BBC donates historical collection to National Media Museum to mark 90th anniversary

I hope this donation will enable more people to connect with the history of the BBC, which of course is all our history."Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History
Date: 12.11.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.53
Category: Radio; Corporate
The BBC has today announced that it is gifting its collection of almost 1,000 historical objects to the National Media Museum as part of its celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of the BBC.

This unique collection tells the story of British broadcasting, and specifically the BBC, from its earliest pioneering days in the 1920s right up to the present moment. The collection features important radio and television studio equipment used by the BBC over its 90-year history, plus production props, radio and television receivers, branding and merchandising objects.

A display of selected objects from the collection will open to the public at the National Media Museum, Bradford, on Wednesday 14 November - 90 years to the day since the BBC made its first radio broadcast.

The display will give people the opportunity to see some of the original artefacts that were used in the earliest years of the BBC, including seminal microphones such as one of the original Big Ben microphones used to capture the sounds of the bell in 1924; a nostalgic ‘lip microphone’ dating from 1937, specially designed by the BBC to block background noise from sports commentary in the 1930s; and a famous ‘biscuit tin’ radio, dropped by parachute over occupied Europe during the Second World War and used by the resistance to tune in to the secret ‘personal messages’ sent out over the BBC.

Other highlights from the collection, now incorporated into the Museum’s National Television Collection, will feature in future displays. These include iconic objects such as an extremely rare Blattnerphone, the broadcast recording device which used steel tape to capture the voice of Neville Chamberlain as he announced the outbreak of the Second World War to the nation in 1939; the AXBT microphone, created by the BBC and now considered a design classic; and two original Emitron 405-line television cameras manufactured by EMI in 1936 and used at the BBC’s television studios in London for the world’s first regular high-definition television service.

Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History, says: “I know how absolutely fascinated audiences are to see the real objects that make broadcasting happen – whether it’s that special microphone or the particular prop from a seminal TV show.

“I’m delighted that this BBC collection is being shared with the National Media Museum. I hope this donation will enable more people to connect with the history of the BBC, which of course is all our history.”

Jo Quinton-Tulloch, Head of the National Media Museum, says: “This generous and hugely significant gift will greatly enhance the National Television Collection held by the Museum, making it probably the best of its kind anywhere in the world. It also represents another major landmark in our flourishing partnership with the BBC.”

Iain Logie Baird, Curator of Broadcast Culture at the National Media Museum, says: “This diverse collection of objects used by the BBC covers the evolution of public service broadcasting in this country, and celebrates the rich variety of programmes the BBC has produced over the decades. This collection will be a great asset to the Museum.”

The BBC has gifted this collection to the National Media Museum in order to make it accessible to broadcast enthusiasts and the public in general through both temporary and permanent displays in the National Media Museum.

In another event marking the 90th anniversary, more than 55 BBC radio stations will come together for Radio Reunited – the first attempt at a simultaneous broadcast since what was then the British Broadcasting Company formed in 1922. The broadcast will be live on the 14 November from the National Media Museum’s sister museum - the Science Museum, now home to the original 2LO transmitter that made the first BBC broadcast on 14 November 1922. Part of the 2LO will feature in a new exhibition opening on the same day at the Science Museum that takes visitors back to the time of that first broadcast.

The National Media Museum is a longstanding partner of the BBC. The museum has collaborated recently on a number of exhibitions and events, including the celebration of 25 years of popular TV soap EastEnders, the 75th anniversary of BBC high-definition (405-line) television last year, and the hugely successful exhibition marking 50 years of Blue Peter. This year, the museum’s Cubby Broccoli cinema was fitted to show the BBC’s special Olympic coverage using Super Hi-Vision Ultra high-definition television, developed by Japanese broadcaster NHK, one of only three sites to do so in the UK.

Notes to Editors

The BBC’s donation to the National Media Museum is part of a range of events and programming to mark the BBC’s 90th birthday. Other highlights include: Radio Reunited, an unprecedented global simulcast, live from the Science Museum, across the BBC’s radio networks – including every UK station (local, network and national) and many World Service outlets – curated by Damon Albarn; 90x90, a series of 90-second miniatures that celebrate, calibrate and curate the diversity of radio in its widest form, each episode representing one year of the 90; the Listeners’ Archive project, which aims to recover the lost gems of the BBC’s archive of radio programmes from 1936 to 2000; and a range of programming from Radio 2’s History of Music Radio to Radio 4’s Who’s Reithian Now?

Audiences can learn more about the BBC’s history at, which tells the story of the broadcaster in depth, including a weekly anniversary story, a BBC milestones timeline, feature articles and interviews and revelatory tours of BBC buildings.

The National Media Museum’s sister museum, the Science Museum, is marking the anniversary with a special free exhibition featuring part of the original 2LO transmitter that made the first public broadcast on 14 November 1922. The exhibition takes visitors back to the time of that first broadcast and will also feature two radios used to receive the BBC’s early broadcasts, a ‘meat-safe’ microphone used in the early BBC studios and an early copy of the Radio Times from 1923.

National Media Museum

The National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, opened as the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford in 1983 with the remit to explore the art and science behind images and image-making, and has since become one of the most visited UK museums outside London.

With the aim to be the best museum in the world for inspiring people to learn about, engage with and create media, it draws from more than 3.5 million objects in its National Photography, Television, Cinematography and New Media collections to create special exhibitions, interactive galleries and activities for families and adults.

It also organises three major film festivals each year – Bradford International Film Festival, Bradford Animation Festival and Fantastic Films Weekend, and is home to Europe’s first IMAX cinema screen.

Entry to the museum is free.