BBC Radio and Television between the Wars

The next Media History seminar features Amanda Wrigley & John Wyver talking about BBC radio and television between the wars. The meeting will take place at 6pm on Tuesday November 8 in Senate House Room 243.

Dr Amanda Wrigley, ‘BBC Radio as “a new and exciting means of education” in the interwar years’

Amanda Wrigley is Mid-Career Research Fellow in the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research at Birmingham City University; she is also Research Fellow in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster, where she has worked with John Wyver since 2011 on the AHRC-funded Screen Plays project and its impact. She is a cultural historian working on the interconnecting histories of theatre, television, radio and the printed word in twentieth-century Britain, focusing on radio and television programmes which adapt and create dramatic and literary forms, especially those which engage with the literature and history of ancient Greece, with a special interest in the experience of the listener, viewer and reader and the educational dimensions of mass media. Her latest book, published by OUP in 2015, is Greece on Air: Engagements with Ancient Greece on BBC Radio, 1920s-1960s. She is writing a companion volume on the production history of Greek plays on British television from 1958. Website:

John Wyver, ‘The arts on early television and the BBC’s cultural mission in the interwar years’

Regular BBC Television transmissions began on 2 November 1936, and until the war forced the closure of the Alexandra Palace studios at the start of September 1939 there was a daily service of music, drama, dance and talks. Almost nothing of this extensive output was recorded but much of it is documented in Radio TimesThe Listener and the BBC Written Archives at Caversham. These sources allow us to explore the programme content in detail, including television’s extensive engagement with the arts in these years.

This paper offers an overview of the extensive and eclectic cultural output, which included several hundred dramas, numerous concerts of classical music and dance performances, and on-screen appearances by prominent visual artists, architects, writers and film makers. The programming extended the BBC’s mainstream understanding of its public service mission under Lord Reith but at the same time, perhaps because television was a marginal service with a very small metropolitan audience, it included a number of experimental broadcasts exploring themes and ideas often associated with interwar modernism in Britain.

John Wyver is Principal Research Fellow in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster. He was Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded research project Screen Plays: Stage Plays on British Television, 2011-15. He is Director of Screen Productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company, advising on its strategy for broadcast and screen versions of its productions, and he produces their Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcasts. For the past thirty years he has also run the independent media producer and publisher Illuminations which creates and distributes innovative television. He has published widely on the arts, especially theatre plays, on television and his current book project is RSC Shakespeare on Screen for Bloomsbury’s Arden Shakespeare series, to appear in 2018. Website:

All are welcome. Further information about the seminar is available through the Institute of Historical Research ( and the Institute of English Studies (

Media History Seminar Programme 2016-17

Here’s the provisional schedule for this year’s Media History Seminar jointly run by the Institute of English Studies and Institute of Historical Research. The seminars will take place at Senate House on designated Tuesdays starting at 6pm. Everyone is welcome.

“Media History” Programme 2016-17:

Session 1 (18 October 2016):

Prof. Steve Connor (Cambridge)

“Psychotechnographies: Why All Machines Are Writing Machines”

Senate House Room 104

Session 2 (8 November 2016):

Dr Amanda Wrigley (Westminster)

“BBC Radio as ‘a new and exciting means of education’ in the interwar years”

Dr John Wyver (Westminster)

“The arts on early television and the BBC’s cultural mission in the interwar years”

Senate House Room 243

Session 3 (24 January 2017):

Prof. Jane Chapman (Lincoln)

“Double the Work, but Double the Scope? Researching Comparative and Interdisciplinary Media History”

Senate House Room 243

Session 4 (28 February 2017):

Prof. Marianne van Remoortel (Ghent)

“Pioneer or Copycat? The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine in its European Context”

Respondent: Dr Birgit Van Puymbroeck (Ghent)

Senate House Room 243

Session 5 (16 May 2017):

Dr Simon Rowberry (Stirling)

“Resurrecting the Ebook: A media archaeological excavation of the Kindle’s development, 1930-2007”

Senate House Chancellor’s Hall

The schedule will be updated and additional information provided about the talks in due course. In the meantime, please save the dates.

This seminar is generously supported by the Media History journal, Queen Mary University of London’s English Department, the Institute of English Studies, and the Institute of Historical Research.