The old BBC: Remembering the British Broadcasting Company 

1 January 2017

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Reprinted from the BBC Year-Book 1930, published in November 1929

oldbbc-yearbook19301922It may come as a surprise to many people to hear that in 1922, instead of the lusty child they know, they were nearly presented with twins in the shape of two separately licensed broadcasting organisations in Great Britain. Early in that year broadcasting was carried on by a few industrial concerns, in their research departments, and by a few scientific amateurs, but no service, as we now know it, could be said to exist. In America, however, things were different, and the ether was a chaos of conflicting sounds provided by some hundreds of transmitters without any coordination as to wave-length or programme. It would be true to say that at that time in England we could not hear anything for the silence, whereas in America they could not hear anything for the noise. The number of those interested in broadcasting in this country, however, was steadily increasing, and it was becoming obvious that quite soon a definite step forward in the matter must be taken, the restrictions imposed on the existing broadcasting removed, and some definite system initiated.

On May 4th, 1922, the Postmaster-General, the Rt. Hon. F. W. Kellaway, M.P., announced in the House of Commons that he had decided to permit the establishment of a limited number of broadcasting stations, and that to this end he was calling together a conference of those interested. The first meeting took place on May 18th, was attended by representatives of twenty-four firms engaged in the manufacture of wireless apparatus, and was important in that it recognised the desirability of co-operation between the various firms who wished to have transmitting licences. These firms accordingly went into committee and endeavoured to produce a scheme for the joint conduct of broadcasting in Great Britain; but after many meetings there still remained two schools of thought which appeared to be irreconcilable, with the result that the committee reported that, whereas one organisation appeared to be impossible, it might be that broadcasting could be conducted through two separate concerns.

HIS MAJESTY THE KING OPENING THE BRITISH EMPIRE EXHIBITION AT WEMBLEY. Perhaps the first event to make the general public aware of broadcasting

HIS MAJESTY THE KING OPENING THE BRITISH EMPIRE EXHIBITION AT WEMBLEY. Perhaps the first event to make the general public aware of broadcasting

The Postmaster-General agreed, if necessary, to grant not more than two separate licences, but exhorted the conflicting groups to find a solution in complete agreement. Accordingly a sub-committee was formed of two men, each representing his group as in single combat, and after considerable negotiation they achieved a satisfactory result and reported to their colleagues a basis on which could be formed a single broadcasting company. The Postmaster-General, on receiving from the committee their report, agreed to grant such a company an exclusive right to operate broadcasting stations within the United Kingdom, provided that an adequate service could be guaranteed for a reasonable period of time. This guarantee was provided by six firms, namely, the British Thomson Houston Company, the General Electric Company, the Marconi Company, the Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company, the Radio Communication Company, and the Western Electric Company, who undertook to finance a service for a period of two years, and thus may be said to be the fathers of British Broadcasting. The authorised capital of the new Company was £100,000, £60,000 being subscribed by these six concerns in equal proportions, the remaining £40,000 being made available, at first to other British manufacturers of wireless apparatus, and subsequently to wireless dealers. Of this sum, £11,536 was actually issued and subscribed, the number of shareholders eventually rising to 1700. Membership of the B.B.C. could be obtained by the purchase of one £1 share, which entitled the manufacturer to the use of the standard mark referred to later.

Each of the six large firms were represented on the board of directors, two further directors were elected by the remaining shareholders, and a ninth, independent, director, Lord Gain-ford, was elected Chairman. Lord Gainford, who had formerly been President of the Board of Education and Postmaster-General, was Chairman of the Company until December 31st, 1926, when its constitution was altered to that of a Corporation by Royal Charter. The other directors were Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, Major Basil Binyon, Mr. A. McKinstry, Sir William Noble, Mr. H. M. Pease, Mr. W. W. Burnham and Sir William Bull, M.P. On the death of Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, the Rt. Hon. F. W. Kellaway, who as P.M.G. has been instrumental in forming the B.B.C., was appointed a director. The General Manager, originally appointed in December 1922, joined the Board as Managing Director in October 1923. With these exceptions the Board remained unchanged until its task was successfully discharged in 1926.

The British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., was actually formed on October 18th, 1922, was registered on December 15th, and received its licence on January 18th, 1923. It will be seen that the negotiations were protracted and strenuous, but not unduly so in view of the initial difficulties encountered and the many points which had subsequently to be considered. In the scheme finally approved, it was agreed that the revenue should be provided in two ways, partly by the Company receiving half of the receipts derived from Broadcast Receiving Licences, and partly from royalties on sets and components sold by the manufacturers. To provide for the latter it was made a condition of the issue of Receiving Licences that all sets used should be of British make and bear a standard mark, which was to be “B.B.C. Type approved by Postmaster-General.” The Company was precluded from using its medium for advertising purposes, and thus deriving a further source of income, and a maximum rate of 7½ per cent. was fixed in respect of dividends. The Company undertook to establish eight broadcasting stations, and provide a regular service to the reasonable requirements of the Postmaster-General. In respect of each station a royalty of £50 was to be paid.


Transmitting stations

1922-1923It was the aim of the Company to bring the programmes within reach of the maximum number of people at a minimum cost to all concerned, and accordingly the specified number of stations were sited as far as possible at the centres of thickly populated districts in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow. Each station, when erected, worked on a power of 1½ kilowatts, and could be heard on an efficiently installed crystal set at a range of between 15 and 20 miles. The dates of opening were as follows:—

London In operation before inception of service by the B.B.C. November 15th, 1922.
Newcastle December 24th, 1922.
Cardiff February 13th, 1923.
Glasgow March 6th, 1923.
Aberdeen October 10th, 1923.
Bournemouth October 17th, 1923.

MORE: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7]

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7 responses to this article

Mark Jones 1 January 2017 at 5:03 pm

Just to add that you could have a radio not made by the BBC .. but the licence cost 50% more at fifteen shillings

Examples can be seen on the website.

Nigel Stapley 1 January 2017 at 8:43 pm

Was that terrible lapse in the first sentence of the article (‘here’ for ‘hear’) in the original, or is that just an OCR failure?

Russ J Graham 2 January 2017 at 2:45 pm

I’d have to go back to the original to see if the error is in the yearbook or is our own… so I’ll correct it now anyway to spare either organisation’s blushes!

Matthew Harris 30 January 2018 at 3:51 pm

It wasn’t in the original. I have a PDF. That’s entirely Transdiffusion’s mistake and one for which they must be made to pay dearly. Five shillings should cover it.

Kevin Flynn 23 May 2019 at 1:10 am

Can anyone explain how it is that the company was able to go on the air nearly two months BEFORE it received its government licence to broadcast?

Winston Schmidt 15 April 2021 at 10:59 am

Hi, I was just wondering if there is an academic version of everything that has been said here by you, i.e. a book ( or better an ebook)?. I need to write an essay about the origin and values of the BBC, and I really like this explanation of it though sadly its not academic so I can’t use it as the main source. Any help would be great!!

Russ J Graham 15 April 2021 at 12:42 pm

Yes. This is reprinted verbatim from the BBC Year-Book 1930 published in 1929, as it says at the top of each article. You can find copies secondhand in places like abebooks online.

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