BBC Scottish Regional Club

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The BBC Scottish Regional Club was formed as early as 1929 catering for the exercise and entertainment of the staff. Branches were attached to each of the stations at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, as well as the transmitter sites at Westerglen and Burghead.

For the first few years, most activities took place off-site at various sporting venues. The Edinburgh Club could hold dance and drama activities in the main concert studio at Scottish Broadcasting House, but space at other sites was too cramped to give over to leisure and recreational activities. Glasgow was the first to acquire its own Club room in 1937 at the BBC's West Regent Street offices. In common with other Regions, Club rooms began to be opened at other sites.

The Club Chairman in the 1930s was Melville Dinwiddie.

Edinburgh

The annual highlight of the BBC Scottish Regional Club was the Christmas Dance which took place in the large concert studio at Scottish Broadcasting House every December — a most fitting venue given that 5 Queen Street hosted a famous night club before it was taken over by the BBC. Voted one of the most enjoyable fixtures on the calendar, it attracted parties from Glasgow and Westerglen, and some staff even travelled from Aberdeen.

There were also dances at other times of the year, including the Spring Dance, and for occasions such as Club presentations. Indeed, Ariel recounts a party thrown at Scottish Broadcasting House for the presentation of golf prizes on 4 January 1938:

In one corner was a group of tables laid out for whist, while on the other side of the studio a tournament for table tennis provided a more hilarious atmosphere. A darts board in another comer also had a continuous stream of competitors, and all the while a small band was kept busy playing music for those who wanted to dance.[1]

Dance music was, in fact, one of the sections of the Edinburgh Club.[2] Meanwhile, the drama section put on a number of plays: in June 1935, for example, it produced the A. A. Milne play To Have the Honours, in which all the parts were taken by the staff, with Leo Hunter, the chief announcer, taking lead.

At that time the Club's office-bearers were: President, Sir John Reith; Chairman, Melville Dinwiddie; Treasurer, A. G. Smith; Secretary, Miss B. Ferguson. On the Committee were: James Cameron, George Burnett, Miss W. Hunter, J. Fairbairn, Gordon Gildard, Mrs C. Wilkie and Mr Hill.[3]

In terms of sporting activities, golf held the interest of most of the Club's members. The familiar big blue bus would draw-up at the door of 5 Queen Street, and after picking up its passengers made its way to courses such as Dalmahoy, North Berwick, Pitreavie, Haddington, Biggar, Burntisland and Gullane, to name only a few.

The open-air pools at Portobello and Port Seton were popular with swimmers in the summer months; at other times the staff retired to the new £80,000 indoor swimming pool at Portobello. John Gough was champion diver in the BBC.

Binnie Crawford of Children's Hour ran a riding section for those keen on learning how to ride a horse.

A tennis experiment at the Cairndhu Club did not prove very successful as a Club section, but badminton was popular using the facilities at Howe Street. Only one court was available here, but members found amusement in table tennis or playing cards while they waited their turn.

Skating was established as a section from 1937, with enthusiasts attending Edinburgh's indoor ice-rink.

A debating section was formed in 1935. In the first flush of enthusiasm at least three debates and one mock trial were staged. The section was revived on the evening of 2 March 1937, when the motion that 'It was a pity about Columbus' was debated in No.2 Studio, supported by James Fergusson (Talks) and miss Mary Ross (Library), and opposed by Andrew Stewart (Programme Director) and Miss Madeleine Strong (public relations office), with Melville Dinwiddie in the Chair.[4]

Glasgow

After the Glasgow station acquired a Club Room at its West Regent Street offices in early 1937, table tennis and darts became the chief amusements, and the acquisition of a piano proved very popular.[5]

Aberdeen

Golf was popular in Aberdeen, with trips to courses including Hazlehead. Tennis was also popular. Favourite indoor activities were table-tennis and billiards. Throughout the winter the male members engaged in small-bore rifle-shooting and they attained second place in the Aberdeenshire League in 1936.[6] The Shooting section was less popular during the summer holidays as no-one had any money to buy ammunition, although several members carried on with bows and arrows. There was also an annual general grouse.

Westerglen

Golf and tennis were popular activities among the Westerglen transmitter staff. Many also became members of the Falkirk and District Table Tennis League.

In 1936, the BBC provided the Westerglen staff with a pavilion, which members installed with electric light and heating. A field day, held on 6th June that year, was described by Ariel magazine:

The President, Mr. Bishop, performed the opening ceremony. The platform party consisted of the President, Mr. and Mrs. Bird, Mr. and Mrs. Dinwiddie, and Mr. E. G. Chadder. The senior Vice-President, Mr. Bird, in the unavoidable absence of the Chairman, introduced the President to the gathering and presented him with a cigarette casket as a memento of the occasion [...] The usual field-day sports and a little mild flirtation amongst the younger folk passed the time only too quickly, and as the sun disappeared behind the western hills, the good-byes were said, the caterers cleared the debris of 106 hungry souls, the gaily coloured streamers and bunting were lowered and Westerglen returned to its normal routine.[7]

The 1936 season of summer activities culminated in a stag outing to North Berwick on 5th September.

On Friday 11 December 1936, the Club held its last social function of the year — a Supper Dance: "This took place in Mathieson's Rooms, Falkirk. A good sprinkling of Edinburgh members were to be seen among the guests. The dance ended at 2 a.m., when all thai was left of the free bar went into stock again."

Christmas Day saw the customary Chairman's pies served to all Club members on duty at Westerglen.

The annual party for the poor children of Falkirk was held on Friday 19 February 1937, in which 70 orphan or fatherless children attended. A musical show was provided courtesy of the Empire Theatre management, the artists giving their services being 'Bob and Tess'. At the end of the evening each child received a bag containing food, fruit, sweets and a penny. The expenses of this party were provided by voluntary subscription among Westerglen Club members.

The Annual Presentation Dinner was held in the Argyll Restaurant, Falkirk on Friday 26 February. In accordance with Westerglen custom, the winner of the Aggregate Shield supplied cigars for the company, and the winners of the cups filled them that others might empty them.[8]

They also held an 'Annual Smoker' at which members and friends gathered in the evening.[9]

Burghead

A BBC Club branch was established at the Burghead transmitter facility in early 1937. Golf and tennis were popular, some members took part in a billiards championship, and there were tentative plans for a photographic section. But organising activities could often be problematic due to the distances involved:

[T]he station personnel is divided into three parts, the denizens of Burghead being known locally as the Natives, those who dwell in Hopeman as Hopemaniacs, and those who live In Elgin as the Foreigners. As these three places are some miles from one another, it is difficult to decide on a central spot on which we can disport ourselves.[10]

Efforts were made towards the end of 1937 to establish a Club premises.[11]

Scheme for assisting the unemployed

The BBC's Scottish Regional Club ran a facility for the unemployed at Blantyre Community Service Centre, extending the general BBC Club scheme which had begun at Gateshead in the North of England. A report from the organiser, Mr. G. J. Brown, who was on duty from the beginning of March 1937, showed that he was "making progress, by stimulating interest in various handicrafts, such as carpentry, upholstery, and cobbling, so that the men can usefully fill in the hours of their enforced idleness". A women's branch was also launched with a Mrs Robb as its President. She had given voluntary service to the centre for some years.

The scheme gave staff the opportunity to take part in welfare work, while others from the Edinburgh and Glasgow stations were, on occasion, sent out to lend variety to the programme of activities. The first of these evenings in early 1937 was a concert party organised by BBC announcer Mr. T. P. Dawson, with Peter Keith-Murray as comedian-in-chief. A report in Ariel described the evening a "riotous success" and the small hall was filled with double the number of people for its size:

With no make-up, and only a couple of dummy telephones and an old skirt for 'props', the show went on — and how the women did enjoy everything, particularly the community singing! The two high-spots of the evening were, however, an imaginary football match, in which the rival fans yelled on their teams until fears were expressed that the roof of that old hut would be lifted off, and Peter Keith-Murray's broom dance to the accompaniment of 'Barren Rocks of Aden'.

The second entertainment was less boisterous, but seemed to be equally acceptable to the Blantyre women, being a demonstration of wool crochet work by Miss Sara Black of the Schools department.

The scheme was originally held in a "depressing little hall" with a stone floor and low ceiling, but a new building was due to be opening by autumn 1937.[12]

Another memorable evening was on 5 October 1937, when the Scottish Director, Melville Dinwiddie took a concert party out to visit the Centre. It was reported that "the majority of the audience of 350 had never heard the names of the broadcasters brought out for their entertainment, but nevertheless every item was applauded by all — mothers, fathers, children of all ages, and even babes in arms"! Later that same year a Christmas treat was arrangement with 430 toys donated to children of the members.[13]

References

  1. Ariel, March 1938, 72.
  2. 'On Your Wavelength', Scottish Field, January 1935, 39-40.
  3. Column by Sydney Harrison, Glasgow Weekly Herald, 6 April 1935.
  4. Ariel, April 1937, 62.
  5. Ariel, April 1937, 63.
  6. Ariel, June 1936, 63.
  7. Ariel, September 1936, 59.
  8. Ariel, April 1937, 62.
  9. 'Staff activities', Ariel, March 1938, 71.
  10. Ariel, June 1937, 63.
  11. Ariel, October 1937, 55.
  12. 'Looking After Blantyre', Ariel, June 1937, 51.
  13. 'A note on Blantyre', Ariel, December 1937, 72.