A Force of Modernization: The BBC.

 Here is the continuation from last weeks blog. This week I will talk about how the BBC began a radical transformation in both Lewis’ career and writing style.

A Force of Modernization: The BBC.

     Even more unlikely was that a book from this relatively obscure Oxford Don ended up in the hands of Dr. James Welch.  At that time, Dr. Welch was the commissioning editor at the BBC, and was recently tasked with filling a gap in the Religious Programmes Department.  In a window that only lasted a few days, Lewis had caught the attention of the one man in Britain who could have made him a celebrity.Lewis could deliver precisely what Dr. Welch and the board of directors were looking for. As a layman, Lewis was located outside of the power structures and power struggles of religious denominations, and, as an academic, he was experienced with presenting his ideas to large audiences.  Further, his theology was conservative enough to be accepted by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, and he tended to avoid the controversies and drudgery that had begun to alienate British audiences from their core religion. In this regard, Lewis was primed to become the Everyman of Christian literature and faith at a time when England needed him the most.

       It is critical to mention the developments occurring in the world of broadcasting at this time. By the early twentieth century, the invention and implementation of radio was a crucial factor in the modernization of England.  The use of radios for public broadcasting had just began to take off when Lewis was in his early twenties, and it was not until his early forties when regular radio service programs were accessible throughout the entire United Kingdom.  In December of 1922, the newly-minted British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was inaugurated as the first national broadcasting organization of its kind. Household radios had started to become affordable by the early 1930s, and, by the 1940s, almost every household in England had access to radio services. For the first time in history, technology allowed access to millions of people at a time. The ability to reach such an unprecedented audience began to change the way England thought, and gave broadcasters the power to influence the dialogue of entire nations.

       The outbreak of the Second World War caused the BBC to undergo drastic changes, and the institution’s public perception also changed drastically as the government altered the broadcasting service to fit its new needs. At the onset of the war, the British government realised the importance of the BBC in maintaining national order and security, and amalgamated all of its broadcasting responsibilities into the new Home Service. On 1 September 1939, the BBC ceased regional broadcasting in favour of a single domestic station that was responsible for delivering a set schedule of programing, which more than doubled the size and programming of the BBC in the span of a few months.These changes were introduced to address the diverse needs of the nation as it conducted itself through yet another major war.

  Religion became a central element of these broadcasts as it offered a sense of hope and perseverance during the worst moments of the war, such as the Battle of Britain. McGrath explains this point: “Religion was widely recognised to be an integral and important aspect of the national fabric, and the British Broadcasting Corporation saw itself as having a duty to offer both religious instruction and inspiration in the darker moments of the war.” The rise of radio led to certain individuals gaining national popularity as frequent broadcasts became a daily feature throughout Britain. However, the government was concerned that the religious programming that had previously been conducted by William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was failing to engage with both its home audience and the troops overseas. Temple was ill-suited to the nuances of radio address, and his religious instruction followed the format of highly traditional sermons.  It became clear to Dr. Welch that a new voice was needed to step into Temple’s position—a voice that could present a trans-denominational vision of Christianity in an engaging manner.  Late in the fall of 1941, Dr. Welch wrote to Lewis asking him if he would consider joining the BBC as a guest lecturer and promised the Oxford don a “fairly intelligent audience of more than a million listeners”.  This opportunity would become the defining moment in Lewis’ life, propelling his career onto the international stage.


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