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We start our Christmas pages this year with a song which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2005. The lyrics of  "Glorious Devon"  were written in 1905 by someone far removed from Devon and even further removed from today's notion of a songwriter. His name was Sir Harold Boulton. Born in  1859,  he was a baronet and business magnate who became, amongst other things, a Welsh bard, a philanthropist, a hospital chairman, an editor - and, rather curiously, lyric writer to some of the leading composers of his day. Perhaps his best known lyrics were for the "Skye Boat Song" ("Speed bonny boat, like a bird on the wing, over the sea to Skye") which he wrote in 1884 and which, by the start of the 20th century, was on the list of songs every child must learn at school. The fashionable composer, Sir Edward German was entrusted with the task of setting "Glorious Devon" to music and the song was a success from the start.

For a period of about twenty years after 1929, it is fair to say that a large proportion of the population in the UK would have been able to hum or whistle or at least recognise the tune of this song. The song gained this astonishing popularity after it was recorded by a much-loved singer called Peter Dawson in 1929. Even then, it would never have reached such a wide audience had it not been for the advent of broadcasting.

We have only to look back on the way our own lives have been shaped by television to understand the impact this new medium had on our ancestors. The BBC started broadcasting in 1922 from their studios at Savoy Hill in London and introduced every programme with the phrase "2LO calling!" to give  people time to settle down to some serious listening.


In 1929, at the time Peter Dawson made his recording of "Glorious Devon", the BBC had just made a technical breakthrough by inventing what they called a  "gramophone pick-up" which enabled them to broadcast a record as it was being played on a gramophone. It was a brilliant achievement and worked particularly well with Dawson's recording which had only two elements - the singer and the accompanying piano. Consequently, it was broadcast very frequently and became very popular with listeners.

Gramophone Pick-up c.1929

Gramophone Pick-up c.1929


At first, broadcasts from Savoy Hill could only reach a limited audience in the London area but those early years were full of technological breakthroughs and soon, reception of broadcasts came to be limited only by the type of equipment possessed by the listeners.


Since so few people had electricity in their homes, the mass market for receivers in those early years was dominated by kits which could be assembled by amateurs and were powered by batteries.


The prices of receiving kits and the loudspeakers to go with them fell rapidly and by the early 1930s, had reached a level that most people, even relatively poor people, could afford.

Programmes were usually broadcast for a limited period each day and nowadays we would consider the content very turgid, but for everyone then, especially those who lived in  sleepy backwaters, it was a wonderful treat to "listen in". People of all classes shared in a common experience and soon, the "wireless set" had pride of place in homes throughout the country.


Service from York Minster

Address by the Archbishop of York

Mabel Constanduros in "The Buggin's Christmas Party"

An appeal on behalf of the Wireless Fund for the Blind by Mr. Winston Churchill

"Cox and Box" by Arthur Sullivan

"Scrooge" adapted and played by Bransby Williams

The programme of broadcasts for Christmas Day 1930

The schedule was not continuous and there was no transmission between items. 

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