Gaelic broadcasting

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First use of Gaelic in British broadcasting

The first use of Gaelic in British broadcasting was on Saturday 10 November 1923 on the BBC's Glasgow station, 5SC, when the soprano, Miss May L. Smyllie, performed the Gaelic Song, "A Mhairi Bhan" (K. Fraser), followed by the old Gaelic Air, "Mo Shuil a'd Dheigh".

Aberdeen station's contribution

The BBC's first Gaelic broadcast was made on the Aberdeen station 2BD on 2 December 1923, when the Reverend John Bain of the High United Free Church delivered a religious address in the language. 19 days later, the station broadcast its first Gaelic songs as part of A Night of Scotch Music.

The BBC noted that: "It is appropriate, that Aberdeen, both as the station which is in closest touoh with the Highlands, and as a station which has as its director one of the foremost Gaelic singers of the day, should undertake the task of introducing into broadcast programmes that element of 'The Gaelic' for which there is a very distinct demand."[1]

The Aberdeen station director, Neil McLean, was responsible for Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland and his station broadcast a fortnightly half-an-hour of Gaelic. The editor of An Gaidheal, the Rev Neil Ross, said McLean's efforts had "done much to popularise Gaelic speech and music".[2] In 1928, McLean attended the Mod in Inverness in the hope of identifying new talent for broadcasting. Although there was an abundance of Gaelic scholars to undertake the literary part of the programmes, there was a lack of really good performers on the vocal side.[3]

Hugh Macphee

In anticipation of the opening of the new Highland transmitter at Burghead in 1936, which would extend broadcasting to many Gaelic-speaking communities in the Highlands and Islands, the BBC's Scottish Region boosted its commitment to Gaelic broadcasting. From January 1934, John Nicolson presented a series of Gaelic lessons from the Glasgow studio which were welcomed by a large audience, not only in Scotland but as far afield as Paris. The books used in these lessons were MacLaren's Gaelic Self-taught and Blackie's First Gaelic Reader. In response to requests the series made a regular return during the winter months on Tuesday nights.[4] When the early 1925 series ended in April, the 20-minute period it occupied was replaced with a new feature entitled Aitealan o'n lar, which ran over the spring and summer months covering topics such as plays, stories, talks, announcements and songs, all in Gaelic.

The biggest development however was the appointment of Hugh Macphee as Gaelic assistant on 1 October 1935. A native of Ballachulish in Lochaber, where he was educated, Macphee had been a leading light in the Gaelic movement. He had for thirteen years been secretary of Ceilidh nan Gaidheal, the only all-Gaelic literary society at the time, and for seven years assistant secretary to An Comunn Gaidhealach, the society for Highland culture which organised the annual Mods. His brother was James C Macphee, the Mod gold medalist and noted Gaelic radio singer.[5] Furthermore, as part of his remit to extend Gaelic broadcasting, he approached a number of leading Gaelic Societies in the Highlands with a view to securing the services of native Gaelic speakers and singers.[6]

Macphee and Miss MacRae were transferred to the Glasgow studios at the end of May 1936, where they continued their service to Gaelic listeners.[7]

Gaelic news

In November 1936 the Scottish Region Executive, James Cameron, wrote to the News Executive at Head Office informing him that they were "anxious to start a Gaelic news summary" and asking for his approval. It would be a relatively simply matter, he explained, of taking the news they already got from George Blake at Reuters and having it translated and read-out by the BBC's Gaelic assistant in Aberdeen, Hugh MacPhee.[8] Permission was duly given and the weekly five-minute Gaelic summary began from Friday 8 January 1937, consisting of news of special interest to people in the North and West of Scotland.[9]

The Gaelic news summary was extended to 15 minutes duration from Monday 22 November 1937, replacing the livestock prices which were dropped as part of a drive to eliminate items that were not of interest to the general body of listeners.[10]

Second World War

A couple of weeks into the war, the Scottish Regional Office of the Ministry of Information was advised by the BBC's Scottish Director, Melville Dinwiddie, that arrangements had been made to include information of interest to the Highlands in Gaelic during the 'Scottish announcements' period from 7.45 to 8pm.[11]

In September 1943, Murdo MacLeod was appointment assistant to Hugh Macphee in the Gaelic section at Broadcasting House, Glasgow, having contributed to Gaelic broadcasting for many years and compiled and read Gaelic news bulletins.[12]

MacLeod resigned his post in the summer of 1945 to return to teaching..[13] In July 1945 it was announced that the BBC was to appoint a new assistant Gaelic producer on a salary of £450–600 a year.[14]

Broadcast Gaelic lessons

In its meeting of 9 March 1948, the BBC Scottish Advisory Council recommended that Gaelic lessons over the airwaves would be of great value in view of the widespread interest in the language and the scarcity of qualified teachers. The Scottish Director, Melville Dinwiddie questioned whether this was the function of broadcasting, except as part of schools' broadcasting where a course of Gaelic lessons was already under consideration. However, the Council felt that such lessons for adults would be worthwhile for a time if they resulted in a wider listening public for Gaelic programmes in future.[15] The first such lessons were broadcast in 1949/50(?).


  1. 'Scottish Broadcasting News', Fife Free Press, 31 December 1927, 2.
  2. 'Gaelic broadcasting', Oban Times, 16 June 1928.
  3. Glasgow News, 4 October 1928.
  4. 'This year's Scottish programmes', Glasgow Herald, 8 January 1935, 6.
  5. 'BBC appoints Gaelic expert', Scottish Daily Express; 'BBC Gaelic assistant: An Comunn official's appointment', Glasgow Herald, 16 August 1935, 8.
  6. ‘BBC may have a Gaelic studio’, Scottish Daily Express, 28 October 1935.
  7. 'News of Scottish broadcasting, Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 2 May 1936; Ariel, June 1936, 63.
  8. 'Gaelic news summary', Scottish Region Executive to News Executive, Head Office, 25 November 1936, BBC WAC R28/228.
  9. 'Catering for all tastes', Glasgow Herald, 5 January 1937, 2.
  10. 'An editorial diary: popular broadcasting', Glasgow Herald, 18 November 1937, 10.
  11. War Announcements in Gaelic’, Glasgow Herald, 19 September 1939, 4.
  12. 'BBC appointment', Glasgow Herald, 10 September 1943, 3.
  13. 'Music department of the BBC', Glasgow Herald, 7 August 1945, 4.
  14. Daily Herald, 18 July 1945.
  15. Minutes of Scottish Advisory Council meeting of 9 March 1948, BBC WAC R6/188.