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The BBC and national identity in Britain, 1922-53

The BBC and national identity in Britain, 1922-53

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The BBC and national identity in Britain, 1922-53
    Book Description:

    Examining the ways in which the BBC constructed and disseminated British national identity during the second quarter of the twentieth century, this book is the first study that focuses in a comprehensive way on how the BBC, through its radio programs, tried to represent what it meant to be British. The BBC and national identity in Britain offers a revision of histories of regional broadcasting in Britain that interpret it as a form of cultural imperialism. The regional organization 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 book will be of interest to scholars and students of nationalism and national identity, British imperialism, mass media and media history, and the “four nations” approach to British history.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-301-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. General editor’s foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Jeffrey Richards

    In this extensively researched, judicious and revealing book, Thomas Hajkowski makes a compelling argument for recognition of the major role played by the BBC in constructing an inclusive and pluralistic British national identity in the first half of the twentieth century. He demonstrates convincingly that the BBC set out to promote both the empire and the monarchy as unifying institutions for the nation as a whole. Support for the empire was inculcated by twin methods: education (talks, documentaries) and entertainment (dramatizations of key imperial texts such asThe Four FeathersandSanders of the River). Close links were established with...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    On New Year’s Eve, 1945, William Haley, the Director-General of the BBC, composed a memo to Lindsay Wellington, Head of the BBC’s Home Service and one of his top lieutenants. Haley had just completed his first full year as Director-General. He had led the BBC through the final stages of the Second World War and the difficult transition to peacetime broadcasting. Like many of us, he used the occasion of New Year’s Eve to reflect on the past year and look forward to the future. Contemplating the position of broadcasting in Britain, Haley judged it “essential” that the BBC’s flagship...

  6. 1 “Jolly proud you are a Britisher:” empire and identity, 1923–39
    (pp. 19-50)

    On the evening of December 13, 1939, Val Gielgud, Head of the BBC’s Features and Drama Department, listened to the final installment of the Drama Department’s serialized adaptation of A. E. W. Mason’s imperial adventure storyThe Four Feathers.The following day he wrote to the producer of the series, Peter Creswell, to congratulate him on its success. He noted to Creswell that the Director-General, F. W. Ogilvie, and the Home Service Board praised the program,¹ concluding that “the romantic formula [was] considered acceptable even in wartime.”² Creswell had earned the praise of Ogilvie and the rest of the Home...

  7. 2 From the war to Westminster Abbey: the BBC and the empire, 1939–53
    (pp. 51-82)

    For the historian, examining the BBC’s representation of empire during the Second World War is both challenging and particularly revealing. Consistent with its policies from the 1930s, the BBC broadcast a considerable number of empire programs. As Chapter 1 made clear, these pre-war programs carried a significant amount of ideological content. But during the war, the empire and Commonwealth had to be constructed with even greater deliberation and precision. Although the BBC had resolved, as early as 1930, to make more room in its schedules for programs about the empire, it was only during the Second World War that the...

  8. 3 The BBC and the making of a multi-national monarchy
    (pp. 83-108)

    In addition to the imperial project, the BBC vigorously promoted the monarchy as a symbol of British national identity. Beginning with the first monarchical broadcast in 1924, the BBC slowly but surely convinced the reigning monarch, King George V, to exploit the possibilities of the new medium of radio. Future monarchs would have little choice but to follow George’s lead. 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...

  9. 4 Rethinking regional broad casting in Britain, 1922–53
    (pp. 109-134)

    The first four chapters of this book examined the BBC as a nationalizing institution and its role in the construction of a British national identity inclusive of English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish identities. They highlighted the fluidity of British national identity, the tensions inherent in the BBC’s construction of Britishness, and the contests over this version of Britishness inside the Corporation. The focus of this book now shifts to broadcasting within the nations that, along with England, make up Great Britain—Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The development of broadcasting, and the debates about how broadcasting could best represent...

  10. 5 Broadcasting a nation: the BBC and national identity in Scotland
    (pp. 135-167)

    This chapter argues that the BBC and its station in Scotland played an important role in sustaining and reinforcing a complex sense of Scottish national identity during the period from 1923 to 1953. The BBC did not act as an agent in the anglicization of Scotland, nor did it seek to impose a wholly metropolitan, southern English culture or identity on Scotland. Rather, the BBC, perhaps the most powerful institution for the dissemination of information and entertainment in Scotland, constructed a powerful sense of “Scottishness” through its organizational structure, policy, and programs.

    Technical and financial considerations may have, in part,...

  11. 6 BBC broadcasting in Wales, 1922–53
    (pp. 168-202)

    In 1949, Alun Oldfield-Davies, Controller of the BBC’s station in Wales, declared: “the basic job of the BBC in Wales is to nourish and encourage national unity and to add wealth, depth, and value to all aspects of national life.”¹ At first, this seems to be a rather straightforward testament to the role of the BBC in Wales. For Oldfield-Davies, Wales was not a region but a nation, albeit one that lacked a cohesive culture or identity. The BBC, he suggested, could and ought to participate in the process of forming a national identity in Wales. Yet, Oldfield-Davies’s comments also...

  12. 7 This Is Northern Ireland: regional broadcasting and identity in “Ulster”
    (pp. 203-232)

    This chapter makes three interconnected claims. First, that BBC Northern Ireland (hereafter BBC NI) played a vital role in maintaining a strongBritishnational consciousness in Northern Ireland. Second, that BBC NI self-consciously sought to also construct a unifying “Ulster” identity for the new province. As with Scotland and Wales, the BBC’s projection of “Ulsterness” did not represent the abandonment of unionism or British identity but was rather an attempt to assert the distinctiveness of Ulster culture within Great Britain as well as distinguish it from the rest of Ireland. Finally, this chapter argues that BBC NI was not able...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-238)

    In October 1955, Harman Grisewood, the BBC’s Director of the Spoken Word, presented a paper, “The Status of the BBC as the National Instrument of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom,” to the BBC’s Board of Management. The paper provides a window into the mind-set of the upper echelons of the BBC in the mid-1950s. Two facets of Grisewood’s paper stand out: his insistence on the special role of the BBC in society but also his concern about the challenge of commercial television. Grisewood insisted on the distinctiveness of the BBC, particularly because of its status as a public service corporation....

  14. Select bibliography
    (pp. 239-246)
  15. Index
    (pp. 247-252)