chapter  4
18 Pages

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

The BBC underwent enormous transformations in the four brief years between 1936 and 1940, changes that started out slowly, rose to a decisive crescendo just as war broke out, then continued with permanent impact on the future. But even before war loomed on the horizon, as Gorham indicates, pressures for change had been building up within the deceptively tranquil hallways of Broadcasting House. Though most of these pressures responded to developments within British broadcasting itself or to situations unique to Britain, as always there was an American motif that ran beneath, constantly threatening to break out if not contained. Each door that the BBC opened to relieve the pressures building up, or to let new practices in, freed a new route for American influence (or, at least, influence characterized as American) to slip past the gatekeepers. No wonder Sir John Reith felt increasing besieged in his own fortress. Not only audience research, but also threats from commercial stations broadcasting from the continent, the creeping encroachment of more popular program forms, and the increasing influence

of the Overseas Service throughout the organization produced the combination of factors that would lead to the formation of the Light Programme after the war, and eventually to the advent of commercial television.