cover image The BBC: A Century on the Air

The BBC: A Century on the Air

David Hendy. PublicAffairs, $38 (656p) ISBN 978-1-61039-704-9

Broadcasting scholar Hendy (Radio in the Global Age) delivers an entertaining if uneven history of the British Broadcasting Corporation. He tracks the ups and downs of the BBC from its start as a “grand, emancipatory project” in 1920s London to its rise as an influencer of global affairs via its “Overseas Service” during WWII and its recent controversies, including allegations that longtime presenter Martin Bashir used deception to gain a 1995 interview with Princess Diana. Hendy also analyzes the BBC’s reporting on key historical events including the 1926 general strike and the Iraq War, and recounts criticism that the broadcaster, which was “founded on the belief that its job was to hold the ring in the middle of a national debate,” was caught flat-footed by the deceptions of the “Leave” side in the Brexit campaign. Though Hendy covers a lot of ground, the individuals responsible for shaping the BBC get a bit lost in the shuffle; director-general John Reith and other executives get their due, but only a handful of lesser-known employees are profiled, including Una Marson, the first Black female producer on staff, whose nervous breakdown in the 1940s Hendy attributes to the “constant hum of prejudice” at the BBC. Still, this fast-paced and accessible history provides genuine insight into one of the world’s most influential broadcasters. (Mar.)