The Full Wiki

BBC Third Programme: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The BBC Third Programme was a national radio network broadcast by the BBC. The network first went on air on 29 September 1946 and became one of the leading cultural and intellectual forces in Britain, playing a crucial role in disseminating the arts. It was the third national radio network broadcast by the BBC, founded in 1946 and finally incorporated into BBC Radio 3 in April 1970. The other two were the Home Service (mainly speech based) and the Light Programme, dedicated to light music, usually cover versions of popular music of the day played by the "in-house" BBC orchestras. The Home Service is now known as Radio 4 and the Light Programme is Radio 2.


Description and history

When it started in 1946, the Third Programme broadcast for six hours each evening, from 6.00 pm to midnight, although its output was cut to just 24 hours a week from October 1957, with the early part of weekday evenings being given over to educational programming (known as "Network 3"). This situation continued until the launch, on 22 March 1965, of the BBC Music Programme, which began regular daily broadcasts of classical music between 7.00 am and 6.30 pm daily (with some interruptions for live sports coverage) on the Network 3 / Third Programme frequencies. The Third Programme itself continued as a distinct evening service, and this continued to be the case for a short while after the inception of Radio 3 in 1967 until all the elements of the BBC's "third network" were finally absorbed into Radio 3 in April 1970.

The Third's existence was controversial from the beginning, partly because of perceived "elitism" – it was sometimes criticised for broadcasting programmes of "two dons talking" – and also for the costs of output relative to a small listener reach. In actuality its existence went against Reithian principles, as Reith himself had, during his time at the BBC, been against segmenting audiences by splitting programming genres across different networks. From the start though, it had prominent supporters: the Education Secretary in the Attlee government, Ellen Wilkinson, spoke rather optimistically of creating a "third programme nation". When it faced those 1957 cuts, The Third Programme Defence Society was formed and its leaders included T. S. Eliot, Albert Camus, and Sir Laurence Olivier.

Output and programming

The network was broadly cultural, a Leavisite experiment dedicated to the discerning or "high-brow" listener from an educated, minority audience. Its founders' aims were seen as promoting "something fundamental to our civilisation" and as contributing to "the refinement of society". Its musical output provided a wide range of serious classical music and live concerts, as well as contemporary composers and jazz. Voice formed a much higher proportion of its output than the later Radio 3, with specially commissioned plays, poetry readings, talks and documentaries. Nationally known intellectuals such as Bertrand Russell and Isaiah Berlin on philosophy or Fred Hoyle on cosmology were regular contributors.

The network became a principal patron of the arts. It commissioned many music works for broadcast by the BBC Music Department, playing a crucial role in the development of the career of composers such as Benjamin Britten. Particularly notable were its drama productions, including the radio plays of Samuel Beckett, Henry Reed (the Hilda Tablet plays), Harold Pinter, Joe Orton and Dylan Thomas, whose Under Milk Wood was written specially for the Programme. Philip O'Connor discovered Quentin Crisp in his radio interviews in 1963. Martin Esslin, BBC Director of Drama (Radio), was associated with the network's productions of European drama, and Douglas Cleverdon with its productions of poetry and radio plays.

The Programme's contribution to contemporary poetry and criticism was outstanding, under producers and presenters such as John Wain, Ludovic Kennedy, George MacBeth and Patrick Dickinson; here it promoted young writers such as Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis, as well as the "difficult" work of David Jones and Laura Riding. The Third Programme was for many years the single largest source of copyright payments to poets.

The Third Programme is still much missed by older listeners, who often assert that its replacement by Radio 3 was a retrograde step.


  • Carpenter, Humphrey. "The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the Third Programme and Radio Three", Weidenfeld & Nicolson , (November 10, 1997) , ISBN 0-7538-0250-3.

Some of its announcers

See also

  • For the sequence of Controllers of the Third Programme, see the list on the page relating to BBC Radio 3.

External links



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address