The BBC: A People’s History

MARCH 3, 2022

The BBC: A People’s History by the Connected Histories of the BBC project’s founding director David Hendy was published on 27 January 2022 by Profile Books Ltd. Based on many of the unique oral histories that the CH-BBC project is helping to bring to public view, it is the only BBC-authorised centenary history book and traces the BBC from its maverick beginnings through war, the creation of television, changing public tastes, austerity, and massive cultural change.

The BBC has constantly evolved, developing from one radio station, to television, then multiple channels and now the competition with the internet and streaming services. The BBC: A People’s History is a history of a now global institution that defines Britain and created modern broadcasting; it is also a reflection of 100 years of British history.

Hendy’s history not only complements Asa Briggs’s five-volume oeuvre on BBC’s history by dealing with a much longer period but takes a different ‘bottom up’ approach rather than an institutional one, by focusing on the people’s stories: on oral histories from former staff, as found in BBC Oral History Archive, as well as on audience accounts and reactions on BBC’s presence/programmes in the public sphere of mid-twentieth-century Britain.

Hendy’s book tells not an institutional history but mainly people’s stories about setting up, staffing, advancing their careers, making friends and enemies, struggling and flourishing within an institution. It also tells people’s stories about the transformative cultural, educational and informational dimension of having the BBC as background throughout their lives.

All in all, The BBC: A People’s History helps trace the public understanding of the BBC’s own rich and complex past, and especially its role in a society and culture in constant change. This brilliantly-written account of the BBC’s history, that has already gathered many reviews and has gone recently into the top ten of the UK’s non-fiction charts, makes the BBC looks as much of a National Treasure as the NHS, that, using Hendy’s concluding words, “we sometimes never know just how much we need or want [it] until it’s gone” (Hendy 2022, 571). And such a contribution can’t be more timely, just weeks after the announcement of the new five-year licence fee deal before deciding on a new funding model for the BBC and on its future altogether.

Celebrating 100 years of the BBC, David Hendy’s book complements a brilliant series of digital resources. These include 100 voices that made the BBC, which includes many tantalising oral history clips in stories including on war, nation, pioneering women and entertainment.

We are proud to recommend David’s wonderful book!

A fascinating and informative account of the BBC’s first 100 years’ Daily Telegraph

‘A dramatic tale of innovation and determination’ Guardian

‘A masterpiece … this is the authoritative, much-needed history of the BBC’s first century’ David Kynaston, historian and Visiting Professor at Kingston University

We thank the AHRC, the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, the Sussex Humanities Lab and the BBC for their support.


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Contact

Professor Margaretta Jolly
School of Media, Arts and Humanities
University of Sussex,
Falmer, BN1 9RG

Email: M.Jolly@sussex.ac.uk