Public Service Broadcasting – The BBC at 100

Given it is the 100th anniversary of the BBC. What better way to celebrate, but to let Public Service Broadcasting into their archives and produce a special score for a one-off Prom? Given their first album was called ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’, Reith’s original statement of intent of the BBC’s purpose and PSB’s love of mixing archive material with their music. This was a perfect match. 

A few hours earlier. I woke up in the Lake District after the Krankenhaus festival. (PSB had played a Brighton Krankenhaus evening). It was an early rise. A quick tidy of my apartment and the start of a 5 1/2 drive back home, before heading into London. 

After a long festival and a poor night’s sleep. I really struggled to stay awake on the drive home. I had fears of sleeping through the whole Prom, especially if the Albert Hall was hot. Luckily, the train trip into London seemed to wake me up and thankfully I managed to stay awake.

I had set a high bar for this. I was expecting a history lesson with lots of Reithian quotes. I was expecting the score to be formed around ‘inform’ ‘educate’ and ‘entertain’. In some ways it was. But it was less obvious than I expected and given the BBC’s vast archives, many of soundbites were actually quite weak and surprisingly they weren’t worked into tracks as they have done on records. PSB had created a more traditional music score that acted as a soundscape into which the clips were dropped. I also thought ‘Theme From PSB’ would have featured in the set.

The piece started gently. An old style radio unit brought onto stage and switched on and the band and orchestra building up layers of ‘musical’ radio waves telling the story of the early radio tests. The piece then explored other archive material including clips of Reith, early broadcasts with Seth Lakeman adding vocals. It was all very pleasant.

I was surprised the test card didn’t feature with a short spurt of an orchestrated Roygbiv. But despite the archive footage, this was never going to be a greatest hits of Public Service Broadcasting, this was a respectful celebration of the BBC and their public service broadcasting remit.

PSB chose to concentrate on the early story of the BBC. How it was set up and how its principles formed. Then there was a brief reminder that the BBC is under threat and the closing pieces asked us to think about the future of public service broadcasting. It was all very pleasant.

I would be lying, if I didn’t say I was slightly disappointed. I found their approach to archive matieral slightly odd. I was expecting shorter pieces focusing on the BBC’s ‘Inform’, ‘Education’ and ‘Entertain’ principles. Covering how the BBC has contributed to British Society. How it has helped with the understanding of the natural world – with reference to David Attenborough, sections on sports, science, entrainment (maybe with a bit of Morecambe and Wise), school programmes, and children’s probably. Most importantly, news with a section focusing on how The BBC has always been there breaking the big stories. I can understand why the did what they did. Clearly they wanted to create music that worked for an orchestra. But I wanted a ‘Space Race’-type approach.

As the concert came to an end. I also misjudged their ending. While good, I think my idea is better. The orchestra started to walk off their stage. I thought this was a brilliant idea. I thought they would gradually leave Willgoose on stage with his guitar as all the lights went down. He would then play some feedback and walk off the stage as we were left with the white dot you used to get when you switched off old TVs. Instead, they all just gradually left the stage. It was still an interesting ending. But I think my idea was more impressive. In some ways this sums up the evening. I really enjoyed the evening. The music was good and I enjoyed the evening and pleased I made the long trip. But I have to admit leaving the hall having expected more.