On this day in history….18th October 1922

On this day in history : 18th October 1922 – A group of leading wireless manufacturers, which includes Marconi, form the British Broadcasting Company….

The first live public broadcast had taken place in June 1920 at the Marconi factory in Chelmsford…. It had featured Dame Nellie Melba, the famous Australian Soprano – and the British public loved it…. However, military and government organisations were concerned that such broadcasts would interfere with the airwaves and disrupt important military and civil communications…. The General Post office was responsible for issuing broadcasting licences – and bowing to pressure from the authorities they banned any more broadcasts from the Chelmsford factory….

But by 1922 the GPO had received almost 100 applications for broadcasting licences…. To keep control it decided to issue one single license – to one company, formed by a consortium of leading wireless receiver manufacturers, among them Marconi….

Daily broadcasting began on the 14th of November 1922 at Marconi’s London studio, ‘2LO’, in The Strand…. John Reith was appointed General Manager of the BBC on the 14th of December 1922; having no rules or guidelines to adhere to he effectively began to ‘write the rule book’….

Sir John Reith – Photo courtesy : Howard Coster – Public domain

September 1923 saw the first edition of The Radio Times and in February 1924 the Greenwich Time Signal – or the ‘Pips’ – was introduced, marking the precise start of every new hour on BBC radio….

It was in January 1927 that the BBC became known as the British Broadcasting Corporation and is established by Royal Charter…. Sir John Reith becomes the very first Director-General….

John Logie Baird began to experiment with the first television broadcasts using BBC frequencies in November 1929…. Seven years later, in the November of 1936 the BBC Television Service began – (Black and white of course, colour didn’t become readily available until the ’60s) – bringing a mixture of programmes to include sport, drama, news and cartoons….

John Logie Baird (photographed in 1917) – Public domain

In May 1932 the purpose designed and built Broadcasting House opens….and in December of the same year King George V makes the first radio broadcast by a British monarch….

King George V giving the annual Royal Christmas message in 1934 – Andy Dingley (scanner) – Public domain

The BBC may no longer have the monopoly over broadcasting – we now have a vast choice for our listening and viewing options (some may say too many) – but what a long way things have come….

Broadcasting House (with the modern extension to the side) – Photo courtesy : Stephen Craven CC BY-SA 2.0

On this day in history….23rd June 1940

On this day in history : 23rd June 1940 – To help relieve the tedium of workers in the munitions factories and to increase their productivity, the BBC’s ‘Music While You Work’ programme is introduced….

Music While You Work – Jack White and his Band – YouTube

The first show was announced in the Radio Times as a ‘half hour’s music meant specially for factory workers to listen to as they work’…. The programmes were scheduled for 10.30am, mid-afternoon and for a period a night shift slot at 10.30pm…. The first day featured Dudley Beavan at the theatre organ in the morning and The Organolists – an organ trio – in the afternoon….

The programme was piped to the workers through a tannoy and there were strict rules as to what could and could not be performed…. By playing non-stop popular music with an even tempo morale lifted and work output increased…. Mainly it was familiar music that workers could sing or whistle to…. Brass bands, military bands and dance bands were all featured – along with performers such as Joe Loss, Victor Silvester and Mantovani…. From October 1940 the programme always began and ended with ‘Calling All Workers’ by Eric Coates….

Eric Coates c.1925 – Fair use

The music had to be cheerful; there had to be no over-loud drumming – as this could sound like gunfire! Nothing lethargic was allowed and nothing that would make people want to clap or bang tools in time…. Certain songs, such as ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ were banned for this reason….

In 1941 orchestra leader Winford Reynolds was appointed ‘Music While You Work Organiser’…. His task was to tour the factories of the country to get feedback on the programmes from the workers….

The night shift slot was reintroduced between 1947 and 1950…. Apparently during the time the programme aired production increased by around 13%…. Up until 1963 the music was performed live – but to free up BBC studios during the day they began to pre-record the shows – usually on a Sunday evening…. The programme ran until the 29th of September 1967….

Music While You Work – Anton and his Orchestra – YouTube

On this day in history….20th April 1964

On this day in history : 20th April 1964 – BBC2 television is launched – only things don’t go quite to plan – as a fire breaks out at Battersea Power Station causing a major power cut….

Much publicity had surrounded the coming launch of Britain’s third TV channel – the two kangaroo mascots used to herald its arrival ~ ‘Hullabaloo’ the mother kangaroo and her joey ‘Custard’ ~ were a familiar sight….img_2998

And a right hullabaloo it was too…. The evening had been planned to start at 7.20pm with a news bullet-in and then continue with a programme schedule of music and comedy – including a special of ‘The Alberts’, a performance of ‘Kiss me, Kate’ and was to be rounded off with a celebratory firework display from Southend Pier….

However, just over half an hour before the launch was set to air a fire broke out at Battersea Power Station…. At the same time a 60,000 volt cable carrying electricity from the Midlands to the south of England developed a fault in Buckinghamshire – the result being a total blackout in the west of London and much of the city centre….

As it happened, news anchorman Gerald Priestland, who was to deliver the opening news bullet-in, was not broadcasting from Television Centre…. Instead he was in the north London studios at Alexandra Palace – which still had power…. Amidst the mayhem and chaos he bravely soldiered on – over the next couple of hours TV screens across the land displayed the words ‘Will Start Shortly’ – broken intermittently with news bullet-ins…. Eventually at 9.30pm the evening’s schedule was abandoned….

Power was restored for the channel to launch properly the following day…. At 11am the first complete programme to air was ‘Play School’….


On this day in history….21st November 1936

On this day in history : 21st December 1936 – The world’s first television gardening programme – In Your Garden, With Mr Middleton – is broadcast by the BBC….

Cecil Henry Middleton

The programme was presented by Middleton from a purpose-built plot at Alexandra Palace in the first month of television broadcasting…. Cecil Henry Middleton was already well-known to the British public, his broadcasting career having started on the 9th of May 1931 when he gave a talk on gardening on BBC radio…. From 1934 his programme In Your Garden began regularly being aired on a Sunday afternoon at 2.15pm – and by 1940 some 3.5 million listeners were tuning in to listen to his 15 minute talks…. His style was informal and chatty and peppered with humour…. He talked to his audience as if addressing friends, whereas so many other BBC voices of the time were formal, stilted and stuffy….

In 1939 his gardening series was relaunched on the BBC World Service – in an effort to encourage people to grow their own food…. Working with the Ministry of Agriculture the BBC extended the series to give the public advice on what became known as the Dig For Victory campaign…. A 1942 survey suggested that 70% of those who owned a radio tuned in to get gardening advice….

From Middleton’s 1945 gardening guide – Image credit : NewquayZooArchive1969 – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Middleton was the first of the celebrity gardeners; others followed, including Percy Thrower, Geoff Hamilton and Alan Titchmarsh…. He also wrote several books and regularly for the Daily Express…. After he died of a heart attack, on the 18th of September 1945, flowers and tributes poured in from all over Britain….

On this day in history….16th November 1960

On this day in history : 16th November 1960 – The death of outspoken TV personality Gilbert Harding – who died as he was about to get into a taxi outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House….

Gilbert Harding in 1949 – Fair use

Harding was known for his short-temper and rudeness, not least on the panel game What’s My Line…. He was one of the most famous faces on British television during the 1950s and a regular contributor to BBC Radio’s Twenty Questions…. He also appeared in several films, usually as himself….

But there is one particular edition of the BBC series Face to Face in 1960 that will stick in many people’s minds…. When after being questioned by host John Freeman – Harding was reduced to tears…. Freeman asked if Harding had ever been in the presence of a dead person…. Harding’s eyes watered and his voice cracked – and he answered in the affirmative…. However, Freeman missed the point and was unaware that Harding was referring to his mother, whose death he had witnessed in 1954…. The interview continued and Freeman later made a reference to Harding’s mother, assuming she was still very much alive…. Harding immediately contradicted him and Freeman rapidly moved on – although afterwards publicly said that he regretted his method of questioning…. There are those who thought that by emphasising Harding’s closeness to his mother it was in fact a clumsy attempt to draw him out about his homosexuality – which was still illegal at that time…. In the eyes of the British public Harding was a confirmed bachelor resigned to never marrying….

Gilbert Charles Harding had been born in Hereford on the 5th of June 1907…. His parents had been the Master and Matron of the city’s workhouse…. His father was to die in 1911, at the age of just 30, following surgery for appendicitis…. Harding’s mother had little choice but to put her son into the care of the Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton….

The Royal Wolverhampton School – Image credit Brianboru100 – CC BY-SA 4.0

The orphanage, funded by voluntary subscription, was granted Royal Patronage by Queen Victoria in 1891 – and was dedicated to providing education and care for children who had lost one or both parents…. It was to serve Harding well, as he was able to go on to Queen’s College, Cambridge…. After graduating he was to take teaching jobs in Canada and France, where he taught English…. On his return to England he became a police officer in Bradford before becoming a correspondent for The Times Newspaper in Cyprus…. It was after coming back to the UK in 1936 that he joined the BBC and started his broadcasting career….

Just a few weeks after that infamous Face to Face interview, words that he had said after the programme were to become prophecy…. Harding had admitted that during the interview his bad manners and temper were indefensible…. Excusing himself by saying “I’m profoundly lonely” – and then later adding “I would very much like to be dead”…. Harding was an asthma sufferer…. on the 16th of November, as he left the BBC and prepared to climb into a taxi he collapsed and died from an attack…. He was 53 years old….