In this decade, the BBC runs three historic royal broadcasts and is forced to think about reaching listeners overseas.
1932 – The King’s Speech
At just after 3pm on Christmas Day, King George V made a radio broadcast to the nation from Sandringham, starting a tradition that continues to this day. Establishing a close relationship with the royal family that has brought the corporation access as well as distress, in February of the same year the BBC even broadcast live a speech by Albert, Duke of York, who, as a second son, seemed unlikely to have much historical significance.
1933 – Paul Robeson
The 535th edition of Radio Times had its first cover star of colour. 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 Eve concert. Soon afterwards, Robeson wrote an essay, I Want To Be African, encouraging Black people to acknowledge their roots, and became involved with English socialists. If he had made these moves earlier, his 1933 appearance might have been cancelled by Captain Alan Dawnay, a War Office official who joined the BBC that year to vet the corporation for communist infiltration. After being declared a subversive by the FBI, Robeson did not work for the BBC from 1946-58.
1934 – Seven Days’ Hard
Another big genre – the review of topical events – began in January with a weekly Sunday night slot from 9.20pm to 9.35pm, in which a writer took what for decades was called “a sideways look” at the news. The first roster included the poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc, who wrote Cautionary Tales for Children, and the crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, creator of the detective Lord Peter Wimsey.
1935 – England v South Africa
Kicking off the long tradition of Saturday afternoon sports shows, the BBC’s national programme, on 27 July, moved between Old Trafford Manchester hosting a Test Match between England and South Africa, and Wimbledon, where a Davis Cup Challenge tie was taking place between the UK (led by Fred Perry) and the US (led by Don Budge). Commentating on the cricket was Captain HBT Wakelam, on the tennis Colonel RH Brand and Major CL Cooper-Hunt (most broadcasters at the time had military titles from the first world war.)
1936 – Comic Opera
This programme of highlights from English musical stage shows, which started at 9:40pm on 11 December, is one of the earliest and most startling examples of a show being bumped from the schedules. The duty announcer at Broadcasting House (BBC headquarters since 1932) received a phone call from Sir John Reith, who revealed that he was at Windsor Castle with King Edward VIII, who would be abdicating the throne live at 10:01pm. This he did, introduced and engineered by Reith. The brief, unscheduled broadcast led to the Oscar-winning 2010 film The King’s Speech, about the struggles of his successor King George VI (the former Albert, Duke of York) with radio, and 69 Christmas broadcasts (one year was missed due to logistics) in the reign of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who transferred the tradition to TV from 1957.
1937 – The Coronation Procession
An early success for BBC Television (which formally launched in 1936) was the corporation’s first live TV broadcast outside. From 2pm, pictures were transmitted of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) processing from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey and back, the actual coronation considered too sacred for televisual scrutiny. Only a fragment of this pioneering footage survives, captured from a viewer’s set by a cine camera.
1938 – Gracie Fields
If the cliche “national treasure” had been in use at the time, it would have snared “Lancashire Lass” Gracie Fields, a singer and film star who had three Radio Times covers in 1938 alone. This was the year she became a CBE and was admitted to the Royal Order of St John. Having recently recovered from cancer, she went on to become as key a wartime entertainer as Vera Lynn; she died in 1979 as a dame and was played by Jane Horrocks in Gracie!, a 2009 BBC drama.
1939 – News on the Hour
On 4 September, 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 throughout the day. Previously, “announcers” had been anonymous, to give the headlines editorial authority, but Reith now allowed presenters to identify themselves as a way of distinguishing BBC voices from German propagandists. “Here is the news, and this is Alvar Lidell reading it,” became the catchphrase of the BBC’s first star anchor.
1940 – Fritz Kreisler
Ten years after wireless transmissions split between national and regional, programming was again divided between the Home Service and For the Forces, a special schedule for those serving overseas. The first military commission, on 18 February, included some subtle musical propaganda: a concert by Fritz Kreisler, an Austrian-born composer who had left Europe as war neared and was seeking US naturalisation. The opening shows also included football commentary: the French army v the British army.
1941 – Children Calling Home
The evacuation of British children in wartime led the BBC to explore “co-productions” (a now standard usage that first occurred here) with the places to which they had been sent. After a pilot scheme the previous December, including Australia and New Zealand, the BBC linked up with the US and Canada in this regular segment in which parents in the UK chatted, via the wireless, to their offspring in North America.
Credit: Source link