Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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On the other hand, mixed listening was not the domain of the more current radio channels that provided more clearly defined content for minor groups of listeners. The definitions of the following channels are all to be found in the Annual Report from 2003-2004. The BBC Radio 5 Live that launched in 1994 broadcasted live news and sport 24 hours a day. The BBC 1Xtra aimed “to play the best of contemporary black music, with a strong emphasis on delivering high-quality live music and supporting new British artists.” BBC 6 Music “offers lovers of popular music current releases outside the mainstream, new concert and session tracks, and unique access to the work of artists from the last 40 years through the BBC Sound Archive.” An interesting channel was also the BBC Asian Network that “offers music, news, sport, debate, entertainment and drama for British Asians.” (39) The BBC News “aspires to be the world’s most trusted news organisation: independent, impartial and honest.” Another channel was the BBC Parliament that also broadcasts 24 hours a day and “offers additional coverage of debates and committees, plus further opportunities to see analysis programmes.” (45) Last but not least, the BBC World was “commercially funded international news and information television channel.” (45)

All in all, despite the fact that the BBC was no longer monopoly, it still considered it as its duty to provide for the full range of tastes and interests of the public. However, while Reith promoted the idea of one channel that would broadcast all sorts of programmes, the early-21st century BBC was based on the idea of numerous channels, each of them providing something for someone. Le Jeune marks this as one of the two factors that negatively influenced the prestige of the BBC:

In order to maintain the legitimacy of the present licence fee system, the BBC is therefore condemned to continue to compete on all fronts and to try to win viewers from all backgrounds and interests. It will have to continue to pay for US imports; to bid against ITV and Sky for sport; to take on ITV in entertainment; and to do all of those things to a mediocre standard, rather than provide excellence in the areas where it could really make a difference and where competition is either non-existent or fragmented. (27)

The BBC itself confirmed that it could not broadcast only the output which the commercial broadcasters are most likely to avoid or neglect. As Chairman Hussey already stated in 1990, the BBC’s “appeal must be across every section of society” because it is funded by the license fee. (5)

The second factor that in Le June’s view lowers the reputation of the Corporation is its expansionism. On the one hand, he argues that enormous expansion in broadcasting in the last twenty years has been positive and resulted in wider range of programmes and choice:

Judged from the point of view of the consumer, not the terrestrial broadcasters, broadcasting is in a very healthy state. There is a good deal more choice for people; they have more ways to access good content; and there is now more material available for relatively low sums of money. The alarmist talk of crisis is misplaced. Even judged by the narrower definition of the availability of what is called public service broadcasting or public service content, people have never had it so good. (3)

On the other hand, however, the BBC in particular should stop expanding and should rather focus on a narrower, more clearly defined and above all original range of programmes:

Far from being a powerhouse of originality, the BBC is a persistent me-too broadcaster with a serial record of imitation. Pirate radio stations spawned first Radio 2 and then Radio 1. Sky News brought forth BBC News 24 (virtually until the moment of launch the BBC official line was that there was no need for rolling news). ITV and Channel 4’s success with reality TV and phone voting saw the BBC hurrying to catch up (it also imitated its rivals in mismanaging the voting systems). The BBC is too often a parasite on other’s ideas to allow its claims of creative contribution to be taken at face value. (25-26)

It is very likely that expansionism and the lack of originality are at least partly the reasons for the BBC’s decreasing prestige mentioned earlier in the chapter. Eventually, Le Jeune suggests a solution that would in his opinion improve the BBC’s service. In his view, the Corporation should ignore obligations stemming from the license fee and provide only the genres, programmes and services that the market does not cater for enough:

That sort of BBC would be focused on current affairs and factual programming; on intellectually distinguished UK drama (both classic and avante garde); on the fine and performing arts; on speech and music radio (again both classical and modern); on regional news; on UK-originated children’s broadcasting. In short, it would be a truly Reithian BBC that would fully deserve a high reputation. (28)

The question is whether the public would welcome this or whether the history would repeat itself and the BBC would be criticized for being elitist and patronizing. By narrowing the content of broadcasting, the Corporation would very likely lose a certain part of audience, but it would be even closer to the vision of Reith in terms of high quality and originality.


The thesis examined in what way the important social and political changes influenced the position and structure of the BBC throughout the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21th century. It addressed the question of why and how the British Broadcasting Corporation was established and how it developed and changed in relation to the values and principles determined by its first Director General. The BBC’s founder, John Reith, had a vision of the BBC as an instrument for raising cultural and educational standards. He argued that broadcasting should operate for public good and should not be subject to private ownership or commercial pressures.  The analysis of the development was based both on annual documents issued by the Corporation and on secondary sources dealing with the BBC as well as with broadcasting in Britain in general.

The BBC radio developed during the early 1920s and by the middle 1930s broadcasting was well established and vital source of information, education and entertainment. The Corporation started out with a strongly paternalist definition of the obligation to provide a balanced output. It did not take long, however, before this definition began to change. The second half of the 1930s was a dramatic time for the Corporation. During the war the BBC sound broadcasting services played an important part in maintaining the country's morale, as well as keeping hope alive among allies under occupation, since the dictators in occupied countries controlled and censored broadcasting in order to promote their policies. During these years, the BBC was in a close cooperation with the British government but at the same time tried to exercise certain independence in broadcast programmes in order to follow its original policies. Moreover, the paternalist approach of the Corporation was gradually undermined and little by little replaced by a more pragmatic attitude. Popular taste and audience research to some extent replaced internal BBC standards for determining programme schedules that were formed by Reith. Its efficiency and ability to cater for the needs of its audience not only in Britain but in other countries increased throughout the war and the BBC gained prestige and reputation worldwide.

Immediately after the war, the radio services were divided into three channels aimed at the 'high-brow', 'middle-brow' and 'low-brow' audiences respectively. This was a sign of the attempt to popularize the programmes and the first official step marking the departure from the 1920s policy. The main factor explaining this development is that the majority public did not want to be educated but used broadcasting for a large part as a source of diversion and entertainment.

Another important moment in the development of the BBC examined in the thesis was the introduction of television broadcasting. The television emerged shortly before the war started but was not functional between 1939 and 1946. Its main boom came after the war and already in the 1950s television became the dominant medium. One of the most notable developments that followed in the wake of television was the enormous expansion of the Corporations. In the 1950s many regarded television as a threat to traditional ways of life, and this approach was intensified by the introduction of commercial television in 1954, which meant the end of the monopoly of broadcasting in Britain. It was claimed that by bringing competition into broadcasting the still present cultural elitism and arrogance of the BBC would be broken and the Corporation would become more responsive to popular demands. After the introduction of ITV, the BBC was initially reluctant to respond to the challenge from its rival, but as its share of the audience dropped among viewers who have suddenly choice of content, it became apparent that something had to be done. As a result, the television schedules were reorganised in a more competitive way and a series of new and more entertaining programme formats were developed.

The 1960s were heavily influenced by the Pilkington Report on the situation of broadcasting in Britain. While ITV was criticized for populism, the BBC was praised for retaining Reithian standards of quality content. This brought the BBC certain advantages in the form of the second television channel. The growth of commercial competition and disagreements with government were the biggest challenges for the BBC in the following decades. Since the 1980s, further expansion of new, especially satellite and digital channels, attributed to further competitiveness in broadcasting. Although the BBC in the 21st century still strives to inform, educate and entertain, some people disapprove of the Corporation’s expansionist policies at the expense of quality and trustworthiness of its service.

Much had changed since Reith left the organization, and particularly the War and the arrival of ITV helped to push the BBC in the direction of loosening up its style, of becoming more topical and less didactic. The paternalism of John Reith, whose aim was to give people what he considered good for them rather than what they thought they wanted, was no longer the part of BBC at the beginning of the 21st century. On the contrary, the more current problems appears to be the excessive effort of the BBC to give people mainly what they wanted and not what it considered good, simply because they pay for its service. Nevertheless, the Corporation’s sense of public service responsibility and the status of an organization from which certain standards and values were expected remained the BBC’s general guidance.

Works Cited

Primary Sources:

British Broadcasting Corporation. Annual Report and Accounts 2003/2004. London: Broadcasting House. 2004. Print.

British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC Annual. London: Jarrold & Sons Ltd. 1937. Print.

British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC Handbook. London: Jarrold & Sons Ltd.1928-29, 1932-36, 1955- 97. Print.

British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC Year Book. London: Jarrold & Sons Ltd.1930-34, 1943-52. Print.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport). Broadcasting: Copy of Royal Charter for the Continuance of the British Broadcasting Corporation. London: The Stationery Office, 2006. Print.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Review of the BBC's Royal Charter: A strong BBC, independent of government, March 2005. Print.

Grossbritannien Committee on Broadcasting, and Sir Harry Pilkington. Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, 1960. HM Stationery Office, 1962. Print.

Hutton, Lord. Report of the Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Dr David Kelly. London: The Stationery Office, 2004. Print.

Ogilvie, Frederick. “Record of Conversation with Sir John Reith.” BBC Archive. BBC. 1940. Web. 21 October 2014.

Reith, J.C.W.. Into the Wind. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1949.
Secondary Sources:

Avery, Todd. Radio Modernism: Literature, Ethics, and the BBC, 1922-1938. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006. Print.

“About the New Statesman.” New Statesman. Web. 20 November 2015.

“BBC Monitoring – About Us.” BBC. Web. 22 November 2015.

Briggs, Assa. The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1961. Print.

Briggs, Assa. The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1965. Print.

Briggs, Assa. The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom Vol. 5. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.

Burns, T. The BBC: Public Institution and Private World, London: Macmillan, 1977.

Chignell, Hugh. ‘Change and reaction in BBC current affairs radio, 1928–1970’. Narrating Media History . 2008. Print.

Coase, R.H.. British Broadcasting: A Study in Monopoly. Abingdon: Routledge, 1950. Print.

Crisell, Andrew. An introductory history of British broadcasting. Psychology Press, 2002.
Curran, James, and Jean Seaton. Power Without Responsibility: The Press, broadcasting and new media in Britain. 6th edition. London: Routledge, 2003.

"David Sarnoff." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. 13 Aug. 2015 <>.

“Director-Generals of the BBC.” BBC. Web. 21 October 2014.

Hajkowski, Thomas. Studies in Popular Culture: BBC and National Identity in Britain, 1922-53. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2010. Print.

Hendy, David. Life on Air: A History of Radio Four. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Jewell, John. ‘Murdoch and Thatcher – a convenient alliance against the BBC.’ JOMEC: Cardiff University. 10 July 2013. Web. 20 November 2015.

“John Reith – Beginnings.” BBC Story. BBC. Web. 21 October 2014.

Johnson, Catherine, and Rob Turnock. ITV Cultures: Independent Television over Fifty Years. Berkshire: Open University Press, 2005.

Le Jeune, Martin. To Inform, Educate and Entertain? British Broadcasting in the Twenty-first Century. Surrey: 4 Print, 2009. Print.

Malnick, Edward. ‘Margaret Thatcher conducted covert war against BBC.’ The Telegraph. December 30, 2014. Web. 20 November 2015.

Paulu Burton. British Broadcasting: Radio and Television in the United Kingdom. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1956. Print.

Paulu, Burton. British Broadcasting in Transition. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1961. Print.

Petley, Julian. ‘Richard Hoggart and Pilkington: Populism and public service broadcasting.’ Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. Vol 12, No 1 2015. Print.

"Postmaster General of the United Kingdom." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 13 Sep. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

“Reithianism.” Oxford Reference. 2011-01-01. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

“Robert Burnham Renwick, 1st Baron Renwick.” The Peerage. Web 21 Nov. 2015.

Tinker, Jack. The Television Barons. Quartet Books, 1980.
Weingärtner, Jörn. The arts as a weapon of war: Britain and the shaping of the national morale in the Second World War. IB Tauris & Company, 2006.

"Yesterday's Men (documentary)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 8 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

English Résumé

The thesis examines the development of the BBC from its foundation in the 1920s to the resignation of Director General Greg Dyke in 2004. It focuses on the Reithian values regarding the purpose and responsibility of public broadcasting and explores when and why the changes in Reith’s original policy have taken place and as well as their impact on the position and reputation of the BBC.

The first chapter presents an introduction to the birth of broadcasting in Great Britain, outlines the influential role of Lord John Reith, and contains an outline of the formal structure of the BBC, Corporation’s characterization of its main principles and the nature of the mutual relationship of the BBC and government. The second chapter examines the BBC’s conduct during the war and pinpoints enforced changes in the scheme for broadcasting previously proposed by Reith. The third chapter is concerned with the immediate aftermath of the war in terms of the restructuring of radio broadcasting as well as with the role of the radio after the beginning of the television boom and introduction of commercial ITV. The fourth chapter focuses on the impact of commercial service on the broadcasting in Great Britain as well as on redefinition of the original aims and duties of broadcasting in the 1970s. The fifth chapter argues that during the early 1980s and 1990s the BBC was under political and technological pressure and also includes a final comparison of the original Reithian purposes and values of the Corporation purposes and aims of the BBC in 2004.

The thesis argues that Reith established the BBC on principles which remained valid at the beginning of the 21st century. These principles include independence and provision of good service to the largest number of people. However, the work also demonstrates that the paternalistic approach connected with the Reithian BBC had already been abandoned.

Czech Résumé

Práce zkoumá vývoj BBC od jejího založení ve dvacátých letech dvacátého století až po rok 2004, kdy rezignoval generální ředitel společnosti Greg Dyke. Práce je zaměřena na hodnoty týkající se účelu a odpovědnosti veřejného vysílání, tak jak je definoval a popsal John Reith. Cílem práce je prozkoumat, kdy a proč docházelo ke změnám v původní Reithovské politice a také jaký byl dopad těchto změn na pozici a reputaci BBC.

První kapitola popisuje vznik vysílání ve Velké Británii, vysvětluje významnou roli Johna Reitha a zabývá se také strukturou BBC, charakterizací jejích hlavních zásad a v neposlední řadě také vymezením vztahu mezi BBC a vládou. Druhá kapitola zkoumá činnost BBC během druhé světové války a zjišťuje, k jakým změnám ve vysílacím schématu došlo od dob prvního generálního ředitele. Třetí kapitola se zabývá dopady války na BBC, mezi které patří reorganizace rozhlasového vysílání, vzrůstající obliba televizního vysílání a také uvedení komerční televize ITV. Vliv komerční televize na vysílání ve Velké Británii a nové vymezení původních cílů a povinností BBC je hlavním obsahem čtvrté kapitoly. Poslední kapitola zkoumá nelehkou situaci BBC v průběhu 80. a 90. let, kdy byla BBC pod silným politickým tlakem. Důležitou součástí je také závěrečné porovnání původních hodnot a smyslu BBC v podání jejího zakladatele s definicí téhož v roce 2004.

Práce dokazuje, že Reithem stanovené zásady BBC jsou pro vysílací společnost stále klíčové i na počátku 21. století. Mezi tyto zásady patří zejména nezávislost BBC a poskytování dobrých služeb co největšímu okruhu lidí. Práce ovšem také poukazuje na to, že novodobá korporace se oprostila od paternalistického přístupu BBC, který Reith uplatňoval v jejích počátcích.

1 The annual publication was called the BBC Handbook in 1928, 1929, 1938-1942 and 1955-1987. It was issued as the BBC Year Book in 1930-1934 and 1943-1952 and briefly the BBC Annual in 1935-1937.

2 More detailed information considering the constitution of the BBC is available either in majority of annual Year Books or on the official website of the organization,

3 The committee consisted of seven members drawn from the BBC, Parliament, the Post Office, the press and the radio manufacturers (Marconi, Radio Communication Company etc.). (Yearbook 1928 37)

4 The nine governors were appointed by the government and together with the Director General and six major division heads formed the Board of Management. The directors of the corporation’s main divisions were responsible for administration, engineering, external television broadcasting and sound broadcasting, while news broadcasting was the domain supervised directly by the Director General. (Paulu 105)

5 The Postmaster General of the United Kingdom was the person in charge of the British Post Office. Postmaster General’s task was to maintain not only the postal system but subsequently also telecommunications and broadcasting. In 1969 the office was abolished and the position was, with reduced powers, replaced with Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. (Wikipedia)

6 An interesting fact is that this commonly cited ethos of broadcasting was not Reith’s own formulation but that of David Sarnoff, the already discussed pioneer of radio and television who first uttered the phrase in 1922, a few months before the foundation of the BBC.

7 Avery stresses many times that Matthew Arnold was one of Reith’s major intellectual influences. Reith’s Broadcast over Britain, Avery observes, “is studded with explicit references and thinly veiled allusions to Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy.” (16)

8 Reith commented on such act by claiming that the BBC “should not stay behind in dealing with this filthy product of modernity” ( Reith)


10 The New Statesman is a British political and cultural magazine published in London. Founded as a weekly review of politics and literature on 12 April 1913, it is celebrated for its “progressive politics, scepticism, free thinking and the intelligence, range and quality of its writing.” Its contributors have included for instance J M Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf and Martin Amis.” (

11 Some of Joyce’s broadcasts as well as other materials related to his personality and activities are available online in the BBC archive:

12 MOI was very much under criticism due to withholding of information and was often satirized and fittingly nicknamed as the Ministry of No Comment. Seaton writes that “The Ministry of Information was notorious for the strange collection of dilettantes, anthropologists, and advertising copy writers which it employed. (126)

13 Reith’s exact words: “Somebody introduced Christianity into England and somebody introduced smallpox, bubonic plague and the Black Death. Somebody is minded now to introduce sponsored broadcasting ... Need we be ashamed of moral values, or of intellectual and ethical objectives? It is these that are here and now at stake.” (House of Lords debate on the White Paper on commercial broadcasting in the UK, 1954)

14 Hugh Carlton Green was appointed Director General in 1960s and remained in the same position until 1969, which is the longest period in the function since John Reith’s appointment. Moreover, his popularity among the staff and the aim “to bring the BBC up-to-date” and to “encourage a new era of programming” confirms Briggs’ claim that Green was as influential as the first Director General. ( )

15 The official name of the document was the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, 1960. However, in many books and documents it is simply referred to as the Pilkington Report.

16 Robert Renwick held several important offices during WWII, including Controller of Communications at the Air Ministry and of Communications Equipment at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He was a very influential figure of commercial television in the United Kingdom and was appointed Chairman of ATV (Associated Television). (

17 Julian Petley further explains that the sudden defence of ITV by press was not entirely selfless: “The report was bitterly attacked by most national newspapers, several of which had substantial holdings in ITV companies, and which saw the report’s strictures on populism in television programming as an implicit critique of their own journalistic standards and as a threat to press freedom.” (4)

18 Richard Hoggart and Pilkington: Populism and Public Service Broadcasting was published in 2015 in Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics.

19 In the 1964 Television Act, the ITA was given the responsibility for ensuring that programme output should be ‘of a high general standard’ and ‘properly balanced in subject matter’. It was also granted the power to vet schedules, and even individual programmes, before transmission. (Peltey 13)

20 Yesterday’s Men was a British documentary made and broadcast by the BBC in 1971. The programme provoked a conflict between the Labour Party and the BBC. According to Anthony Smith, the editor of 24 Hours at the time, the film led to "the biggest and most furious row that a television programme in the English language has ever provoked." ('s Men (documentary))

21 Margaret Thatcher conducted covert war against the BBC, published in The Telegraph, 30 Dec 2014

22 The News of the World called the BBC ‘The Boring Bonkers Corporation’, The Mail said it was ‘(utterly) Biased (morally) Bankrupt and (politically) Corrupt’. The Sun described the BBC on one day as being ‘Boring Old Auntie’, and on the very next day accused it of ‘Sleaze and Sluttery’. “Broadcasting was attacked for loose morals, extravagance, fifth columnism and offending against public taste.” (Seaton 210)

23 British Satellite Broadcasting

24 In her first term of office, the Prime Minister gave knighthoods to the editors of the Sun, Sunday Express, and Daily Mail. (Seaton 206)

25 Andrew Gilligan, Defence Correspondent for Today, broadcast a number of reports about the dossier published by the Government and entitled Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. While the Government strongly denied these stories, the BBC stood by its decision to broadcast the report. Shortly after, the identity of Gilligan‘s source, Dr David Kelly, was made public by the Ministry of Defence and Kelly was found dead a couple of days later.

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