British Broadcasting Corporation Ltd. Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on British Broadcasting Corporation Ltd. We promise: to provide something for everyone; to be fair, accurate and impartial; to provide value for money; to improve access to BBC services; to be accountable and responsive. History of British Broadcasting Corporation Ltd. The British Broadcasting Corporation Ltd. 138) in 1997, this annual fee for a color license generated 95 percent of the BBC’s revenues. The BBC derives its authority from a royal charter granting it the right to operate throughout the United Kingdom. The history of this august institution parallels the history of broadcasting itself. On the evening of November 14, 1922, Arthur Burrows, the company’s first director of programs, read two news bulletins from Marconi House in London.
These were the first daily transmissions at the BBC. The following day, radio stations opened in Manchester and Birmingham, and by the end of the month, British radio enthusiasts could tune into five hours of broadcasting daily. Despite the fact that the original broadcasters had little experience in the field–or perhaps because of it–the standards they established in both news service and children’s programming set the tone for decades to come. Their success was partially due to the influence of John C. Reith who, at the age of 33, became the company’s first general manager. Reith was a Scottish war veteran with a background in engineering and a clear vision of what public broadcasting could achieve if run by an idealistic team.
He determined company policy and dictated the program mix. In Reith’s first year at the helm, programming expanded to include outside broadcasts of opera and theater, daily weather forecasts and live commentaries of sporting events. To keep track of this range of programs, the BBC published a guide called the Radio Times, that included scheduling information, commentaries, and articles on the development of the new medium. By the end of 1923, an experimental broadcast had reached America, and a Radiola Paris transmission had been relayed to listeners in the south of England. Meanwhile, the number of U.K. BBC had increased to 10 while the number of employees had risen from four in December 1922 to 177 in December of the following year.
The number of stations grew over the next few years, as did the power of broadcasting. During the general strike of May 1926, publication of most newspapers was suspended for a week. Also at this time, the BBC increased its daily news broadcasts to five, becoming the sole medium of mass communication in many parts of the country. Although government pressure prevented the BBC from interviewing striking miners on the air, Reith campaigned successfully to maintain the company’s editorial independence with respect to reporting on strike developments. Television service had a more difficult birth. The BBC had been experimenting with television broadcasts since 1932 and, in November 1936, was able to launch the world’s first high-definition black-and-white service under the leadership of director of television Gerald Cock.
During the first three years, the prohibitive cost of television sets limited the number of viewers to 20,000, but the range of programming was impressive and foreshadowed the tremendous influence which television would exert in the postwar years. Among the events covered by fledgling BBC Television was the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and a performance of Macbeth with Laurence Olivier in the title role. On September 1, 1939, however, television broadcasts ceased. The television transmitter at Alexandra Palace in London was a perfect aircraft direction finder, and, for national security reasons, the service remained off the air for the duration of World War II.
BBC radio had a tremendous impact with its informative broadcasts during the war years. Its influence was felt far beyond the borders of the United Kingdom; it was in foreign-language broadcasts to the occupied territories that the Overseas Service came into its own. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, home broadcasting stations were restricted to a single wavelength named the Home Service, which introduced innovative if still rather high-brow programming in a supreme effort to boost the country’s morale through the early war years. In January 1940, a second program was introduced with the aim of lifting the morale of British troops stationed overseas.
Attractions such as popular American variety stars quickly helped the Forces Program secure a huge civilian audience in Britain. At the end of the war the Forces Program was renamed the Light Program, becoming the BBC’s first formal admission that frivolity had a permanent place in the radio schedule. In 1950 the number of permanent employees at the BBC topped 12,000, and new television studios were opened at Lime Grove in London. In the same year, the Beveridge Committee on Broadcasting published a lengthy report which upheld the BBC’s right to exercise a broadcasting monopoly. In 1951, however, the Labour government of the austere postwar period was replaced by a Conservative government which deplored nationalization and stressed the importance of the free market in raising Britain’s depressed standard of living.
As unemployment rates continued to fall and demand for consumer goods soared, public debate focused on television as a legitimate medium for advertising the exciting new products. The Television Act of 1954, sponsored by the Conservative government, broke the BBC’s television monopoly. As a direct consequence of the Television Act, an Independent Television Authority (ITA) was formed, and on September 22, 1955, the first commercial broadcast went on the air. Although advertising was now permitted on independent stations, it remained strictly regulated, and most analyses of the first decade of independent television focus on the many similarities between the ITA and the BBC, rather than on their differences. Meanwhile, television technology was also developing apace. In October 1955 the first experimental color television transmissions began from Alexandra Palace in London.
By this point, approximately 95 percent of the population could receive television at home. Program hours were increased accordingly, from 38 hours per week in 1954 to 50 hours a week in 1955. A new emphasis was placed on regional broadcasts and regional offices were given greater programming autonomy. Outside broadcasts, too, became more adventurous. In October 1959, for example, the popular astronomy program Sky at Night included photographs taken by a Russian spacecraft on the far side of the moon. In July 1967, BBC2 followed the American lead, and became the first European television station to offer regular color television service using the PAL system.
By the 1970s many critics felt that in its determination to maintain audience viewing figures, the venerable Beeb was producing lowbrow, rather than substantial, programs. Representatives of the corporation pointed to a long list of award-winning shows in rebuttal of this argument. Of graver concern to BBC executives was the company’s long-term financial health. In 1975 expenditure exceeded income for the first time. A series of highly publicized budget cuts at the BBC in the early 1980s highlighted the relative financial strength of the big commercial networks, that were now producing such lavish period pieces as Brideshead Revisited, once the BBC’s exclusive preserve. Commercial television was also beginning to take the initiative in new kinds of programming.
The introduction of breakfast time television on the BBC in January 1983, for example, was a response to a similar venture on the commercial network. In the summer of 1985, an incident occurred which focused attention on the BBC’s accountability to the British government. At the center of the controversy was a BBC documentary about Northern Ireland titled At the Edge of the Union that featured an interview with the alleged chief of staff of the Provisional IRA. The effect of this incident on morale within the BBC and on the corporation’s reputation worldwide was considerable. The timing of the controversy was also unfortunate, since Leon Brittan had recently appointed a committee under the chairmanship of professor Alan Peacock to look into financing options for the BBC.