Science, the BBC and the two cultures

Jones, Allan (2016). Science, the BBC and the two cultures. In: Medhurst, Jamie; Nicholas, Sian and O’Malley, Tom eds. Broadcasting in the UK and US in the 1950s: historical perspectives. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 101–120.


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, several eminent British scientists unsuccessfully attempted to bring the BBC’s output under the centralised control of the scientific community. This move was justified by claims about ‘national interest’. The episode highlights competing visions of public service in relation to broadcasting. It also illuminates the uncoordinated, decentralised way in which much programme planning (not just scientific) took place in the BBC, where producers enjoyed considerable autonomy. The events are analysed in relation to the ‘two cultures debate’ associated with C. P. Snow’s famous 1959 lecture, and, drawing on the work of American historian Ortolano (2009), argues that the dispute with the BBC was not so much about ‘science versus humanities’ as about technocracy and modernisation.

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