The History of BBC Broadcasting in Scotland, 1923–1983 (book)

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The History of BBC Broadcasting in Scotland, 1923–1983 is a book written by Dr W. H. McDowell and published by Edinburgh University Press in 1992. Based on an academic thesis, it was the first standard text on modern Scottish broadcasting history and, for nearly 20 years, remained the only one, until the publication in 2011 of David Pat Walker's The BBC in Scotland: The First Fifty Years. In the preface, the author describes the book as "an institutional history of the BBC which focuses primarily on the history and development of BBC public service broadcasting in Scotland". Due to the application of the thirty-year rule on the BBC's written archives, Dr McDowell did not have direct access to internal BBC documents after 1962.

Publisher description

"A detailed history of the BBC in Scotland, this book traces its growth from the first local radio station in the 1920s through to the 1980s when the BBC provided two network TV channels with Scottish opt-out programmes, a national radio channel for Scotland, and many area and community radio stations and network radio services. The author places Scottish development within the wider UK context and shows how the BBC in Scotland has developed as part of a centralized broadcasting organization. The book is based on extensive research and features statistical information. The author relates Scotland to other BBC regions and provides a comparative study of independent broadcasting. This book should be of interest to students undertaking media and communications courses in the UK, and to organizations dealing with the arts and the media. It is mainly directed at undergraduate and postgraduate students, but may also be useful for project work by secondary school pupils."


The book received a number of poor reviews following its publication. William Hamish Fraser, Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the University of Strathclyde, wrote:

It is hard to imagine that a dull book could be written on the history of broadcasting, but I am sorry to say that Dr McDowell's book, which began life as an Edinburgh University thesis, is rather on the dull side. The point is that it is not a history of broadcasting at all; it is a history of the administration of the BBC in Scotland. Apart from occasional lists of some Scottish programmes, the creative activities hardly feature at all."[1]

The historian Christopher Harvie felt that the book failed to "get properly inside" the organisation:

McDowell seems so transfixed by the administrative record that he finds it difficult to weigh the personal, political and intellectual elements not contained therein.[2]

Jan Loft of Southwest State University wrote:

The author describes in great detail a history of the creation of the Regional (Scottish) broadcast service, which some readers may find difficult to absorb. Indeed, because of the extent of the material, readers may find the material rather heavy going unless they are engaged in similar research.

She went on:

What is helpful is that a researcher can easily read and understand any section of the book without having read any preceding chapters. This is due to McDowell's format of providing background information in each subdivision which he already had addressed in previous sections of the book. Conversely, someone may find the repetition, or review, of material too burdensome or redundant. How a reader uses the book will determine the advantages or disadvantages of the format."[3]



  1. W. Hamish Fraser, 'Review', Scottish Economic & Social History, May 1994, Vol. 14, No. 1, 139-140.
  2. Christopher Harvie, Scottish Historical Review, October 1994.
  3. Jan Loft, 'Book reviews — The History of BBC Broadcasting in Scotland', Journalism History, Spring 1994.