We start our Christmas pages this year with a song which celebrated
its 100th birthday in 2005. The lyrics of "Glorious Devon"
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
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
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.
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
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
The programme of broadcasts for Christmas
The schedule was not continuous and there
was no transmission between items.
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