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Palgrave Macmillan

BBC World Service

Overseas Broadcasting, 1932–2018

  • Book
  • © 2019


  • Examines the history of the BBC World Service, from its interwar launch, through World War Two and the Cold War, to the breakdown of the British Empire
  • Expertly analyses BBC archives and internal communications to reveal a full history of the World Service and the significance of debates about the role of the UK in the world
  • Considers the future of the BBC both in terms of its global role but as a national broadcaster in our current politically-turbulent times

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About this book

This book is the first full-length history of the BBC World Service: from its interwar launch as short-wave radio broadcasts for the British Empire, to its twenty-first-century incarnation as the multi-media global platform of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The book provides insights into the BBC’s working relationship with the Foreign Office, the early years of the Empire Service, and the role of the BBC during the Second World War. In following the voice of the BBC through the Cold War and the contraction of the British empire, the book argues that debates about the work and purposes of the World Service have always involved deliberations about the future of the UK and its place in the world. In current times, these debates have been shaped by the British government’s commitment to leave the European Union and the centrifugal currents in British politics which in the longer term threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom. Through a detailed exploration of its past, the bookposes questions about the World Service’s possible future and argues that, for the BBC, the question is not only what it means to be a global broadcaster as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, but what it means to be a national broadcaster in a divided kingdom.

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Table of contents (7 chapters)


“Johnston and Robertson have marshalled an almost overwhelming amount of archival material into a coherent whole, covering all five continents from 1932 to 2018, whilst still producing a very readable, knowledgeable and engaging account. Archival research is at the heart of this book, with a wide variety of sources fruitfully placed in conversation with each other. … this volume makes its fascinating history available to a new generation of scholars in an erudite and accessible form.” (Emily Oliver, Archives – The Journal of the British Records Association, Vol. 55 (2), 2020)

Authors and Affiliations

  • School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

    Gordon Johnston

  • History Program, Department of Archaeology and History, La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia

    Emma Robertson

About the authors

Gordon Johnston is Honorary Fellow at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. He is the editor of Social History.

Emma Robertson is Senior Lecturer in History at La Trobe University, Australia. She is the author of Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History (2009) and co-author of Rhythms of Labour: Music at Work in Britain (2013).     

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: BBC World Service

  • Book Subtitle: Overseas Broadcasting, 1932–2018

  • Authors: Gordon Johnston, Emma Robertson

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan London

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2019

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-230-35560-6Published: 26 November 2019

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-1-349-59522-8Published: 21 April 2021

  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-137-31855-8Published: 14 November 2019

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: X, 338

  • Number of Illustrations: 1 b/w illustrations

  • Topics: History of Britain and Ireland, World History, Global and Transnational History, Cultural History, Political History, Media and Communication

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