BBC 100: a century of UK broadcasting

Bank of old TV sets showing black and white footage

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) turned 100 years old in 2022. A centenary provides the ideal opportunity for reflection on the long story of the oldest broadcasting organisation in the world and the future of how we, as individuals and collectively, engage with broadcast content in the future.

Over the course of its first 100 years, the BBC has become integral to our collective cultural life and has played an important role in telling the UK’s story since the very first broadcast moment back in 1922, when the BBC began its first daily radio service in London.

AHRC’s programme of public engagement activity throughout 2022 saw arts and humanities researchers engage people with research about the history and future story of broadcasting in the UK.

The BBC’s broadcast ecosystem has touched every corner of the four nations of the UK, creating a sense of commonality and community, from the ‘iconic’ pips, the bells of Big Ben and pioneering soap operas and documentaries to the important role that local radio and TV has played in connecting communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right from its earliest days, the BBC has been at the forefront of many of the biggest technological changes that have affected the way that we consume content and live our lives, from the introduction of colour TV in the late 1960s to the ground-breaking iPlayer. In the 21st century the pace and winds of technological change have increased with the streaming services, podcasting and ability to connect on the move via smartphones.

AHRC’s BBC 100 Engagement Fellow

Dr Marcus Collins at the University of Loughborough was AHRC’s BBC 100 Engagement Fellow. His engagement activities throughout 2022, which involved collaborating with partner organisations, focused on the 1960s exploring the role of the BBC in the story of a decade of huge social and cultural change.

Highlights from 2022 included:

  • performances from non-white, non-straight and non-male theatre of ‘lost’ BBC documentaries about ethnicity, sexuality and gender that will juxtapose the past to the present and challenge histories of social change
  • working with the OCR exam board and the Historical Association to use archival BBC news footage to show schoolchildren the actions and reactions of marginalised groups in 1960s Britain
  • improving access to BBC archival collections, including using artificial intelligence to transcribe (and make searchable) radio archives with the British Library
  • bringing together the work of other researchers on the history of the BBC in a ‘BBC at 100’ symposium, held at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, in September 2022, to help frame future research questions, and to help coordinate public engagement with research around the centenary
Screenshot of Steve Rogers from 1968 BBC documentary 'Man Alive: Consenting Adults II – The Women'.

Steve Rogers from ‘Man Alive: Consenting Adults II – The Women’ (1968). Credit: BBC

BBC 100: public engagement projects

We funded seven public engagement projects across the UK where researchers will work directly with the BBC, and other partner organisations, to engage public audiences with their research about the BBC – including projects on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘Call the Midwife’. These projects were both place-based and thematic, and will see researchers engage with communities.

A significant number of the projects explore issues around diversity and inclusion, including the representation of black women, the LGBTQ+ community and the Deaf community on screen and in radio.

These projects gave a voice to a wider representation of the UK, to find out how the BBC has impacted their lives, and to use their findings to influence future programming in broadcast media. Public audiences were invited to participate in a range of activities, including:

  • filmmaking
  • podcasts
  • exhibitions
  • oral history interviews
  • workshops

Being Human hub

AHRC provided funding for the University of Bradford to deliver a BBC 100 hub as part of the annual Being Human Festival in November 2022 (this is a nationwide festival of the humanities delivered by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with AHRC).

Researchers at Bradford ran seven events across the festival that saw collaboration with partner organisations across the city and west Yorkshire region to run a programme of creative and innovative activities, where researchers will go off campus to engage with communities and get them actively involved in research. The National Science and Media Museum were part of the festival too.

University of Bradford's Being Human Festival - image of participants in park.

Being Human Festival. Credit: University of Bradford

Blending virtual and real life with XR Stories

The centenary of the BBC provided a canvas to explore the broader future of the broadcast media. It is a sector where innovation is constant and viewing habits having changed beyond recognition in the 21st century, with the introduction of new technologies and streaming services.

AHRC collaborated with XR Stories (one of our nine Creative Industries Clusters, based at the University of York) on a public engagement programme that engaged young people in West Yorkshire around the future of the broadcast media, new technologies, and new ways of consuming and interacting with media.

BBC partnerships

AHRC has worked in collaboration with the BBC over the last decade to enable researchers to share their ideas with the public and connect our research community with programme-makers.

We have worked with BBC Radio 3 over the last 13 years on delivering the pioneering New Generation Thinkers scheme. Each year 10 early career researchers are selected to make programmes for Radio 3 and deliver public engagement activities. There are now 130 New Generation Thinkers.

The New Thinking Podcast is in its fourth season. Each season has 20 podcasts presented by New Generation Thinkers, and in 2021 we had a spin-out season of 26 Green Thinking Podcasts that were released in the run-up to the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. Each podcast takes a deeper dive into the latest thinking and ideas around arts and humanities research.

2022 saw two Forgotten Diverse Composers concerts which celebrated the works of seven diverse composers championed by seven researchers. The first of two concerts celebrating their music was aired in February 2022, and a second concert took place in October. As part of this collaboration with BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Philharmonic new learning resources are available via the BBC learning section of the website and a programme of secondary school engagement in Salford.

Last updated: 13 April 2023

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