Broad­cast­ers at the helm of the BBC

His­to­rian DON­ALD STAN­LEY looks at the con­nec­tions be­tween Bea­cons­field and two men who went on to be­come in­stru­men­tal to the his­tory of the BBC

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NOSTALGIA -

BEA­CONS­FIELD has been the home of two pi­o­neers of tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing.

Har­rias House in the Old Town was the coun­try man­sion of Lord John Reith un­der whom the BBC was the first broad­caster to of­fer a reg­u­lar tele­vi­sion ser­vice.

One of a row of houses, now shops and of­fices at the far end of the New Town, was the birth­place of Norman Collins, a leader of the move­ment that ended the BBC’s broad­cast­ing mo­nop­oly.

The con­trast be­tween their two homes was re­flected in their very dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties.

John Reith was a son of the Scot­tish manse who be­gan his ca­reer as an engi­neer­ing ap­pren­tice. Wounded early in the First World War he was sent to the USA where he su­per­vised ar­ma­ment con­tracts. In 1922 he was ap­pointed Gen­eral Man­ager of the Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Com­pany, fore­run­ner of the BBC, which had been formed by a group of elec­tri­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers to meet the de­mand for or­gan­ised broad­cast­ing for their sound re­ceivers.

Reith left the BBC, which he ‘ruled with a hand of gran­ite’, and in 1940 was ap­pointed Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion. This was shortly be­fore Norman joined the corporation ini­tially as a pro­ba­tion­ary talks as­sis­tant ris­ing to be­come post-war head of tele­vi­sion which he left in 1950 to cam­paign to end its tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing mo­nop­oly. He was frus­trated by the BBC’s fail­ure to ac­cept the need for tele­vi­sion to de­velop in­de­pen­dently of ra­dio.

In con­trast, Reith saw the Corporation’s mo­nop­oly as the only way it could up­hold its stan­dards say­ing in the Lords: “Some­body in­tro­duced small­pox, bubonic plague and the Black Death.

“Some­body is now minded to in­tro­duce spon­sored broad­cast­ing.”

In con­junc­tion with Lord (Lew) Grade, Norman ap­plied suc­cess­fully for the week­day Mid­lands tele­vi­sion fran­chise and for Lon­don at week­ends.

The re­sults of the 1922 Gen­eral Elec­tion had been the first to be broad­cast on ra­dio. Nearly 40 years later Norman coached Prime Min­is­ters Macmil­lan, Dou­glas-Home and Heath for their tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances.

Norman had many in­ter­ests in the world of en­ter­tain­ment and else­where and was much in de­mand as a mem­ber or chair­man of or­gan­i­sa­tions as di­verse as the Royal Tele­vi­sion So­ci­ety, Na­tional Play­ing Fields As­so­ci­a­tion and even an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Loch Ness Mon­ster. Be­fore go­ing to bed at night he would draft ex­actly five pages of which­ever of his best sell­ers he was writ­ing at the time, which in­cluded ‘Lon­don be­longs to Me’.

Pi­o­neers: Lord Reith in 1967. Above left, Broad­cast­ing House, home of the BBC from 1932

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