Years of Light 

26 September 2017

From the BBC Year Book for 1947

THE LIGHT PROGRAMME — entertaining in the widest sense of the word

At 9 o’clock in the morning of Sunday, 29 July, 1945, those listeners who tuned their sets to 261 or 1,500 metres found themselves hearing the start of an entirely new BBC Service. ‘This is the BBC Light Programme’ were the words that greeted them — and, with this announcement, the BBC kept faith with its publicly expressed promise to develop a fresh pattern in home broadcasting within ninety days of victory.

Now in its second year, the Light Programme has become an accepted partner to the basic and regionalized Home Services and their erudite and more recently appointed partner, the Third Programme. Two years, however, is not long for the complicated process of growing up and settling down, and Light Programme is still constantly reshaping and adjusting itself to meet fresh needs and situations. For example, in September, 1946, the whole design of afternoon listening was entirely redrawn to accommodate ‘Woman’s Hour’ which now addresses a larger audience than any other afternoon programme with the exception of ‘The Robinson Family’. Similarly, the early evening had to be redesigned to introduce the daily ‘thriller’ serial which has, for the first time, created a ‘peak’ audience before the 7 p.m. bulletin.

‘Just William.’ More trouble between Gordon McLeod (William’s father) and John Clark (William)

This kind of development is deliberate and progressive. But that is not to say that the Light Programme is contemplating any violent metamorphosis. On the contrary, it is merely carrying out its original instruction ‘to entertain its listeners and to interest them in the world at large without failing to be ‘entertaining’. The real question here comes as an echo from a famous broadcasting philosopher who is constantly inquiring into the meaning of the last word spoken by somebody else. In short, what is ‘entertaining’? Does it mean nothing but wise-crack, song, and the blare of the jazz-band? Here the answer is emphatically ‘no’. For whenever the Light Programme has temporarily forsaken vaudeville, the concert platform, and the palais, and has broadcast some such event of world importance as the Bikini atom bomb experiments, the response from the public has left no possible doubt on the matter. Moreover, when the Light Programme cleared its whole evening schedule, just as the ‘New Yorker’ cleared one entire issue, and broadcast a two-hour version of the John Hersey Hiroshima story, more than 3,000,000 listeners decided that it was at least as interesting and entertaining — if that is not too frivolous-sounding a word for so grim an experience — as the Variety, Drama, Talk, and Music which were offered as alternatives on the other two wavelengths. Indeed, the immediate success of such a series as ‘Focus’, with its intelligent discussion of questions of the day, is sufficient indication that the public is by no means so sleepy and woolly-witted in the evenings as some people would have us imagine.

None of this means, however, that the Light Programme would be welcomed, or even tolerated, if it broadcast nothing but a succession of two-hour readings or thirty-minute topical features. The Light Programme is there to entertain in the widest sense of the word. And to do so it draws upon the whole profession of entertainment — the artists who fill the music halls up and down the country; the actors who fill the theatres in London and on the road ; the singers and instrumentalists who pack the halls, whether dance or Albert; and its own stars like Handley and Barker who have made radio their own professional medium. And, on this score, the record of Light Programme is strong and unchallengeable. Indeed, it is not too much to say that in an era of austerity the Light Programme has probably been about the least austere article that has found its way, couponless and practically unrationed, into more than 10,000,000 British homes.

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