1st January 1927

Lord Reith leads the newly public BBC

John Charles Walsham Reith, better known as the 1st Baron Reith, was born in Stonehaven in 1889. Educated at Glasgow Academy and what was to become the University of Strathclyde, he moved to London shortly before the First World War, during which he was posted to France with the 5th Scottish Rifles.

Arrival at the BBC

He came to prominence when, in 1922, he replied to an advertisement in the Morning Post for a vacancy at the head of the BBC which, at that point, had yet to be formed. He got the job and set about defining the way the organisation should work. His principles, which have guided it ever since, included an obligation to “inform, educate and entertain” and, where possible, to present both sides of an argument, even if one of those sides upset the government of the day.

Although initially a private enterprise, the BBC passed into public ownership in 1927 which, far from being something to fear, had in fact been something for which Reith had been lobbying for some time. It did nothing to lessen Reith’s power, and he was both feared and respected throughout the organisation. He insisted that high standards be maintained, with announcers dressing up, even when not in view, in a manner that continues to be lampooned to the present day.

Beyond broadcasting

He remained at the broadcaster until the late 1930s, apparently finding by then that there was too little work to fill his time, but his influence continues to be felt long after his departure and, although now a far larger corporation than the ‘company’ he led, it still occupies many of the grand buildings – particularly in London – that were commissioned during his tenure.

He was Minister of Information in the run-up to the Second World War and moved to Transport shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. In this role he would have had no choice but to work closely with prime minister Winston Churchill, with whom he had had earlier run-ins. During the widespread General Strike of the 1920s, he had been careful not to allow certain spokespeople, including religious leaders, on the air for fear of upsetting Churchill and giving him an excuse to take over.

Reith left the government in 1942 but was elevated to the Lords upon being created Baron Reith. He died in Edinburgh on 16 June 1971, aged 81.



Other events that occured in January

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.