The BBC then and now

Over the weekend I noted the Daily Mail story by Simon Walters based on a leaked account of the BBC’s “impartiality summit.” The story discusses the political correctness that suffocates the BBC. Think back a few years, however, and one can recall the public disgrace of the BBC in the Hutton Inquiry. The Hutton Inquiry failed to prompt the kind of historical examination of the BBC that it richly deserves.
Biographies of Winston Churchill note mostly in passing that the BBC systematically barred Churchill from discussing his defense and foreign policy views during the 1930’s; Sir John Reith was head of the BBC at the time. In the second volume of his Churchill biography, for example, William Manchester states that “Reith saw to it that [Churchill] was seldom heard over the BBC…” Reith wrote of Churchill in Reith’s monumentally voluminous diaries, “I absolutely hate him.”
In the fall of 1938 Churchill was scheduled to appear on the BBC for a half-hour talk — on the Mediterranean. When the Czech crisis erupted, Manchester reports, Churchill asked that the program be cancelled. On the Saturday before Parliament’s debate on the Munich Agreement, Churchill agreed nevertheless to meet with (future Communist spy) Guy Burgess of the BBC. Churchill complained to Burgess, according to Burgess’s recollection, that “he had been very badly treated in the matter of political broadcasts and that he was always muzzled by the BBC.”
Why did Reith detest Churchill? In Reith’s eyes, Churchill was of course a warmonger, and Reith, not coincidentally, held Hitler in the highest regard. How little times have changed.


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