The old BBC: entering the last year 

3 February 2017

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

oldbbc-yearbook19301926The importance of broadcasting as a national service was emphasised to an extraordinary degree by the General Strike in May 1926. When most other forms of communication were almost at a standstill, and newspapers in the ordinary sense non-existent, the B.B.C. carried on, in addition to its normal activities, an all-day service of news and general information which not only served to clear the fog of complete isolation which threatened to cloak the movements of the nation, such as they were, but proved invaluable in steadying nerves which otherwise might have communicated panic. The Bulletins issued throughout those days, at 10a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9.30 p.m., contained news from the usual agencies, notices from various Government Departments, and railway information of every kind. The copyright usually reserved by the News Agencies was for the period of emergency waived, and consequently the broadcast bulletins were re-diffused to the nation by every means possible. Every street in every city, town or village had a sheet of paper displayed with the latest broadcast news, and the B.B.C. was in addition bombarded with appeals for information and assistance without ceasing. At such a time it was of the greatest importance that the nation as a whole could be spoken to in intimacy by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, and, in the period of settlement which followed, by the Rt. Hon. J. H. Thomas, M.P.

What has been described as the greatest musical achievement of the B.B.C. was the presentation at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on March 30th, 1926, of a concert performance of the opera “Kitesh” by Rimsky-Korsakov, conducted by Albert Coates, which was the first, and so far the only, performance of the work in this country. Three series of public concerts were arranged during 1926. The Spring series of Chamber Concerts at the Chenil Galleries, Chelsea; and, in the succeeding autumn and winter, the International Series of Chamber Concerts at the Grotian Hall, and the 1926-1927 series of National Symphony Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. The National Orchestra, as the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra was called, was of unusual size, numbering 150 players, of whom 100 were strings. Conductors at the concerts in the period under review were Sir Hamilton Harty, Mr. Albert Coates, Herr Richard Strauss, Sir Edward Elgar and Herr Gustav Brecher.

An important innovation from the musical point of view was the introduction from 7.25 to 7.40, in place of the hitherto rather nondescript interlude between the talks, of a series of progressive musical recitals. Starting on January 4th, these recitals ran in groups of one or two weeks, each being devoted to the works of one composer by an individual artist.



On Thursday, October 7th, Evensong was relayed from Westminster Abbey. Not only was this the first time that a service had been broadcast from the Abbey, but it was the first time a service had been included in the London week-day programmes on a regular basis of any kind, for they were broadcast every Thursday afternoon at 3.0 p.m.

In a year of considerable achievement it is difficult to pick on any one programme as having been outstanding. Mention must be made, however, of the opening performance on September 20th of their London season by the D’Oyley Cart Opera Company of the “Mikado.” Not only was this an almost perfect transmission, but it signalised the partial removal of the ban on the broadcasting of Gilbert and Sullivan music. Another triumph for the Outside Broadcast Department was the welcome on October 1st at Westminster to Alan Cobham on his return from his flight to Australia. Lastly, the performance on November 21st of James Elroy Flecker’s play “Hassan,” with incidental music by Percy Fletcher, brought wireless dramatic technique to a pitch previously unknown.

Programmes of an unusual nature, to give another catalogue, were the broadcast from the Gaumont Studios of the production of the film “Whirlpool,” a second broadcast of a train leaving King’s Cross Station (in connection with an Irish emigrant scene in the St. Patrick’s Day Programme), the broadcasting of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace; a programme of “odd noises” which listeners were asked to identify; a talk from the bottom of the Thames near the L.C.C. building by a diver, who found little else in the river but beer-bottles, a fitting tribute to the national taste; a programme entitled “The Wheel of Time, Yesterday, To-day and To-morrow” (which, besides being intrinsically interesting, was chiefly peculiar for a reading of his own poems by Osbert Sitwell in a manner irresistibly suggestive of a machine-gun barrage); and lastly, “The Ceremony of the Keys” from the Tower of London. In passing, mention must be made of a series of “My Programmes” by prominent men, an attempt on the part of the B.B.C. to find out what types of programmes were popular, and to discover new ideas.

The London Radio Dance Band was formed in February, and in addition to providing dance music at times of day when it was not available from outside sources, it took part in the vaudeville programmes.



1926The earliest Sunday programmes started round about 1926 eight o’clock in the evening, being usually concerts of a serious nature with an address in the middle. About March 1923, however, the address began to get separated from the concert, and a definite service arranged so that by the end of the year the Sunday programmes took on the general shape in which we find them to-day, which was an afternoon concert from 3.0-5.0, a service and address from 8.30-9.0, and a programme of music from 9.0-10.30, with a news bulletin at 10.0. From January 6th, 1924, until May 10th, 1925, there was a Children’s Hour at 5.30, arranged by each main station in turn. On October 25th, 1925, the News Bulletin followed the service and preceded the concert, being read at 9.0 p.m.

On May 18th, 1923, the Central Religious Advisory Committee met in London for the first time, and was followed shortly afterwards by similar Committees at all B.B.C. stations then in existence, and thereafter as they were opened. Broadcast services were from the first without denominational bias; the committees were representative of all shades of religious opinion, and were probably unique as being regular meetings, without doctrinal discussion, of the representatives of the Established and Nonconformist Churches. As far as possible no broadcasting took place during the hours of evening church services, the exceptions being when church services were themselves broadcast.

The evening programmes were usually of a definitely popular nature, such as music by De Groot and the Piccadilly Orchestra, or Albert Sandler and the orchestra from the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, but concluded on a religious note with a specially chosen item, which on September 26th, 1926, was given a definite status and called the “Epilogue.”

Appeals formerly had been given on week-days at various times, but after January 24th, 1926, under the title “The Week’s Good Cause,” they followed the Sunday evening service, lasting five minutes.

THE MICROPHONE IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS. A broadcast of speeches by the Prince of Wales and Mr. Winston Churchill at the banquet to the International Parliamentary Commercial Conference

THE MICROPHONE IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS. A broadcast of speeches by the Prince of Wales and Mr. Winston Churchill at the banquet to the International Parliamentary Commercial Conference

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2 responses to this article

Colonel Julian Gordon-Smythe (retd) 4 February 2017 at 5:10 am

How noticeably strange that there is no mention that Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Spencer Churchill wanted the BBC to play its full and proper role in defending the nation against the Bolshevik strikers, but it refused, and he subsequently complained:

“It was monstrous not to use such an instrument to the best possible advantage.”

Thankfully the BBC did at least show some good judgement in refusing to give any airtime to any of the union leaders or representatives of the Labour Party.

Andrew Barker 4 February 2017 at 5:00 pm

It is worth mentioning that the BBC broadcast its final sponsored programme on 30th April 1926. This was “The Daily Graphic Concert”, a charity event. The BBC only ever broadcast a few sponsored programmes as an experiment. Sponsorship was explicitly forbidden under the Charter that commenced at the start of of 1927 as the Company became a Corporation.

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