Transmitted to over 200 countries in more than 40 languages, the British Broadcasting Corporation has been woven deeply into the culture and politics of the United Kingdom over the past century—a vast social impact explored here by a British media scholar.
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.