1929 policy of centralisation

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Policy came into effect on Monday 30 September 1929.

Genesis of the policy

On 20 November 1928, as a result of a suggestion by Roger Eckersley, Assistant Controller (Programmes), the BBC's Control Board approved the general principle of "provincial programmes being concentrated more on purely local material; and, as far as possible, of eliminating provincial programmes of a similar character to those available in London at the same time".[1] Eight days later, in a memo to regional directors, Eckersley interpreted the policy more simply: "Take from London what you cannot do better yourself, and do yourself what London cannot give you."[2]

In otherwords, Scottish stations would cease to originate any programme which was not of a characteristically Scottish nature. The only exception to this would be during afternoon periods when, due to the unavailability of trunk telephone lines, programmes could not be relayed from London.

Consequences

An increase in the number of programmes relayed from London inevitably meant that local output would be considerably lessened. In an internal memo, the Scottish Regional Director, David Cleghorn Thomson, estimated that 60 per cent of Scotland’s programmes would be wiped out as a result of centralisation, leaving an average of just two evening programmes a week from north of the border.[3]

Orchestra amalgamation

Centralisation also entailed the merging of the BBC's 28-member Glasgow station orchestra with Aberdeen's octet, creating a new octet based in Glasgow from 1 October 1929. This meant that the services of 28 musicians were dispensed with.

After news of the disbanding of the 5SC orchestra became public, the following statement was made by the Scottish regional director, David Cleghorn Thomson:

The public has learned for some time of the formation in London of a national orchestra for symphonic broadcasting, and the setting up of this organisation concurrently with the development of a regional programme policy have made it uneconomical to maintain the local symphony orchestra in the Scottish region in view of the very small number of opportunities that will remain for it to take part in the programmes after September. Those listeners who are interested in orchestral transmissions will have ample opportunity for gratifying their preference by listening to the performances of the national orchestra in London, with its eminent conductor, while the quota of lighter music necessary for regional programmes and incidental to dramatic feature programmes will readily be provided by an octette. This octette would be recruited from the ranks of the present Glasgow orchestra and the existing octette at Aberdeen station.

With regard to the question of giving encouragement to native composers for choir or orchestra, Cleghorn Thomson said that the proposed changes would not bring to an end the efforts of the BBC in this sphere. He stated that he was engaged in friendly negotiations with both the Glasgow Choral and Orchestral Union and the Reid Orchestra in Edinburgh regarding broadcasting from their concerts next season. Both these bodies were considering the possibility of including some of the best work by Scottish composers in their programmes to be broadcast — in some cases to be conducted by the composers themselves.[4]

Glasgow

David Cleghorn Thomson believed the following staff would suffice:

Redundancies:

Station Orchestra:

  • Reduced from 28 musicians to an octet.

Edinburgh

Redundancies:

Aberdeen

Dismissed:

  • Donald Munro, second in command, transferred to London in the effects department.
  • Paul Askew ("Uncle Paul" of Children's Corner), transferred to London as balance and control engineer.
  • Mrs Callis (Miss Manners or "Auntie Win" of Children's Corner), transferred to London in the research department.

Also, members of the clerical staff. The Station Octet was abandoned.[6]

Dundee

Dundee by this stage had no programme staff.
  1. Minutes of Control Board meeting held on 20 November 1928, BBC WAC R3/3/4.
  2. Memorandum from Assistant-Controller (Programmes) to Scottish Regional Director, North Regional Director, and Station Directors at Birmingham, Cardiff, Newcastle, Aberdeen, and Belfast, 28 November 1928; sourced in Briggs, 285.
  3. Scottish Regional Director to Director of Programmes, ‘Centralisation in Scotland’, 8 May 1929, BBC WAC R49/571/2.
  4. 'BBC Changes: Further Reduction of Glasgow Staff', Glasgow Herald, 18 June 1929, 8.
  5. Kingsley, 36.
  6. 'BBC Dispute Development', Daily Express, 17 June 1929.