BBC During World War 2
By Jack Courtez
On the outbreak of war, the BBC’s television service was closed. The closure of the television service gave extra importance to the news bulletins on BBC radio which had been broadcast daily since 1922. Britain, her empire and occupied territories reliance on the BBC was only eased by overseas stations and the news press. The most notable events of WW2 were covered by a new generation of reporters such as Richard Dimbleby, who followed the British Expeditionary Force through France and was the first to report the atrocities that took place at Belsen concentration camp*. Speeches by King George VI, Winston Churchill and other leading figures were also a common component of the BBC’s radio service.
During conflict and crisis nations require the support of their citizens. Unfortunately for the British government in the 1930’s there was strong public distain for war and support for pacifism. So how did the British government achieve such strong support so quickly? The BBC’s radio broadcasts helped to unite, inform and boost the morale of Britain, her colonies and occupied territories. Coupled with strict censorship both internally and from the Ministry of Information, the British government was content that the information supplied by the BBC would not negatively impact on morale or support. However, the BBC was careful to protect its image by avoiding the publication of black, grey or dirty propaganda by only publishing very mild white propaganda such information based on facts with a slight slant, for instance in response to Hitler’s final peace offering, Future MI6 agent Sefton Delmer* declared this over BBC radio “we here in Britain hurl it back at him into his evil smelling teeth.” Whilst Britain did reject the peace offering, the portrayal of Britain's attitude helped rally people through giving Britain the appearance of strength which her forces did not have.
Under the strain of intensive bombing, the infrastructure of cities was close to collapse at certain points during the war. This meant the spread of information and communication was slow or impossible due to roads blocked by rubble, by downed telegraph poles and by fuel rationing. Therefore radio was a suitable solution in spreading information quickly and to the majority of the population when needed. An example of the BBC’s role in communication can be found in a broadcast made on the 27th of July 1941 where a mother in England is able to have a conversation with her daughter in Canada***. However, this is a rare occurrence and mostly elitist as only the rich could afford to send their children abroad. Perhaps this may serve as more of a morale boosting exercise than a substitute for direct communication such as phone calls or letters communication.
More subtly there was a form of communication from the BBC’s Radio towers to occupied France. Encoded poems and messages were critical in organising resistance by the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and their French counterparts.