The British Broadcasting Company Ltd
was a British
commercial company formed on 18 October 1922 by British and American electrical companies doing business in the United Kingdom
. Its original office was located on the fifth floor of the Marconi
building in London
. On 14 December 1922, John Reith
was hired to become the Managing Director of the company. On 31 December 1926, the company was dissolved and its assets were transferred to the Crown Chartered British Broadcasting Corporation
Post Office stations
In Britain prior to 1922, the General Post Office
retained exclusive rights given to it by government, to manage and control all means of mass communication with the exception of the printed word for which authority had devolved to another governmental entity. The foundation of the British system still revolves around a specific interpretation of the word station
, which means a location. As such all Post Offices are located at stations, which is also true of railway stations and police stations and even battle stations
. The laws which evolved into the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1947
, upon which all modern British communication laws are built in one way or another, concern four essential activities: the establishment of a station (or location) for purposes of broadcasting; the use of a station (location) for purposes of broadcasting; the installing of a transmitter at a station (location), and the use of a transmitter at a station (location). All four of these activities require a government licence which was originally granted by the General Post Office.
"Electrical" Post Offices
The invention of the electrical telegraph
came under the control of the Telegraph Act 1869
which was based upon a law that forbade the encoding of electrical cables with messages without a licence. The messages were viewed as electrical forms of a letter. This invention was followed by the wireless telegraph
which was then placed under the Wireless Telegraph Act 1904
. The invention of the telephone
with its switchboards and routing systems was interpreted by the General Post Office as an electrical post office. When the telephone was combined with the wireless telegraph to create wireless telephony
, the same reasoning was used to control this new medium which became known as wireless broadcasting
. However, because wireless broadcasting messages were no longer point-to-point but scattered, there were complaints about this interpretation.
Advent of wireless broadcasting
In the USA, the development of the telegraph, wireless telegraph, telephone and wireless telephony proceeded according to the dictates of entrepreneurial commercial interests concerned only with supply and demand for profit. This approach was not possible in the United Kingdom due to the tight legal controls of state monopoly
held by the General Post Office (GPO). Therefore licences to commence test wireless broadcasts had to be obtained from the GPO and initially, some companies in Britain were successful in obtaining a licence for limited times and purposes.
First test broadcasts
Beginning in 1920, a number of licences were issued to British and American subsidiary companies in Britain for the purpose of conducting experimental transmissions under terms of a licence issued by the General Post Office in accordance with the Wireless Telegraphy Act
of 1904. On 15 June 1920, Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Limited
, in Chelmsford
, was licensed to conduct an experimental broadcast featuring Dame Nellie Melba
. The signal was received throughout Europe
and as far as Newfoundland
. Further transmissions were also made.
On 23 November 1920 the General Post Office halted all further transmissions due to complaints of alleged interference to Armed Forces
military communications. As the number of wireless (radio) receiving sets increased during the early 1920s, the General Post Office came under extreme pressure from hobby listeners to allow the experimental wireless (radio) broadcasts to resume.
Test transmissions resume
On 14 February 1922, which was two years after ceasing their original transmissions, Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Limited
was issued a licence for experimental transmissions under the call sign 2MT
. Peter Eckersley
was given charge of providing both the broadcast entertainment and the engineering. The station operated out of a hut in a field at Writtle
On 11 May 1922, the Marconi Company was issued another licence for experimental broadcasts from a station identified as 2LO which was located at Marconi House in the Strand, London. The programme consisted of a boxing commentary of the fight between Kid Lewis and Georges Carpentier. Further tests were also advertised as demonstrations of "Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony" which were "subject to permission from the Postmaster General". These demonstrations were performed by the "Demonstration Department (of) Marconi's London Wireless Station 2LO".
On 16 May 1922, Metropolitan Vickers Company, Ltd. ("Metrovick"), in Manchester commenced test broadcasting from its own station identified as 2ZY.
A committee is appointed
On 23 May a committee of representatives was appointed from the "Big Six" companies — Marconi, Metropolitan-Vickers, Radio Communication Company, British Thomson-Houston, General Electric and Western Electric. The Post Office also pressed for the inclusion of a representative from the smaller firms manufacturing radio equipment in the UK — Frank Phillips of Burndept.
Incorporation and shares
On 18 October 1922, the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd. was incorporated under the 1908 to 1917 Companies Acts with a share capital of £100,000., with 99,993 cumulative ordinary shares valued at £1 each:
The holders of the Cumulative Ordinary Shares are entitled to receive out of the profits of the Company a fixed Cumulative Dividend at the rate of 7½% per annum on the capital for the time being paid up thereon but are not entitled to any further or other participation in profits.
- *The Rt. Hon. Lord Gainford, Headlam Hall, Gainford, Durham. (Chairman);
- *Geoffrey C. Isaacs, Marconi House, Strand, WC2. (Managing Director, Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd.);
- *Archibald McKinstry, The Red Lodge, Southill Avenue, Harrow on the Hill. (Joint Managing Director of Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Export Company, Limited.);
- *Major Basil Binyon, "Hawtthorndene", Hayes, Kent. (Managing Director of Radio Communication Company, Limited.);
- *John Gray, "Beaulieu", Park Farm Road, Bromley, Kent. (Chairman of the Hotpoint Electric Appliance Company, Limited.) (BTH);
- *Sir William Noble, Magnet House, Kingsway, London WC2. (Director of The General Electric Company, Limited.);
- *Henry Mark Pease, 18 Kensington Court Mansions, London W8. (Managing Director of Western Electric Company, Limited.)
The initial remit of the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., was to establish a nationwide network of radio transmitters many of which had originally been owned by member companies, from which the BBC was to provide a national broadcasting service.
The British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., was formed using a blueprint that the US Navy
and the General Electric Company
had attempted to institute in the USA
. Early in World War I
, all of the ship-to-shore and transatlantic radio stations controlled by a US subsidiary company of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Limited in Chelmsford, England, were seized and handed to the US Navy for the duration of the War. After the War, the US Congress
forced the US Navy to divest itself of the stations and they turned to the General Electric Company which in 1919 formed a subsidiary called the Radio Corporation of America
. With the US Navy on its board, RCA
then absorbed the former Marconi stations.
In 1926 RCA created the National Broadcasting Company. Peaking in the 1930s, there were attempts to bring all radio communications in America back under single monopoly control by using the patent laws. This move failed. However, it was against the backdrop of these developments between 1922 to 1927 in which the original British Broadcasting Company. Ltd. was formed and then merged into a Crown corporation, in part to sever the influence of the General Electric Company in the USA.
The General Electric Company, Ltd. (GEC) in Britain, which was represented on the board of the BBC, had ties to General Electric International, which was a subsidiary of the General Electric Company in the USA. The Western Electric Company. Ltd., in the UK was originally formed as a subsidiary of American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in the USA where it served as its manufacturing subsidiary to equip the AT&T Bell Telephone system. Metropolitan Vickers Company, Ltd., was originally formed as the British Westinghouse Company. Westinghouse and AT&T were both represented in RCA. British Thomson-Houston Company, Ltd., was a controlled UK subsidiary of the General Electric Company in the USA. The Hotpoint Electric Appliance Company, Ltd., was formed by British Thomson-Houston (BTH) in 1921.
The only other company later added to the original shareholders of the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., was Burndept Limited. It represented the interests of over 20 small electrical manufacturers in the UK.
1922-1926 BBC Timeline
- *14 November: 2LO began broadcasting on mediumwave, from Marconi House to London with the first newscast read by Arthur Burrows, first Director of Programmes.
- *15 November: 5IT in Birmingham and 2ZY in Manchester began broadcasting. All three BBC stations broadcast General Election results.
- 14 December: John C. W. Reith hired as the Company's Managing Director.
- *15 December: British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., registered as an incorporated company.
- *30 December: John Reith began work as Managing Director.
- *31 December: 35,774 receiving licences issued by General Post Office. BBC staff numbered 4 employees.
- 18 January: Postmaster General Neville Chamberlain issued a broadcasting licence to the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., from the General Post Office.
- 13 February: 5WA began broadcasting to Cardiff, Wales.
- 6 March: 5SC began broadcasting to Glasgow, Scotland.
- 1 May: Studios opened at Savoy Hill.
- 29 August: First network news delivered by all BBC stations.
- 28 September: First published edition of Radio Times.
- 1 October: Publication of Sykes Committee Report on Broadcasting.
- *10 October: 2BD began broadcasting to Aberdeen, Scotland.
- *17 October: 6BM began broadcasting to Bournemouth.
- 16 November: 6FL began broadcasting to Sheffield as the first relay station.
- *26 November: First experimental broadcast to North America.
- 30 December: First landline relay from Radiola Paris, France.
- *31 December: First broadcast of Big Ben chimes. BBC staff numbered 177 employees.
- 5 February: First daily broadcast of the Greenwich time signal.
- *17 February: First daily broadcast of the Big Ben time signal.
- 28 March 5PY began broadcasting to Plymouth as a relay station.
- 1 May: 2EH began broadcasting to Edinburgh, Scotland as a relay station.
- 11 June: 6LV began broadcasting to Liverpool as a relay station.
- 8 July: 2LS began broadcasting to Leeds and Bradford as a relay station.
- *9 July: 5XX began experimental broadcasts on AM longwave from Chelmsford, Essex.
- *16 September: 5NG began broadcasting to Nottingham.
- 21 October: 6ST began broadcasting to Stoke-on-Trent as a relay station.
- 12 November: 2DE began broadcasting to Dundee as a relay station.
- *26 November: First transatlantic relay broadcast from KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
- 12 December: 5SX began broadcasting to Swansea as a relay station.
- *31 December: Over 1 million receiving licences had been issued by the General Post Office. The BBC had 20 radio transmitting stations in operation and 465 employees.
- *6 April: 2LO transmitter power increased during move from Marconi House to the roof of Selfridges department store in Oxford Street.
- 17 July: First edition published of The Radio Supplement.
- *27 July: 5XX experimental AM longwave station moved from Chelmsford to Daventry where it commenced regular broadcasting on 1600 metres.
- 31 December: BBC staff numbered 658 employees.
- 4 January: John Reith began to impose his dress code on BBC radio announcers who had to wear evening dress to match BBC performing artists in evening dress.
- 5 March: Parliamentary Crawford Committee published its broadcasting report which called for the termination of the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., and the creation of a Crown chartered, non-commercial British Broadcasting Corporation beginning in 1927.
- 18 June: BBC The Radio Supplement was replaced by BBC World Radio publication.
- 14 November: The International Broadcasting Union issued its Geneva Plan which reduced the number of BBC wavelengths. This forced the company to restructure by replacing its local radio stations with regional radio stations.
- 16 December: Over 100 staff and directors of the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., attended a dinner party for Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
- *20 December: Publication of the Crown charter and licence agreements creating the British Broadcasting Corporation.
- *31 December: The General Post Offices had issued 2¼ million receiving licences. The contracts of 773 British Broadcasting Company Ltd staff were terminated and, with the dissolution of the company, shareholders were paid at par value.
- BBC Radio - a specific article about BBC domestic radio broadcasting services.
- BBC Television - a specific article about BBC domestic television services.
- BBC World Service - a specific article about BBC external radio and television broadcasting services.
- Mass Media Moments in the United Kingdom, the USSR and the USA, by Gilder PhD., Eric. - "Lucian Blaga" University of Sibiu Press, Romania. 2003. ISBN 973-651-596-6 This book contains historical background relating to the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., its founding companies; their transatlantic connections; General Post Office licensing system; commercial competitors from Europe prior to World War II and offshore during the 1960s.
- The BBC - The First Fifty Years, by Briggs, Asa. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1985. ISBN 0-19-212971-6 The first two lengthy chapters of this book cover in detail the BBC's history prior to the creation of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927.
- Radio: The Great Years, by Parker, Derek. - David & Charles, Newton Abbot. 1977. ISBN 0-7153-7430-3 Contains a full page readable reproduction of the first edition of the Radio Times, September 28, 1923. The lead article is by Arthur R. Burrows, Director of Programmes for the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd. His headline asks: "What's in the air?" Its stations are listed as serving "London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow." An article by Peter Eckersley promises to inform readers about "Simultaneous Broadcasting."
- The First Fifty Years - (BBC Handbook 1973), by Curran, Charles. - British Broadcasting Corporation, London. 1972.
- British Broadcasting, A Study in Monopoly, by Coase, R. H. - Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1950.
- The Power Behind the Microphone, by Eckersley, Peter P. - Jonathan Cape, London. 1941. Peter Eckersley was hired as Chief Engineer by the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd.
- Broadcast Over Britain, by Reith, John. - London. 1924.