The BBC in Scotland: The First Fifty Years (book)
The BBC in Scotland: The First Fifty Years is a book by former BBC Scotland assistant controller David Pat Walker, charting the history of the Corporation north of the border in the period from 1923 to 1973. It was researched and written by Walker as an internal BBC project in the 1970s, but on the initiative of former BBC Scotland editor Mike Shaw, it finally saw publication by Luath Press in October 2011 (with a small measure of financial support from BBC Scotland).
Back cover text
"The key figure in the story of British broadcasting was a Scot, John Reith, who took great personal interest in the development of the British Broadcasting Company (later Corporation) in Scotland. But who were these early Scottish broadcasters? What were their challenges? What did they achieve? How did the service grow over its first 50 years? David Pat Walker offers an insider's look at the events that shaped the nation's broadcaster. From the early, frantic radio broadcasts of the 1920s to coded war broadcasts and the promotion of Scottish drama, the BBC's first 50 years served to define an institution whose influence continues to the present day."
David Pat Walker's connection to the BBC began in Glasgow in his early life and his career with the corporation began to take shape when he joined the new television service in 1952. Working his way up the company to the position of Acting Controller in 1975, he played a key role in building up the Edinburgh base of BBC Scotland and made a notable contribution to the development of The Beechgrove Garden.
- The First Radio Stations
- The Rise of Edinburgh
- Programme Expansion
- The Renaissance of Glasgow
- The War Years
- Radio Rules
- The Arrival of Television
- New Challenges
- A Diversity of Opinion
- 'Tiger at the Gate'
The book received mixed reviews on its publication.
The journalist Kenneth Roy criticised it for pulling down the curtain in 1973, "just as the plot was about to get interesting":
Written by an insider with a generally benevolent view of the organisation he served for many years, the book is distinguished by its pleasant narrative, into which nastiness and thuggery seldom intrude.
The book is sub-titled a ‘personal memoir’. It is not. There is nothing of Pat Walker in it, too little of anyone else, and a disappointing absence of indiscretion... The book has the flavour of an authoritative, fairly bland, impeccably sourced company history, compiled from access to minutes and records.
Ross Anderson, a former managing editor of radio news and current affairs at BBC Radio Scotland, called it "a solid source for anyone interested in the start of broadcasting in Scotland", but concurred with Roy regarding the cut-off date, "wondering about the dramas and developments waiting to be recounted by the next person to take on the story". Of the period Walker did cover, Anderson wrote:
Though good to be reminded of long-forgotten programmes it would have been intriguing if Pat Walker had been able to give us more of the stories behind those and other programmes: successes, mishaps, and frustrations.
A reviewer for the Rampant Scotland website wrote:
I must admit to having a limited interest in the various managerial appointments over the years and even less in the intricacies of various transmitters and other technical matters. But there is plenty of of other material which will interest the general reader [...] It is a worthy record of a large and important part of Scottish life but also a readable one."
In April 2017, Andrew Hook wrote in Scottish Review that Walker's former position as assistant controller was "the source of both the book's strength and perhaps its weakness":
[T]here is a sense in which Mr Walker's voice seems to be identical to that of the BBC itself: reliable yes, but also neutral, disengaged, rather flat. In his choice of title, the author insists on the personal nature of his memoir. But any sense of his own personality is exactly what is missing [...] He reports the arguments on both sides, but gives little indication of any strong feelings of his own. In fact emotional engagement of any kind is not apparent in this history.
Other media coverage
- Jamie McIvor, 'Book charts 50 years of BBC Scotland', BBC News, 27 October 2011.
- Mike Shaw, 'BBC staff’s Capital idea for scaring a nation senseless', Edinburgh Evening News, 17 November 2011.
- 'BBC in Scotland, The' Luath Press website.
- 'Beebus Scotticus', Scottish Review of Books, Volume 7 Issue 4, 12 November 2011.
- 'Book review: The BBC in Scotland: The First Fifty Years', Scotsman, 26 November 2011.
- DL, 'Book Review: The BBC in Scotland: The First Fifty Years', Rampant Scotland, 20 April 2012.
- Andrew Hook, 'Beeb Battles', Scottish Review, 5 April 2017.