New exhibition uncovers the history of the Radio Times
Digital Content Producer, About the BBC
The Radio Times is 90 years old this year. To mark this key anniversary, the Museum of London has curated an exhibition charting the story of the publication from inception to the present day. Jen Macro went to take a look.
The Museum of London is quite inconspicuous - a circular brick building situated on a roundabout - and is not what one would call glamourous. But on the inside it houses a treasure trove of London history and has a very friendly atmosphere, and I am greeted with a: "welcome to the museum" from a chirpy member of staff.
Initially my eye is caught by the shop, and I head towards it in the hope there might be some Radio Times souvenirs, but sadly, no (although I am tempted by a mug with a tube map on it - everyone needs one of those, right?). Nearby in the foyer, people congregate into groups ready for a guided tour, but I am going it alone. A very helpful museum guide directs me to my destination and I head down two flights of stairs and turn right, as directed.
It is the first day of Cover Story – 90 years of the Radio Times which runs until November 3rd. I have to say it’s not swarming with people, but one other rather excited visitor takes great pleasure in pointing out to me the framed cover of the very first edition from 28 September 1923, and after that, the print of the first Christmas edition of the same year.
There are some collector’s gems here. For example, a German bomber crew’s map of London targeting Waterlows, the site where the central London-based magazine relocated to - the magazine continued to be published throughout the Second World War. The section of the exhibition on this era highlights how important BBC radio was during the war, both as information and entertainment.
Other rarities include original artwork, posters and artefacts, including this well looked after valve radio.
The potted history of the BBC, from the development of television, classic comedy to the reluctant inclusion of rock music and, in the 50s, competition from ITV’s TV Times is revealed through prints and a large projection screen of covers. There are a few videos too, I couldn’t resist watching Den and Angie Watts in the 1986 Christmas episode of EastEnders, which, I learn, remains the channel’s most watched programme with 31 million viewers.
Although the first episode was initially rejected for the cover in 1963, Doctor Who has clocked up more front page features than any other person or programme. This is not overlooked by the exhibition, there is a whole wall dedicated to the Timelord and a larger-than-life replica of the Vote Dalek edition of Radio Times from April 2005, including a dalek (borrowed from the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff) who seems happy enough to pose with a new bunch of visitors who have joined the party; so dedicated, they even brought old copies of the magazine with them, which they hold aloft in the photos.
This exhibition is small, but perfectly formed, a taster of covers that illustrate the story of the BBC. As I come to the end of the display, I try to work out how many issues of the Radio Times have been published… 90 years… 52 weeks per year… that's over 4,500 editions. I definitely don’t envy those poor souls who've recently worked on archiving all those publications for the BBC Genome project.
Jen Macro is Digital Content Producer for About the BBC Website and Blog.
- The Cover Story - Radio Times at 90 exhibition runs until 3 November at the Museum of London.
- Read Jeremy Mortimer's blog BBC Radio Drama at 90.