Talk:John Reith, 1st Baron Reith

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I've been working on improvements to this article, using as main sources Ian McIntyre's biography, and the two television interviews Reith gave. In particular I have rewritten the BBC section, and re-ordered some of the text in others to make it more chronological. I have tried to restrict the BBC section to events and issues which directly involved Reith (as opposed to developments which occurred whilst he was DG). Reith's autocratic approach notwithstanding, I think the temptation to cover matters better suited to articles on BBC history should be resisted. I welcome any more input.--Stevouk 11:08, 25 April 2007 (UTC)

from CalJW talk page[edit]

Category: Gay, lesbian or bisexual people

In the article about John Reith, 1st Baron Reith you removed the above category. Lord Reith was bisexual and there is no doubt about this because he wrote about his life in diaries which have been published.Damson88 15:16, 28 September 2005 (UTC)

Many people are undoubtedly heterosexual, but they don't get categorised for it. If you have a right to use the category system for propaganda purposes, I have a right to counter that on the grounds that it is a breach of the neutrality rule.CalJW 15:25, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
I don't accept your premise. Surely categorisation is one of the essences of an encyclopedia. Please explain exactly where the neutrality rule is being breached by categorising someone's sexuality.Damson88 15:51, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
I am perhaps the most active categoriser on here at the moment, but I don't use categories to promote an agenda. There is no point in debating this as there is no chance we can agree. Like religious people in Victorian times gay rights activists are no so certain of their moral rectitude that they are impervious to counter arguments. Let's not waste any more of each other's time. .CalJW 15:25, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
I agree that it is incumbent on all contributors to try and maintain a neutral POV, and I strive so to do. I simply note that you have not explained how the neutrality rule was being breached. Damson88 16:29, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
This category exists to promote the idea that homosexuality is widespread, is associated with talent (more so than heterosexuality) and should be celebrated more than heterosexuality. Many people think it should be abolished, but I am aware that the gay rights crowd are too well organised to let this happen, and since it will mainly be them who see any related deletion proposal there is no prospect of a properly balanced vote taking place. Now can we please stop wasting each other's time? CalJW 16:35, 28 September 2005 (UTC)

Does "properly balanced" mean that your POV prevails :) Damson88 17:05, 28 September 2005 (UTC)

No it means that yours doesn't because heterosexuals and homosexuals are treated the same. Since gay rights activists can be confident of their continuing ability to manipulate wikipedia in this way, it would be decent of them to at least admit to what they are doing. CalJW 17:09, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
I do not care for your assertion of bad faith.
I, for one, have no objection if you want to categorise most people as heterosexual. However it might seem rather tedious to do that. Damson88 17:28, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
You might not like it, but I am confident it is correct. You openly state on your user page that you are an activist. On the other hand, I am neutral and spend my time on such matters of no personal relevance to me as reorganising the neglected main categories of developing countries because I am here to help to create a neutral encyclopedia. CalJW 17:30, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
Your assertion of bad faith is made not just against me but against the democratic principles upon which Wikipedia makes progress. I have already said that I try to maintain a neutral POV but that does not mean that I can't concentrate my contributions in a particular area, just as you do - albeit in a more abstract area. Damson88 17:49, 28 September 2005 (UTC)
This is not a discussion forum. I correctly observed early on that this discussion is a waste of time. If you extend it further I will remove it from this page.

CaljW's approach is obviously wrong not only because he claims intention is a factor in neutrality, but he then claims to know the intentions of people who supply the facts and acts on his unsupported beliefs. --Kstern999 16:41, 20 August 2006 (UTC)


On Reith and his sexuality, I take issue with the description of Reith as bi-sexual. Having researched the early history of the BBC in PhD-level depth and breadth, including reading Reith's UNEDITED diaries in the BBC Written Archive at Caversham, Berkshire, in my estimation as a properly trained historian, Reith was a homosexual. He wasn't sexually or physically attracted to the opposite sex. He says this in his diaries and I have to say, reading about his feelings there about his male lover (romantic or sexual, or both, it is not clear), I have no reason to doubt him at his word.

I know the above argument is 7 and 8 years old, but I would suggest that anyone interested in Wikipedia and Reith's sexuality takes full notice of the above paragraph. I write this as a hetrosexual, Labour-supporting male. I hold no brief for or against Reith on the grounds of gender, social class or any other.

I'd like to comment further on the 'Nazi Sympathies' section and the description further up the page of Reith as a "dictator" in terms of style. In the first instance, his positive comments re. Hitler have to placed in a wider context than this to have any real credibility. The comment about Czechoslovakia could easily read ironically. It's presented here as a virtual accusation of Reith being a proto-Nazi. The notion is not at all supported by the historical evidence. I'm sorry that I do not have time here to go into the details. The comment about Mussolini must also be made within the context that virtually everyone in Britain in the 1920s who had ever held a conservative or reactionary opinion about any issue was in all possibility an admirer of Mussolini or if not him personally, of some of his policies and actions. It also has to be born in mind re. the Night of the Long Knives being raised here, that we all come to Hitler in the present age with the full knowledge of the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. In June 1934 the info that British people had about Hitler was a mere fraction of what we have now, a further point of importance. When we see the term "Nazi sympathizer" in this modern age we cannot help, consciously or unconsciously, of equating the relevant person with support for the Holocaust.

In conclusion, the whole section on Nazi sympathy of Reith brings WIKI into disrepute. To include such stuff makes the whole Reith entry a piece of virtual juvenilia.

For the record, I have now read or consulted around 150 books, articles and pieces of archive material on the early BBC. My PhD supervisor at DMU, Leicester is a world renowned historian. (talk) 17:35, 10 December 2013 (UTC)

This article is a hodge-podge[edit]

There are statements made within this article that lack citations. The article opens by failing to identify the fact that two BBCs are being discussed and the sub-head BBC also fails to show that a company was wound-up and went out of business and that a Crown corporation formed by the Privy Council took over. If this is a biography about the man then it should include his own writings and published statements by his family that reveal his character which in public was one thing and in private something entirely different. In that respect he was very much like Ted Haggerman or Jimmy Swaggart. In short this article fails to inform and if anything it is misleading. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 17:02, 13 March 2007 (UTC).

This section contains so many errors![edit]

Leaving this section in the article makes a mockery out of Wikipedia's reliability and it forms the guts of the article - meaning that the remainder is just as bad. 15:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

The BBC[edit]

On 14 December 1922 Reith became the general manager of the British Broadcasting Company, an organisation formed by manufacturers to provide broadcasts to foster demand for wireless sets. In his own words he was:

... confronted with problems of which I had no experience: Copyright and performing rights; Marconi patents; associations of concert artists, authors, playwrights, composers, music publishers, theatre managers, wireless manufacturers.

Reith oversaw the vesting of the company in a new organisation, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), formed under royal charter and became its first Director-General from 1 January 1927 to 30 June 1938.

    • This is totally incorrect! The company was wound-up and the Privy Council created the corporation under a Royal charter! This was not the work of Reith! 15:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

He expounded firm principles of centralised, all-encompassing radio broadcasting, stressing programming standards and moral tone. When asked whether he was going to give the people what they wanted, Reith replied: "No. Something better than that." To this day, the BBC claims to follow the Reithian directive to "inform, educate and entertain".

    • This seems to be lifted from a newspaper review that contracted the words of Reith which appeared in his first autobiography of 1924 called "Broadcast Over Britain" and which seems to lack any mention in this article! 15:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

In 1922 Reith felt that King George V should use the new medium of radio to speak to the nation as one family. The King declined as he felt that radio was still too experimental to be used for a royal message. The King was asked again in 1932 by which time the BBC has begun its overseas service and the King had the opportunity to talk to his subjects around the world. At 3:00pm on 25 December 1932, the King made the first broadcast live from Sandringham. Since then King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II have continued the tradition. Since 1957 the broadcast has also gone out on television.

    • More nonsense! In 1922 the BBC was a private commercial company and in 1932 the BBC was a Royal institution! 15:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

In 1924, Reith approved a novel type of broadcast - a nightingale chorus. This was the idea of Beatrice Harrison, an accomplished cellist living in Surrey, England. In May 1923, Harrison was rehearsing on an outside bench when a nightingale broke into song and accompanied her throughout her practice. In 1924 while Harrison made her broadcasting debut with an Elgar piece it occurred to her that the nightingales would make an interesting addition. Reith was sceptical at first as he believed that the nightingales would be unlikely to perform. A rehearsal was tried and went well. The first nightingale chorus was broadcast on Saturday, May 19, 1924, fifteen minutes before the station went off the air. The summerhouse was filled with amplifiers, engineers were swarming in the undergrowth and Miss Harrison played pieces by Elgar and Dvorak in a ditch.

These concerts continued for the next twelve years and on one occasion featured a chorus of frogs. After Harrison moved house, the unaccompanied birds continued to be recorded and broadcast. In 1942, the recording was interrupted by a fleet of Lancaster bombers droning overhead, the first of the thousand bomber raids targeting Cologne. This particular recording was never broadcast but remains in the BBC archives.

    • Why is so much space devoted to this? It has NOTHING to do with Reith as a person. Not only that - it is incorrect because although it may not have been broadcast at the time - it has been broadcast many times since then - but this article says that it was never broadcast. Even so it does not belong in this article about the life of Reith. 15:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

In 1926, a General Strike broke out across Britain. When the value of broadcasting as a governmental and political instrument became apparent, Winston Churchill and others in the Government wanted to commandeer the organisation for the emergency. Reith refused to comply, maintaining the BBC's independence. He won the argument but made an enemy of Churchill for years to come. This enmity was enhanced when the BBC refused Churchill air time to outline his controversial views on Indian policy and rearmament during the 1930s.

Regardless of his personal disagreements with Churchill over editorial control during the General Strike, Reith regarded the BBC as a tool of Parliament and allowed the broadcasting of material unfavorable to the strikers. Workers’ representatives were not allowed to broadcast their side of the dispute and supporters of the strike would refer to the BBC as the 'British Falsehood Corporation'.

    • Obviously the people who wrote this never read anything written by Churchill or those closest to him to understand that Churchill was not a sidebar but a key to understanding the BBC under Reith and why ITV was created (with Churchill's backing - even though he hated it), just to smash the BBC monopoly. Reith not only kept Churchill off the air before WWII but Churchill used American radio to get his message out and at least on one occasion used the continental commercial International Broadcasting Company of Captain Plugge to broadcast in to Britain from France. 15:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Reith introduced the BBC's Empire Service - later renamed the BBC's World Service - in 1932. He was less than enthusiastic about its launch as he declared 'I doubt that the Empire Service will be either very good or very interesting.'

    • Reith did not introduce it - it was created as the propaganda arm of the Foreign Office and it picked up from the earlier disaster of the Marconi project that went down in flames over a major stock scandal. The service was called the Empire Service because the earlier Marconi scheme used that same name. 15:32, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Regardless of his opinion, Reith was correct when he remarked in the Inaugural Empire Service Broadcast: 'This occasion is as significant as any in the 10 years of British broadcasting. It is a significant occasion in the history of the British Empire; there must be few in any civilised country who have yet to realise that broadcasting is a development with which the future must reckon and reckon seriously.'

In 1999, the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, described the World Service as "perhaps Britain's greatest gift to the world this century". Currently (Dec 2006) the World Service broadcasts in 33 languages to a worldwide audience of 163 million. Millions more listen on the internet.

    • This is more nonsense that does not belong here. The domestic BBC is not the same as the World Service which is the propaganda arm funded by the Foreign Office (similar to the Voice of America in the USA.) It even originates from a different location. 15:40, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

BBC and television[edit]

The first regular television broadcasts (November 1936 to September 1939) started under Reith's stewardship, but this service initially ground to a halt at the outbreak of the Second World War. When the television service resumed in 1945 it was to be very different due to the impact of the war and Reith having long since departed.

Television broadcasting in Britain started in the late 1920's. The Scotsman John Logie Baird in 1926 enlisted the aid of Selfridges, London to sell his new 'Televisor'. Demonstrations began in the store in 1928 but no regular broadcasting service was available. The BBC's official line was that the pictures were unacceptably poor (only 30 lines per screen) and that there was no likelihood of improvement. Unofficially the BBC were very interested and provided space for Baird to work from. In January 1935 the Selsdon Report commissioned by Parliament recommended that the BBC be entrusted with the development of television in Britain.

    • this section is factually incorrect. First of all there were regular programs before WWII and they were published. Second this was a major battle between Baird and EMI with the help of RCA. There is no mention of EMI and the fact that while Baird had a mechanical system, EMI had an electronic system and the electronic system replaced the mechanical system. 15:40, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

The new service had something of a rushed introduction. The Director of Radio Outside Broadcasting, Gerald Cock was appointed the BBC's Director of Television. His first task was to assemble a team of experts and then summon them to a meeting where a plan could be worked out. Cox chose Peter Bax a stage designer as studio manager, Cecil Madden, a playwright as programme organiser, Stephen Thomas, Douglas Bower and Harry Pringle as producers, Cecil Lewis, Bill Barbrooke a film cameraman, George Moore O'Farrell and Mary Adams. In front of camera was to be Leslie Mitchell and female announcers Jasmine Bligh and Elizabeth Cowell who were chosen from the thousands who had applied.

Cock assembled his staff and told them that since none of them knew a thing about television broadcasting they were given four months to study the new medium. The meeting came to a close and all returned to their respective offices.

As Madden returned to his the phone was ringing. It was Cock.

"Wash out everything I said."


"We've been asked to provide television for Radiolympia."

"But - that's only ten days away!"

"That's right, old chap, you'd better get cracking!"


"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the magic of television..."

With those words Leslie Mitchell on 26th August 1936 introduced Britain's first high-definition public television programme from Radiolympia.

    • and all of these words are in an article about John Reith? What has any of this got to do wth John Reith? Where is there any mention of Peter Eckersley in the creation of the original BBC? This entire article is very, very poor. 15:40, 16 March 2007 (UTC)

Church of Scotland[edit]

Reith was a member of the established Church of Scotland, not the Free Church, a point on which he vehemently corrected John Freeman in the celebrated Face to Face interview. In 1967 he served as the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.--Stevouk 12:58, 17 April 2007 (UTC)

I note the changes made, but without going into the complicated brief history of the various sects that formed the Church of Scotland, it would appear that the current change is in error because the initial reference is to the father of John Reith and not to John Reith himself. It was not until 1929 that the various factions came together to form another and unified Church of Scotland, but underlying all of the actions of John Reith (the son) in his early years and his activities in 1967 are well outside the scope of this section which concerns the late 1800s. John Reith (son) outwardly followed a strict Calvinist interpretation of the Presbyterian faction that also formed the Church of Scotland. I do not claim to be an expert in this matter but if you follow ALL of the links relating to these various sects that are in Wikipedia articles relating to the unified Church of Scotland as it became in 1929, it is not possible to draw a conclusion. (I used the word "unified" in order not to be confused with the name "United".) You cite an interview (and of course interviews are not reliable sources), but when your links are followed there is no source material for your statement, meaning that the interview could have said anything. The sourcea that I relied upon were the many works by Asa Briggs concerning the life of John Reith in relation to his work in the formative years of the BBC. I would appreciate your input on this matter because the current revised statement is also misleading since it gives no hint of John Reith's strict Calvinist background and Calvinism is central to his story. Fragilethreads 04:06, 5 May 2007 (UTC)
Reith, like his father, was a member of the United Free Church of Scotland until its amalgamation with the established Church.
The exchange with Freeman on Face to Face is as follows:
Freeman: You are the youngest son of a Free Church minister in Glasgow, is that right?
Reith: We don't like being called 'Free Church', it's the Church of Scotland.
F: Oh, right, a Church of Scotland minister.
R: The established Church of Scotland.
I made the point, as Reith did, as so many sources ascribe his 'outlook' as that of the Free Church, which was a different (and still existent) organisation.--Stevouk 23:01, 7 May 2007 (UTC)
Quote: "Reith: We don't like being called 'Free Church'". This does not explain anything. Please cite a published source of authority with page number concerning the ministry of Reith's father. People don't like being called many things and Reith is joining that crowd. It is not what Reith became, but what his father was when Reith was born. Fragilethreads 15:18, 8 May 2007 (UTC)

I simplified the following section: 'Revd Dr George Reith, a minister of the United Free Church of Scotland (later amalgamated with Church of Scotland, and not to be confused with the Free Church of Scotland' - with its associated reference at the end of that quotation, which reads 'A point that Reith vehemently corrected John Freeman on in his Face to Face interview.'

I don't know what it *should* say about the churchmanship of his father (and of himself), but I know it is sufficiently wrong in this form that it's best to remove it for the time being until someone writes it up more accurately:

it implies he was born to a United Free (UF) minister, but UF only founded in 1900 (see Wikipedia article), 11 years after his birth;

UF did continue as a denomination after the merger of most of it with the CofS in 1929;

the point Reith 'vehemently corrected' was not arising out of a 'confusion' between UF and Free Church, as implied here, but CofS and Free Church (and as another editor notes above, it's not clear if this reflects a 'confusion' or a disputed preference of use of terms.) Iaineditor (talk) 22:03, 15 May 2016 (UTC)


What about his legacy in broadcasting and the concept of Reithianism? Surely this deserves a mention?Malick78 10:17, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

Good point. I've started a new subsection of the article headed Reithianism, with a redirect from Reithianism. You may be able to improve on it? Xn4 20:58, 26 September 2007 (UTC)


I've removed the LGBT cat and the banner for the WikiProject. In the article it states that as a young man he had an affair with a man, but that hardly makes him gay or bisexual. If there's other information on Reith that states that he was gay or bisexual, please feel free to re-add the cat, banner, and source the info. Thanks! -- SatyrTN (talk | contribs) 04:50, 24 October 2007 (UTC)

Why say finally?[edit]

Quoting the article:

"He was also appointed Lord Rector of Glasgow University from 1965 to 1968. In 1967 he finally accepted the much-cherished post of Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland."

It's not clear if "he finally accepted" means that he accepted the post after being offered it a number of times, or that he was "finally" offered the post which he had wanted for a long time, or something else. Wanderer57 (talk) 00:19, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

Read the section Wartime Activities for context. --Stevouk (talk) 20:01, 18 December 2008 (UTC)

Small edits[edit]

I made a number of small edits to the article to try to improvr the wording. I have tried not to change the meaning. Wanderer57 (talk) 00:27, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

quotations too shiny[edit]

coming from the german wikipedia, may i suggest to (formally) boil down the quotations in this article? it looks a bit old fashioned and too prancing, with the oversized frame and the grey background:

... confronted with problems of which I had no experience: Copyright and performing rights; Marconi patents; associations of concert artists, authors, playwrights, composers, music publishers, theatre managers, wireless manufacturers.

why not just put it this way:

... confronted with problems of which I had no experience: Copyright and performing rights; Marconi patents; associations of concert artists, authors, playwrights, composers, music publishers, theatre managers, wireless manufacturers.

Maximilian (talk) 16:14, 26 October 2012 (UTC)

Article is incomplete[edit]

Article is oddly incomplete - no details on his personal life, for example. Just listened to a radio programme on Radio 4 about Reith ( - not sure how long this programme will be available on the "listen again" function ) and the programme had all sorts of points about the interesting arrangement he had with his wife and a third person, his childhood "love", Charlie Bowser. At one juncture in the programme, during an interview, Reith even admits that although he has high ethical standards, in his own life he does not necessarily come up to these standards.
Here is a quote from the BBC page on the programme (I point out part of it in bold):
Who's Reithian Now? As the BBC approaches its 90th birthday, arch scrutiniser and listeners' champion Roger Bolton examines the genesis of Reithian values and finds out how well Lord Reith - the first Director General of the BBC - lived up to his own exacting standards. Memos and diary entries reveal Reith's spotless fingerprint on daily transmissions. "Hot jazz" was a "filthy product of modernity" and announcers should be "indirect and impersonal". In conversation with Malcolm Muggeridge, Reith recalls how he stopped the BBC being taken over by the Government during the General Strike - a stand-off which caused a life-long rift with Churchill. Former BBC Director General Greg Dyke says Reith set a precedent in establishing the Corporation's relationship with the Government and he talks about his own political conflicts. Ex-BBC radio controller and Reith biographer Ian McIntyre points out how Reith's public distain for divorce and immorality contrasted with his own confused lovelife. Reith's daughter Marista Leishman - who wrote a frank biography of him - tells Bolton that her father's affairs were just his way of making himself the centre of attention
Surely some of these points should be mentioned in the article? At least how many children he had, etc.? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:38, 10 November 2012 (UTC)


A few more details about his service in World War I would be appropriate. Valetude (talk) 01:46, 28 July 2016 (UTC)

Using caricature as profile picture?[edit]

There are images of John about on the internet so I don't see why something as unrepresentative and obscure as a caricature should be used to show his appearance? (talk) 11:55, 8 September 2016 (UTC)Jordan