Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 08, 2019
Webpage updated: July 08, 2019




The British Broadcasting Company was founded on October 18th 1922 by a consortium of business that included British Thomson Houston, the General Electric Company, Marconi, Metropolitan Vickers, the Radio Communication Company and Western Electric.  The aim of the Company was to provide a national broadcasting service by establishing a network of radio stations across the country.

The first BBC station to start transmitting was based on the roof of Selfridge's department store in Oxford Street, London, and had the call-sign 2LO.  Other stations in major cities like Birmingham and Manchester quickly followed.  It was intended that the one in Plymouth should cover the whole of Devon and Cornwall but when tests were carried out, it was found that the hills got in the way.   The installation that was intended for Plymouth was thus transferred to Bournemouth, which opened in October 1923.

November 1st 1922 saw the introduction of the radio receiving licence, ten shillings, as a means of financing the BBC.

Plymouth's radio station, with the call-sign 5PY, was opened on Friday March 28th 1924.  It was really a relay station and operated on 335 metres, medium wave.  The official opening ceremony was in the form of a grand concert in the Guildhall in the presence of the Mayor, Alderman Solomon Stephens.

It started at 7pm with the "Big Ben" time signal and then the London news.  At 7.15pm Mr J W C Reith, managing director of the BBC, introduced the Mayor of Plymouth, who broadcast the first words from Plymouth.   He was followed by the Band of the Royal Marines, under the direction of Lieutenant P S G O'Donnell, which struck up "Finlandia" and then "Serenata".   After a selection that included "The Grasshopper's Dance" and "The Bees' Wedding", they concluded their part of the concert with Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance", which, of course, included "Land of Hope and Glory" sung on this occasion by Madame Alice Lakin.

Other soloists during the evening were Mr Arthur Marten, Mr Ernest White, and Miss Lucy Dart, while Mrs Hubert Grant and Doctor Harry Moreton provided a pianoforte duet.

Finally the irrepressible Jan Stewer gave his exposition of "How the Wireless Works", in Devonshire dialect, of course, and followed that up with "Out Come Mother and Me" and "Widdecombe Fair".

At 9.30pm "Big Ben" chimed the half-hour and was followed by more news from London.  Finally, at 10.45pm the Plymouth Guildhall ringed to the sound of a hearty "God Save the King" and the evening was brought to a successful conclusion.

The Plymouth Station's announcer was Mr Rex Palmer and the resident pianist, Mrs Grant, had to frequently fill in with a recital while technical problems between Plymouth and London were sorted out.

It was decided to broadcast a pantomime on Christmas Day 1925 but it very nearly became a disaster.  When the time to start the broadcast arrived the script was still unfinished and as the cast were broadcasting the first half the second half was still being written.

Children's Hour was broadcast between 5 and 6pm.  There were three "aunties" and two "uncles", of which Mrs Madge Taylor probably broadcast the most programmes, some 3,000 in all.  Mrs Taylor also broadcast information about the maintenance of vital services and the times of trains during the General Strike in 1926.

Auntie Madge, or more properly Mrs Margaret Rose Taylor, became the BBC's first female news reader and announcer and at the end of her day, 9pm, she used to put on her evening gown to read the radio news.  She also ran auditions for the BBC, a drama group and the Children's Radio Circle.  Her wage was 1 1 shilling per week.  In October 1929 Mr George Bernard Shaw gave his first radio broadcast from her Plymouth studio and she also hosted the first broadcast by Miss Moura Lympany.  Mrs 'Madge' Taylor died at Mount Gould Hospital on Monday April 14th 1986 at the age of 85.

The studio was in Athenaeum Chambers, Athenaeum Lane, near George Street.  The studio measured some 28 feet by 15 and alongside it were a waiting room, the control room, and a couple of offices.  The 180 foot long aerial was strung between the chimneys of the old Sugar Refinery in Mill Street.  The station evidently transmitted programmes from London at first as the first truly local programme was broadcast on Wednesday April 2nd 1924 and included the Dons Concert Party.

A crystal set radio set at that time cost 5s 6d or a "super set" could be had for 1 5s.  A three-valve receiver cost as much as 12.

5PY's first director was Mr Clarence Goode, who had previously been running a wireless training school in the Town.  From September 1925 until December 1926 Mr C C N Wallich was director at Plymouth.  He was replaced by Captain James E C Langham, formerly the assistant director, who went on to build up the new station very successfully.

On January 1st 1927 the British Broadcasting Company Limited became the British Broadcasting Corporation, with a Charter from the Crown.

During 1927 considerable work was done to improve the radio signal in Plymouth.  Because of the difficulty of receiving signals by land lines from the main station at Daventry some programmes had not been heard in Plymouth at all but engineers had now installed a wireless link between the two points and 5PY was now able to receive signals direct and rebroadcast them 'with such fidelity and clarity that few people unacquainted with the technical process would realize the many difficulties which had to be overcome'.  The master receiver was was situated in the house of one of the engineers and was controlled remotely from the main Plymouth control room.  As a result 5PY increased its air time from 45 to 62 hours and for the annual licence fee of ten shillings local listeners were now able to get some 3,000 hours of entertainment per year.  During 1927, up to Saturday November 12th 1927, there had been only 26 minutes of breakdowns.

In addition to the usual musical concerts, including some from the Plymouth Guildhall, there had also been transmissions of Sunday services from Saint Andrew's Church and George Street Baptist Chapel as well as well as commentaries on local football and rugby matches, the launch of HMS "Devonshire", the Mayflower Pageant - also from the Guildhall - and even the Nativity play from Marazion, in Cornwall.

Among the many famous artistes who had broadcast from the Plymouth studio during 1927 were the W H Squire Celeste Octette; Flotsam and Jetsam; Clapham and Dwyer; Mavis Bennett; Harold Williams; Dale Smith; Herbert Simmonds; Parry Jones; Roy Henderson; Kenneth Ellis; John Thorne; Mabel Constanuros; Harley and Barker; and Wallace Cunningham.

One of the other benefits of the new wireless link was the local people were now able to listen to educational lectures given by many eminent people in the different branches of learning.

As more and more European countries took up broadcasting, so the number of wavelengths available in this country were reduced.   The BBC's ration of wavelengths were reduced from 21 to just 10.  As a result, local broadcasting all over the country was curtailed and programmes from 5PY ceased after "Children's Hour" on the evening of Monday January 15th 1934.

The Plymouth transmitter remained in use, however, and continued to put out radio programmes from the British Broadcasting Corporation in London.  It ceased to be used when the new high-powered one at Start Point, on the south Devon coast was opened on Tuesday June 14th 1939.

In addition to Auntie Madge, mentioned earlier, another of the presenters of "Children's Hour" on 5PY was Auntie Gwen.  Mrs Gwendoline Maud Baily, wife of Mr Ronald Clive Baily, was perhaps more well known in Plymouth by her maiden name, Miss Gwendoline Goodenew, under which name she appeared on stage with the Plymouth Operatic Society and the Kenneth Spooner's Players.  She was also a pianist.  She died at her home in Paignton on Wednesday May 13th 1959 and was survived by her husband and one son.