IVAN METHUSELAH'S
CARPET-LINER
LISTENING FIGURES


Ivan's been redecorating again, and is most excited about what he's found under the carpet... why, it's the results of surveys by the BBC Listener Research Department and the British Institute of Public Opinion in 1946. Perhaps this will make for an interesting contrast between tastes now and 50 years ago.

First, a few notes about broadcast media in 1946, for those who are too young to remember:

Television is but a dream to those outside London. The Midlands doesn't come on line until the end of 1949, the North in 1951, with most of the rest arriving in 1952. Even in London, TV had only been broadcasting since June 7th 1946 having taken a break for the war. Consequently, TV is a very small element of broadcasting in 1946.

FM is only a rumour and will not start until 1955. The BBC holds the monopoly on radio broadcasting in the UK. The Home Service (proto-Radio 4), operating as seven regional "opt-out"-style services, launched in 1939. The Light Programme (proto-Radio 2) arrived as recently as 1945. The Third Programme only started broadcasting at the end of September 1946, and is currently only on for five hours a night. Alternatively you could try to pick up an overseas station, most of which are being used to entertain those troops left in Europe after the war.

The data I have in my mitts is not nearly so detailed as the Ofcom PSB report, but let's see what we can make something of...

% APPROVAL RATING by CLASS of TYPES OF PROGRAMMING

UPPER-MIDDLE
LOWER-MIDDLE
WORKING
VARIETY
29
39
56
CINEMA ORGANS
19
26
37
DANCE MUSIC
10
18
32
MUSICAL COMEDY
24
27
31
MILITARY BANDS
20
22
27
TALKS
38
34
21
DISCUSSIONS
34
28
16
SHORT STORIES
19
22
15
CHURCH ORGANS
18
14
12
GRAND OPERA
22
17
8
SYMPHONY CONCERTS
27
16
6
POETRY
12
11
4
CHAMBER MUSIC
12
8
3
Where to start with this table? Well let's start with the closest data we have from 2006:

% SHARE of CHANNEL AUDIENCE by SOCIO-ECONOMIC GROUP

 
A/B
C1
C2/D/E
BBC ONE
19
25
56
BBC TWO
21
24
55
BBC THREE
18
29
53
BBC FOUR
29
32
38
ITV 1
13
23
63
CHANNEL 4
16
26
58
FIVE
14
21
65

It's not much of a comparison; not least because TV and Radio are very different kettles of eggs. But both tables essentially tell us the same basic fact: snooty high arts are not loved by common folk. Oh... and Church Organs aren't very popular with anybody. Military Bands are universally tolerated. Nobody likes Chamber Music.

Perhaps a more useful lump of modern statistics is the BBC Radio ratings from the end of 2006:

 

WEEKLY
REACH

Radio 1
10,262,000
Radio 2
13,269,000
Radio 3
2,028,000
Radio 4
9,342,000
Five Live
5,846,000
1Xtra
368,000
Sports Extra
650,000
6 Music
383,000
BBC 7
672,000
Asian Network
493,000
World Service
1,264,000
Local Radio
10,262,000


 
% SHARE of BBC RADIO AUDIENCE by STATION

Data by Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd.

Look at digital radio take off! My word. Yes, the light entertainments that are R1 and R2, make up nearly half the pie. That's the cinema organs and dance music end of the market kept sweet. Radio variety is dead now, and in its place are the talks and discussions of BBC Local Radio and R4. Sport and news don't get a mention in the '46 survey, so there's not much for us to compare to R5. But Grand Opera, Symphony Concerts, Poetry and Chamber Music are still not popular, and poor old R3 hangs limply like a distended tear on the clownish face of Simon Rattle.

When asked "What kind of programme would you like to hear more frequently on the BBC?", 21% said Variety, another 21 said Plays. Serious music and opera polled 11%, as did talks and discussions. Light music was favoured by 9% and dance music by 4. If listeners "could make a single change to improve the BBC", 21.5 % would have more light programmes, while 16 % would have more serious programmes. 8.5 % wanted better transmission. Asked "What is your chief complaint against the BBC, or are you satisfied with their programmes?", 41% were satisfied, 11% thought there were too many light programmes and 11% thought there were too many serious programmes.

Four more questions from the BIPO survey for now, and then we'll move on:
 

Which is your favourite radio dance band?
Who is your favourite radio singer?
Who is your favourite radio comedian?
Is there a radio comedian whom you particularly dislike?
Sylvester (17%)
Geraldo (10%)
Henry Hall (9%)
Jack Payne (6%)
Ambrose (6%)
Ziegler and Booth (13%)
Tauber (8.5%)
Crosby (7%)
A.Shelton (6.5%)
T.Handley (38.5%)
V.Oliver (5%)
W.Hay (4.5%)
R.Wilton (4%)
C.Fletcher (4%)
R.Murdoch (4%)
V.Oliver (10%)
T.Handley (6.5%)
C.Fletcher (4%)
G.Potter (3.5%)

Vic Oliver, Vienna-born actor, comedian and violinist, and star of Hi, Gang!, divorced Winston Churchill's daughter in 1945. Maybe that helped bump him up in the unpopularity stakes. Or maybe he was just annoying.

Time, me-thinks, for some audience figures...
 

PROGRAMME
DESCRIPTION
STATION / TIME
AUDIENCE
millions
ITMA
Catch-phrase ridden, morale-boosting comedy chaos with Tommy Handley and co.
Home Service: Thu, 2030
13
Music Hall
Variety.
Home Service: Sat, 2000
12
Saturday Night Theatre
Popular plays from the likes of Shaw, Milne, Priestley, Pughe etc.
Home Service: Sat, 2115
11
Appointment with Fear
Thrillers in the style of US series Suspense. Mostly penned by John Dickson Carr.
Light Prog: Tue, 2130
11
Grand Hotel
Albert Sandler and the Palm Court Orchestra  present live performances of light classical music.
Light Prog: Sun, 1945
10
6.0 News
The six o'clock news.
Home Service: Daily, 1800
8
Country Magazine
Rural encounters broadcast from a different part of the country each week.
Home Service: Sun, 1315
7
Transatlantic Quiz
Fore-runner of the Round Britain Quiz, involving our American friends.
Light Prog: Sun, 1330
6
World Theatre
Plays from overseas.
Home Service: Mon, 2115
6
World Affairs
The World at 9:15.
Home Service: Wed, 2115
6
Wednesday Night Symphony Concert
Orchestral performance.
Home Service: Wed
3
Sunday Morning Service
Now trading as Sunday Worship.
Home Service: Sun, 0930
3
Today in Parliament
Still there.
Home Service: Daily, 2245
2
Questions in the Air
Discussion show, unknown to Google. Perh. a proto- Any Questions.
Home Service: Fri, 1930
2
Tuesday Piano Recital
As it says.
Home Service: Tue, 2215

These figures almost certainly pre-date the launch of the Third Programme, but as we're only looking at the million-grabbing shows it hardly makes any difference. Radio 3 today only gets 2 million listeners in a week, let alone for a single recital. But now, of course, we have television. Here then are the 15 biggest TV audiences for regular programmes in 2006 (in each case, the top-rated ep gets the score, which often means Christmas Day. Christmas Specials are therefore excluded where possible):
 

PROGRAMME
DESCRIPTION
STATION / TIME
AUDIENCE
millions
Coronation Street
Soap about a curious cobbled street of working and middle class housing, shops, a pub and a factory.
ITV1: Various, 1930
13
EastEnders
Soap about a market square with working and middle class housing, shops and a pub.
BBC1: Various, early eve.
12
Strictly Come Dancing
Celebrity dance contest with phone-vote elimination.
BBC1: Sat, 1845
12
Dancing on Ice
Strictly Come Dancing with ice skates.
ITV1: Sat, 1850
12
Lewis
Comfortable detective drama spin-off.
ITV1: Sun, 2105
11
Wild at Heart
Big game vet drama, confusingly named the same as a Lynch film.
ITV1: Sun, 2000
11
The X Factor
Singing contest with phone-vote elimination.
ITV1: Sat, 1900
11
A Touch of Frost
Comfortable detective drama with much-loved star.
ITV1: Sun, 2105
10
I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here!
Jungle-based celebrity endurance gameshow with phone-vote elimination.
ITV1: Daily, 2100
10
Emmerdale
Soap about a rural village which periodically sets on fire.
ITV1: Sun-Fri, 1900
10
Ghostboat
WW2 submarine thriller with the bloke from A Touch of Frost.
ITV1: Sun, 2100
10
Heartbeat
Long-running police drama set in a 1960s rural village populated by idiots and stereotypes.
ITV1: Sun, 2000
10
Planet Earth
Natural history doc with stunning photography and David Attenbrough.
BBC1: Sun, 2100
9
Big Brother
Zeitgeistal social experiment gameshow in which morons eliminate other morons by phone-vote.
Channel 4: Fri, 2200
8
The Apprentice
Morons are eliminated by being shouted at by a hedgehog who made '80s computers. Gameshow.
BBC2: Wed, 2100
6

The same couple of slots on the ITV of a Sunday night provide a central core of programming in this chart. Comedy has been replaced by soap at the top of the audience. But variety is still on a pretty much equal footing to the '40s, albeit shaken up a bit as elimination talent contests. Lewis and A Touch of Frost are the new Appointment with Fear, and Big Brother is the new News. Tastes do not seem dramatically different.

So let us return to the BIPO survey and find out what people thought of the BBC in the immediate post-war climate.

91% of those interviewed said they listened to the BBC, so that was a good start. 68% felt the news coverage to be impartial. Of the 18% who thought it biassed, 6% felt it was too right wing, 2% that it favoured the wealthy and 2% that it was a mouthpiece for the government.

Does the BBC most resemble an independent concern like a newspaper, or a Government controlled body like the Ministry of Information? 52% felt the latter, with a 31% preference for it being more independent. 37% took it to be independent already and 30% wanted it to stay that way.

"No discussions on atheism have been broadcast by the BBC. Would you approve or disapprove if such talks were broadcast?" received an approval of 49% to 39% disapproval. "It is difficult for an MP to ask question in Parliament about the BBC. Do you approve or should it be possible for an MP to ask questions easily?" met with 76% saying it should be easier and 15% happy with the way it was.

86% recalled Radio Normandie and Radio Luxembourg (both off air thanks to the war). 62% were aware that US radio is paid for by advertising. 53% preferred our own arrangement. 45% felt that big business would be likely to exert an influence on commercial radio. The chief advantage of commercial radio was seen to be better programmes; the chief objection was to the advertising.

When asked "Should the BBC continue to be the only radio in this country or would you also like to have commercial broadcasting, paid for by advertising?" the response was 47% against commercial, 40% for and 13% unsure. Those with lower incomes showed a slight preference to commercial (44% against 40% for the BBC only, compared with 63% BBC only from the middle and higher income brackets). The most telling differences came not with income but with age: The over 50s were most certain that the BBC should have a monopoly, with 48% to 35% for the introduction of commercial stations. In the 30-49 bracket, it was 49% / 41%, but the under 30s were unmistakably the other way inclined: 54% were convinced that commercial radio should go ahead, with only 37% in favour of the monopoly. This was at a time when FM was seen as a way to open up the bandwidth in the way that digital radio is now. But it would not be put into operation until the mid-'50s, and commercial radio would not officially arrive on any serious level until 1973.

The Radio 3 website has a .jpg copy of a 1946 Radio Times for your perusal, at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/classical/thirdprogramme/gallery/gallery.shtml?1

Thanks to the article "BBC: Profile of a Monopoly" by Frederick Laws and Gale Pedrick, from Contact Book III: Points of Contact, by Contact Publications Ltd, 1946.

Until I re-do the back bedroom, happy viewing...


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