PETER FROST takes a walk on Borough Hill in Daventry to learn a little about Government propaganda and the 1926 General Strike.
Daventry is a historic Northamptonshire market town in, more or less, the middle of England.
Its high elevation and central location proved to be very important in the 1920s when the BBC began looking for a site for a new radio station that could broadcast programs to most of the population of England.
BBC radio broadcasting began in late 1922 using a small number of transmitters that each broadcast to its own city.
Soon the BBC’s Chief Engineer was asked to find a site north of a line between the Severn and the Wash for a station that would broadcast to the whole Nation.
Borough Hill in Daventry seemed perfect, nearly seven hundred feet high and close to the geographical centre of England it might have been designed for the job.
On the evening on the July 27 1925 the Post Master General opened the new transmitter. It was given the call sign 5XX.
An early picture of the Daventry masts
Daventry 5XX would become a household name. Its call sign “Daventry Calling” became well known. The transmitter was able to reach 85% of the English and Welsh population, the industrial North, the heart of the Midlands as well as the Home Counties.
Inside the station in the 1930’s
Less than a year later the new Daventry radio station would play its part in a battle between the Conservative Government, the fledgling BBC and the working people.
The propaganda battle would be over the General Strike. On one side were a million and a half striking workers. There were miners of course, railway workers and all kind of industrial workers but also striking printers.
They had shut down the newspapers. The very newspapers the Tories would have expected to help them break the Strike.
Winston Churchill (below) was not just the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin’s Cabinet he was also Minister of Propaganda. Churchill was clear. He wanted to take over the BBC, make it an arm of the Government and use it as a means to discredit the Strike leaders and force the Strikers back to work.
Lining up on the side of the Strikers were people like Ellen Wilkinson Labour MP. for Middlesbrough. Ellen was one of Britain’s first women MPs.
She had been a founding member of the Communist Party in 1920 and, in 1921, attended the founding conference of the Red International of Labour Unions in Moscow.
She had joined the Labour Party in 1924 and that same year had been elected to represent the depressed iron and steel making constituency of Middlesbrough East. In the House of Commons they called her Red Ellen, both for her hair and her left-wing politics. She hung a portrait of Lenin over her bed, saying, “I look at it and get cracking.” Here she is on the Jarrow Hunger March..
Ellen Wilkinson wrote to recently founded Radio Times “The attitude of the BBC has caused pain and indignation to many subscibers.
“Everywhere the complaints are bitter that a National service subscribed to by every class should have given only one side of the dispute. Personally I feel like asking the Postmaster General for my licence fee back.”
Reith (above) for the BBC claimed neutrality but actually as he admitted. “In the end we are on the side of the Government. The strikers renamed it The British Falsehood Corporation.
Today at Daventry the 5XX transmitter aerials have gone, demolished in the 1990s, the concrete blocks they were mounted on still remain and in the rough grass you can still find a few of the thousands of original ceramic insulators that held the antennae wires aloft.
Today a walk over Borough Hill make for a pleasant outing. You can still walk around the site and remember a time when, just like today, a Tory Government tried to use the BBC to hoodwink and defeat the workers.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 20 July 2014.