British Broadcasting Company

From Academic Kids

This article is about the British Broadcasting Company from 1922 to 1926. See BBC for a history of the British Broadcasting Corporation from 1927 and BBC (index) for other articles related to this subject.

The British Broadcasting Company Ltd was a British commercial company formed on October 18, 1922 by British and American electrical companies doing business in the United Kingdom. Its original office was located on the fifth floor of the General Electric building in London. On December 14, 1922, John Reith was hired to become the Managing Director of the company. On December 31, 1926, the company was dissolved and its assets were transferred to the Crown Chartered British Broadcasting Corporation.


Brief history

Two competing systems

Unlike the USA, the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution which defines the scope and limitation of governmental powers. This basic difference established the reason for two approaches to broadcasting which have competed with each other since the birth of broadcasting. Because of its War of Independence from Britain, the ties to the system of communication, which had been established by Britain in America, were severed and the new nation began on the premise that the power flowed upwards from the People, whereas in Britain political power flowed down from the Crown Establishment. In the USA a written constitution defined the powers given by the People to the government, whereas in Britain the government had power vested in it by the Crown.

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 of 1947 upon which all modern British communication laws are built in one way or another, concerns four essential parts: 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 license which was originally granted by the General Post Office.

"Electrical" Post Offices

The invention of the electrical telegraph came under the control of the 1869 Telegraph Act which was based upon a law that forbade the encoding of electrical cables with messages without a license. The messages were viewed as electronic forms of a letter. This invention was followed by the wireless telegraph which was then placed under the 1904 Wireless Telegraph Act. The invention of the telephone with its switchboards and routing systems was interpeted by the General Post Office as an electronic 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, but due to the absolute powers held by the Crown Establishment, no dissent was possible from within the United Kingdom.

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 licenses to commence test wireless broadcasts had to be obtained from the GPO and initially, some companies in Britain were successful in obtaining a license for limited times and purposes.

First test broadcasts

Beginning in 1920 a number of licenses were issued to British and American subsidiary companies in Britain for the purpose of conducting experimental transmissions under terms of a license issued by the General Post Office in accordance with the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1904. On June 15, 1920, Marconi's Wireless Telegraphy Company, Limited, in Chelmsford, Essex 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.

Military intervention

On November 23, 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 February 14, 1922, which was two years after ceasing their original transmissions, Marconi's Wireless Telegraphy Company, Limited was issued a license 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 near Chelmsford in Essex, England.

On May 11, 1922, the Marconi Company was issued another license 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 perfomed by the "Demonstration Department (of) Marconi's London Wireless Station 2LO".

On May 16, 1922, Metropolitan Vickers Company, Ltd. ("Metrovick"), in Manchester commenced test broadcasting from its own station identified as 2ZY.

Incorporation and shares

On October 18, 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 7% 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 Wirelesss 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, "Bdeaulieu", Park Farm Road, Bromley, Kent. (Chairman of the Hotpoint Electric Appliance Company, Limited.);
  • 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.

International origins

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. During World War I, all of the ship-to-shore 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. Hotpoint Electric Appliance Company, Ltd., was another company that began life as a subsidiary of the General Electric Company in the USA.

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


  • October 18: British Broadcasting Company, Ltd. formed but not registered.
  • November 1: First broadcast receiving license introduced.
  • December 14: John C. W. Reith hired as the Company's Managing Director.
  • December 15: British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., registered as an incorporated company.
  • December 30: John Reith began his first day of work as Managing Director.
  • December 31: 35,774 receiving licenses issued by General Post Office. BBC staff numbered 4 employees.



  • February 17: First daily broadcast of the Big Ben time signal.
  • July 9: 5XX began experimental broadcasts on AM longwave from Chelmsford, Essex.
  • December 31: Over 1 million receiving licenses have been issued by the General Post Office. The BBC now has 20 radio transmitting stations in operation and 465 employees.


  • July 17: First edition published of The Radio Supplement.
  • July 27: 5XX experimental AM longwave station moved from Chelmsford to Daventry where it commenced regular broadcasting on 1600 metres.


  • January 4: John Reith begins to impose his dress code on BBC radio announcers who have to wear evening dress to match BBC performing artists in evening dress.
  • March 5: Parliamentary Crawford Committee publishes its broadcasting report which calls for the termination of the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., and the creation of a Crown chartered, non-commercial British Broadcasting Corporation beginning in 1927.
  • June 18: BBC The Radio Supplement is replaced by BBC World Radio publication.
  • November 14: The International Broadcasting Union issues its Geneva Plan which reduces the number of BBC wavelengths. This forces the company to restructure by replacing its local radio stations with regional radio stations.
  • December 16: Over 100 staff and directors of the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd., attend a dinner party for Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
  • December 20: Publication of the Crown charter and license agreements creating the British Broadcasting Corporation.
  • December 31: The General Post Offices has issued 2 million receiving licenses. The contracts of 773 British Broadcasting Company Ltd staff are terminated and, with the dissolution of the company, shareholders are paid at par value.

See also

  • 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 version of their 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. John Reith was the Managing Director of the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd. He was a Scottish Calvinist who insisted that his own personal views of the world were those adopted by the staff of the company. He stated in his book which was written just after he got the job that it was his job to tell listeners what they needed to hear.

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