“An undoubted success”: Women, Work and the BBC in the Second World War

This source preferred by Kate Murphy

Authors: Murphy, K.

Start date: 5 September 2014

At the outbreak of war in 1939, the BBC was seventeen years old. During the preceding two decades it had grown exponentially both in size and capacity, with almost everyone in the UK having access to wireless. The Corporation had always taken a progressive stance towards female employment; women worked at all levels, bar the very top, and had good conditions of service. But with war declared, and large numbers of male staff called up, the BBC was compelled to adopt new and different ways of working. This paper considers how this impacted on the women it employed. As well as improved promotion and redeployment opportunities for existing female staff, the BBC introduced a range of initiatives. For example, with the engineering division seriously depleted, the Corporation had no option but to employ substantial numbers of women in an area of work previously performed only by men. At first viewed as highly problematic, by 1943 the recruitment of hundreds of women to this position was hailed as an ‘undoubted success’. Similarly, in 1942, the severe shortage of experienced shorthand-typists led the BBC to establish its own Secretarial Training School and the following year, a crèche was instituted to provide twenty-four-hour child-care for staff employed by the Monitoring Service. The war also forced a change of attitude towards the use of female announcers. Hitherto shunned by the BBC, the war-years witnessed a flourishing of women presenters, especially on Forces Radio and a further barrier was broken with the employment of Audrey Russell as a woman war correspondent. Rather than focus on the BBC’s broadcasts for women, of which were many, this paper is concerned with the women who worked for the Corporation during the Second World War and how this changed both their lives and the life of the BBC.

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