Perspectives on Pop Culture and the Arts

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Egghead and Public Service Broadcasting

How do,

Big diversion from film, but I think I have to write about this topic. The Egghead above is a chap called John Reith: an engineer born in Scotland in 1889, fought in the First World War, and most known for being the founder and first Director-General of the BBC. Why am I writing about this now? What's the interest?

Well, firstly, purely practical: I'm reading a biography of him. Secondly, tho, is the amount of topical - but insane- stuff I have come across in the book. The guy- it is clear- was a strict Christian, a presbyterian scot of the old school: if you worked at his BBC, divorce was frowned upon, swearing was unheard, and observance of the Sabbath meant shows on Sunday were well-known for being non-controversial and very boring.

Reith literally believed it was God's will that the BBC should be set up, and that it was he that should lead it (he did, for most of its first twenty years). Apparently he had a vision from God that told him such (as you do), whilst he was out walking. Yet in spite of all this, he was a lifelong socialist, nearly committed murder a number of times, coined the phrase 'public service broadcasting', and wrote lengthy tomes about broadcasting and its responsibilities. Out of this mess came the beloved BBC, a relatively modern (1920-ish) public institution that has quickly gained as much, if not more, respect as other British institutions -like Parliament, or the Royal Family.

The questions I'm left asking did the BBC happen? Did Reith have a great team working for him? Is it all due to the prestige and popularity of the World Service Radio Station? Was Reith really led by God? Was it all due to the people who had his job afterwards?

I'm inclined to think its none of these and that the system Reith set up - of a well-funded independent public service broadcaster, completely without advertising - is in fact what has endured and made it so respected. This idea even seems to have outlasted its Christian heritage. If only all broadcasters were like that...

Anyway, that's enough rambling about Reith! To see extract of an extremely strange interview with this strange man, click here


P.S. Some of the Christian heritage remained: up until I was about 10, there used to be a christian sermon shown on BBC1 at the end of each evening. After this, the national anthem would be played - and (as in cinemas) some people would actually stand up in their living rooms to observe this!



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