Radio Contributor Files 1922-1962

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
  • Dates of Creation
      1922 - 1962
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Primarily English, although some papers are written in foreign languages.
  • Physical Description
      40,993 files (c3200 linear feet)

Scope and Content

The files contain correspondence and contractual papers relating to the engagement of speakers, performers, and others to contribute to BBC radio programmes before 1963.

They cover the whole range of broadcasting with a variety of contributors represented: actors, composers, comedians, musicians, politicians, writers, and authoritative speakers drawn from the full spectrum of the arts and sciences. The papers cover contributions to both the BBC’s domestic and overseas programmes, but not, generally, the regions. Papers relating to copyright cover both radio and television broadcasts.

A typical file contains correspondence between the contributor or the contributor’s agents and the BBC, internal correspondence between BBC members of staff regarding the contributor (covering their suitability for a broadcast and any audition process) and then a booking form and/or contract for their contribution. The papers within the files vary both in quantity and quality, with much depending on the contributor’s propensity to correspond with BBC staff. Some files contain purely business documents, with exchanges limited to the relevant booking departments of the BBC. Many, however, contain detailed correspondence with producers about the subject’s broadcasting work. When these are supplemented with the internal BBC memos they can provide a full record of the programme-making process from conception to broadcast and beyond.

The files in this section concern broadcasters external to the BBC. Salaried members of BBC staff, and those on long-term contracts, do not have files of this sort, unless they made contributions to programmes outside their normal duties. Similarly, the BBC’s house orchestras are not represented here (see ‘Related Units of Description’).

It is noticeable that, as this series of files comes to an end in the early 1960s, the telephone is starting to replace the letter or memo as the principal means of communication, and the files tend to become progressively less rich in detail.

A few files contain material that dates from beyond the end of 1962 (some up to and including 1981), where there is not a subsequent file for the contributor. These can be identified by the date range given on the individual file entry.

Researchers should be aware that even if a particular name does not appear in RCONT1 , there may still be papers for that person in any of the concurrent ‘Miscellaneous’ sequences RCONT2 - 11 .

Administrative / Biographical History

The Central Registry administered large quantities of contracts and correspondence with contributors to various radio programmes. Different types of programme contribution required different types of contract, which were issued by different offices. Therefore, separate file sequences were held by the Central Registry for artists, speakers, scriptwriters, composers, music copyists, music publishers, contributors to children’s programmes, light entertainment, copyright and gramophone recitals.


This series consists of one continuous run of contributor files, arranged alphabetically by surname. Separate files exist from different booking departments for the same contributor, including Talks, Artists, Copyright, and a number of other less common categories. The two largest of these are Talks (for speakers contributing to programmes as themselves) and Artists (for performers of any kind). It is thus quite common for versatile contributors to have separate, concurrent, files in more than one category, but they are both listed and stored together under that person’s name. It is worth noting that Talks and Speaker file classifications appear to have been used interchangeably throughout various departmental structural changes.

Those files not concerned with individuals (e.g. orchestras, pop groups, commercial enterprises or public bodies) form part of the same alphabetical sequence. Where more than one file exists for a contributor the file number and covering dates are written on the front of the file and references are made to the other files for that contributor in the sequence. The files are otherwise not numbered.

In the Written Archives Centre catalogue all RCONT1 files have been allocated a number (e.g. RCONT1/31013: Reith, Lord ). Please note that these numbers are not found on the file covers.

The papers within each file are arranged chronologically, usually with the most recent records at the front of the file.

From the creation of the Written Archives Centre catalogue in 2018, the final element of double-barrelled surnames has been used as the first element in file titles, in accordance with NCA (National Council on Archives) rules on personal, place and corporate names, though the physical files remain as they were originally filed.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Buff coloured files containing written papers. This is in accordance with early Registry practice and was intended to distinguish contributors’ files from programme, departmental, and policy files, which generally have pink covers.

Custodial History

The files were originally created according to standard Registry practice. This was to create alphabetical runs of ‘main’ files where there were sufficient papers concerning one subject to warrant making a file on each one. Each of these file series were followed by a second alphabetical run of ‘miscellaneous’ folders containing a number of small batches of papers pinned together, none of which were as yet sufficiently bulky to be worth making into ‘main’ files. At some point before their transfer to the archives, all the main files from the different contractual series were amalgamated into one alphabetical run, bringing together the separate files on each contributor. The contemporaneous miscellaneous files, however, were left in their separate sequences (see ‘Related Units of Description’).

In the 1960s, when it was thought that the bulk of the files might be discarded, a selection of those thought to contain the most eminent broadcasting names was taken into the Historical Records Office. In some cases, where those individuals had files from more than one booking area, the files were broken up and all the papers placed in one straight chronological sequence. These files were in some cases numbered 910 as part of an older classified system introduced for the Archives, or later given N numbers, as part of an attempt to use a new classified system being introduced in the current filing Registries from c.1965. This practice was not widespread, and was soon abandoned.

The continual increase in paperwork holdings led to difficulties with storage space in the late 1960s. At the time ‘nominal’ files were housed in the Central Registry, registry stores, and other locations across the BBC, such as Ware.

The process of reorganising the Central Registry holdings began towards the end of 1968. A proposal was put forward to amalgamate all holdings and then to split the files into two distinct groups according to date. Papers dating to 31 December 1962 would be stored at Caversham, whilst later papers would remain with the Registry in London. Semi-current files from 1 January 1963 to 31 December 1967 would be held in a storage area of the Langham whilst files dating from 1 January 1968 would be kept as the current group of files on the ground floor.

It was originally suggested that the grouping of files would continue in five year runs. When the ‘current’ grouping of files reached the end of the five year period they would be moved to the store to make space for new run of files to be opened on the ground floor. Those already held in store would be transferred to Caversham. This arrangement led to the first three sequences of radio contributor files covering the following periods; circa 1922 to 1962, 1963 to 1967, and 1968 to 1972. However, in 1976 the Chief Registry and Records Officer suggested that the next split should be made after 10 years rather than 5 due to space and the costs incurred by the purchase of new file covers.

In 1975 the Written Archives Centre in Caversham assumed responsibility for the pre-1963 files it had been storing on behalf of the Central Registry. These files would be accessioned as the RCONT1 series. The Written Archives Centre also assumed responsibility for the concurrent runs of ‘miscellaneous’ files, which were accessioned as RCONT2 - RCONT11 .

An alphabetical file list was created by Registry, providing additional information on the files, such as the covering dates of the correspondence, the number of files held for each contributor, and an indication of the capacity in which the broadcaster was engaged. The file list also indicated if a file is officially missing, or is known to have been destroyed in the past. All information from the original file lists has been incorporated into the Written Archives Centre catalogue.

Related Material

There are concurrent runs of miscellaneous papers, covering the correspondence of infrequent, or would-be, contributors who generated insufficient papers to warrant the creation of a file, at BBC/R/RCONT/RCONT2 - RCONT11 . Unlike the main file run, these are still stored in separate sequences according to contractual area (e.g. Artists, Talks) and, although filed alphabetically, are entirely unlisted.

There is a continuation series, BBC/R/RCONT/RCONT12 , covering the years 1963-1972. This series excludes copyright files; the continuation series for copyright contributors is BBC/CORP/CCONT/RCONT18 , covering 1963-1969. There are further continuation series up to 2006 for copyright and 2003 for non-copyright.

There is an equivalent series of files for television contributors at BBC/T/TVART/TVART1 , which covers the period to the end of 1962. (Note that television copyright contributors appear in the RCONT1 series, not TVART1 .)

There are additional series of contributors’ files from the BBC Nations and Regions, although these vary both in scope and organisation. They can be found at BBC/NR .

Contracts for BBC house orchestras and music groups are represented in BBC/R/OM/R29: Orchestra: General and BBC/R/OM/R26: Music: Chorus , while contracts for contributors to BBC Midlands and Northern regional orchestras can be found in BBC/NR/M/M33 and BBC/NR/N/N21 respectively. Contracts for non-BBC orchestras (1942-1979) can also be found in BBC/R/RCONT/RCONT31: Orchestras (London Based) .

Long Term Contracts for contributors may be found in separate series under BBC/T/TVART/T49 for television and BBC/R/RCONT/R94 for radio.

There may be correspondence with contributors in separate programme production files (see sub-sub-fonds BBC/R/PRR: Programmes Radio ).