The author knows what he is doing, and has quietly and elegantly written a book which is nothing short of a nonfiction thriller. Hendy takes a controversial subject and with riveting anecdotes offers a forensic cross-examination of BBC executives and their political adversaries. There are enough showdowns in this account to satisfy any Gunsmoke aficionado, with firings and resignations taking the place of gunfights ... Hendy’s sensitive and compelling portrayal of the BBC as a unique institution navigating a formidable obstacle course will leave readers wondering how it will survive against competitors with unlimited financial resources ... Hendy is carefully objective in his analysis but empathetic in his tone.
The author himself clearly feels the clouds gathering, and at times cannot banish an elegiac tone from his prose ... At times, Hendy succeeds magnificently. The picture he draws of the BBC during the second world war...is full of the atmospheres that make Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, her novel of the blitz-struck Broadcasting House, so compelling ... There are some sobering sections on the BBC’s early attempts to include Black and Asian perspectives ... Hendy’s bottom-up approach stutters slightly when he tackles the postwar era. It is as if the BBC becomes so big, so inchoate, and so various in its competing cultures and multifarious activities that he seems slightly to lose sight of Samuel’s 'penny-a-liners' ... He is so eager to show us the depth of the opposition to the corporation under Margaret Thatcher, and to run us through the scandals that have beset the BBC in recent years, that the granular texture of the earlier part of the book is somewhat smoothed out. Nevertheless, these sections do much to demonstrate the strength of the forces ranged against the BBC—and to show what an incredibly fragile position this much loved, much criticised organisation occupies in Britain’s divided polity.
... a treasure trove of marvellous detail and some revelations ... the people and the detail tend to crowd out some of the policy. There is also perhaps an understandable bias of interest in the past, with two-thirds of the book devoted to the first half of the BBC’s existence, inevitably leading to later compression ... a valuable contribution to understanding how the very concept of broadcasting had to be created from a blank page and repeatedly reinvented in the face of changing technology and, now, rapidly changing public taste.
Hendy...does set the scene rather well of these three influential figures at the dawning of what would turn out to be this country’s biggest and most significant cultural institution. The reader is prepared for a dramatic tale of innovation and determination as the trio succeed in establishing their new business amid a hostile and powerful Fleet Street resistance. Yet no sooner does Hendy introduce these characters than they largely slip out of the narrative. Instead, an array of other functionaries appear and pretty soon Lewis is gone, the BBC has become a corporation and listening to the radio has shifted from an obscure hobby for the wealthy to a national pastime. Exactly how that transformation takes place is lost in an abundance of information that never quite forms into a dynamic narrative. The book is an authorised history, insofar as the BBC has made its archives available to Hendy, though, as he emphasises, without any editorial control or influence. Yet there is nevertheless a sense of obligation in the writing, a need to cover the ground, even when it’s not that interesting or new ... [a] conscientious but rather pedestrian history.
Although the story of the BBC’s early days is well known, Hendy tells it colourfully and briskly, and these opening chapters are easily the most enjoyable part of his book. He is good on those first pioneers...and has some fun with the BBC’s early critics ... Although Hendy writes as a friend of the BBC, he’s not blind to its faults ... Even at more than 600 pages, Hendy’s book is simply too breathless to do such an enormous subject [as racist programming] justice ... as in so many authorised histories, this laudable ambition is soon crushed by the weight of institutional detail. The loudest voices belong to senior executives, not actors or presenters, let alone ordinary viewers and listener ... True, Hendy has a lot of ground to cover. Even so, it’s a shame that he rarely pauses to think, and never draws comparisons with the BBC’s commercial rivals or with broadcasters overseas. Perhaps above all it’s a shame that his narrative choices are just so familiar ... I wonder if his book rather undermines his argument. For the real threat to the BBC, surely, isn’t the government. It’s simply the pace of technological change, creating a cultural ecosystem at once far more globalised and far more fragmented than ever before.
Hendy’s narrative is at its liveliest in the first three decades of the BBC, when a mixture of empire builders and free spirits laid the foundations of the organisation ... Hendy’s narrative does begin to lose momentum once it reaches the 1960s. From that point onwards, it delivers a lot of familiar tales ... And Hendy seems happy to endorse the view that the present culture wars are a smokescreen for right-wing pressure groups. Isn’t there more to it than that? Calling this book 'a people’s history' is a mistake too, since the focus is very much on the executives and senior programme-makers ... this book is full of the odour of ancient memoranda and committee minutes. The folk who toiled in factories to the sound of Music While You Work or laughed at The Generation Game are vague figures in the background.
A comprehensive biography of the British Broadcasting Corporation ... Much of this history has been told before but never in such well-researched depth and sparkling detail. An appropriately large-scale account of the media giant at the very heart of British life.
... an entertaining if uneven history ... Though Hendy covers a lot of ground, the individuals responsible for shaping the BBC get a bit lost in the shuffle ... Still, this fast-paced and accessible history provides genuine insight into one of the world’s most influential broadcasters