Main content

BBC History Research Blog


  • Guglielmo Marconi: Inventor, Scientist, Entrepreneur and Visionary

    Giovanni Emanuele Corazza

    President of the Fondazione Guglielmo Marconi

    While celebrating the 100th anniversary of the BBC, our mind should also go to the unique story of one of its fathers: Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless communications, born in Bologna (Italy) in 1874 and raised in the outskirts of the city of towers.

    Marconi at the microphone, 1929

    Since he was a teenager Marconi started to dream that he would become an inventor, and he chose electromagnetism as his playground: a thriving field in the last decades of the 19th century! Today’s equivalent would be an 11 year old child playing with Artificial Intelligence applications, with a keen desire and vision for future glory.

    Working alone in the attic of Villa Griffone in Pontecchio, the “Stanza dei bachi”, with the only help of tutors and of the scientific journal L’Elettricità, he started to develop and refine transmitter and receiver equipment with a clear objective in mind: overcoming physical obstacles with wireless telegraphy, something that no one else had so clearly envisioned before.

    While he certainly took…

    Read more

  • Barking Back: Pet listeners and the early BBC

    Max Long

    PhD Candidate at the University of Cambridge

    April is National Pet Month, and at this time of the year animal welfare charities raise awareness among the public on the theme of responsible pet ownership. Animals, and pets especially, have featured in BBC programming since the corporation’s earliest years. For example, on the evening of March 6th, 1924, a dog named George was heard broadcasting live from the BBC’s Savoy Hill studios. This was part of an “experiment” organised by the Daily Mail journalist Leslie G. Mainland, who asked listeners to record their pets’ reactions to George’s ‘Great Howl’ as part of a Children’s Hour broadcast.

    George’s owner was Stanton Jeffries, the BBC’s first Director of Music, who also appeared on Children’s Hour as ‘Uncle Jeff’. Jeffries had rescued George from the Battersea Dogs’ Home, and described his voice as “mezzo-alto-robusto”. Mainland said that he received hundreds of letters from listeners telling him about their pets’ reactions, from dogs barking at wireless sets to frightened cats hissing and even running up chimneys. However, newspaper reports of the event were hardly as enthusiastic, with the Leeds Mercury declaring it a ‘Howling Failure’.

    Read more

  • Tracing Hilda Matheson through the BBC Archives

    Dr Kate Murphy

    Visiting Fellow, Bournemouth University

    When Hilda Matheson became the BBC’s first Director of Talks in January 1927, she was swept into what was arguably the most senior production role in the organisation, an importance that is increasingly being recognised in the public eye and in academic research. Matheson is an intriguing person to study because much of what we know about her BBC role is from sources outside of the BBC: the memoirs of her contemporaries like Lionel Fielden or Richard Lambert; the descriptions of Savoy Hill life that she included in the letters to her lover Vita Sackville West; the observations that she made in her 1933 book Broadcasting. But the BBC’s Written Archives are also a rich source – if you know where to look.

    Matheson has no staff folder, so her BBC work needs to be pieced together from a range of documents found in, for example, administrative, management, departmental, programme and contributor files. She is also mentioned in Reith’s diaries and the early staff journal Heterodyne; as Talks…

    Read more

  • Carl-Heinz Jaffé: The Man Who Taught the Germans English

    Michael Jaffé

    Carl-Heinz Jaffé Archive

    My grandfather Carl Jaffé was a famous actor in his native Germany in the 1930s, before his Jewish roots forced him to flee to England. Once there, he picked up his dramatic career again, building up new experiences in UK radio, television, theatre and film. This included almost 40 years working at the BBC, where he had a very special role in the newly developed, post-war German service – teaching the Germans the ‘eccentricities’ of the English language.

    Carl-Heinz Jaffé at the microphone, 12 March 1954

    Read more

  • Black Trailblazers at the BBC in the 1920s

    Stephen Bourne

    Writer and Hon Fellow of South Bank University

    Please note this blog includes historical records which contain material that some may find offensive.


    I have always been interested in the presence of Black personnel in BBC Radio but it has always been a struggle to find the information. Access to back issues of the Radio Times via BBC Genome has helped me greatly to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge and I am compiling an impressive list of appearances and contributions, but it is painstaking work…

    The 1920s fascinate me because most people…

    Read more

  • The BBC and the Child Radio Listener in the 1920s

    Zara Healy

    Senior Lecturer, Lincoln School of Film and Media

    The BBC has provided radio programmes for children across Britain since 1922. Children were such a valued audience that they were given their own daily radio show called Children’s Hour. It ran on local, regional and national radio networks until the slot was decommissioned in 1964, due to dwindling audience figures. Children’s Hour offered children their own version of the BBC ‘in miniature’, by providing a variety of music and speech radio. This ranged from live music, talks, drama, stories, news, features, outside broadcasts, and later on, records. In 1926, the programme slot was fixed…

    Read more

  • Who, What, Where, When - but no Why: a mysterious double anniversary

    Sandy Balfour

    Postgraduate Researcher, University of East Anglia

    This blog is in partial recognition of two fiftieth anniversaries, and of a moment when BBC Television was able to achieve a long-held ambition – to, as Norman Swallow, then head of BBC Arts Features, put it in 1973, “make serious contributions to the available study of the subject matter.” The subject matter in this case is the life and work of T.S. Eliot and the two anniversaries merit celebration. The first is the fiftieth anniversary of the BBC Television’s pioneering 1971 television biography of T.S. Eliot: Omnibus: The Mysterious Mr Eliot – but it was made to mark the fiftieth…

    Read more

  • Broadcasting to Hungary 1940-1948

    Gordon Johnston

    Honorary Fellow, University of Edinburgh

    From the first broadcasts of the Empire Service in 1932, the BBC’s overseas broadcasting services have been informed by foreign policy considerations. Reminders that the BBC is editorially independent and that the role of Government departments is advisory has sustained ninety years of negotiation, disputation and name calling. What often remains opaque is the relationship between broadcasters and the policy environment in which they are working. I’d like to explore this through the broadcasting career of C.A. Macartney who delivered 186 talks for the BBC’s Hungarian Service between July 1940…

    Read more

  • Exploring Production Documents : An Archives Hub Update

    Matthew Chipping

    Archive Collections Manager, BBC

    In November 2020 I posted about the launch of the BBC Written Archives Centre pages on the Archives Hub website, allowing our research community to explore the archive online for the first time.

    As part of the launch, we released the top levels of the catalogue structure, giving broad descriptions of what is held at the Centre and how the collections are organised.

    Since then we have continued to add more detailed descriptions within the hierarchy of the catalogue.

    We now have descriptions in place for the key production documents that form the core of the holdings and provide numerous…

    Read more

  • 'The Third Ronnie': Ronnie Hazlehurst at the BBC

    Abi Hastings - Aston University

    English Literature and International Relations Student

    Composer of iconic BBC theme tunes such as Last of The Summer Wine, The Two Ronnies and Yes Minister, Ronnie Hazlehurst joined the Corporation sixty years ago this summer, in July 1961. A Northerner with a life-long love of music, his compositions helped define and shape some of the most beloved and popular shows of subsequent decades.

    Ronnie Hazlehurst's BBC staff photo, 1961

    Ronnie’s early beginnings

    Raised in Cheshire, the son of a…

    Read more