A History of the BBC in 100 Blog Posts: 1938.

One of the websites which is being an immense help as I move forward with this project is Chronomedia which says on its opening page that it, "is designed to become the most comprehensive and accurate timeline of developments in communications media ever compiled."  It's quite old in web terms, most of the pages having last been updated when Russell T Davies was last showrunning Doctor Who.  But it still feels immensely comprehensive, especially in charting when sporting events were first broadcast or the changeover from the Baird to Marconi television system which happened in around 1938.

New research is available all the time though.  It confidently states that in February 1938, the "BBC introduces one hour of television on Sundays."  Except we can how see from the BBC Programme Index that the first TV programme broadcast on Sundays was actually in April 1938, Rowing Blues, a review of the Boat Race, which went out for half an hour in the afternoon.  Notably the Radio Times did mention this launch in a February issue (scan here) so perhaps someone in the past has their wires crossed, or the BBC were doing test transmissions which went unlisted in the Radio Times.

Either way, by now the BBC is in its pre-war pomp ambitiously broadcasting cricket commentaries from abroad (England vs South Africa from Johannesburg) and the first televised phone-in show, as Gerald Cock, director of programmes took viewers questions on the air (above photo courtesy of Transdiffusion), both after Chamberlain's fateful "I have in my hand a piece of paper" speech.  Find below a taste of the breadth of programmes across television and radio which were in production a year before the cataclysm.  It's a confidence in purpose which arguably wouldn't been seen from the corporation for at least a decade.


"In 1938 Sigmund Freud recorded a speech for the BBC. It remains one of the few recordings ever made of his voice."
[Freud Museum]

"Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss role of Freudian analysis in understanding the great works of literature."
[BBC Sounds]


"This was long before there was a TV in every home."
[Dusty Old Thing]

"However, while no direct recordings were possible, surprisingly one instance of a pre-World War 2 broadcast compilation remains publicly accessible thanks to an indirect recording."
[Lost Media Wiki]

Behind The Scenes

"Mr Ogilvie, new Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation, arrives at Broadcasting House for his new appointment."

"M/S as 'Lemo' the 18 month old lioness gets out of a car with her keeper, she walks towards Broadcasting House while crowds stand and watch."

"Produced by the GPO Film Unit, this film shows preparations made by GPO to help the BBC with the nationwide outside broadcast of a major sporting event, the TT motorcycle race on the Isle of Man."
[BT Archive]

"Sir Henry Wood and BBC Symphony Orchestra play 'Serenade to Music'."
Visual record of The Henry Wood Jubilee Concert from 5th October 1938.

"Inside BBC Broadcasting House, we see several male and female contestants of the British Spelling Bee team sitting in a line wearing headphones.  Commentator points out Spelling Master Tom Woodruffe, sitting at a table and talking into a microphone."

"In St. George's Hall, London, the BBC hold a programme composed of couple who have been married over 50 years. Charles Brewer interviews the old folk and also taking part in the programme are a pair married the same day."

"BBC vs The Listeners darts championship at Eastbourne."

"Incidental music for The Ascent of F6, a stage play by W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood.  Signed by Britten on ff 1, 1v, 3, and 47. The volume is not dated."
[British Library][BBC Programme Index]

Eighty years ago the BBC conducted Britain's first ever survey of time use. Its aim was to discover whether anyone would have time to take up a brand new leisure activity - watching TV. In fact last year's time use survey in the US tells us that if people gain any unexpected spare time they spend it watching TV.
[BBC Sounds][BBC Programme Index]

"One typescript and one manuscript copy of a talk or article about Charles Darwin. The typescript copy is annotated in pencil at the top: "BBC Lecture on Darwin" [not in Haldane's handwriting]."
[University College London]

"Rare behind the scenes cine film taken at Alexandra Palace."
[BBC Clips]

"And no, it wasn't Doctor Who."
[Smithsonian Magazine]

"Sir John Reith left the BBC on 30 June 1938 to become whole-time Chairman of Imperial Airways."
[World Radio History]