A British institution with a global reach

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July 9, 2012 by dontbringlulubook

Nowadays you cannot move around without finding some means of accessing media – television, radio, laptops, and mobiles to name but a few. Once accessed, you are then bombarded with choice: national news, international news, showbiz gossip, soaps, serials, documentaries, films…The lists are endless. Professional, amateur, amateurs believing they are professionals. Some may say too much choice.

It was not the case just a few decades ago.

Entertainment was very different and news was difficult to get hold of.

Yet an organisation of telecommunications companies decided to try and break the mould; find another means of providing information: tackle the task of radio broadcasting.

In 1922 the British Broadcasting Company Limited came to life, with John Reith as its General Manager setting the foundations to the way in which the BBC would ‘inform, educate and entertain’. The first transmission left Marconi House on 14th November that year. Five years later the company ceased to exist but the British Broadcasting
Corporation through Royal Charter carried on in its wake.



The broadcasts were hailed as successes – news bulletins, weather, royal addresses, outside broadcasts, coverage of sporting events to name but a few.

Onwards they went, designing and bringing to life the first purpose-built broadcasting centre in the UK. The Empire Service (a forerunner to the BBC World Service) started the global expansion of the BBC. Then in 1936 a monumental step was taken with the introduction of television broadcasts.

Together, television and radio transmissions changed the access people had to the world around them.

The monarchy came closer to their charges through these mediums; Churchill inspired the nation to victory; secrets that foreign governments wanted to keep locked away were brought to the forefront with reporters on the scene.

But it was not just news that was expanding with the times. Entertainment took hold; gardening programmes, children’s television, Woman’s Hour, Desert Island Discs.

Technology and its application continued to grow. 1950 saw the first cross channel transmission and just over a decade later the BBC received the first live broadcast from America.

The world very quickly became a smaller place to live in.

It was at this point in technological advancement that Ron Onions really took a hold on current affairs.

Onions had been fast-tracked through the BBC, working on such programmes as Cliff Michelmore’s Tonight. His ability to tell stories using all possible means at the disposal was evident when sent to cover the Aberfan disaster – choosing pictures to tell the story rather than constant narrative.

Ron was hot property and became the BBC’s first news organiser in New York, based at the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan. Before long, he was overseeing the coverage of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Pictures of the moon landings were a milestone in the achievements of not only Onions himself but the
Corporation, once again changing the way people interacted with the world around them.

The BBC continued to go from strength to strength and establish itself as leader in the entertainment, education and information sectors.

But like anything leading the way, there are others waiting in the wings, building their own confidence to challenge the supremacy.

It was not too long after this golden period that the dominance of the BBC started to be questioned; many coming from the work of Onions who had by this time fallen out with the Corporation and moved into the independent sector, armed with his experiences of American news output.

It was the BBC who found themselves having to change styles in the late 70s and early 80s – altering their news output to bring themselves in-line with the short, sharp and sensitive reporting of the independents.

The British Broadcasting Corporation may not be the dominant force it once was; it may not be the sole lead anymore; but it made the world a smaller place, changed the way people interacted within it. The BBC has shown its ability to adapt with the times and that is the reason it is still prominent today.


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