“For the first time in history, news was broadcast in England last night by the British Broadcasting Company”. So said the Daily News after the first two bulletins had gone out, the previous evening, from Marconi House, in the Strand. The total staff of the broadcasting company at that stage was just four people. It had been set up only a few weeks earlier by the manufacturers of wireless sets, mindful that the public needed something to listen to.
The task of reading those first bulletins on 14 November, at six o’clock and nine o’clock, fell to the director of programmes, Arthur Burrows (foto). He read each bulletin twice – once quickly and once slowly – and asked listeners to say what they preferred.
It was apparently a daunting experience. A couple of years later, he wrote: “I am prepared to assert that there is no more exacting test of physical fitness and nervous condition than the reading of a news bulletin night after night to the British Isles.”
Just imagine, he said, having to read an item about, say, a political crisis in Czechoslovakia – littered with “place names strange to the eye, and looking as though they had fallen accidentally from a child’s alphabet box”.
Vraag het maar aan Goedele Wachters!
As for the collection of news: Sir William Noble head of the BBC insisted that the company did not contemplate getting involved. That was to be left to the agencies. After all, as Reith pointed out in his autobiography, collecting news was a “very costly business”. Een dag later startte het agentschap Reuter dan ook met dagelijkse kant-en-klare nieuwsoverzichten. Bulletins had to begin with the words: “Copyright news from Reuters, Press Association, Exchange Telegraph and Central News”.
The first bulletins included details of the opening of the Old Bailey sessions, a speech by the Conservative leader Bonar Law, the aftermath of a “rowdy meeting” involving Winston Churchill, a train robbery, the sale of a Shakespearean first folio, fog in London – and “the latest billiards scores”.
Alles netjes volgens de regels, as there was to be no coverage of controversial subjects – just as there were to be no live commentaries on sports events.
The second day of news broadcasts brought the first results of the 1922 general election. The Times reported the following morning that, with no more than thirty thousand people holding wireless licences, perhaps the most interesting feature of election night “was the phenomenon of listening-in parties”. Aldus de BBC-website zelf.