Welcome to the origin story of British broadcasting...
The BBC celebrated its 100th birthday in 2022. But the story doesn't stop there. It doesn't even start there.
Before the Beeb first beebed, before Reith, loooooong before pips and Proms, there were WW1 wireless voices, including technically Britain's first DJ (Gertrude Donisthorpe)... a visionary publicity director at Marconi's (Arthur Burrows)... a wild voice from a hut in an Essex field (Peter Eckersley)... a genius engineer who invented direction-finding radio saving the Battle of Jutland, then later designed the first BBC transmitter (H.J. Round)... and so many more.
After Auntie's birth, the first OB (although there was one pre-BBC), the first religious broadcast (although there was one pre-BBC), the first audio crossword puzzle, the launch of Savoy Hill studios with a drunk lord and an angry Reith... There are a lot of stories to tell.
This is part of a huge solo project I'm undertaking via (at least) 3 means:
The British Broadcasting Century Podcast is my lockdown project that won't be stopped so easily. I'm telling the origin story of the BBC, radio and life as we know it - the very slow way. So far that's meant 50+ episodes and we've only just got to 1923.
Along the way we've had guests like Lee Mack, Diddy David Hamilton, pirate DJ Emperor Rosko, academics, authors, radio fans, radio hams, grandchildren of the first voices of British radio... We've uncovered one of the first broadcast comedians (Helena Millais), finally discovered the name and photo of Britain's first DJ (Gertrude Donisthorpe) and found clips and facts about everyone from the BBC's first couple (music director Stanton Jefferies and London's first children's presenter Vivienne Chatterton) to the first female employee of the BBC (Isobel Shields).
Join us! It's an epic task - and the more who listen, the better it gets. There's a Patreon page with extra videos, readings + writings, in return for £5+/month, leave whenever you want. Join me there too? It's just lil' ol' me running this, so every encouragement helps.
As a taster of the Patreon page, here's such a video available to all Matrons/Patrons of any level (so to watch it, you could join/watch/cancel if you like - or stick around to see what else gets added, and help keep the podcast in books, web-hosting & visits to the BBC Written Archives Centre). This video features my new (old) crystal set radio, 'on this day' on 1923 BBC, and a reading about Reith.
Or a zero-cost way to support the podcast is to rate/review it wherever you found the podcast - it all helps, and unlike many podcasts, this one's a one-man operation. I am that man. Help me!
Out soon! Ish. Auntie and Uncles: The Bizarre Birth of the BBC - the first in a trilogy on the early years of the BBC.
t's NOT pre-orderable - as I don't quite know its release date yet. Stay tuned to this frequency! Finished by Christmas. (Although they said that about the First World War...)
The historical research has been vast - but trust me, it'll be worth it. I keeping finding glorious untold tales at every turn. The first London broadcast! The first woman of radio! The feud that launched the British broadcasting industry! Most days I'm either writing this or knee-deep in the archives researching for it.
This will be book one of a trilogy on the early years of the BBC - this novel bringing us from World War I up to the birth of the Beeb. Book 2 will cover the Company years (1922-26) then book 3 will cover the Corporation at Savoy Hill (1927-32). We'll see if we get to the Broadcasting House years!
It'll be out in eBook at first, then paperback very soon after.
The Live Show...
An Evening of (Very) Early Radio is my new show about old radio.
In 2022 I toured The First Broadcast: The Battle for the Beeb in 1922, in which I played both Arthur Burrows and Peter Eckersley: the first BBC broadcaster and the first regular British broadcaster. That brought us up to the launch of the BBC.
This new show picks the tale up from there, and covers the first firsts of broadcasting. We'll retell, recreate or revel in the true tales behind the first drama, first comedy, first music, first outside broadcast... We'll meet the forgotten pioneers - but don't worry, only the ones with good stories to tell. It just so happens they all have good stories to tell. The school teacher who became the BBC first children's presenter! The author who became the first sports reporter! The flying ace who became a much-loved radio 'uncle' - until he talked over the opera to narrate it, and received death threats... and much more.
The live show is book-able for your place. Any venue. I'm cheap - get in touch to book it in. I'm also touring a re-enactment of the first religious broadcast, by a lone pioneer preacher Dr James Boon of Peckham, sent from Blackfriars INTO his church 5 miles away. It's quite a tale! I'll be restating it in November 2023 at the ACTUAL church where it all began. A one-off.
Do enquire. Have car, will travel.
The... Something Else?
A radio documentary? A TV drama adaptation? A sitcom? A who-knows-what? ...I'm all ears. If you're a producer, commissioner or all round power-player who can make any of these happen... get in touch.
Let's make radio history. That sounds bad. You know what I mean.
Catch the podcast, novel or show wherever you enjoy those things.
And don't forget, Patreon.com/paulkerensa helps fund all this. A less regular option is Ko-fi.com/paulkerensa. Either way, I thank you. Equally if you've listened, read, shared or recommended, a huge thank you too. It's just little old me, so you too makes it a Little Old Us.