The Royal Navy and the BBC Radio Light Programme

Some of my readers with remember the old BBC system of transmitting radio programmes on the 'wireless', the word used by virtually all in the period up to and including the 1960's, for a radio receiver.  When television was introduced to the general public in the late 1930's, it was called just that and has remained that right up to this day. However, as soon as the war started, television broadcasting was shut down and it didn't start again until the third quarter of 1945.

From post WW2 times, the BBC [no other broadcaster's in those days except for foreign stations chief of which was Radio Luxemberg] had four basic services to choose from which were called 'The Home Service' {from 1920's - 1967} , 'The Light Programme' {1945-1967}, 'The Third Programme' {started September 1946} and 'The Empire Service' dating from the 1920's. Later on, although not really part of my story, the frequencies remained but with a name change, and come October 1967, the Home Service had become Radio 4 -the Light Programme was split into Radio 1 and Radio 2 - and the Third Programme became Radio 3. Still later VHF was added and the original Medium and Long Wave frequencies rationalised.  Since those days of course, there has been a revolution in technical and journalistic terms and what I experienced as a boy has long been forgotten.

The BBC also had a specialist programme, which was called the 'BBC Forces Programme' and that started in 1940 using some of the frequencies formerly used by the Home Service.  It was extremely popular, but during 1943/4 when the Americans actively joined the war in Europe [they joined it on paper in December 1941 after Pearl Harbour] the content of the Forces Programme had to change at the request of Eisenhower  to suit the Americans as well as our own troops: at that point it was renamed BBC General Forces Programme. By this time the war had gone global and the frequencies used were not suitable for long distance penetration into distant theatres, so they added air-time, by taking 'slots' on the BBC Empire Service, which after the war was renamed The BBC General Overseas Service and later on, The BBC World Service.

 Adding radio [the wireless] to television for a moment, some of you will remember shows in both mediums which were about the navy, either under the heading of humour, one or two drama's, and a couple in "a day in the life of ........." type documentaries. Examples of these were:-

BBC Radio 4 - Comedy "The Navy Lark"
BBC Radio 4 - History  "Britain at Sea "

BBC 4 TV - History "Nelson's Caribbean hell hole"
BBC 2 TV - History "PQ17 - Arctic Convoy disaster"
BBC's - Series about life in HMS Ark Royal called simply "Sailor"

ITV 4 - Fictitious Series of happenings in a naval vessel called "Warship" featuring a pretend  "HMS HERO".  In contemporary terms, the only thing part-famous [if I can say that?] thing about HMS Hero is this story. Click on this link < THE STORY BEHIND JOHN PLAYER AND SONS AND THE ROYAL NAVY - WELL AT LEAST FROM>  .
ITV's - major flop [a series ditched after just a few showings in 2004] "Making Waves" about a frigate called HMS Suffolk. The ship used was HMS Grafton and the venue was largely Portsmouth sea areas and naval base.  I am the proud owner of the captains signals clipboard which was used during the filming, given to me by my buddy who was a cameraman on the filming crew.

You will note that there is comedy, history, fly-0n-the-wall series, fictitious drama, and no doubt you may be able to add to my list, but, can you add any real, in situ, as it happened events which were broadcasted in real terms?

Does my little gif below give you any clues?

The BLACK single arrow pointers are the DATA flow which will be heard by the BBC audience. The RED double ended pointers are the communication links between the naval forces, and further down the line,. between the link controllers


Well way back in 1951, BBC Radio encouraged the Navy to have a real live transmission on the Light Programme of a submarine, a frigate, an aircraft carrier and its aircraft,  so that its audience could hear first hand how an attack was set up and subsequently delivered. A carrier was also detailed to act as the relay ship sending real life communications between the units straight to line with no other commentary other than those coming from the submarine, the carrier, the aircraft and the frigate.  Naval people reading this page who may have traversed the route between Plymouth and Portsmouth by car, will have passed the Dorchester Radio Station on the hill west of Dorchester Town many times.  I have a particular interest in this story because eleven years later on from this event in 1962, I joined HM S/M AURIGA in Devonport Dockyard at that time undergoing a between-commissions refit, but in 1951 she would have been quite a bit different from my time in her. In the early 50's she was heavily modified from her build/WW2 appearance with a fin instead of an open conning tower bridge, telescopic snort mast and radio mast, no external torpedo tubes plus other modifications.

That's your lot folks. All you need do to tie up the loose ends is to read this short account of the event. 24 jul 1951 auriga is BBC staged warfare.pdf

Best of luck and good sailing.