and elsewhere. But the BBC is vulnerable. For 40 or so years in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the television was the hearth around which all Britain gathered.
It was the carrier of a common culture. That is no longer true. UK public-service broadcasting (including from Channel 4 and others) still accounts for 70% of content seen by audiences in Britain, but providers such as Netflix and Amazon are claiming more and more of viewers’ attention. The BBC is also gradually waking up to the fact that 16- to 30-year-olds are rapidly drifting away from it, as a recent speech by Tony Hall acknowledged. This is bonanza time for audiences: never has there been so much high-quality material available to watch, whenever we like. The BBC needs to greet the future with boldness. If the television is no longer the carrier of the public sphere that it once was, then what is? One answer is, of course, the internet. What if BBC engineers were to build a mechanism for structuring and shaping audience’s experiences of the web, in the public interest? That kind of thinking would take imagination, patience and creativity – not just from the BBC, but from the government.
9 of the Anglotopia Print Magazine in 2018. Support great long-form writing about British History, Culture, and travel by subscribing to the Anglotopia Magazine. Every subscription helps keep Anglotopia running and provides us to the opportunity to produce articles like this. You can subscribe here. While no longer alone amongst Britain’s media powerhouses, at one time, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was the only game in town. Since its incorporation in 1922, the corporation has been responsible for informing and entertaining the British public, tasks for which it continues to excel at 95 years later. In September 1923, one of the BBC’s most influential documents began publication with the first issue of the Radio Times.
The periodical provided a schedule of the corporation’s limited programmes, but also served as an educational resource for budding amateur enthusiasts as well as carrying the manufacturers’ advertisements for the newest radio equipment. The RT was also the only place to find the radio schedule, as newspapers viewed it as a competing medium and thus refused to publish it. The BBC’s first major test came during the General Strike in 1926. At the time, the BBC was in renegotiations with the GPO over its license, an issue that was left up to the Crawford Committee. Several of the manufacturers wanted out due to the unprofitable nature of the consortium, while Reith wanted the BBC to become a public service.
Reith wanted the BBC to maintain its monopoly and serve the public interest, feeling its expansion should be funded by the government for the general welfare. Meanwhile, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress was trying to get the British government to stop wage reduction and improve the conditions for the nation’s coal miners. Negotiations between the TUC and the government broke down, and the strike began on 3 May 1926. The strike had an effect of temporarily halting newspaper production, rendering the BBC the only source of regular news. Behind closed doors, Reith was firmly on the side of the government with regards to the strike, even letting the Prime Minister broadcast from his own home.
This helped to keep the government out of the BBC’s business insofar as it did not attempt to use the radio service as its mouthpiece. The BBC then presented some of the most even coverage of the strike, representing the viewpoints of both the workers and the government during the work stoppage. This cemented the BBC’s audience as well as establishing its reputation for fair and balanced reporting. The company came out of 1926 in a strong position, and the Government accepted the Crawford Committee’s recommendation that the BBC have a new status as a non-commercial, Crown-chartered organization in 1927, then becoming the British Broadcasting Corporation. The original 1927 charter established objectives, powers, and obligations of the BBC, entrusting John Reith as its Director-General to execute the document’s provisions.
1928 would see another leap for the BBC as construction began on Broadcasting House. The corporation had operated its radio broadcasts out of Marconi House and buildings in the Strand and Savoy Hill, but Broadcasting House would be its first purpose-built headquarters for radio broadcasting. G. Val Mayer designed it in an Art Deco style for the exterior, while Raymond McGrath designed the interior in a similar vein. Meanwhile, as Broadcasting House was going up, something else revolutionary was being born. Scottish engineer John Logie Baird had been experimenting with television since 1924, beaming the first images across a room and later demonstrated his experiments at Selfridge’s and the Royal Institution. By 1937, technology advanced enough that televisions had 405 lines of resolution.
1937 would also see the BBC’s first outside television broadcast as the corporation filmed the coronation of King George VI. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II in 1939 would see a suspension of the television service for the duration of the conflict. In response to the danger presented by the London Blitz, the BBC would move much its radio broadcasting out of London to Bristol and then Bedford. St. Paul’s Church in Bedford actually became the home studio for the daily service until 1945. The BBC Television Service would resume on 7 June 1946 with Jasmine Bligh as the first presenter back on the air.
October 1946 would see the beginning of television programming dedicated solely to children, with shows such as “Muffin the Mule” being broadcast from the corporation’s new television studios at Lime Grove. One of the biggest changes to the BBC to occur post-war was the introduction of the television license. As mentioned earlier, at the advent of the company back in 1922, the General Post Office was responsible for issuing licenses to amateur and professional radio operators. Besides broadcasting, those who wanted to receive radio broadcasts paid a fee of 10 shillings. With the resumption of the BBC Television Service in 1946, the Post Office merged the receiving radio broadcast license with television reception, and the cost for both was a mere £2 (roughly £76 today).
With the advent of color television in the 1960s (more on that later), a surcharge was added to cover the new technology. Television would only grow as a medium with Newsreel beginning in January 1948 and the first televised Olympic Games in the summer. While only 100,000 British homes had televisions by this time, the BBC still broadcast 68.5 hours of live coverage during the games. The next year would see the return of live weather broadcasts that had been pursued tepidly before the war. Things were relatively quiet until ITV came along in 1955 to challenge the BBC’s monopoly on the television airwaves.
The new company was a direct result of the Television Act 1954, which created the Independent Television Authority (later the Independent Broadcast Authority) to regulate the growing medium and license franchises. One major event that took place in 1956 was the establishment of the Radiophonic Workshop. The workshop was established because the BBC wanted to develop its own music and sound effects for the radio and television programmes it produced. The workshop would craft some of the most innovative sounds over the next few decades, including Doctor Who’s famous TARDIS dematerialization sound effect and the programme’s theme tune. The Radiophonic Workshop would not close up shop until 1993 when the corporation determined the department was no longer viable.
In 1958, one of the BBC’s most important children’s programmes would be born when “Blue Peter” premiered on 16 October. Blue Peter would also become one of the first television programmes to move into the famed BBC Television Centre when it opened in 1960. Much like Broadcasting House before it, Television Centre was purpose-built for TV broadcasting. The building was designed by Graham Dawborn, who was initially stumped by having to design a building for the triangular property. The story goes that he went to a local pub where he drew the boundaries of the land on an envelope with a big question mark over it.
This ended up becoming the basis for his design that would permit eight tv studios, offices, production galleries, recording studios, and separate entrances for guests and delivery trucks. Construction on Television Centre actually began in 1950, but government restrictions on the building made the process a lengthy one. The sanctions on building and the licensing of materials stopped the construction until 1953, and in the meantime, the BBC opted to renovate its studios at Lime Grove, Hammersmith, and Shepard’s Bush Empire. Science-Fiction television programming would change forever in 1963. The BBC’s then Head of Drama, Sydney Newman, wanted a new programme that would help teach kids about history by using time travel. 1966 would also see another major innovation for the BBC with the advent of color television.
The corporation announced that it would soon bring color to television screens in 1966, though it would be another year before its first colorized broadcast to the public. The BBC had actually experimented with color transmissions for the first time in 1957 with broadcasts made to both houses of Parliament, but would not bring the technology to the masses for another nine years. Local radio stations such as Radio London also began to appear at the time, spurred on by the existence of pirate radio ships. These maverick stations, such as Radio Caroline, were headquartered on ships anchored in the North Sea and broadcast popular music that wasn’t as widely available on BBC Radio.
As they weren’t government sponsored, they also featured copious amounts of advertising that eventually forced the BBC to permit nationally based advertising services. The 1970s continued to push innovation as the BBC partnered with Open University to bring higher education to the masses through early morning and late-night educational programmes. Even today, Open University and the BBC’s partnership continues to bring new ways of learning to the public through online videos that cover everything from the color spectrum to how cars are built. Many of the BBC’s most endearing television programmes also got their start in the 1970s. Leaving Monty Python to follow his own path, John Cleese started the show “Fawlty Towers” with his then-wife Connie Booth. Other comedies such as “Are You Being Served?