The second week 

8 September 2014 tbs.pm/5247

The arrival of the Second World War was not a surprise. The Munich Agreement, which drew a further line in the sand and gave Herr Hitler all he said he wanted, had narrowly averted war in September 1938. The population celebrated while knowing it could only be a sticking-plaster solution. War was inevitable at some point.

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland early in the morning of 1 September 1939, the appeasement of Nazi policies had to stop. Britain and France demanded Germany withdraw. There was no reply – none was expected anyway – and on 3 September, war officially broke out.

Back on 1 September, the news of the invasion of Poland led the government to put long-made plans for war into action. Reserves were called up, the blackout instituted against aerial bombardment and the BBC was told to get ready to be taken over by a shortly to be formed Ministry of Information. The BBC resisted this notion. They, rightly, argued that a government service of good news and stirring music would turn off the listeners. The listeners would head for Radio Normandie, Radio Luxembourg and, worst of all, the German Reichsender propaganda stations.

But the BBC would act in the best interests of a nation at war. First, the BBC Television Service, with its powerful VHF Band-I transmitter, was closed. The two BBC radio services, the National Programme and the Regional Programme would be combined into a single service with an emphasis on news and information [p3]. The transmitter network would be slaved together, meaning a single station could be turned off to stop it acting as a navigation beacon for enemy aircraft while nearby transmitters could continue and listeners would lose quality but not service. The BBC Empire and the BBC Overseas Services would expand dramatically, providing a British point of view – but the BBC’s standard unbiased news service – to the entire world. The magazine World-Radio, which had encouraged people to tune to European stations, folded into the Radio Times and the listings reduced dramatically [p14].

These plans had been made well in advance, but the 1 September invasion of Poland still caught the BBC on the hop – as it did with the rest of government and society. The current edition of the Radio Times was stopped and the BBC hurried to produce a replacement for subscribers with (sketchy) details of what was happening with programming [p3, last paragraph].

The bonfire of regional programming left huge gaps in the new Home Service. Only so much could be filled with news and war information, especially as there was actually very little news or war information and wouldn’t be – except at sea – until April 1940. Nevertheless, programme durations had to be flexible and the news, should there be any, needed to go out as soon as possible. Something had to fill the gap and the easiest thing for the BBC was to sit Sandy Macpherson in front of the BBC Theatre Organ in Broadcasting House and get him to play whenever there was a gap or a need [pp16, 20, 21, 25, 29, 32, 34, 35]. It soon got wearing for the listener, although the BBC response to complaints was to hire Dudley Beavan and Reginald Foort… to also sit in front of the organ and vamp [p39].

This edition of the Radio Times, from the second week of war, shows the new pattern of broadcasting settling in to how it would stand until both the BBC and the government became concerned that it was boring the audience to death – and to tune sets to the continent – and launch the Forces Programme radio station in January 1940. The times of the news broadcasts changed between publication and distribution, as shown on the inside back cover [p39]. In a nod to the absorbed World-Radio magazine, American shortwave stations were also granted listings [pp 37, 38], partially in the hope of reminding Americans that we were friends and might be needing their help and partially to remind Britons of the same thing.

Your comment

Enter it below