J.G. Crowther’s War: Institutional strife at the BBC and British Council

Jones, Allan (2016). J.G. Crowther’s War: Institutional strife at the BBC and British Council. British Journal for the History of Science, 49(2) pp. 259–278.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087416000315


Science writer, historian and administrator J. G. Crowther (1899–1983) had an uneasy relationship with the BBC during the 1920s and 1930s, and was regarded with suspicion by the British security services because of his Left politics. Nevertheless the Second World War saw him working for ‘establishment’ institutions. He was closely associated with the BBC’s Overseas Service and employed by the British Council’s Science Committee. Both organisations found Crowther useful because of his wide, international knowledge of science and scientists.

Crowther’s political views, and his international aspirations for the British Council’s Science Committee, increasingly embroiled him in an institutional conflict with the Royal Society and with its President Sir Henry Dale, who was also Chairman of the British Council’s Science Committee. The conflict centred on the management of international scientific relations, a matter close the Crowther’s heart, and to Dale’s. Dale considered that the formal conduct of international scientific relations was the Royal Society’s business rather than the British Council’s. Crowther disagreed, and eventually resigned from the British Council Science Committee in 1946.

The article expands knowledge of Crowther by drawing on archival documents to elucidate a side of his career that is only lightly touched on in his memoirs. It shows that ‘Crowther’s war’ was also an institutional war between the Science Committee of the British Council and the Royal Society. Crowther’s unhappy experience of interference by the Royal Society plausibly accounts for a retreat from his pre-war view that institutional science should plan and manage BBC science broadcasts.

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