Saturday, August 09, 2014

BBC Monitoring 75th Anniversary approaches

BBC Media Centre reminds us that on 26th August 2014, the BBC Monitoring Service will be 75 years old.

Created in 1939 on the outset of WW2, its purpose was, and still is, to gather and interpret international news as rapidly and economically as possible.

Initially employing several hundred 'monitors', many of them refugees, the service rapidly expanded so that it could 'listen' 24 hours a day to all the European languages likely to be of wartime use. The BBC and wider world quickly recognised the uniqueness and value of BBC Monitoring, calling it in 1940 'a modern Tower of Babel'. Churchill was an avid customer of the service, and would ring up in the middle of the night and ask (of Hitler) 'What's that fellow been saying?'

The organisation played an important role in helping observers keep track of developments post WW2, including the Cold War, the disintegration of the Iron Curtain and collapse of the Soviet Union. Also monitored were the Falklands conflict, Yugoslav wars and Middle East hostilities. Over the years, BBC Monitoring has innovated and developed, now monitoring over 3,000 sources (across radio, TV, press, internet and news agencies), in 100 languages and across 150 countries. Its purpose remains to observe, understand and explain the world's media, and so help Britain and international audiences follow and interpret key events.

Initially based in London then Evesham, BBC Monitoring moved in 1943 to Caversham Park near Reading, where it is still based.

BBC Monitoring at Caversham

On 24th of August 1989 the Media Network programme put out this programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary. In those days, shortwave radio was the main source of news. 

BBC Monitoring has been the owner of Caversham Park House since the end of World War 2. This imposing mansion - the large building you see on the hill as you pass through Reading on the train - has long been a major employer in Caversham. But it has also always been very low-key. And, because historically it has also attracted so many foreign nationals from many parts of the world to work there, overall BBC Monitoring's presence has contributed immeasurably to the quality and richness of life in Caversham. This visit to Caversham was designed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of operations - a period where radio was still the mainstay of the work and satellite TV monitoring was only just starting. 500 people worked there at the time from 50 countries. The second part of the programme has some rather dramatic developments surrounding Radio Caroline which prompted a lot of calls to the Radio Netherlands answerline.

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