John Reith

The life and times of the first Director-General of the BBC

John Reith (1889-1971) was the founder of the BBC. He was its first general manager when it was set up as the British Broadcasting Company in 1922; and he was its first director general when it became a public corporation in 1927.

He created both the templates for public service broadcasting in Britain; and for the arms-length public corporations that were to follow, especially after World War Two. Reith fought off the politicians' attempts to influence the BBC, while offering the British people programmes to educate, inform and entertain.

But in a working life that stretched over 60 years, Reith was at the BBC only 16. This is the story of a towering figure – physically as well as metaphorically - who was never satisfied with life and who said 'What I was capable of compared with what I've achieved is pitiable.'