Saturday, 28 September 2013

Gratuitous erudition

I have quite a long piece in this week’s Radio Times about the history of the magazine (it’s the 90th anniversary issue). On 10 September 1923 John Reith, the BBC’s general manager, wrote in his diary: ‘Everything is now in shape for a BBC magazine, and from various alternatives I chose Radio Times for the title.’ On the front cover of its first issue, Arthur Burrows, the BBC’s Director of Programmes, wrote in brisk, not very Reithian style: ‘HULLO EVERYONE! We will now give you the Radio Times. The good new times. The Bradshaw of Broadcasting. May you never be late for your wave-train. Speed 186,000 miles per second; five-hour non-stops. Family season ticket: First Class, 10s. per year.’ The new magazine, in which the word ‘listeners’ was enclosed throughout in inverted commas, arrived in newsagents on Friday 28 September 1923. It soon had an army of subscribers, the magazine being mailed out to them each week from its Addressing Department by Great War veterans with facial disfigurements – employed especially by Reith, a scarred veteran himself.

For the novelist Anthony Burgess, then a schoolboy called John Wilson living with his parents above a tobacconist’s shop in a poor area of Moss Side, Manchester, the Radio Times offered an entry point to another world. It was, he recalled, ‘a substantial publication like a weekly Blast, only better printed, and all for twopence. Its tone was intellectual, its artwork highly contemporary; it abounded with gratuitous erudition.’ Burgess had built his own crystal radio set to hear Adrian Boult’s BBC Symphony Orchestra, and he relied on the magazine to tell him when they were on.

But in his diary for 7 September 1963 the now 74-year-old Lord Reith complained: ‘The vulgarity of the Radio Times week by week makes me sorry I ever started it.’


  1. 'Its tone was intellectual, its artwork highly contemporary' .. I wish the BBC would make available an online archive of back copies of The Listener. Indeed, I wish it was still being published. How soon after Radio Times did the BBC launch The Listener?

  2. Started 1929 I think. There is an online archive of The Listener but it's subscription only unfortunately. My university subscribes - lucky me.