British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 898 BBC
  • Dates of Creation
      From 1922
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      Approx. 27 000 linear feet of documents and 21 000 reels of microfilm plus various collections of BBC publications plans posters artefacts and digital material.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of the written records of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) from its formation in 1922 to the present day. This includes the records of the British Broadcasting Company (a private company that existed from 1922 to 1926 before the Corporation was formed). Records from the BBC's commercial subsidiaries also form part of the collection.

All major areas of business of the Corporation are covered. This includes the commissioning and production of radio programmes, television programmes and online content; management of genres, channels, services and networks; booking of artists and contributors; research and technical developments in broadcasting; corporate policy, staff administration and liaison with the UK Government. Records mainly cover content created in-house by the BBC, as opposed to programmes created by independent production companies and broadcast by the BBC.

Broadly, record types consist of production documentation (contracts, scripts and programmes logs); meeting minutes and papers; production files; departmental, policy and staff files; technical documents and runs of BBC publications such as The Radio Times and The Listener .

Material originates from BBC sites within the nations and regions of the United Kingdom and covers content broadcast outside the UK via the records of the BBC's External Services (World Service) and BBC Monitoring.

Material is composed of paper files, bound volumes, microfilm, microfiche, publications, plans, maps, posters, artworks and digital content.

Administrative / Biographical History

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster in the United Kingdom (UK) that has featured prominently in British life and culture since its formation in 1922.

From 1922 to 1927 the BBC existed as a private company, known as the 'British Broadcasting Company'. The company was formed on 18 October 1922 by a group of leading wireless manufacturers, who had been making public radio broadcasts since 1920.

The company was created under a licence from the General Post Office (GPO), the government department responsible for the postal service and telecommunications. The company was financed by royalties on sales of BBC wireless receiving sets from approved domestic manufacturers.

The company made its first radio broadcast on 14 November 1922 on the service '2LO'.

Scottish engineer, John Reith, was appointed its General Manager in December 1922. Reith would go on to become the Company's managing director in 1923 and from 1927 to 1938 was the first Director-General of the Corporation. His idea of broadcasting as a way to 'inform, educate and entertain' was to strongly shape the output of the BBC.

The future of broadcasting by the BBC was reviewed in two committees commissioned by the government – the Sykes Committee (headed by Sir Frederick Sykes) in 1923 and the Crawford Committee (headed by David Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford) in 1925. Based on the outcome of these reviews, on 1 January 1927 the British Broadcasting Company was reorganised as a public service: the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was to function under a Royal Charter and operate under an Agreement with the UK Government. It was headed by the Director-General and an independent Board of Governors. A monopoly on all broadcasting by the BBC was formally introduced, as well as a prohibition on advertising. A receiving licence was required to listen to broadcasts, which was a fixed fee of ten shillings, with royalties no longer going to the wireless companies.

The Corporation grew rapidly in its first few years of operation. From 1930 it began to focus on experimental television broadcasts. A regular 'BBC Television Service' began broadcasting from Alexandra Palace in London in November 1936.

The BBC also began to broadcast outside of the UK to countries that were then part of the British Empire, with the BBC Empire Service starting on 19 December 1932. This service expanded during the Second World War and by the end of 1942, the BBC had started broadcasts in all major European languages, with many other languages soon following.

In wartime the BBC played a large part in providing news and entertainment to the forces, the British public and allies overseas. Many of the BBC's operations were moved out of London and the government's Ministry of Information worked closely with the BBC to broadcast propaganda and boost morale.

Television broadcasting was suspended from 1 September 1939 to 7 June 1946. After the reopening of the television service, the BBC introduced a Television Licence that was required to receive television broadcasts. This would become the Corporation's principal source of income. Television Licences originally incorporated a licence to receive radio broadcasts, but by 1971 only television transmissions required a licence. The Licence Fee continues to fund the BBC, and, along with the Royal Charter, provides the basis of its mission statement 'to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain'. The Licence Fee is reviewed by the UK Government at the renewal of the BBC's Charter, roughly every ten years.

The BBC broadened its range of services throughout the second half of the twentieth century. An additional television channel (BBC2) launched in 1964, and radio stations were reorganised in 1967, to provide four national stations (Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4) and a range of local stations. Further digital radio stations and television channels were introduced in the early 2000s, along with online content (including catch-up services), high-definition (HD) television and interactive television.

In 1969, the BBC Enterprises department was formed to exploit BBC brands and programmes. On 15 May 1979, it became a wholly owned company, BBC Enterprises Ltd. which supplemented the income generated by the Licence Fee.

From the 1980s onwards the UK television and radio market was deregulated as the number of competing channels and services in the commercial sector increased rapidly, across satellite, cable and digital television. This coincided with a shift from programmes being largely made in-house by the BBC to a proportion being commissioned from independent production companies.

At this point the BBC began to further separate its strands of business into subsidiaries or sell them to private owners, a process that would continue into the 2000s. BBC Enterprises was reorganised and relaunched on 1 January 1995 as BBC Worldwide Ltd. Other areas that were sold included BBC Costumes and Wigs (2011), BBC Books (2006), BBC Magazines (2011) and BBC Outside Broadcasts (2008).

In 2015 the BBC split its in-house television production units into a separate production and distribution company, which was registered as BBC Studios Ltd. on 27 February 2015. It brought together the television production departments of Comedy, Drama, Entertainment, Music & Events, and Factual. All other areas of television, including channels, genre and commissioning remained in-house. In April 2018, BBC Studios Ltd. incorporated BBC Worldwide Ltd., to make it a single company responsible for both production and distribution of BBC programmes.

In the Charter renewal of 2007, the Board of Governors was replaced by the BBC Trust as the independent governing body of the BBC. These duties were then transferred to a new BBC Board in April 2017, with regulation and review of BBC broadcasting provided by Ofcom (the regulatory authority for all broadcasting in the UK).


The arrangement of the records is largely based on the BBC's internal registry system.

Registry staff filed paperwork using an in-house classification system and subject index. Files relating to booking of contributors were filed alphabetically by contributor name. Files often arrived at the archive under their registry groupings and this is how many file series are arranged, divided into the separate deposits with the original order maintained. Other series came directly from departments or staff members with no registry classifications (and this became the norm when the registries were closed in 2006). Therefore some file series are arranged via subject or programme type, while others relate specifically to a department, office or staff member.

Further arrangement took place from 1957, when historian Asa Briggs was commissioned to write 'The History of Broadcasting the United Kingdom'. Papers were collected from registries and other sources and arranged under a decimal classification system based on the subjects Briggs would require for his work.

Files are given new reference codes on accession to the Written Archives Centre, often incorporating the structure of the originating registry or filing system. These codes consist of a letter corresponding to the main area of the Corporation that generated the paperwork (such as Radio, Television or External Services) and a number to further break down the subject or programme type. E.g. Radio Talks (R51), Television Documentaries (T4). BBC offices outside London used their own registries, so files from the UK's nations and regions are stored under separate letter codes.

In 2016 the record series were rearranged within a larger hierarchy in order to link the provenance of the records to their broader place in the Corporation's structure. Series and file codes were expanded to show the records sitting beneath fonds, sub-fonds and sub-sub fonds level records.

Access Information

Material can be accessed in the Reading Room at the BBC Written Archives Centre.

Visits are by prior appointment only. You can access the Centre if you are an academic in higher education undertaking accredited research, a writer commissioned to write a book or article on BBC history, or undertaking research for a commercial project.

Full details of visitor and access arrangements can be found on our website:

Material is available subject to the Access Policy of the BBC Written Archives Centre. All files are reviewed in detail before release to ensure compliance with relevant legislation such as data protection, libel laws and the BBC's Editorial Guidelines. Some record types also have specific closure and/or release criteria.

Custodial History

After their creation and use, many of the records were placed in the custody of registry staff and filed via the BBC's internal registry system, established in 1927.

Documents that were considered to have particular historical value were preserved by the Archives Section, established in 1931 at Broadcasting House and later known as the Historical Records Office. Particularly significant record series, such as the minutes and papers of the Board of Governors and Board of Management were kept by the Secretariat, with archival copies being retained by the Documentation Unit before being transferred to the archive.

In 1970 the BBC Written Archives Centre opened at Caversham and all archival documents were gradually transferred to the new site.

A records management system was introduced with semi-current records managed by registry staff, with anything designated archival transferred to the Written Archives Centre for permanent retention. The semi-current files were stored at the Records Management Centre in White City, West London, which later became the Records and Programme Information Centre (RAPIC).

It was also possible for records to be transferred to the archive directly from the creating department, bypassing the registry system. This became more common as the number of departments increased, leading to a larger number of local filing systems.

In 2006 the BBC stopped using a registry system and files are currently subject to records management processes without passing through a central filing system.

Related Material

A separate fonds level collection managed by the BBC Written Archives Centre is the fonds ACQ, which consists of 'Acquired Collections', which are externally acquired deposits of papers (known as 'Special Collection') relating to the history of the BBC and its staff. These papers were donated directly to the archive from outside the BBC.