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The Age of Asa pp 165-183 | Cite as

Broadcasting Carries On! Asa Briggs and the History of the Wartime BBC

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Abstract

In 1970 Asa Briggs published The War of Words, his history of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) during the Second World War and the third volume of his monumental history of broadcasting in the UK. Forty years later it remains the definitive account, not just of a broadcasting service at war, but of a key national institution at a defining historical moment.

Keywords

Popular Culture British Public News Service British Broadcasting Corporation Public Service Broadcasting 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Asa Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, vol. 1: The Birth of Broadcasting (London: Oxford University Press, 1961, reprinted 1995); vol. 2: The Golden Age of Wireless (London: Oxford University Press, 1965, reprinted 1995); vol. 3: The War of Words (London: Oxford University Press, 1970, reprinted 1995); vol. 4: Sound and Vision (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979, reprinted 1995); vol. 5: Competition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    BBC Board of Governors Minutes, 20 June 1957, cited in Briggs, Birth of Broadcasting (1995 ed.), p. xiii, n. 2.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Asa Briggs, Friends of the People: The Centenary History of Lewis’s (London: B. T. Batsford, 1956);Google Scholar
  4. Asa Briggs, Where We Came In: The Industrial Revolution Reconsidered (London: BBC, 1956).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See, for example, Asa Briggs, ‘What Is the History of Popular Culture?’ History Today, 35 (1985), pp. 39–40.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Had this been done ‘we would have been in a far stronger position as historians to contemplate the present and future of “the media”’. Asa Briggs, ‘Problems and Possibilities in the History of Broadcasting’, Media, Culture and Society, 2 (1980), pp. 5–13, at p. 7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    For instance, A. R. Burrows, The Story of Broadcasting (London: Cassell, 1924);Google Scholar
  8. J. C. W. Reith, Into the Wind (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1949);Google Scholar
  9. Maurice Gorham, Broadcasting and Television since 1900 (London: Dakers, 1950);Google Scholar
  10. R. H. Coase, British Broadcasting: A Study in Monopoly (London: Longman, Green and Co., 1950).Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Hans Fredrik Dahl, ‘The Pursuit of Media History’, Media, Culture and Society, 16 (1994), pp. 551–63;Google Scholar
  12. Tom O’Malley, ‘Media History and Media Studies: Aspects of the Development of the Study of Media History in the UK 1945–2000’, Media History, 8 (2002), pp. 155–73; Briggs, ‘Problems and Possibilities’, p. 6;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. D. L. LeMahieu, ‘Review: The BBC and Its Competitors’, Journal of British Studies, 37 (1998), pp. 222–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 10.
    See Jose Harris, ‘If Britain Had Been Defeated by the Nazis, How Would History Have Been Written?’ in W. Roger Louis (ed.), Still More Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain (London: I. B. Tauris, 2003), pp. 211–27;Google Scholar
  15. Denys Hay, ‘British Historians and the Beginnings of the Civil History of the Second World War’, in M. R. D. Foot (ed.), War and Society: Historical Essays in Honour and Memory of J. R. Western 1928–1971 (London: Paul Elek, 1973), pp. 39–56.Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    Briggs, Birth of Broadcasting (1995 ed.), p. xvi;Google Scholar
  17. cf. C. L. Mowat, review of The Birth of Broadcasting, English Historical Review, 78 (1963), pp. 750–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 14.
    See Angus Calder, The People’s War (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969), esp. pp. 357–66.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    Ian McLaine, Ministry of Morale: Home Front Propaganda and the Ministry of Information in World War II (London: Allen and Unwin, 1979); Briggs, War o Words, pp. 209, 602, and passim.Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    See David Cardiff and Paddy Scannell, ‘“Good Luck War Workers!” Class, Politics and Entertainment in Wartime Broadcasting’, in Tony Bennett, Colin Mercer and Janet Woolacott(eds.), Popular Culture and Social Relations (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1986), pp. 193–16, for some highly critical BBC Listener Research reports on its ‘Factory Front’ propaganda.Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    By mid-war Mass-Observation was noting that when the BBC got the news right, the public praised the Corporation; when the BBC got the news wrong, the public blamed the government or the Ministry of Information for making the BBC broadcast it: Siân Nicholas, The Echo of War: Home Front Propaganda and the Wartime BBC 1939–45 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), p. 206.Google Scholar
  22. 32.
    See for instance The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs, vol. 3: Serious Pursuits: Communications and Education (London: Harvester, 1991); Asa Briggs, The BBC: The First Fifty Years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985);Google Scholar
  23. Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (London: Polity Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, vol. 1: The Birth of Broadcasting (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995 edn.), p. xiii.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 36.
    Briggs, War of Words , Part V, ch. 5. In the 1930s there was more controversy over religion than any other aspect of BBC policy: see Briggs, Golden Age of Wireless, pp. 227–49; also Kenneth M. Wolfe, The Churches and the British Broadcasting Corporation 1922–56 (London: SCM Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  26. 39.
    See, for instance, James Hinton, Nine Wartime Lives: Mass-Observation and the Making of the Modern Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 40.
    See, for instance, Paul Addison, The Road to 1945: British Politics and the Second World War (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975);Google Scholar
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  29. Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Jonathan Cape, 1991).Google Scholar
  30. 45.
    Siân Nicholas, ‘The People’s Radio?: The BBC and Its Audience 1939–45’, in Nick Hayes and Jeff Hill (eds.), Millions Like Us? British Culture in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), pp. 62–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 47.
    See especially, Robert Mackay, Half the Battle: British Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002);Google Scholar
  32. Sonya Rose, Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Britain 1939–45 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  33. 49.
    Erik Barnouw, A History of Broadcasting in the United States, vol. I: A Tower in Babel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966); vol. II: The Golden Web (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968); vol. 3: The Image Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  34. See Michele Hilmes, Radio Voices: American Broadcasting 1922–1952 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997) and Network Nations: A Transnational History of British and American Broadcasting (New York: Routledge, 2012) for more recent works strongly informed by Briggs’ approach.Google Scholar
  35. 50.
    Philip T. Rosen, ‘Review Essay: The Marvel of Radio’, American Quarterly, 31 (1979), pp. 572–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 56.
    J. A. Hutcheson, review of The Birth of Broadcasting, Technology and Culture, 4 (1963), pp. 103–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 57.
    Jean Seaton, ‘Writing the History of Broadcasting’, in David Cannadine (ed.), History and the Media (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. 141–60.Google Scholar
  38. 59.
    Bernard Sendall, Independent Television in Britain, vol. 1: Origin and Foundation 1946–62 (London: Macmillan, 1982), vol. 2: Expansion and Change 1958–68 (London: Macmillan, 1983);Google Scholar
  39. Jeremy Potter, vol. 3: Politics and Control 1968–80 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989);Google Scholar
  40. Jeremy Potter, vol. 4: Companies and Programmes 1968–80 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990);Google Scholar
  41. Paul Bonner and Lesley Aston, vol. 5: ITV and IBA 1981–82: The Old Relationship Changes (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998);Google Scholar
  42. Paul Bonner and Lesley Aston, vol. 6: New Developments in Independent Television 1982–92: Channel Four, TV-am, Cable and Satellite (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 60.
    Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff, A Social History of British Broadcasting in Britain, vol. I: 1922–1939: Serving the Nation (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991);Google Scholar
  44. Sean Street, Crossing the Ether: British Public Service Radio and Commercial Competition 1922–1945 (New Barnet: John Libbey, 2006); Nicholas, Echo of War.Google Scholar
  45. 61.
    Humphrey Carpenter, The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1996);Google Scholar
  46. David Hendy, Life on Air: A History of Radio 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  47. 62.
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  49. 63.
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  53. 64.
    Kate Murphy, ‘“On an Equal Footing with Men?”: Women and Work at the BBC 1923–1939’, (unpublished PhD thesis, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2011);Google Scholar
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  56. 65.
    Tom O’Malley, Closedown: The BBC and Government Broadcasting Policy 1979–1992 (London: Pluto Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  57. 67.
    See for instance, David Cardiff and Paddy Scannell, ‘Radio in World War II’, U203 Popular Culture, Block 2 Unit 8 (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1981);Google Scholar
  58. Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff, ‘Serving the Nation: Public Service Broadcasting before the War’, in Bernard Waites, Tony Bennett and Graham Martin (eds.), Popular Culture: Past and Present (London: Croom Helm, for the Open University, 1982), pp. 161–90.Google Scholar
  59. 68.
    Nicholas, Echo of War; Tom Hickman, What Did You Do in the War, Auntie? The BBC at War 1939–45 (London: BBC Books, 1995).Google Scholar
  60. 69.
    See, for instance, Nicholas, ‘The People’s Radio?’; Siân Nicholas, ‘War Report (1944–45) and the Birth of the BBC War Correspondent’, in David Welch and Mark Connelly (eds.), War and the Media: Reportage and Propaganda (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005), pp. 139–61;Google Scholar
  61. Constance R. Dee, Music and Propaganda: Soviet Music and the BBC during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007);Google Scholar
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© Siân Nicholas 2015

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