Needle Time: The BBC, the Musicians’ Union, popular music, and the reform of radio in the 1960s.

Witts, Richard (2012) Needle Time: The BBC, the Musicians’ Union, popular music, and the reform of radio in the 1960s. Popular Music History, 7 (3). pp. 241-262. ISSN 1740-7133 DOI

Item not available from this archive.


This essay is indebted to the work of the late Michel Crozier (1922-2013), the French sociologist who examined public bureaucracies. This essay considers one aspect of organizational and aesthetic change in a public body, that of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Since its foundation in 1922 it has operated through policies written by desk-bound officials that are put into effect by three or four levels of operatives, depending on the period: controllers, editors, producers and performers. In the case of music policy it is argued here that the BBC’s salaried musicians have held the status of technicians. Their external craft representative, the Musicians’ Union (MU), has been robust in confronting broadcasting policy to a degree that has seemed more potent than its size might allow. This authority was eventually challenged at the BBC by postwar changes of practice that were brought about by shifts in the production and consumption of popular music, especially so through technical and aesthetic transformations in the recording industry. This is examined here in the light of cultural ruptures at the BBC in the postwar period. BBC radio policy had to respond to two seismic events – the launch of commercial television (1955-62) and the intervention of commercial pop music pirate stations (1964-7). These episodes, and the BBC’s reactions to them, were themselves manifestations of a broader cultural change associated with neoliberalism. No longer could the BBC define popular music as late as it did in its annual report and accounts of 1963, as follows: all jazz, all Top Twenty material, dance music, popular folk music, old-time dance music, Music While You Work, morning music, and some concert music. – Cmnd. 2503 (1964) p32.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
Divisions: Media
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2014 12:29

Archive staff only

Item control page Item control page