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A little piece of BBC history

An inspiring fragment of history came my way this week. A Children's Hour Annual authorised by the British Broadcasting Corporation and edited by Derek McCullock 'Uncle Mac' of the BBC. A school prize presented 19th February 1938 to Annie Davies and published by Hutchinson London 1936

Holding a piece of history always fills me with a sense of awe - a time before my time - a time that has stood still for nigh on 80 years. Who was Annie Davies? Certainly a local girl as the school is still in the next village and how I wondered had this well-thumbed work ended up in the antique shop where I found it? A house clearance perhaps or just a time-weary item that landed on a church stall at a bring and buy sale slowly passing from hand to hand until finally reaching mine. Annie must have been so proud to receive this wonderful book and as to its condition - indications are that there was time when she hardly ever put it down...

The book captures an exciting moment in time. A time reflecting a confident pre-war Britain in which everything including Broadcasting House control room No 3 December 3rd 1934 was at the cutting edge of technology. There is an air of power and expectation about this book telling of a Britain at ease with itself. Shame though that there is no one present in the picture to operate the technically advanced 'rocket ship' control panel, the enormous GPO telephone or the grand heavy-weight talk-back microphone had there been it would in my opinion have brought much needed human involvement and added drama to an otherwise brilliant iconic art deco 'Modern Times' shot

This is not a book for toddlers far from it there are dragons and blood thirsty criminals galore and every page a riveting insight into another time. The annual in question is the second in the series and cost 3/6 net. Every author in the annual is a broadcaster. For this edition representative from each of the BBC Children's Hour regions is included – West, Bristol, Midland, Northern, Scottish and Northern Ireland together with the better-known London broadcasters. Apparently, the editor managed to capture the elusive A. J. Alan and got him to write a special forward. Other contributors include L. du Garde Peach, H. Mortimer Batten, P. G. H. Fender (a famous cricketer of the time I believe), Franklyn Kelsey, George Nash, The London Zoo man and, of course Stephen King-Hall. Apart from Uncle Mac these are names I have never heard before but I include them here because they mattered at the time and may still do so today

But they are not the end of it by any means as they represent only a small part of the annual which includes sailing, rip-roaring adventures, articles and hobbies. There was no end of things for children to build and make in the 1930s when the hope was that this book would forge a link in the chain of interest which leads from the 5.15 microphone to loudspeakers all over the country. It was hoped that each annual would find a place on a bookshelf, be regularly read and kept on the shelf until the next annual came along to join it

Reading through the book it is clear that all contributors are adults and at no time do they talk down to their audience. Far from it this is a very grown-up children's book wherein the reader is treated as an equal and with great respect. It is a most refreshing find. Each story such as 'The Pirate Who Wept' by L. du Garde Peach is prefaced by a bordered section telling of the work and exploits of the author and the story to come. It's all very clever and very well put together

On the hobby side, those with sufficient interest and skill might care to have a go at building The 'Graf Zeppelin' box kite or for the more adventurous a model helicopter might be worth a try although it does look to be a little diffy even for an adult. There is also an intriguing discussion about a baker rolling dough doll that at one time could be purchased in the Strand. The doll is the oldest mechanical toy known and originates from around 2000 BC

Finally, it is interesting to note that the BBC Type A microphone as used by 'Uncle Mac' met for a time with some controversy. In the 1930s RCA (Radio Corporation of America) demonstrated their new ribbon microphone in Hollywood and not surprisingly it came to the attention of the BBC. Sadly, the price was too high and so the BBC set about designing their own ribbon device. Was it a copy, had the BBC infringed RCAs intellectual property? Well, no they hadn't, in time it was decided that the BBC had a valid patent of their own hence the now iconic BBC Type A microphone (1934 onwards). The microphone was manufactured for the BBC by Marconi

©Joseph G Dawson