BBC charts the history of its radio days: The doors of Broadcasting House are being thrown open to the public. Martin Wroe reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
SEVENTY years ago the BBC broadcast its first news bulletin. The news was read - twice - by Arthur Burrows, 'first of all rapidly and then slowly, repeating on the second occasion, wherever necessary, details upon which the listeners may wish to make notes'.

Mr Burrows could have repeated it several times because listeners did not have the opportunity to retune to Jazz FM or Capital or even, as they can in three weeks time, to Classic FM, the first national commercial competition that BBC Radio has faced.

Conscious that Mr Burrows' era is long gone and that commercial competition is whittling away an ever greater share of the great British listening audience, yesterday, for the first time, the BBC threw wide the huge bronze doors of Broadcasting House. At pounds 3.50 a time the Corporation is inviting the public to a lavish pounds 200,000 exhibition of the history of radio in the very place that its first board of governors called a 'Temple of the arts and muses'.

Visitors can trace radio's growth from the era of crystal sets and the formation of the BBC in 1922 to the latest in radio technology. They can ask engineers why their reception is dodgy and get personalities to sign their autograph books.

The former art-deco glory of Broadcasting House's corridors has been recreated by Neal Potter, who designed the Museum of the Moving Image, furnishing them with a permanent archive of BBC history from original scripts to ancient copies of Radio Times and even the King's microphone.

The exhibition, open to BBC staff this week, has already captured their enthusiasm - yesterday someone rang Sandra Chalmers, the head of radio publicity, who thought it all up, to say that that she had just found in her office an original script for the first edition of Listen With Mother.

The actress Ysanne Churchman, who played Grace Archer in The Archers, provided a coffin plate sent to her by a listener in 1955 when Grace was sensationally killed in a stable fire in a brilliant BBC spoiling tactic on the night that ITV was launched. The exhibition climaxes with a multi-media spectacular in the concert hall in which dramatic lighting effects are married to archive and contemporary radio clips.

Ostensibly BH 92 - The Radio Show marks the 60th anniversary of Broadcasting House, the 70th of the BBC and the 25th of Radios 1,2,3 and 4. But there is another good reason to remind the public of the corporation's quality, a clue to which is found in the Artists' Lobby, early in the exhibition. One of the many glass cases contains a copy of the original charter granted to the Corporation in 1927. The current charter, granted in 1981, expires on 31 December 1996 and this autumn, the Heritage Minister, David Mellor, publishes his Green Paper on the BBC's future.

The exhibition is a timely reminder to the public and the Government of the scope and quality of BBC radio.

Sandra Chalmers is hoping that Mr Mellor may find time to pop in: 'The exhibition is about the magic of radio, a celebration that shows that if you fund things the way we do at the BBC then you can do things you couldn't possibly do if you are funded by advertising.'

BH 92 runs from Saturday to 4 October. Closed on Mondays. Information: 071-927 5055.

(Photograph omitted)