History of the BBC

History of the BBC

The BBC at War

The BBC and government
BBC reporter after an air raid

 

The BBC reinvented itself during the Second World War and public perception of the institution changed dramatically. It more than doubled in size and adopted a new culture and outlook. The television service, still in its infancy at the outbreak of war, closed down, but BBC Radio proved more powerful than ever. Overseas language services expanded and at home BBC Radio was reconfigured to deliver the Home Service and the Forces Programme. Output evolved to reflect listeners' needs more closely and set a benchmark for future programming in news, drama, entertainment and education. The BBC spoke to the nation and was the conduit for dialogue among listeners as never before.

 

BBC Monitoring
BBC Monitoring at
Caversham Park

Alongside its own programming activity the BBC provided a vital information service, monitoring the broadcasts of other nations, identifying foreign propaganda stations, and using its technology in innovative ways to assist the nation in the long struggle for victory.

 

The BBC itself suffered directly from the events of war: Broadcasting House and Maida Vale premises were bombed. Early on it was under pressure to counter the Nazi propaganda broadcasts of 'Lord Haw Haw' from Hamburg which, to the dismay of the Government, UK audiences found highly entertaining.

 

George Orwell
George Orwell

In 1944 George Orwell wrote that the words "I heard it on the BBC " had a new meaning - "I know it must be true".

 

Early in the war, the BBC's "bland offerings" were criticised, and its impartiality questioned. However as the war progressed, people on the home front and in the forces saw the BBC as a lifeline of information. Even Hitler's high command are said to have tuned to the BBC, so misleading did they find their own news broadcasts.

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