History, Heritage and Archives: Listening-in: Women and the early BBC

Date & Time:

1st March, 16:00


Online event; the link will be sent to those who register.


Dr. Kate Murphy dicusses female audiences for BBC radio in the early 20th century.

Dr Kate Murphy (Bournemouth University) Listening-in: Women and the early BBC
Following its creation in October 1922, the BBC introduced a schedule of radio programmes that would grow to include music, comedy, drama, sports, news, school broadcasts, Children’s Hour and talks, amongst much else. Alongside this expanding range and breadth of output was a growing audience. From a handful of listeners at the close of 1922, by the outbreak of the Second World War, almost the whole nation was able to listen-in. A large part of this audience were women, particularly during daytime hours when, following convention, wives and mothers would be at home. This talk is about the women who tuned in to the BBC, and the way that BBC producers, mostly women, devised output that they hoped would meet their needs. But, with a single national network and little alternative choice, how did they set about appealing to an audience that would include women of all ages, married and single, rural and urban, and with wildly differing financial status and personal tastes? And, with no Listener Research Department in place until the late 1930s, how did they gauge audience reaction and assess who their audience was? Archival sources for this talk include BBC memos and Radio Times.

Kate Murphy is a Visiting Fellow at Bournemouth University, where she worked from 2012-2020. Initially Programme Leader for the BA (Hons) Radio degree, she then set up the BA (Hons) History degree, which she led from 2015. Prior to her academic career, Kate was a BBC producer for twenty-four years, primarily on the Radio Four programme Woman’s Hour. In 2005, she started a part-time PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London and in 2012, completed her thesis on the employment of women at the BBC in the 1920s and 1930s. She has since written widely about women at the BBC and her book Behind the Wireless: An Early History of Women was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016. Hilda Matheson: A Life of Secrets and Broadcasts, co-authored with Michael Carney, will be published by Handheld Press in September 2023.