The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) turns 100 this year. This ambitious, enormous book is an ‘authorised’ history which makes extensive use of the archives and is as about as impartial (or not…) as the BBC itself.
Beginning with the invention of radio, this book follows the formation of the BBC, its expansion and rise in popularity, to the invention of television, the role of the BBC in the Second World War, post-war development, to the online services and various crises of recent years. It also wonders what the future of the BBC is but tries to look on the bright side. There are a generous number of photographs included.
Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’d hoped. The writing style is not very accessible and requires much concentration to pick through the long paragraphs. The emphasis is on the ideology and purpose of the BBC, with the constant wrangles over government interference and the boundary between education and entertainment. This was necessary of course, but there wasn’t enough discussion of individual programmes, personalities and audience reactions, particularly post-war. The wonderful cover image (Daleks in London) is misleading, as Doctor Who occupies one short unilluminating paragraph. Many of the most famous BBC TV programmes are not even mentioned. The early technology is discussed but some later developments are missed out. I felt that the book started off well, but my interest in it waned and I ended up disappointed. In its defence, even a large book like this has to be selective and won’t please everyone. I did learn a lot, but like the earlier output of the BBC, it was educational rather than entertaining.
I would recommend if you want to read about the leadership and politics of the BBC or its role in the Second World War. It’s also useful for information about the early days of the company and how the technology worked. If you want a lighter read or more of a nostalgia / cultural history trip then best to look elsewhere.
Published by Profile Books in 2022.