Saltire Society report, 1944

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Broadcasting: A Policy for Future Development in Scotland was a report by the Saltire Society, published in December 1944.

Terms of reference

The introductory paragraph of the published report explained the rationale behind it:

Realising the importance of broadcasting as a pervading influence on Scottish life, particularly in cultural matters, and with the knowledge that the BBC's charter is shortly to come up for renewal, the Saltire Society decided at the end of 1943 to ascertain by means of an enquiry what its members thought of the Scottish broadcasting service of the BBC and if they wished for any important changes.

Membership of the Committee

During the Spring of 1944, the Council of the Saltire Society appointed a Committee of the following members:

  • Alan Boase, Professor of French at Glasgow University;
  • John W. Oliver, Director of English Studies at Moray House Teachers' Training College;
  • Willa Muir, authoress and, with Edwin Muir, translator of Jew Suss;
  • Wilfred Taylor of the Scotsman;
  • Robert Hurd, President of the Saltire Society;
  • and the Organising Secretary of the Saltire Society.

Initial considerations

The Committee first considered special notes on Scottish broadcasting sent in by a number of prominent members of the Society: John Lorne Campbell of Canna; Neil M. Gunn; Dr Agnes Mure Mackenzie; J. B. I. MacKay; James Porteous; J. M. Reid, editor of the Bulletin; Dr Rutherford or St Andrew's University; A. S. Wallace of the Observer; and Lady Whitson.

Before sending out its questionnaire to members, the Society had the benefit of authoritative addresses from the BBC's Director of Scottish Programmes, Andrew Stewart, and the secretary of the Scottish Council for Schools Broadcasting, summaries of which were circulated to members.

The Society also intended to hold meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and other centres, at which members of the public as well as of the Society, were invited to contribute ideas and criticisms for consideration.[1]

Format of the questionnaire

Form of control

"At present Scottish Broadcasting forms a small part of the service for the whole of Britain under the control of the British Broadcasting Corporation, for which the Minister of Information answers in Parliament. A Regional Director is in immediate administrative control in Scotland, under London supervision.

In peace time there was a Regional programme on a separate wave-length, the function of radio in Scotland being (as described by the Director of Scottish Programmes) to provide a purely Scottish contribution to British programmes. Its scope and quality were strictly limited by that policy.

Bearing the above points in mind :—

  1. Do you wish a return to the pre-war Regional system?
  2. Do you feel that broadcasting in Scotland should be controlled by an independent Scottish Corporation working in co-operation with other broadcasting authorities?
  3. Would you support the introduction of programmes sponsored commercially — as in the USA — or sponsored by private associations and groups of listeners — as in pre-war Holland?

Programmes

  1. In your view what were the aspects of Scottish Broadcasting which have been well presented, e.g., News, Music, Drama, Variety, Feature or documentary programmes, education, talks both critical and factual, political comment, religious programmes?
  2. Which of the above were badly handled or largely overlooked?
  3. What are your views and suggestions as regards Gaelic programmes?
  4. Would you prefer:
    1. a continuance of the present mixed programmes on one wave-length carrying both serious items and what has been termed "background music"?
    2. two separate wave-lengths, one carrying a programme requiring sustained listening, and the other mainly providing a background for cooking, knitting, reading, writing, cross-word puzzles or other occupations?

General

  1. Apart from any of the above questions, what are your main criticisms of the present and pre-war system and programmes—from the Scottish point of view? And is reception good in your area?

Preliminary results

The replies to the questionnaire were summarised at the Society's annual general meeting in Edinburgh on Saturday 1 July 1944.

The president, Robert Hurd, said that the questionnaire 'had exceeded all expectations' with 300 replies having been received. (At the same meeting it was stated that the membership of the Society numbered 955, an increase of 300 during the year.)[2]

On the form of control, the question that was answered most widely, a majority of six to one favoured an independent Scottish broadcasting corporation, with few voting for the continuance of the BBC's Regional system and only 30 replies favouring commercial programmes similar to those of the United States.[3]

On programmes, Hurd did not think that any item was more unanimously condemned than the Scottish news service. It was also objected that Scottish broadcasting was so cut up into small snippets that there could be no sustained effort in it.

Published report

The final report was approved by the Council of the Saltire Society in November 1944 and was published officially on 19 December 1944 in the form of a pamphlett. The report was submitted to the BBC and the Secretary of State for Scotland, Thomas Johnston.

Recommendations

The Aims of Broadcasting

The report outlined the proper functions of a broadcasting service under 5 headings as follows:

  1. To reflect and interpret the life and background of its listeners.
  2. To inspire and entertain, and to act as an enlightened patron of the arts in Scotland.
  3. To provide a forum for discussion and means of education.
  4. To conduct an efficient and objective news service, holding a wholesome balance betweenScottish and world news.
  5. To maintain a close relationship, by means of relay broadcasts particularly for cultural and technical purposes, between Scotland and other countries both within and furth of the British Commonwealth.

The Scope of Scottish Broadcasting

For the five-fold aims to be realised, the Society forsaw a demand for scope and enterprise in programme building far beyond anything that could be permitted within the narrow confines of the pre-war 'Regional' system, which not only limited Scottish programmes to items dealing with Scottish subjects, but imposed a rate of fee too low to secure the best talent consistently; it was in effect designed to provide, as inexpensively as possible, what can best be described as characteristically "Scotch" contributions to British programmes.

Given a more courageous policy, the Society was convinced that much more could be done to exploit Scottish resources of broadcasting material. For instance:

  • With the establishment of small studios for occasional use in such towns as Galashiels, Dumfries, Ayr, Perth, Elgin, Inverness, Kirkwall, Stornoway, and Oban, we could envisage both a considerable access of broadcasting material hitherto untapped, and the opening up of valuable new contacts between the broadcasting authority and its listeners.
  • The relaying of foreign programmes of particular interest to Scotland, together with both the performance of drama and discussion of controversial subjects of universal interest by Scots people themselves, would greatly enrich their cultural and political life.

Administrative Control

The Society regarded it as essential that a Scottish govermng body should be appointed, responsible to the Secretary of State for Scotland. As far as finance was concerned, it saw two alternatives:

(a) either the revenue from Scottish licence holders (some £400,000) should be handed intact to the Scottish Governors, programmes and organisation under their control being designed accordingly, quality being considered as paramount, and daily broadcasting being concentrated on the hours when the majority can listen rather than spread thinly over the whole day; or

(b) a sum proportionate to Scottish needs should be allocated from British revenues to be at the unfettered disposal of the Scottish Governors, on the assumption that a British authority would act as their agent for all contacts outside Scotland.

Listeners' Influence on Programmes

Believing that the reason behind the favourable comments on schools broadcasting was that it was directly influenced by those primarily concerned — ie. by the teaching profession though the Scottish Council for School Broadcasting — the Society wanted the same principle extended to other programmes. Therefore, it suggested that small Councils, consisting of listeners with appropriate qualifications, be appointed by the Governors, to promote its five aims of broadcasting.

Freedom of Speech and Experiment

To guard against the tendency of BBC "administration" to exert a deadening influence on broadcasting activities, the Society suggested that there should be a recognised means of direct contact between the governing body and both creative and administrative staffs.

References

  1. Robert Hurd, 'Letters to the Editor: Scottish Broadcasting', Glasgow Herald, 14 April 1944.
  2. 'Scots broadcasts: Society's questionnaire', Glasgow Herald, 3 July 1944, 5.
  3. 'BBC Glasgow tone is too "refaned"', Sunday Express, 2 July 1944.