"The BBC Marriage Bar: Contradictions within a New Industry"

Authors: Murphy, K.

Conference: Women and Employment in 20th Century Britain

Dates: 26-27 March 2007


In 1932 the BBC introduced a Marriage Bar. Since its establishment in 1922, the Corporation had employed women at all levels, as charladies and catering staff, as secretaries and clerical workers, as programme organisers and assistant producers, and in elite roles – as Director of Talks (Hilda Matheson, 1927-1932); as Director of Schools Broadcasting (Mary Somerville, 1931-1937) and as Foreign Director (Isa Benzie, 1934 – 1938). There was a separate women’s establishment, under a Women Staff Supervisor, with responsibility for the recruitment, retention and management of female staff. While many of the disadvantages that faced women in the work-place are evidenced at the BBC – admission at a lower level; stereotypical roles; segregation: the organisation also promoted policies of eligibility for all posts (1926); maternity leave (1928); and equal pay (debates from 1938). It was also possible for able women, almost always graduates, to rise to influential posts with good financial reward. The Marriage Bar, introduced in response to external pressures and expectations, highlights contradictions within the BBC. With its potential negative impact on key women staff, a resultant Marriage Tribunal ensured those capable of meeting five specific criteria could remain in post. Documents held in the BBC Archive show senior management grappling with issues of enforcement; abuse of the system and frustration amongst women staff. The policy was in turn relaxed and tightened. The advent of war, and the necessity to employ more women, saw a temporary lifting of the ban, but it was not formally abolished until September 1944.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Kate Murphy