Broadcasting’s ally: Elgar and the BBC

Jenny Doctor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter


The composer has an ally in Broadcasting. Radio needs all the music it can get. If the composer can write the kind that is wanted he need not wait for a performance. Music with attractive melodies, used and harmonised with distinction of thought and fancy, is nowadays hard to find … Generally speaking, when a man gets home tired and ‘fed up’, he wants to be cheered by a good, lilting tune and harmony that is distinctive without being so ‘modernish’ as to disturb the increasing tranquillity of his mental state. Thus the first BBC Handbook characterised the relationship between ‘broadcasting and the composer’ in 1928 – the sixth year of the BBC's existence – burbling on to specify that music by ‘thoroughly “English” composers is always welcomed’. The challenge for the young BBC was to discover the right music with which to define its image, with which to broadcast, quite literally, its musical identity. And as part of that, the BBC sought a specific ally, a sort of composer-mentor who could adorn and distinguish the music programmes: a ‘thoroughly English’ composer with the right demeanour and a broadly recognised reputation, who wrote music with ‘a good, lilting tune’ and just the right kind of appeal – ‘distinctive without being modernish’. That was the challenge indeed. The fledgling British Broadcasting Company was hugely ambitious, using its ever-increasing powers and financial base to negotiate ways to make a name and establish a reputation of national and international importance and influence. When founded in 1922 and placed in the hands of John Reith, it was a tiny organisation bounded by the current state of technology, with few employees, a small audience base consisting of amateur radio enthusiasts, no identity, and no direct remit with respect to output. But there was huge potential for this new mass-market medium – and, interestingly from a musical point of view, there were no expectations, conventions or traditions about how music on air might be shaped or what it might consist of.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Elgar
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002257
ISBN (Print)9780521826235
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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