Public Service Broadcasting/Reith’s ideals



Reith was the first Director General of the BBC who indelibly stamped the BBC with his ideas about the nature of broadcasting such that even today high quality broadcasting is referred to as `Reithian’.




Michael Tracey’s criteria for PSB:




1)     Universality of Availability




2)     Universality of Appeal




3)     Provision for minorities




4)     Serving the Public Sphere




5)     Commitment to education of the public




6)     Absent of vested interests




7)     Strive to make good programmes not large audiences




8)     Liberation of the programme maker.



From: Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting, 1998.  OUP.





Quality and majority



Striving for the best:




The cases of Radio 1 and Pop; Radio 3 and avant-garde culture




Do they serve up PSB and quality?




Giving the public what they want/giving the public what they ought to want. PSB leads and/or follows?




BBC as elitists?




Peacock report, 1986 argument: taste as a discovery procedure defeats taste as known wants.






Striving to serve a nation of variety:



The imperative of nation as the spread of interests:




Plays, talks, dance band music, classical, children’s hour, religious, news, sport, gardening, comedy…





Radio progs: traditional, mainstream, modern.




The politics of modernism and montage in broadcasting:




“[there is a] curious habit that exists in England of presuming and  asserting that any attempts whatsoever at doing anything in a new way proclaims its authors as a member of some political party of the left.  Modern painters, sculptors, poets, architects and composers are all supposed by popular opinion to be paid to do what they do by cheque from Moscow…The difficulty is to convince anyone that one is just tremendously interested for its own sake in the tings in which one is working, and that one doesn’t relate it to any politics whatsoever”


                                      Lance Sieveking, The Stuff of Radio, 1934.



Others were not quite so politically innocent – their political commitments were made obvious especially in talks and features during the Depression years.




Break up of  the Talks department 1935 – political pressure in face of  newspaper accusation of left-wingery against BBC in  the time of  the Ullswater committee. Siepmann et al. given the push.




“The question of the working classes is very difficult indeed”. 


Scripting, editing, actuality, censorship, controversial material.




Broadcasting was as much internal politics, responses to external politics, and radio experimentation both with types of programmes as well as ways of presenting material.




But from the side of the listener:


“Whole sections of the working class who have been plundered of all they really need are being compensated…by cheap luxuries which mitigate the surface of life….it is quite likely that fish and chips, cut-price chocolate, the movies, the radio, strong tea and the football pools have between them  averted revolution.”  George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier.




3 million households had radio in 1930.




Three quarters of the British population has radio by 1939.  (9 million households)




“We don’t bother to go out on a Saturday night when the winter programmes begin. We just settle down by the fire”

in Jennings and Gill, Broadcasting in Everyday Life, 1939.




The famous poverty researcher Seebohm Rowntree in another survey of York spoke to various people exploring poverty and found out the significance of the radio:





“Sunday: no-one in the house gets up before 10am. The immediately starts getting the dinner ready and we both have  cup of tea. After dinner we laze about either reading or sleeping. Sunday is the worst day in the week, absolutely dead. After tea we roll back the carpet, find a foreign station on the wireless giving a dance band, and we dance most of the evening, sometimes playing cards for an hour before going to bed. Spend about 1s on sweets and 1s on cigarettes. (Labourer, 38 years, with one child.)   Rowntree, Progress and Poverty, 1941.





BBC radio as gravitating to the taste of the suburban lower-middle-class householder especially in the 30s. Radio would cover events which were  home-oriented activities enjoyed in local, social networks.





Emphasis upon the audience as engaged listener who had to learn how to listen:






“Make sure your set is working properly before you settle down to listen. Listen as carefully at home as you do in a theatre or concert-hall. You cannot get the best out of a programme if your mind is wandering, or if you are playing bridge or reading. Give it your full attention…”  BBC Year Book, 1930.





1935, Sir Stephen Tallents,  brought in by Reith to undertake surveys of listener research. Becomes clear hat listeners are quite discriminating in their tastes, especially of types of music. W/C liked dance bands on Sunday and used Radio Luxemburg or Normandie.





Middle classes like variety – comedy/light music more than they did Shakespeare.





This research leads to greater programme planning esp. in variety given the m/c taste.