An Introductory History of British Broadcasting (1997) by Andrew Crisell

By Andrew Crisell

This is often an obtainable and concise background of British radio and tv. The booklet considers the character and evolution of broadcasting, the expansion of broadcasting associations and the relation of broadcasting to a much broader political and social context. starting with the genesis of radio on the flip of the century, Crisell discusses key moments in media heritage from the 1st instant broadcast in 1920 to the current. Key issues lined comprise: * The institution of the BBC in 1927 * the final strike, notions of public carrier broadcasting and the cultural values of the BBC * Broadcasting in wartime * The heyday of radio within the Nineteen Forties and Nineteen Fifties and the increase of tv * BBC2, Channel four and minority tv * The altering function of radio in a tv age * The convergence of broadcasting and different media * destiny matters for broadcasting.

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For their part, the music publishers sought to turn the new medium to their advantage by paying bandleaders to play on air the songs they wished to promote from their lists, a practice known as ‘plugging’ and one which the BBC deplored as covert advertising. It therefore imposed a ban on the naming of songs so that the listeners would find them harder to identify, but the publishers’ collecting agency, the Performing Right Society, responded by threatening to rescind the licensing agreement it had made with the Corporation.

Hence the aim of public service broadcasting was to give to the public a ‘better’ service than it asked for. Reith himself was famously explicit on this. ‘It is occasionally indicated to us that we are apparently setting out to give the public what we think they need – and not what they want’, he wrote, ‘but few know what they want, and very few what they need’ (1924: 34). Such apparent arrogance must be seen in its historical context. In pre-war Britain universal education ended when children reached the age of about 14.

From a modern viewpoint ‘treasures’ perhaps begs the question, but they were regarded as such by those classes who embodied the prosperity and wisdom that set the standard for the other members of society. For the latter, Reith’s BBC offered a chance of spiritual if not material enrichment, a policy which was surely less cynical than providing only what they would certainly have enjoyed, but which would neither have broadened their horizons nor raised their aspirations. In practice, however, the BBC was rather more responsive to mass taste than Reith’s words imply, for the logic of its cultural position would have been to broadcast no popular music, popular drama, light entertainment, or anything else which had a highbrow equivalent.

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