Examining the ways in which the BBC constructed and disseminated British national identity during the second quarter of the twentieth century, this book focuses in a comprehensive way on how the BBC, through its radio programmes, tried to represent what it meant to be British. It offers a revision of histories of regional broadcasting in Britain that interpret it as a form of cultural imperialism. The regional organisation of the BBC, and the news and creative programming designed specifically for regional listeners, reinforced the cultural and historical distinctiveness of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The BBC anticipated, and perhaps encouraged, the development of the hybrid ‘dual identities’ characteristic of contemporary Britain.
This chapter presents an introduction on the BBC's treatment of two national, integrative, ‘British’ institutions, the empire and the monarchy. It demonstrates the extent to which the BBC championed the British imperial ideal in its programmes, and constructed the monarchy as a guarantor of a peculiarly British individualism, freedom and pluralism. The BBC's focus on empire and monarchy to represent British national identity was neither innovative nor risky; the BBC did not try to change fundamental ideas of what it meant to be British, but it did help to refashion these traditional symbols of Britishness during a period of significant social and political change. Furthermore, this chapter turns to the work of the BBC in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and examines the tensions between the BBC's efforts to project a uniform Britishness and its commitment to local and regional broadcasting in these areas.
This chapter examines the key role of the BBC in fostering a culture of imperialism from the 1920s to the eve of the Second World War. The broadcast of The Four Feathers revealed several aspects of the BBC's relationship to empire and imperialism during the period from its inception in the early 1920s to the Second World War. The reach and potential influence of the BBC suggests that the empire remained important to British national identity in the 1950s, even after the first wave of decolonization. The extent and range of programmes that had empire as their subject matter were considerable such as Empire Vaudeville and Radio Times. From its inception, the BBC acted as an agent to promote the empire among its audience. When war came in 1939, the empire figured prominently in the BBC's programming. As the war progressed the BBC devoted a remarkable amount of time in its schedules to promoting the empire.
This chapter highlights the fact that the BBC's representation of empire during the Second World War is both challenging and revealing. Consistent with its policies from the 1930s, the BBC broadcasted a considerable number of empire programmes. But during the war, the empire and Commonwealth had to be constructed with even greater deliberation and precision. The BBC continued to employ the empire as a symbol of British unity and common effort. The themes of the benevolence of British rule and imperial unity, well established in the programmes of the 1930s, continued during the war. Three aspects of the BBC's projection of empire during the period 1939–53 are that, first, empire programmes during and after the war emphasized the full equality of the Commonwealth, second, the BBC promoted an image of empire that could accommodate itself to declared war aims and third, progressive themes such as the Commonwealth ideal of brotherhood and the ‘professional empire’ continued after war, but the mid-1940s also saw a revival, in broadcasting, of rousing and racist juvenile imperial fiction.
This chapter argues that the BBC played a pivotal role in helping to remake the monarchy into a symbol of British diversity. The BBC presented the coronations of George VI and Elizabeth II as celebrations of Britain's multi-national make-up. Each of the BBC's regions carried its own special coronation programmes, and the regional networks covered royal visits to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland extensively. Each region related to the monarchy in its own way, and the BBC persistently pointed out the multi-national nature of the monarchy. The monarchy and the BBC found their relationship mutually beneficial. George V and other royal broadcasters gave radio a legitimacy it was lacking in the early years of broadcasting. The BBC, in turn, helped maintain the popularity of the monarchy by providing it with a powerful new means of communication. The BBC projected the monarchy as an apt representation of the diversity of Great Britain and the British Empire and framed monarchy as an ideal that united Britons under the umbrella of Britishness, but also respected other national, regional and local identities.
This chapter offers an introduction and reconsideration of regional broadcasting in Britain. As part of this effort, it examines an important, but overlooked, aspect of broadcasting history and regional broadcasting during the Second World War. For, although the BBC suspended its regional networks during the war, regional programmes continued to be made and broadcasted on the home service and forces programme, which is a completely ignored part of the broadcasting history. Another example of English disregard for the Scots, Welsh and Irish, wartime regional broadcasting saw the BBC, for the first time, project a truly multi-national image of Britain as regional productions had to be carried by the one of the two national networks.
This chapter develops the arguments in the context of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, respectively. Scottish broadcasting was most self-confident and mature. From its inception, large number Scots staffed BBC Scotland. By comparison with the other regions, Scottish broadcasting was well funded and effectively led from the mid-1930s by its dynamic Programme Director, Andrew Stewart. Scottish broadcasting also strove to be effectively Scottish in content; it reflected politics, society and Scottish life, and in short, the culture of Scotland. One of the challenges of discussing the history of BBC Scotland and its role in constructing and reinforcing Scottishness is the paucity of historical work on radio broadcasting in Scotland. Moreover, periodic conflict with London highlights the history of Scottish broadcasting. Although in many ways the most accomplished of the BBC regions, Scottish broadcasters were also quick to take offense at perceived slights. A common complaint was the use of ‘English’ when ‘British’ would have been a more accurate adjective.
This chapter considers BBC broadcasting in Wales. Wales was not a region but a nation, though it lacked an identity. The study of broadcasting and national identity in Wales poses several problems unique to the principality. For one, the region of Wales in the BBC was not established until 1937. Further, Wales was divided by language and culture in ways quite different from Scotland. The traditional, rustic way of life of north Wales was quite distinct from the highly industrialized, urban, and anglophone culture of south Wales. On the one hand, the Welsh region had to battle with the BBC's Head Office in London over programmes, scheduling, hours of operation, and the use of the Welsh language and on the other hand, BBC radio in Wales was never Welsh enough to satisfy the Welsh nationalists, who demanded more Welsh-language programmes and eventually an independent broadcasting system for Wales. Defining a unitary ‘Wales’ and Welsh identity, while also struggling for autonomy from BBC Head Office, proved to be a challenge for Welsh broadcasters.
This chapter focuses on the BBC in Northern Ireland. Broadcasting in Northern Ireland was quite distinct from broadcasting in Scotland or Wales. The sectarian divide between Catholic and Protestant inevitably dominated BBC policy in Northern Ireland. Yet, despite the neutrality with which Northern Irish broadcasters sought to conduct themselves, the BBC in Northern Ireland strove to forge an ‘Ulster’ identity for the region. ‘Ulster’ represented an organic, primeval community, based on geography and history. Although the whole purpose of ‘Ulster’ identity was to represent the differences between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in a way that minimized the role of religion, it was, de facto, a Protestant identity. In addition to this state-building function, the BBC in Northern Ireland represented a vital link to the rest of the Britain. Small and peripheral, Northern Ireland needed the BBC to reaffirm its Britishness as well as its regional identity. Indeed, the BBC itself became one of those institutions through which the Northern Irish Protestants could recognize their British national identity.
The BBC played a special role in society and was distinct because of its status as a public service corporation; its nature and purpose were intimately bound to the idea of the nation and rooted in its history of projecting and preserving national culture. From its founding in 1922 until its monopoly was broken in 1954, the BBC was the central site in Britain where national identity was produced, projected and contested. The BBC's national networks, the pre-war National Programme and the post-war Light Programme, reached nearly every corner of the British Isles. Empire programmes reminded Britons of their shared heritage and destiny. The BBC continues to serve the national interests at all points, throughout the wide range of every diverse activity and the enjoyment which broadcasting can reflect and rouse. It remains responsible for overseas services, which broadcast to the world on behalf of Britain.