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Elite science and the BBC: a 1950s contest of ownership

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2013

ALLAN JONES*
Affiliation:
Department of Computing and Communications, Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK. Email: allan.jones@open.ac.uk.

Abstract

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the elite world of institutional British science attempted to take control of the BBC's management of science broadcasting. Delegations of scientists met BBC managers to propose an increased role for scientists in planning science broadcasts to a degree that threatened to compromise the BBC's authority and autonomy. The culmination was a set of proposals to the Pilkington Committee in 1960, principally from the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, under which a scientist-manager was to be appointed head of a unified science division in the BBC. BBC managers resisted these proposals. The outcome, in 1964, was a compromise giving the scientists little of what they wanted, and proving practically and strategically useful for the BBC. The article frames the story as a contest of jurisdiction between elite science and the BBC, and draws on scholarship relating to the social nature of authority and professions, and to the popularization of science. It shows the fundamentally different beliefs held by the scientists and the BBC about the purpose of science broadcasts and about the nature of the audience. The historical narrative is based on unpublished archive documents, and it contributes to the small but growing body of work on the historical background to the presentation of science in the broadcast media.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © British Society for the History of Science 2013 

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108 BBC WAC R6/239/3, memo from head of Talks and Current Affairs to programme editor, Arts, Sci & Docs(s): editor, Science Talks(s), October 1965.

109 BBC WAC R6/239/3, memo from head of Talks and Current Affairs to programme editor, Arts, Sci & Docs(s): editor, Science Talks(s), October 1965.

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