Learn the Interesting History of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)


British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), publicly financed broadcasting infrastructure in Great Britain, operating under royal charter. It monopolized television in the United Kingdom from its inception until 1954 and radio until 1972. The headquarters are located in the borough of Westminster in Greater London.

Creation of the BBC

BBC sign

The British Broadcasting Company, as it was formerly known, was founded on 18 October 1922 by a group of prominent wireless manufacturers, including Marconi.

On November 14, 1922, daily broadcasting by the BBC launched in the Strand studio of Marconi, 2LO, located in London. John Reith, a 33-year-old Scottish engineer, was appointed General Manager of the BBC at the end of 1922.

After World War I, the first initiatives in British radio were undertaken by private companies that viewed broadcasting primarily as point-to-point communications. The British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., was established in 1922 as a private corporation, in which only British manufacturers were permitted to possess shares. In 1925, upon recommendation of a parliamentary committee, the company was liquidated and succeeded in 1927 by a public corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Although ultimately accountable to Parliament, the BBC has virtually complete autonomy over its operations. The British monarch appoints the members of the BBC Trust, an independent 12-member panel, governed by a chairman, that supervises day-to-day operations.

The original charter granted the BBC a monopoly covering all phases of broadcasting in Britain. A significant figure in the early history of the corporation was John Reith (later Lord Reith), general manager from 1922 and director general from 1927 to 1938. He developed radio broadcasting throughout the British Isles, inaugurated the empire shortwave broadcasting service, and directed the development of the world’s first regular television service in 1936. The notion of public service broadcasting advocated by him gained prominence in the United Kingdom and exerted a significant impact on broadcasting practices in numerous other nations.

Founder of BBC

John Reith

Joseph Albert Pease, the BBC’s first chairman, and John Charles Walsh Reith were pivotal figures in the organization’s formation. Reith believed that the BBC’s primary purpose was to educate rather than entertain, and this belief became the foundation of the company. The BBC expanded rapidly from its inception. In 1922, the company had four workers. By the end of 1923, it had 400. The audience also expanded significantly. A million privately owned receivers existed in Britain by 1924. In that year, the BBC aired a speech by King George V that approximately 10 million people heard.

John Reith was the originator of the BBC. When it was founded as the British Broadcasting Company in 1922, he was its first general manager. When it became a public corporation in 1927, he was its first director general.

He created both the templates for public service broadcasting in Britain and for the arms-length public corporations that were to follow, notably after World War Two. Reith resisted the politicians’ attempts to influence the BBC, while providing the British people with educational, informative, and entertaining programming.

But in a career spanning over 60 years, Reith spent only 16 at the BBC. 

Historic BBC Broadcast at a Glance

Radio Times masthead

September 1923 – First edition of Radio Times

The first edition of The Radio Times detailed the few available programs. It also provided advice for prospective radio enthusiasts, and numerous advertisements by the fledgling radio industry, offering the latest in radio receiving technology. It was destined to become one of the most popular listing magazines in the globe.

November 1936 – Opening of the BBC Television Service

The BBC was the first organization in the world to offer a regular ‘high definition’ television service. There were dramas, sports, outside broadcasts, and animations, but only for a brief period of time. The outbreak of war in 1939 abruptly halted all programs.

London 1948- The First Televised Olympic Games 

In 1948, approximately 100,000 British residences had televisions, yet the BBC broadcast 68.5 hours of live Olympic coverage. The majority of viewers utilized displays measuring approximately 25 by 20 centimeters. This was the BBC’s most technologically sophisticated outside broadcast at the time.

April 1958 – The Discover of Radiophonic Workshop 

Based in the legendary Room 13 of the Maida Vale recording studios, it utilized a bizarre assortment of objects to produce sounds.

The Radiophonic Workshop created distinctively memorable electronic noises, such as the theme music for Doctor Who, and became one of the most influential forces on 20th century electronic music.

BBC Radio Studio

June 1967 – Our Planet

Since 1962, the BBC had received satellite images from the United States via Telstar. Before the end of the 1960s, it was not possible to broadcast live to the entire planet via satellite. The BBC was the first television network to undertake such a program. Live, non-political contributions from participating countries comprised Our World. The BBC commissioned the Beatles to perform “All You Need is Love” as a commissioned contribution.

April 1974 – Release of The Family documentary

This innovative program captured the tensions and humor of everyday family life in the Wilkins residence. It raised controversial issues about class, race, and manners in 1970s England and was the first time cameras merely filmed daily life without direct interviews; it was the earliest instance of “reality television.”

July 1981 – Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s Wedding

The estimated global TV audience for Charles and Diana’s wedding was 750 million, making it the most popular program ever broadcast. It was one of the BBC’s largest outside broadcasts of the decade and was filled with iconic and memorable moments that shaped a generation.

December 1997 – The Launch of bbc.co.uk

The then-Director-General of the BBC, Lord Birt, was fast to recognize the internet’s true potential for public service broadcasting. He solicited the advice of the Corporation’s younger employees regarding the BBC’s direction in the emerging online world. He designed BBC Online after visiting Silicon Valley in the United States.

BBC News smartphone screen

July 2007 –  BBC iPlayer: watch what you want, when you want it

By the mid-2000s, streaming technology had advanced to the point where entire television programs could be viewed online. The BBC iPlayer was created by BBC developers as a simple, cost-free method of catching up on missed programs. It is a supplement to traditional television viewing.

October 2012 – The audio industry enters a new dimension

The BBC Radio Player was introduced as the new home for BBC radio. BBC iPlayer Radio is accessible on multiple platforms and enables you to wake up to your favorite BBC station and listen on the go with a smartphone app. It provides the complete breadth of BBC content with a new radio experience on desktop, mobile, and tablet devices. Gain access to on-demand content, snippets, videos, and downloads at any time.

January 2022 to the Present

It was reported in January 2021 that Richard Sharp, a former banker, would succeed David Clementi as chairman. Lineker was suspended from his position on Match of the Day before receiving overwhelming support from his colleagues and being reinstated. The relationship between BBC chairman Richard Sharp and the Conservative Party exacerbated the scandal.

Richard Sharp resigned as chairman in April 2023 after a report revealed he had failed to disclose potential perceived conflicts of interest in his role facilitating a loan for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. On 27 June 2023, Dame Elan Closs Stephens was appointed interim chairwoman of the BBC board for a year or until a new permanent chair is appointed.

A Few Fascinating Facts About BBC

BBC Scotland
Batchelor at English Wikipedia, BBC Scotland, CC BY 3.0

The BBC reported there was no news

The BBC is renowned for its newscasts. However, it is also renowned for its lack of news coverage. On April 18, 1930, the BBC reported no news because none existed. At 8:45 that evening, a broadcaster announced, “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There are no updates.” The BBC then played piano music for the next fifteen minutes.

There is always news, so the BBC’s claim that there is none is surprising. This was due to the BBC’s monopoly on news reporting in the United Kingdom at the time. This also meant that it had a monopoly on what it deemed to be noteworthy.

The BBC Had Strict Guidelines Regarding What Was Considered a Joke

In 1949, the BBC distributed a pamphlet to its writers, editors, and broadcasters titled The Green Book. The book contained guidelines for the BBC’s use of humor. It was intricate and funny at the same time. The book explained that humor should not be offensive. Bathroom, immorality, honeymoon, fig leaf, lingerie, prostitution, servants, animal behavior, and traveler-related jokes were prohibited. Also prevalent were jokes about diseases, combat wounds, and deformities. The book emphasized the prevalence of stutterer quips among presenters, which it identified in particular.

A license fee paid by British residents funds the BBC

Many people outside of Britain may be unaware that the BBC is funded by the British government through an annual license fee paid by British residents who own televisions or download or view BBC programs on iPlayer. The annual fee is currently set at £154.50.

This is why the BBC has managed to remain ad-free and independent of shareholders and government control, as the BBC claims. British residents must pay the fee even if they do not view the BBC on television. Additionally, they must pay if they view television on their smartphones, tablets, computers, or any other device.

To summarize

The BBC is not only the world’s oldest broadcasting institution, but also the largest in terms of number of employees. Only full-time employees are included in the BBC’s total employee count of 20,950.

The BBC is primarily financed by annual television licensing fees paid by those who own televisions or view live television broadcasts on devices such as computers. It provides five radio networks and national television channels in Britain, ranging from popular music to news and information services. In accordance with its charter, the BBC cannot advertise or transmit sponsored programs. It is required to refrain from airing its own opinions on current events and matters of public policy, and to be impartial in its coverage of controversies.

The British Broadcasting Corporation is one of the most emblematic aspects of British culture. This organization has provided the nation with countless hours of entertainment, news broadcasts, and information over the years.

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