The BBC and the General Strike

Stephen Usherwood describes how the crisis of 1926, which silenced the British Press, was a challenge to the broadcasting authorities.

The BBC and the agitation for a general strike began about the same time, 1922, and, now that fifty years have passed, it is perhaps time to re-examine the assumptions the B.B.C. then made about its independence and the trade unions about what they called ‘direct action’.

In 1922 Parliament authorized the Post Office to license the British Broadcasting Company, a new organization formed to take over the successful London station of the Marconi Company, callsign 2LO. The Fleet Street dailies did not approve of this development. They had hoped to play a part in what was frequently referred to as ‘the miracle of wireless’ themselves.

In 1921 Lord Northcliffe, who knew that the Marconi listeners wanted music, while the Company could not afford to pay performers, engaged Dame Nellie Melba, at a fee of £1,000 for one evening, to sing at the microphone. The B.B.C., however, was dependent not on the Press, but the Government, which allotted it half the licence fees collected, 10s. (50p), for each receiver and from the manufacturers of radio sets the proceeds of a 10 per cent tariff on sales.

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