Val Gielgud and the BBC


The Political Economy of the BBC


Although the BBC was funded by licence fee, it was not the case that the BBC did not operate with commercial imperatives. For a successful contemporary novelist such as Compton Mackenzie, his central involvement in the new medium of storytelling was crucial to the successful marketing of his fictional writing as well as the marketing and hyperbole promotion of his celebrity status. The Radio Times and Listener magazines were crucial in complementing the BBC's income and the degree to which this commercialism was operable is evident in any study of the advertisement content of the Radio Times. It is also symbolic of Britain's economy which was a global imperialist structure predicated more on imperialist protectionism than free trade. Empire and dominions provided raw materials and comestibles such as butter, apples, tea, oranges, and coffee. Britain's manufacturing base returned the electrical and engineering products such as ships, cars, fridges, and machinery. It was so iniquitous that by 1939, India did not have the manufacturing capacity to produce one small metal pin. The following series of adverts commissioned from the Empire Marketing Board to appear in 1929 editions of the Radio Times illustrate the nature of the economy:


Page 583, The Radio Times, June 14, 1929. Page 484, The Radio Times, November 15, 1929.


Page 643, The Radio Times, June 21, 1929. Page 197, The Radio Times, July 26, 1929.


Page 95, The Radio Times, July 12, 1929. Page 35, The Radio Times, July 5, 1929.


Page 393, The Radio Times, August 23, 1929.


The BBC was not permitted to promote its merchandising, or transmit advertisements 'on air' but it did not miss an opportunity of cross-promoting traditional publication products such as books and magazines:


Advert on page 949 of the Radio Times for December 27, 1929


Furthermore the BBC enclosed freepost self-addressed postcards for Radio Times readers offering 'gratis, free specimen copy of "The Listener" as a means for cross-promoting its developing magazine division. It cannot be denied that the process of BBC funding had a profit motive in 1929 since the Treasury and Post Office took a considerable percentage rake-off from licence fund income as this graph from the BBC's 1933 Yearbook rather graphically shows:


The lighter shade represents Post Office and Treasury share which by 1932 was rougly 50% and in the region of £1,250,000. (page 87, BBC Yearbook for 1933, London: British Broadcasting Corporation.)