A leap of imagination: BBC audience research over the iron curtain

Webb, Alban (2011). A leap of imagination: BBC audience research over the iron curtain. Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 8(1)

URL: http://www.participations.org/Volume%208/Issue%201...


By the end of the Second World War, the BBC World Service had grown from a single language (English) service, to the largest multilingual broadcaster in the world, transmitting in over forty languages. This transformation reflected the global ambition of the World Service which maintained a similar scale of activity into the Twenty-First Century. No longer bound by wartime strictures the BBC inaugurated its new Russian language service in the spring of 1946 as it re-equipped itself for a world at peace. However, the emerging cold war soon saw overseas broadcasting back on the frontline of a brutal geopolitical battle.

Unlike Germany in 1939, relatively little was known of the realities of life in Russia and the listening habits of its people at the start of the cold war. And as wartime cooperation gave way to a new era of competition, any hope of an increase in understanding evaporated. In the absence of access to audiences and information about them, BBC officials, journalists and engineers, along with colleagues in Whitehall, embarked on a necessarily imaginative process of audience evaluation. This article assess this process where broadcasters attempted to piece together, using professional intuition and recent experience, set alongside Britain’s diplomatic imperatives, the nature and requirements of its audiences over the iron curtain.

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