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For the Television Producer, see Peter Eckersley (TV producer)

Captain Peter Pendleton Eckersley (PP Eckersley) (1892–1963) was a pioneer of British broadcasting. He was born on 6 January 1892 in Puebla, Mexico. His father, Alfred (d.1895 of Yellow Fever), was a railway engineer and was in charge of building the Grand Mexican Railway. In 1920 he was the on-air announcer, broadcaster (he used to recite poetry and sing songs) and engineer of 2MT, the first licensed radio station in Britain, located in the village of Writtle just outside Chelmsford in Essex, England where Guglielmo Marconi had built his wireless telegraphy factories. Peter Eckersley was the first Chief Engineer of the British Broadcasting Company, Limited from 1922 to 1927 and Chief Engineer of the British Broadcasting Corporation until 1929 when he was sacked by John Reith after divorcing his wife (Reith was a deeply religious man and would not tolerate the 'scandal' of having a divorced man working for him). He died on 18 March 1963 at the West London Hospital in Hammersmith.

Eckersley's elder brother was the physicist Thomas Eckersley.

Note: Some other sites have his middle name as Prothero, which is incorrect.


Brief biography


1920 to 1945

Eckersley left a British broadcasting legacy which until recently British broadcasting has ignored. He was an entrepreneurial pioneer in British broadcasting during an age when Britain was centralising its power of control within state run enterprises. Between World War I and World War II the General Electric Company of the USA became a giant cartel which had growing commercial interests in Britain and several moves were undertaken by the British Establishment to prevent the Americanisation of Britain. These moves were not entirely successful.

There were links between the UK and USA that had been pioneered by Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited based in Chelmsford, Essex, who employeed Peter Eckersley as an engineer. During World War I General Electric, with help from the US Navy, had consumed the ship-to-shore radio business that Marconi had established in America. In 1919 that business was transferred to a new GE subsidiary named Radio Corporation of America. It was against this backdrop of recent history that Peter Eckersley began his experimental broadcasts from radio station 2MT in the village of Writtle, just outside Chelmsford. The British military reacted by creating a moratorium for two years on further commercial radio experiments by Guglielmo Marconi's employees.

Due to public pressure created by broadcasts received from America, the General Post Office agreed in 1922 to license one commercial monopoly to be known as the British Broadcasting Company, Ltd. Peter Eckersley became its Chief Engineer. This company would derive some income from a licence sold to listeners to use their receiving sets and the rest from the manufacture and sale of licensed receiving sets. This arrangement did not work because under the terms of the exclusive licence, the company could not sell air time. In 1923 Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes headed a committee to review this arrangement and it eventually reached the conclusion that the General Post Office should stop licensing the British Broadcasting Company. The company went out of business in December 1926.

In 1927 the British Crown granted a charter to its own non-commercial British Broadcasting Corporation and the General Post Office licensed that entity instead. Peter Eckersley was also hired as its Chief Engineer. However, John Reith who had been imposed upon the former commercial company as its Managing Director, was appointed to take control of the Crown corporation. Reith was a former military man and a Scottish Calvinist who on the surface seemed to be all of the things that Eckersley was not and in 1929 when Eckersley divorced his wife and began an affair with a married woman on the staff, Reith forced him out of his job. Years later a daughter of John Reith revealed to the press that Reith had been unfaithful to his wife but that he had kept up the pretense of a marriage.

Beginning in 1930 while Peter Eckersley was seeking work and the General Electric Company was engaged in building and selling European companies such as EMI (Electric and Musical Industries), the political opposition in Britain became extreme on all sides. For a time Eckersley was engaged in working to build a broadcasting station based in continental Europe which could be received in the United Kingdom. Captain Leonard Plugge who became a Member of Parliament also set about building his own International Broadcasting Company by leasing transmitters in France and other countries to beam commercial radio into Britain. The IBC venture was very successful and because Reith had banned light entertainment on the BBC stations during Sundays, the IBC stations gained as much as 80% of the Sunday listening audience by 1938.

Meanwhile Peter Eckersley had sought other ways in which to bring the signals of the IBC stations into the living rooms of Britain. Rather than relying upon a receiving set licensed by the General Post Office, Eckerseley began to wire parts of England for an early form of cable radio. His venture was stopped by intervention from the General Post Office and the IBC stations were eventually silenced by the march of Adolf Hitler's troops through Europe during which they captured the transmitters.

From 1937 onwards Peter Eckersley's talent was tapped by British Military Intelligence MI6 to help combat the propaganda coming from Nazi Germany by the creation of British propaganda stations. Ironically Peter Eckersley's former wife Dorothy worked for the German broadcasting service during WW2, and recruited the most infamous English language Nazi propagandist of them all William Joyce (often referred to as Lord Haw-Haw). [1]


  1. ^ [ 45/25728/244. CAB 98/18. Simpson 135-6. Thurlow, the 'Mosley Papers' and the Secret History of British Fascism 1939-1940, K/L, 175. Reporting statement from the Mail on 14.3.40]

Further reading

  • Eckersley, P.P. (1941). The Power Behind the Microphone. London, Jonathan Cape.
  • Eckersley, Miles, Prospero's Wireless, Myles Books 1997, ISBN 0-9531625-0-8, A biography of Peter Pendleton Eckersley - pioneer of radio and the art of broadcasting.


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