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

  • ALLAN JONES (a1)

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 The historical narrative is based on unpublished archive documents, and it contributes to the small but growing body of work on the historical background to the presentation of science in the broadcast media.

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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