Forces Programme

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From the start of the Second World War the BBC was thinking of ways to offer an alternative service, and the needs of the BEF, then in France, led the BBC to create a 'Programme for the Forces'.

At first, four or five hours each evening were devoted to relays from the Home Service, with special new programmes when those on Home were unsuitable for mass listening, but by mid-February 1940, the new service was running for twelve hours a day and the bulk of the programmes were expressly designed for troops in the field


Apart from plenty of light music and dance bands, sports commentaries, and so on, there were such special features as French lessons, Sandy Macpherson's programmes of requests from the Forces, Roy Rich's Record Time, concert parties from Paris, relays of music from Italy, Switzerland, and Holland, and on 20 February, the first in that famous series, John Hilton Talking.[1]

A regular feature from Scotland was the weekly broadcast from The Radio Padre, the Reverend Ronald Selby Wright. This was aimed at the presence in the army of thousands of young serving men, who, manning anti-aircraft guns, and doing other lonely jobs, were cut off for weeks at a time from the general community. Following requests from soldiers and army chaplains, the War Office seconded Wright to visit serving men and women in the different Commands, and to give weekly broadcasts in the Forces Programme. The programme aired between 1 April 1942 and 20 September 1944.

Post-Dunkirk: forces at home

Further changes were made after was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940.

Thereafter the programme planners had to think, not of Forces audiences overseas, but of a large body of uniformed men at home — in Civil Defence blue as well as khaki — and of those civilian listeners who were increasingly turning to the Forces programme as an alternative to the Home Service. During this period many new programmes made their appearance — Music While You Work, Works Wonders and Workers' Playtime, the Brains Trust, Shipmates Ashore and Navy Mixture — one or two light propaganda features (such as Into Battle) began, and a good deal more 'serious' music was introduced. And we were only too glad to supply news-letters and other special items for the increasing number of Canadian and other Dominion troops arriving in this country.[2]

American Forces Network

The 'American Forces Network' (or AFP) was a descendant of the old 'Forces Programme'. The American soldiers and sailors who poured into Britain during 1942 and 1943 were homesick for their own favourite radio programmes, and the US Army authorities asked the BBC to help. With the help of the BBC and Post Office engineers they created their own broadcasting system, the American Forces Network, which opened on Independence Day, 4 July 1943. It was made up of several low-power transmitters dotted about the country wherever there was a large concentration of American troops, and linked to London by landline. The programmes consisted partly of relays from the BBC Forces Programme but mainly of recordings of American radio shows, made in the States and sent over to Britain.[3]

General Forces Programme

27 February 1944 was the first day of the new GFP.

The weekly Scottish Half-Hour on the GFP primarily served forces overseas. The producer Howard Lockhart explained that "we chose middle-aged maturity in our chief presenters":

One of these was James Sloan. He had been in the earlier War and he sounded friendly and rather avuncular in manner. At the end of each edition, he used to say, "Roll On the Big Ship", a phrase that had been much used in the first War to indicate the troop ship bound for home. The other presenter was Mrs Helen Mitchell, who had played as Granny Ferguson in the Knockendoch series which she had written and in which I played as a child actor. She had a lovely, soft Dumfries-shire tongue and warm sincerity. We called her 'Mrs Ferguson'. She had, in fact, a grown-up son in the army overseas, and he was able to report back to us regarding reception of our programmes. [4]

Correspondence from the men recorded appreciation of this ‘breath of home’.

Scotland shared too in regular GFP series such as Home Flash and Strike a Home Note where the purpose was to transmit something of the familiar life of home. The net was cast wide to cover in Home Flash places as far apart as the east end of Glasgow, Dumfries, Lewis and Kirkwall; and for Strike a Home Note, items from the North-east to the Borders.[5]

In September 1944 the recording car was shipped to the Orkney Islands for the recording of Navy Mixture and other programmes.[6]


  1. BBC Handbook 1945, 35–6.
  2. BBC Handbook 1945, 36.
  3. BBC Handbook 1945, 37.
  4. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 58–9.
  5. BBC Handbook 1945, 81.
  6. BBC Handbook 1945, 80.