Book Reviews -- the History of BBC Broadcasting in Scotland, 1923-1983 by W. H. McDowell

By Loft, Jan | Journalism History, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- the History of BBC Broadcasting in Scotland, 1923-1983 by W. H. McDowell


Loft, Jan, Journalism History


McDowell, W.H. The History of BBC Broadcasting in Scotland, 1923-1983. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992. 357 pp. $79.

W.H. McDowell's intent when writing The History of BBC Broadcasting in Scotland, 1923-1983 was to create an institutional account of the BBC in Scotland. There is little published material on broadcasting in Scotland and, until this book, no standard work on the BBC in Scotland to provide a regional counterpart to BBC historian Asa Briggs' work on the history of the BBC United Kingdom broadcasting. As Briggs comments in the book's foreword, this book is a contribution to the history of Scotland as well as to the BBC.

The book is the result of an extended and further-developed study of postwar Scottish broadcasting which had previously been submitted for McDowell's research degree at the University of Edinburgh. This broadcast history should encourage further research and writings by other broadcast historians, especially those who have directly participated in broadcasting. It also creates interesting reading for those who are familiar with the development of radio and television in the United States. In particular, the book lays down, in painstaking detail, the development and philosophy of public service broadcasting, which easily help create parallels to commercial broadcast development in the United States.

McDowell creates three major themes in the text: growth, centralization, and eventual competition. The author describes in great detail a history of the creation of the Regional (Scottish) broadcast service, which some readers may find difficult to absorb. Indeed, because of the extent of the material, readers may find the material rather heavy going unless they are engaged in similar research.

McDowell defends his emphasis on minute points by showing the importance of understanding the original policy-making philosophies as well as the decisions which were handed down to, or inherited , by subsequent policy-makers. The "Scottish" issues were wrestled with in every administration and broadcasting era. Some of these issues were dealing with defining what constituted "recognizably Scottish" programming, Scottish broadcast origins, and other points that would be regarded as essentially Scottish. He does a particularly good job in highlighting how Scottish concerns often conflicted with the philosophy developed by the BBC's first General Manager, John Reith, that the BBC should be an arbiter of public taste and a definer of standards. …

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