Wartime Broadcasting

The BBC's Wartime Broadcasting Service first went in to operation during the Second World War.

Staff and resources were relocated to a site at Wood Norton near Evesham. By the end of the 1960s a large bunker was built housing four radio studios and accommodation for 100 staff.

The BBC revised its plans with the threat of nuclear attack looming, it was decided that the broadcasting service could be used to provide the population with instructions, information, guidance, news and Central Government announcements. It was also hoped that the service would give encouragement and relieve stress and strain, this was to have been achieved through pre-recorded entertainment programmes and records which would have made up fifty percent of the BBC's wartime programming.

In the event of war, the BBC would have abandoned it's peacetime service and adopt the Wartime Broadcasting Service. The aim of the Wartime Broadcasting Service was to provide medium-wave civil defence regional broadcasting across the UK, which at the time would have been divided in to twelve regions. There were nine civil defence regions in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were each regarded as separate regions.

It was assumed that in the event of nuclear strike, London and other major cities would be destroyed and communications over the rest of the country would be severely disrupted, this is why it was essential that each region was capable of acting independently of Central Government to advice and instruct the population of their region.

The service was to be delivered through a network of 54 low powered medium-wave transmitters. The BBC's main high-powered transmitters could not be used, as it was a worry that enemy aircraft would use them for navigation.

Wood Norton would provide a continuous national programme. BBC staff posted at Regional Government Headquarters around the UK could opt in to this service at any point when the regional commissioner did not require use of the system. In this way the maximum number of listeners would hear the vital life-saving information broadcasted in these transmissions. The BBC's regional staff were also prepared to provide programming in the event of the region being cut off from the central national output.

During an attack the Central Government would be relocated to the Emergency Government War Headquarters, Burlington in Corsham, therefore a studio and other facilities were installed in the bunker, which were connected directly to the existing facilities in Wood Norton. Burlington had one teleprinter circuit, one voice line and one fax line to communicate with Wood Norton.

BBC directors pre-selected eleven staff from London as well as reserves who were on stand-by to move to Corsham in the event of an attack on the UK.

The selected staff would have set out from London's Kensington Railway Station with security as a priority. As staff may have been manning the studios in Burlington up to a day or two before an attack it was of utmost importance that Burlington's existence and whereabouts should not become known to the enemy. The Government had instructed the BBC not to inform any of their nominated staff that they had been selected until as late as possible prior to relocation.

In charge in Burlington would be the Chief Assistant to the BBC Director General, directly underneath him was a team of five non-technical staff and five engineers. Their aim was to liase with Central Government. They were expected to interoperate the Government's broadcasting needs as well as keeping the Government up to date with the countries broadcast status. It was also likely that the team would need to facilitate any ministerial broadcasts as well as providing arrangements for urgent Government announcements and information to be sent out nationally.

There would also have been three BBC monitoring staff in Burlington who would have worked independently to the staff from London. These three staff, who would have relocated from Caversham would keep Central Government updated with the monitoring of foreign broadcasts being carried out at the monitoring facilities in Caversham.

The BBC were allocated four rooms within Burlington, in Area 16 rooms 56, 57 and 58 were set aside for the eleven staff from London. Room 73 in Area 14 was to be the wartime home of the BBC monitoring staff.

The studio facilities in area 16 of Burlington consisted of two rooms, both of which were the same size, the studios had hardboard panels attached to the walls to aid acoustics. There was a window between the two studios. Both of the studios were fully fitted out by the BBC, however this equipment was removed in the mid 80s. There was also a radio room. In area 15 a medium-wave transmitter was installed this fed a surface aerial which was suspended between a series of vertical posts in straight line, this would been capable of use for local transmissions. There was also a radio room which would have been used internally, there was a radio receiver which was tuned to the local BBC station, there was also the facility to play cassette and records through out the bunker.

Following a nuclear attack, control of the whole BBC would be handed over to the BBC's senior representative in Burlington as the Government were expected to take control of the Wartime Broadcasting Service from this location.

The moment when the Wartime Broadcasting Service would have gone in to action was know as 'N Hour' ('N' for National). An hour before this occurred a process of preparing the public and promoting the importance of the need to listen to the Wartime Broadcasting Service was started, this was known as 'A Hour' (Announcements Hour). At this time published peacetime programmes for both radio and television would cease for good, the visual network of the television service would not be used after this time but the Home, Light, Third and television sound network would work in conjunction to take announcements promoting the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This would continue for 30 minutes until a time known as 'S Hour' (Silent Hour). At this time transmissions would stop for 30 minutes leading up until the launch of the Wartime Broadcasting Service at 'N Hour', the televisions network would be closed down completely at this point. At 'N Hour' civil defence regional broadcasting would start supported by the single BBC national service.

The public were encouraged not to listen to the BBC's output from the long-wave Droitwich transmitter. The Droitwich transmitter had the an important role as it was capable of sending Wood Norton's nation output across the whole UK, this meant that it could be received and relayed by the regional broadcast teams. As Droitwhich's transmission was only the national programming, it meant that the public might miss important regional safety messages if they relied on this service only.

As the Burlington bunker was never required to be put in to action, the BBC studios were never used and as the bunker became moth balled, so did the studios. There is no doubt that where ever the designated place is today where the Government would hide away in the event of war, the BBC are there ready in the most secure radio studio in country.

» more secret underground bunkers
Revzo - Digital Content Solutions