BBC Radio 4

    Feedback: The World Service at 80

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    Feedback's presenter Roger Bolton

    Last Wednesday something unprecedented happened in the Bush House car park on the Aldwych in London's West End.

    It took place in what looked like a hospitality tent brought over from a racecourse or a country fair. Inside there were long racks of scaffolding to which several lights were attached, throwing a mixture of red and white light onto the red carpets below.

    Large blown up photographs of the great and the good, from Michael Palin and David Attenborough to Kofi Annan and King Abdullah of Jordan, and accompanied by laudatory quotes, looked down on a rather bizarre scene.

    Four trestle tables had been pushed together and were surrounded by a large number of stools, on which sat, rather uncomfortably, the editors.

    Their 9am meeting on the day's BBC World Service news agenda was being broadcast for the first time. Unsurprisingly, the participants were being unusually polite to each other.

    Standing above them were cameramen zooming in to whoever was speaking, sound recordists with their microphones on long poles swinging backwards and forwards, and an assortment of invited guests and journalists like Feedback's presenter.

    The reason for this remarkable broadcast was to celebrate, and of course promote, the BBC's World Service on its 80th birthday, which takes place shortly before Bush House is deserted in favour of the new BBC News Centre at Broadcasting House, a couple of miles away.

    When the World Service began expectations seem to have been rather low. It was then called the BBC Empire Service and the then BBC Director General , John Reith, announced that "The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good".

    After the meeting on the news agenda finished I talked to one of the participants, Steve Titherington, the Senior Commissioning Editor, Global News.

    By the way, the World Service has just announced that 7 million Iranians now tune in to its broadcasts, a rise of over 85% over 3 years.

    Perhaps that explains the recent harassing of the families of those who work for the Persian Service.

    By the way, thanks for listening and do feel free to write to us about anything you have heard on any BBC radio station.

    Roger Bolton presents Feedback

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