The old BBC: the press, the Crawford Committee and the end
10 Feb 2017 0 comments. tbs.pm/10386
Reprinted from the BBC Year-Book 1930, published in November 1929
Before it had been decided that broadcasting in Great Britain should be under a single control, certain people in 1926 the newspaper world had contemplated entering the new field and operating stations in conjunction with their existing activities. When it was known that a single organisation was to be formed, the newspapers united to protect themselves against any damage which it might do them. The first result of this move was that an agreement was concluded with the P.M.G. that the yet unformed Company should only obtain its news for broadcasting through the agencies which worked for the newspapers, that such news should be broadcast as prepared by Messrs. Reuters, and further that the first of the two bulletins should not be broadcast earlier than 7 p.m. This arrangement was in force throughout the life of the Company.
The general attitude of the Press to broadcasting cannot be described as ever having been cordial, although it has fluctuated between definite hostility and mere watchfulness. Almost from the beginning, broadcasting intelligence has been freely included in the papers, together with the daily programmes; at the outset an attempt was made to exact payment for the space occupied by these, but the sales of the only journal which at the time was including them increased so markedly that the matter was dropped. From time to time large-scale attacks on the B.B.G. were developed, the usual casus belli being the character and standard of the programmes, and many letters of complaint, and, in justice be it said, some of appreciation, filled the correspondence column. A proportion of the criticism was usually constructive, and the B.B.C. and the listening public profited thereby.
At the end of 1924, and for some eighteen months subsequently, the B.B.C. and the Press co-operated to a certain extent as permitted under the revised regulations issued by the P.M.G. after the Sykes Committee Report had been considered. Certain newspapers provided programmes to the B.B.C., who, in return for such free material, broadcast a courtesy acknowledgment. These “provided” programmes were regarded by the B.B.C. as a temporary measure while funds were rather short, and with an increase in revenue and an improvement in relations with the Press, it was decided that only entertainments organised by them in the ordinary way should be considered, and handled as normal Outside Broadcasts.
It has already been said that the authorised Share Capital of the Company was £100,000, of which shares to the value of £71,536 were issued. The Directors, early realising that the service must ultimately pass out of trade control, resolved on a policy that would enable the undertaking to be transferred to a Public Body unencumbered by capital liabilities when the Company’s licence expired. This policy was carried out successfully. At 31st December, 1926, permanent assets had been acquired at a cost of £334,788 wholly out of revenue, and liquid assets had been reserved sufficient to pay all liabilities in full, including issued Share Capital, on the Company going into voluntary liquidation. As a result, the undertaking was handed over to the Corporation at no cost whatever to the State.
It is difficult to realise the magnitude of this achievement, but it may be an aid in appreciating it to know that the total net revenue of the Company throughout its existence was only £1,979,000, of which the Capital Reserve thus accumulated represents approximately 17%.
THE CRAWFORD COMMITTEE
In conclusion, it is appropriate to mention the Committee, which was set up in the summer of 1925 under the Chairmanship of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres to consider the future of British broadcasting with reference to the expiry of the Company’s licence on December 31st, 1926.
It has been described how, born of the wireless trade, the B.B.C. had, still under a Board of Directors representative of the trade, become a public utility concern, financially independent of it and in policy unfettered by it. The interests of both were largely served by the same ends, for an increase in listeners meant both an increased revenue to the trade by the sale of sets, and to the B.B.C. through the issue of licences.
The Crawford Committee submitted its report early in 1926, and while warmly commending it for its policy and its achievement, recommended the winding up of the Company and the constitution in its place of a public authority, thus ensuring a continuity of the policy of public service and impartiality initiated by the Company.
While no change or pause was apparent to the listening public, the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd. came to an end after a strenuous and successful life at midnight on New Year’s Eve 1926.
In its four years the Company had started from the very beginning, had been subjected to the most merciless criticism, had been faced with much determined opposition, and had submitted twice to vivisection at the hands of Government Committees, and emerged scathless.
Its achievements are marked by no memorials. It can only be said that the Company retained and increased the goodwill of its listeners until at the end of its time the number of licences had steadily risen to just under two and a quarter millions.