1938: the FA Cup Fi­nal is tele­vised

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jad Adams is a writer and Fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety


The BBC made his­tory in April 1938 when it tele­vised the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion Cup Fi­nal for the first time. Turn­ing foot­ball into a do­mes­tic spec­ta­cle was rev­o­lu­tion­ary; peo­ple want­ing to see a match pre­vi­ously had to queue for stands which were usu­ally open to the el­e­ments, but now the na­tional game was de­liv­ered to our fore­bears’ homes.

As a pre­sen­ta­tion an­nouncer said in scarcely cred­u­lous tones: “We take you to an event, and no­body in the world knows who will win or what will hap­pen. You see it for your­self, and thus share in the ex­cite­ment of those who are ac­tu­ally present.”

But rev­o­lu­tions don’t come eas­ily, and there were a se­ries of sig­nif­i­cant mile­stones on the way to ac­com­plish­ing this enor­mously de­mand­ing tech­ni­cal feat. A Wim­ble­don ten­nis match had been tele­vised in 1937, which al­lowed BBC staff to test out their equip­ment on film­ing two play­ers oc­cu­py­ing a rel­a­tively small space. How­ever, foot­ball pre­sented a much big­ger chal­lenge, with 22 play­ers plus a ref­eree and a large play­ing area to cover. To pre­pare, the BBC re­hearsed with a ‘friendly’ be­tween Ar­se­nal and Ar­se­nal Re­serves at the team’s sta­dium in High­bury, North Lon­don, con­ve­niently close to the BBC’s head­quar­ters at Alexan­dra Palace. This was the first foot­ball match to be on tele­vi­sion, air­ing on 16 Septem­ber 1937.

The Out­side Broad­cast equip­ment com­prised a con­trol van con­nected to three cam­eras; a van with the trans­mit­ter to send the im­ages back to Alexan­dra Palace to be

broad­cast; and an­other with the gen­er­a­tor. This was a size­able amount of equip­ment that had been only re­cently tested, with am­ple po­ten­tial for a break­down.

Early in April the tech­ni­cians set up at Wem­b­ley and tele­vised the Eng­land vs Scot­land in­ter­na­tional. Most of the fans seemed to come from Scot­land, the re­porter from The Times noted, “judg­ing by the gai­ety of their bon­nets and their ac­cents”. They were pleased to see Scot­land win 1–0.

With all of the BBC’s prepa­ra­tions com­plete, the FA Cup Fi­nal took place on 30 April 1938. More than 93,000 peo­ple at­tended with Ge­orge VI and Queen El­iz­a­beth (later the Queen Mother) as star guests along with a royal friend from In­dia, the Ma­haraja Gaek­war of Bar­oda. But soon af­ter kick-off the BBC’s sys­tem broke down and screens at home went blank. The fran­tic Out­side Broad­cast team fixed the glitch and the rest of the trans­mis­sion went smoothly. The match, be­tween Pre­ston North End and Hud­der­s­field Town, was re­ported to be dull, with both sides play­ing de­fen­sively. Ex­cite­ment came only at the end, in the last 30 sec­onds of ex­tra time when Pre­ston scored the sin­gle goal of the match from a penalty and won the cup.

The au­di­ence at home would not have been large. At the be­gin­ning of 1938 there were only 2,000 tele­vi­sion sets in use. At the 1938 Ra­di­olympia ex­hi­bi­tion of ra­dio and tele­vi­sion equip­ment the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tele­vi­sion sets was on dis­play. The older, more ex­pen­sive mod­els like the Philips TEL61 at 120 guineas were still be­ing pro­duced, but new sets were be­ing man­u­fac­tured in an ef­fort to in­crease sales by bring­ing down the price.

For the thin­ner wal­let came the Pye 815 for 30 guineas. With a screen mea­sur­ing 7 ½ x 6 inches, the sales lit­er­a­ture boasted, “13 lat­est type valves are in­cluded in the com­bined cir­cuitry, en­sur­ing ex­cel­lent pic­ture bright­ness and gen­er­ous sound vol­ume”.

The tele­vi­sion sched­ule that the newly named ‘view­ers’ might watch af­ter the ref­eree’s fi­nal whis­tle was a 10-minute talk on spring flow­ers; Go­ing Places, a trav­el­ogue pre­sented by well-known ac­tor Regi­nald Beck­with; Dis­ney’s Mon­key Melodies, a jun­gle-based mu­si­cal an­i­ma­tion; and Gau­mont Bri­tish News.

Other pro­grammes in­cluded CH Mid­dle­ton’s

A Tele­vi­sion Gar­den which came from the grounds of Alexan­dra Palace where a gar­den was es­tab­lished and tended year-round; Friends

from the Zoo, an an­i­mal pro­gramme; and light plays such as James Bri­die’s Tobias and the An­gel.

Most broad­casts were live from a stage in Alexan­dra Palace; it was said that many artists re­sented the ‘long jour­ney’ there of five miles from the West End. Broad­cast­ing fin­ished at 10.30pm, by which time most of the na­tion was in bed.

Meet­ing the threat

War was in the air and the na­tion was prepar­ing for it. Bold peo­ple came to the fore in­clud­ing Lady Read­ing, Stella Isaacs, who this year founded the Women’s Vol­un­tary Ser­vice. Isaacs was born wealthy but poorly ed­u­cated be­cause of child­hood ill­ness. When her fam­ily fell on hard times she started work as a sec­re­tary, even­tu­ally be­com­ing sec­re­tary to Lord Read­ing and fi­nally be­com­ing his wife. She was de­scribed as a large woman who was force­ful, prac­ti­cal and de­ter­mined. She was the sort of per­son called upon to get things done, and the home sec­re­tary Sir Sa­muel Hoare duly called Lady Read­ing at home. He asked if, with her or­gan­is­ing abil­i­ties, she would start a body that would re­cruit women into the Air Raid Pre­cau­tions ser­vice which had been founded in 1937 in prepa­ra­tion for the ef­fect on civil­ians of air raids. She came back with a de­tailed plan for a uni­formed ser­vice that would be di­rectly funded by the Gov­ern­ment and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

Read­ing had a great deal of ex­pe­ri­ence of vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions with their hi­er­ar­chies, com­mit­tees and fundrais­ing drives, and de­cided that hers was go­ing to be noth­ing like that. Do­ing away with bu­reau­cracy and class-based at­ti­tudes, she made sure that the Women’s Vol­un­tary Ser­vice had a min­i­mum of com­mit­tees and ti­tles: ev­ery­one would ‘muck in’ with no class di­vi­sions. It was said to be the only or­gan­i­sa­tion in which a duchess and a char­lady could be found work­ing side by side.

How­ever, so much needed to be done that the ser­vice’s orig­i­nal ob­jec­tive was ex­tended to in­clude any­thing that the au­thor­i­ties re­quired, un­der the slo­gan “The WVS never says No.” Within four years it was to mo­bilise the work of a mil­lion women.

The sum­mer of 1938 was one of the wettest on record, but that did not de­ter the 12 mil­lion vis­i­tors to the Bri­tish Em­pire Ex­hi­bi­tion in Glas­gow. The ex­hi­bi­tion was used to boost the econ­omy of Scot­land, which had suf­fered badly in the de­pres­sion. If your fore­bears vis­ited, they might have made use of a camp­ing ground at Pol­lok Es­tate, near Cow­glen, for cy­clists, hik­ers and mo­torists who brought a tent.

The best of the Em­pire

The ex­hi­bi­tion was held in Bel­la­hous­ton Park and fea­tured pavil­ions such as the Palace of En­gi­neer­ing and the Palace of In­dus­try. Coun­tries of the Bri­tish Em­pire had their own pavil­ions to dis­play their pro­duce and cul­ture. Scot­land of­fered dis­plays of mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion, with two per­for­mances per day of a mil­i­tary tat­too by naval and army units.

This was a great year for lit­er­a­ture, although the tone of new books re­flected the un­ease of writ­ers liv­ing in a na­tion on the brink of war. Daphne du Mau­rier’s Rebecca had her in­no­cent hero­ine newly mar­ried and liv­ing in a house full of se­crets and sin­is­ter mem­o­ries. Gra­ham Greene’s Brighton Rock is set in the seedy world of crime around Brighton’s race track, and is full of the threat of vi­o­lence. Eve­lyn Waugh’s Scoop is a satire on news­pa­pers, partly based on Waugh’s own ex­pe­ri­ences of cov­er­ing the Ital­ian in­va­sion of Abyssinia for the Daily Mail.

Re­lief from gloom came from the cin­ema. Al­most half the pop­u­la­tion went to the cin­ema at least once a week, with some vis­it­ing much more fre­quently. Three cin­ema chains dom­i­nated the mar­ket: ABC, Gau­mont and Odeon. There was an ac­tive Bri­tish film in­dus­try, but the most pop­u­lar films were al­most all from the USA. This year Bette Davis siz­zled as a South­ern belle in

Jezebel, while the melo­drama In Old Chicago, set at the time of the Chicago fire of 1871, was one of the most ex­pen­sive spec­tac­u­lars ever made. An­other big-bud­get ex­trav­a­ganza was

The Ad­ven­tures of Robin Hood, in which Er­rol Flynn swash­buck­led around Sher­wood For­est.

The Beano made its first ap­pear­ance in July 1938. One of the comic’s most en­dur­ing char­ac­ters was Lord Snooty, an or­di­nary mis­chief-lov­ing schoolboy who just hap­pens to be Marmaduke, Earl of Bunker­ton, de­scribed as the “Son of a duke but al­ways pally with the Beezer Kids of Ash-can Al­ley”. He was the leader of this group of street urchins who waged war on the ‘Gas­works Gang’. The strip showed a very Bri­tish ap­proach of mak­ing fun of the rul­ing class while also be­ing af­fec­tion­ate to­wards them. The Beano is still pub­lished ev­ery week.


The pro­gramme from the 1938 FA Cup Fi­nal is worth a lot more than 6d to mod­ern col­lec­tors Bette Davis, here pic­tured with Ge­orge Brent, won an Os­car for her role in Lady Read­ing, founder of the Women’s Vol­un­tary Ser­vice

Pre­ston’s Ge­orge Mutch scores the win­ning goal against Hud­der­s­field

The Beano cel­e­brates its 80th an­niver­sary in 2018

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