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British Politics and the Radio

Radio broadcasts began on 14th November 1922 just in time for the next day’s general election results to be broadcast.

The 1923 election was the first in which the party leaders made broadcasts. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative leader, was the first to master the new medium with a manner which suggested he was just talking to people from an armchair by their fireside (whereas the Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald used a broadcast of a speech at a mass rally in Glasgow using a style that did not translate to radio).

Baldwin was able to give people the feeling that they knew him and was able to project his image as the peacemaker above party politics. At one point in a broadcast he even stopped to strike a match to light his pipe.

Despite disliking the medium, George V agreed to start Christmas broadcasts in 1932. However, the newspapers kept their control of the news and the BBC was not allowed to broadcast a bulletin until 7pm.

The dullness of radio coverage was criticised for failing to provide any interest for the public during the early period of the war and even for encouraging people to listen to German propaganda broadcasting in English as an alternative.

During the war it was transformed and became an important mass medium. As well as Churchill’s famous speeches, government advice and news information about the progress of the war, innovative programmes began and continued after the war.

Popular music to be played in factories, Desert Island Discs and the surreal comedy ITMA, which poked fun at authority and the class system, all began during the war. Any Questions, a political discussion programme, without frontbench politicians unlike the present programme, and The Archers, the first soap opera, started in the early post-war period.

The rise of television reduced the importance of radio, and though there is still a traditional audience, radio is now mainly what people listen to when they are doing something else, especially driving or getting ready for work.

The early morning news programme is still important for setting the political agenda and the development of talk shows has allowed the direct expression of public views about issues to be broadcast to a mass audience.