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The absence of television: broadcasting and war in Britain, 1939-45

Bignell, J. ORCID: (2021) The absence of television: broadcasting and war in Britain, 1939-45. In: Dickason, R. (ed.) Issues and Singularity in the British Media. Atlande, Paris. (In Press)

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This chapter asks what the response of the BBC to the beginning of the Second World War reveals about British broadcasting, regarded as what the media theorist Raymond Williams (1974) called a technology and a cultural form. It investigates how the reasons for stopping BBC television and reconfiguring radio were intertwined with ideas about the cultural role of broadcasting as a socially inclusive medium, the technological development of radio and television technologies for military uses, and the ways that Britain deployed broadcasting in ways both similar to and different from other nations. After the discovery of the properties of electromagnetic waves and their implementation for radio and television at the end of the 19th century, the evolutionary paths of these technologies were by no means determined. That radio and television became separate domestic broadcast technologies was merely one line of development, as their roles in the Second World War show. Both civilian and military uses of radio thrived, while television was relatively marginal and mutated instead into its sister technology, radar. Competition between individual inventors, nations and corporations was harnessed to push technologies of transmission and reception very quickly, and the ideological character of the different warring powers produced radio and television cultures that were relatively distinct. The absence of television in Britain from 1939 to 1945 offers, paradoxically, an effective focus on the significance of broadcast media in the period.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:100026
Uncontrolled Keywords:Television; radio; radar; broadcasting; BBC; Second World War; British history; media history

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