A commie witch hunt, a live abdication and a military invasion of sport: 100 years of the BBC, part two | Television & radio

In this decade, the BBC airs three landmark royal shows and is forced to think about reaching listeners overseas.

1932 The King’s Speech

Just after 3pm on Christmas Day, King George V radioed the nation from Sandringham, starting a tradition that continues to this day. Establishing a close relationship with the royal family that brought society access as well as distress, in February of that year the BBC even broadcast live a speech by Albert, Duke of York, who, as the second son, seemed unlikely to have much historical significance.

1933 – Paul Robson

The 535th edition of Radio Times got its first color cover star. The African-American actor and bass-baritone had been living in London since his stage performances in Show Boat and Othello and was hired by the BBC to perform a New Year’s concert. Shortly after Robeson wrote an essay, I Want To Be African, encouraging blacks to recognize their roots, and became involved with English socialists. Had he made these moves sooner, his appearance in 1933 might have been canceled by Captain Alan Dawnay, a War Office official who joined the BBC that year to control Communist infiltration of society. After being declared a subversive by the FBI, Robeson did not work for the BBC from 1946 to 1958.

1934 Seven hard days

Another big genre – the review of current events – began in January with a weekly slot on Sunday evenings from 9:20 p.m. the news. The first list included poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc, who wrote Cautionary Tales for Children, and crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

1935 – England v South Africa

Kicking off the long tradition of Saturday afternoon sports broadcasts, the BBC’s national program on July 27 moved between Old Trafford Manchester, which is hosting a Test Match between England and England. South Africa, and Wimbledon, where a Davis Cup Challenge tie was held between the United Kingdom (managed by Fred Perry) and the United States (managed by Don Budge). Captain HBT Wakelam commentated cricket, Colonel RH Brand tennis and Major CL Cooper-Hunt (most broadcasters at the time had WW1 military titles.)

1936 – Comic Opera

This program of highlights of English musical performances, which started at 9.40pm on December 11, is one of the oldest and most surprising examples of a show being ousted from the schedules. The duty announcer at Broadcasting House (BBC headquarters since 1932) received a telephone call from Sir John Reith, who revealed he was at Windsor Castle with King Edward VIII, who would abdicate the throne live at 10:01 p.m. This is what he did, introduced and designed by Reith. The brief, unplanned run led to the 2010 Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, about his successor King George VI’s (the former Albert, Duke of York) struggles with radio, and 69 Christmas shows (one year was missed due to logistics) during the reign of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who transferred the tradition to television from 1957.

1937 The coronation procession

King George VI, second right, and Queen Elizabeth, center, with their daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on May 12, 1937, after the coronation at Westminster Abbey. Photography: AP

One of BBC Television’s early successes (which was officially launched in 1936) was the company’s first live outside television broadcast. From 2 p.m. footage was transmitted of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) being treated from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey and back, with the actual coronation seen as too much sacred for a TV review. Only a fragment of this pioneering sequence survives, captured from a viewer’s set by a motion picture camera.

1938 – Gracie Fields

Grace Fields.
‘Our Lancashire Lass’… Gracie Fields. Photography: Mirrorpix/Getty

If the “national treasure” cliché had been used at the time, it would have framed “Lancashire Lass” Gracie Fields, a singer and film star who made three Radio Times covers in 1938 alone. year in which she became CBE and was admitted to the Royal Order of St. John. Recently cured of cancer, she became as important a war artist as Vera Lynn; she died in 1979 as a lady and was played by Jane Horrocks in Gracie!, a 2009 BBC drama.

1939 – News on time

On September 4, three days after the declaration of war against Germany, the BBC instituted something close to 24-hour news with bulletins at 1am, 3am, 5am and at the top of every hour All day long. Previously, “announcers” were anonymous, to give headlines editorial authority, but Reith now allowed presenters to identify themselves as a means of distinguishing BBC voices from German propagandists. “Here’s the news, and Alvar Lidell reads it,” became the slogan of the BBC’s first star presenter.

1940 – Fritz Kreisler

Ten years after wireless transmissions split between national and regional, programming was again split between the Home Service and For the Forces, a special schedule for those serving overseas. The first military commission, on February 18, included subtle musical propaganda: a concert by Fritz Kreisler, an Austrian-born composer who had left Europe as the war approached and was seeking naturalization in the United States. . The opening shows also included Football Commentary: The French Army vs. The British Army.

1941 – Children calling home

Evacuation British children in wartime led the BBC to explore “co-productions” (a now standard usage that first occurred here) with the venues they had been sent to. After a pilot last December, notably in Australia and New Zealand, the BBC has teamed up with the United States and Canada in this regular segment in which British parents chat, via wireless, with their offspring in North America.

Coming tomorrow: 1942-1951 – a Soviet surprise.

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