Schedule:Autumn 1939

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BBC Radio

Originally Planned Schedule

The following timetables for autumn 1939 had been announced in the annual Programme Schedule booklets distributed to schools. They are presented here for reference. On the outbreak of war these planned timetables were abandoned, and the revised timetables shown further below were used instead.

National Programme

Planned, but never broadcast, schedule.

11:00 11:00 Physical TrainingFor Use in an Open Space 11:00 Intermediate French(Jean-Jacques Oberlin) 11:00 Music and Movement for Infants(Ann Driver)
11:25 History in the Making 11:25 Senior GeographyMigrant Men: Seeking New Homes - America
11:30 11:30 Intermediate German 11:30 German for Sixth Forms 11:30 French for Sixth Forms 11:30 Music and Movement for Juniors(Ann Driver)
11:45 11:45 Physical TrainingFor Use in Classrooms
14:05 Science and Gardening(B.A. Keen & C.F. Lawrence) 14:05 Let's Build a House 14:05 World HistoryThe Strange Adventures of John in the Past 14:05 Nature StudyRound the Country-side 14:05 Travel TalksThe British Isles
14:30 14:30 Early Stages in Music(J.W. Horton) 14:30 Preparatory Concert Lessons(J.W. Horton) 14:30 Senior English 14:30 BiologyThe Day Begins 14:30 British HistoryBritain in the Making
14:45 14:45 Junior English(Jean Sutcliffe)
15:00 15:00 Concert Lessons
15:10 Topical Talks and Feature Programmes
15:35 Early Stages in German 15:35 Early Stages in French(M. Stéphan) 15:35 Talks for Sixth FormsProblems for the Community / Greece / Rome, etc


Planned, but never broadcast, schedule.


as National except:

14:30-14:55 Speech Training for Seniors: (Anne H. McAllister)


as National except:

14:05-14:25 Round the Town


as National plus:

11:05-11:25 Speech Training for Juniors


as National except:

14:05-14:35 Time and Tune: Junior Course / Senior Course (Herbert Wiseman)

14:40-15:00 Nature Study (different series from National)

15:05-15:25 Scottish History: Stories From Scottish History / Scotland Since the Union


as National.

Welsh and North Regional Programmes

Planned, but never broadcast, schedule. These programmes fit into gaps in the National schedule.

11:00 11:00 History of Wales(David Williams / Isobel Williams)
14:25 Rhigwm a Chân
14:55 Ein Gwlad Ni(Iorwerth C. Peate)
15:05 Ystoriau a Llenyddiaeth

Notes & New Programmes

The term's broadcasts had been scheduled to run from Monday 25th September to Friday 15th December 1939.

World History was due to introduce new regular characters to explore the past, young John and his friend Professor Wiseman. These programmes were still transmitted under the revised timetable, but on Mondays instead of Wednesdays[1].

This term's series for rural schools in England (following such series as Round the Countryside, Our Village and Our Parish) was scheduled to be Let's Build a House, with episodes including What Shall We Build It Of? (scheduled for 3rd October), Drains, Pipes and Cables (7th November) and Getting the Roof on (5th December). This series was never transmitted, as the needs of rural schools changed greatly during wartime...

There had also been some small changes planned in the broadcasts for Scottish and Welsh schools, but on the whole all of the planned timetables were extremely similar to the timetables of the previous year.

The usual range of teachers' and pupils' pamphlets had been printed to accompany this term's planned broadcasts - several of them are pictured at the top of this page. They were due to be published on Friday 1st September 1939, and sent out to schools from the following Monday, but the outbreak of war meant that "it was impossible to secure their distribution to all Listening Schools," and in any case the many changes to planned timetables meant that most of the pamphlets were completely obsolete. The BBC received regular requests from schools to obtain these pamphlets anyway - for the sake of the information, pictures & diagrams which they contained - and so they consented to sell the stocks of pamphlets to interested schools at 1d. each, reduced from the usual price of 3d.[2]

Revised Wartime Schedule

Home Service (term time)

11:00 11:00 Singing Together(Herbert Wiseman) 11:00 Physical TrainingFor Use in Halls (Edith Dowling) 11:00 Music and Movement for Juniors(Ann Driver) 11:00 Music Making(Sir Walford Davies) 11:00 Music for Every Day(Ronald Biggs) 11:00 Music and Movement for Infants(Ann Driver)
11:25 World HistoryThe Strange Adventures of John in the Past 11:25 Junior EnglishStories for Acting 11:25 Living in the Country(Edith E. Macqueen) 11:25 English for Under-NinesAction Stories & Poems 11:25 Senior EnglishRhyme and Reason
11:45 11:45 Senior EnglishBook Talks 11:40 Talks for Fifth FormsScience and the Community 11:45 Senior EnglishThe Fun of Writing 11:45 Senior GeographyGeography of the War
14:00 14:00 Science and GardeningThe Garden in Wartime (B.A. Keen & C.F. Lawrence) 14:00 Living in the Country(Edith E. Macqueen) 14:00 Music Making(Sir Walford Davies) 14:00 Nature StudyRound the Countryside (Eric Parker) 14:00 Travel TalksPeoples of the Empire
14:20 Music and Movement for Juniors(Ann Driver) 14:20 Preparatory Concert LessonsBells & Clocks / Singing in a Choir / The Fiddle Family / Musical Pipes / Trumpets & Drums / Christmas Music 14:20 Biology 14:20 Physical TrainingFor Use in Classrooms (Edith Dowling) 14:20 Topical Talks and Feature Programmes
14:40 Senior English 14:40 Junior EnglishThe Story of Joseph, etc 14:40 British HistoryBritain in the Making
14:45 14:45 English for Under-NinesStories 14:45 Junior EnglishGames with Words
15:35 Talks for Sixth Forms

Notes & New Programmes

The main schools broadcasting term ran from Monday 25th September to Friday 22nd December 1939, a total of 13 weeks. However there was also a special schedule of before-term schools broadcasts from Wednesday 6th September, and also throughout the Christmas period leading up to the start of the spring term almost uninterrupted - see below for more details of broadcasts outside regular term time. On Thursday 2nd November the schools broadcasts were partially disrupted by commentary on the Cesarewitch horse racing event at 1:50pm to 2:10pm, which meant there was no episode of Nature Study that week.

Most of the series which had been running before the war began did continue this term, although the schedule was rearranged and restricted to exactly two hours of schools broadcasts per day. Several series were changed to cover topics relevant to wartime, notably Senior Geography, which was designed this term "to show children the meanings of the geographical relationships between the various countries engaged in the war"[3], and the Topical Talks and Feature Programmes which included topics such as Getting Your Sugar in Wartime (10/11/1939) and Getting Your Fish in Wartime (08/12/1939).

The schedule was still being worked out in the first weeks of term, and the various units of English for Under-Nines, Junior English and Senior English changed places with each other several times, in Radio Times listings at least, until they settled down into the pattern shown in the grid above (for example Games with Words was billed on Thursday in the second week of term, with Action Stories and Poems on Friday).

The most notable omission this term was modern languages - all six of the series on French and German, which had been running for years previously and were planned to continue this term, were cancelled. There were also no programmes in Welsh this term, although again such series had been running in Wales for years and had been planned to continue in autumn 1939. The main reason in both cases was that the BBC was now offering a single radio station, the Home Service, for the whole of Britain. Home listeners no longer had the choice to retune to another station if they were not interested in broadcasts for schools, and programmes of interest to only a limited area of the country (such as Welsh schools programmes) could no longer be broadcast only in those areas[4]. In fact Welsh-language schools programmes were reinstated in the following term, and the series Intermediate French returned in the following year to continue throughout the war. Other modern language series would not return until after the war.

Another peculiarity of this term was that several series were delivered twice a week, at different times of the day. Music and Movement for Juniors was heard on Monday afternoons and Wednesday mornings, Living in the Country on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday mornings, and (initially) Music Making on Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings. Although multiple broadcasts of programmes in the same week would become a regular feature of the schools broadcast schedules in later decades, to accommodate different school timetables, this was the first time it had been tried, and it was soon abandoned. This was a time long before radio programmes were routinely recorded by the BBC, when all schools broadcasts were performed live and the two programmes within each week were actually different episodes. It was done this term in an effort to help schools working in shifts, which could use the morning broadcasts with one group of children and the afternoon broadcasts with another group. After this term the number of schools operating in shifts diminished so much that the duplicate broadcasts were no longer judged necessary, and all were dropped[5].

The major new series starting this term was Singing Together, which encouraged children to join in singing well-known and traditional songs. Singing Together was a clear response to the immediate needs of schools in wartime, especially for evacuated schoolchildren scattered around the country, as they all got together to share the experience of singing not just with the other children from their schools, but with other schools throughout the country[6]. The series became one of the most enduringly popular and successful schools programmes of all time. It would run for over 60 years, with it's final broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in summer 2004 (for a repeat run; the final new episodes went out in spring 2001). The first full episode of Singing Together was on 25th September 1939, but for that week it was billed in the Radio Times as Community Singing. Even before this, short periods of Community Singing went out in-between the special schools programmes broadcast in early September 1939 (see below).

Series for rural schools had been a feature of the BBC's service for schools throughout the 1930s, with titles such as Our Country and Our Parish. Let's Build a House had been planned as this term's rural schools series, but with the outbreak of war this area of study was refocussed to help children from the towns who had been evacuated to the countryside and were finding out about rural areas for the first time. The series which replaced Let's Build a House to meet this need was called Living in the Country. Like Singing Together it was given a different title at first, as plans for the hastily devised new series evolved during the early weeks of term. For the first two weeks the series was billed as Eyes and No Eyes in the Radio Times. Also like Singing Together, Living in the Country continued after the war came to an end, but not for nearly as long. Living in the Country was finally replaced by a series titled simply For Country Schools in 1952.

Sir Walford Davies, who had delivered the BBC's very first schools broadcast from London and been a mainstay of schools broadcasting throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, was called back into the service of schools this term. Davies had retired from schools broadcasting in 1934, but continued to broadcast for the BBC in programmes for adults, working with the religious broadcasting department. At the beginning of September 1939, in addition to the evacuation of schoolchildren, the BBC's operations were moved away from London to various locations (many broadcasts were billed to come from "somewhere in England"), and the religious and schools departments were both relocated to Bristol. It is recorded that "Mary Somerville (the Director of School Broadcasting) begged Walford to resume his school broadcasts,"[7] and the series Music Making which he delivered this term was effectively a resumption of the schools broadcasts he had been delivering regularly until five years earlier. For the first month of this term Music Making went out on both Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings, but on Thursday 25th October the Radio Times announced that "it will be noted that this morning's talk is being given by Ronald Biggs instead of Sir Walford Davies. The reason for this is that Sir Walford has been forbidden by his doctor to give two broadcasts a week." From that week onwards the Thursday morning slot was occupied by Ronald Biggs' series Music for Every Day.[8]

September 1939: before term

Schools broadcasts this term actually began on Wednesday 6th September 1939, weeks before the planned start of term, recognising the needs of the thousands of schoolchildren and teachers evacuated from Britain's towns and cities. This emergency schedule had been planned in advance and approved by the Central Council for School Broadcasting[9], and programme details were given in a special revised edition of that week's Radio Times magazine, published on Monday 4th September.

The programmes of these first few weeks recognised that the extraordinary circumstances meant there would be little formal teaching taking place, and they were apparently more entertainment-focussed than usual[9].

There were generally four full programmes a day, at 11:00am, 11:35am, 2:15pm and 2:40pm. The specially selected gramophone records which had been played in-between schools programmes since spring 1936 were replaced by "Community Singing" (which was soon to become the series Singing Together, as noted above) along with the usual announcements.

The first programme was an episode of British History, and the other programmes heard during the first two weeks were episodes of Biology, English, Geography, Nature Study, Physical Training, Travel Talks and World History. Most series were broadcast twice a week, and there was an English programme at least once a day. Nature Study was heard in its established timeslot on Thursday afternoons, and Travel Talks retained the Friday afternoon slot which it always held from the 1920s to the 1960s - not even a world war could displace Travel Talks!

For the week beginning Monday 18th September 1939 the timetable was changed and the same schedule of programmes was used on every day of the week. This consisted of Round the Countryside at 11:05am - a series specially conceived to help "the herd of city youngsters" who were "let loose, in many cases for the first time, on rural England,"[10] followed by a dramatised story at 11:15am, which was essentially an episode of World History though not billed as such, and at 11:45am what was essentially a shortened episode of Travel Talks, but again not billed as such. In the afternoon there was another episode of Round the Countryside at 2:15pm followed by another history story at 2:40pm, essentially an episode of either World History or British History.

December 1939: after term

Broadcasts for schools continued almost uninterrupted throughout the Christmas and New Year period of 1939-40.

In the week beginning Monday 18th December, the final week of the regular schedule shown above, the timetable was slightly reduced as some of the regular series such as Science and Gardening, Living in the Country, British History and World History were not broadcast. On Friday 22nd December there was a special End-of-Term Entertainment at 2:00-2:40pm, including a "charade" by Rhoda Power, a performance by the BBC Theatre Orchestra, an appearance by the comedian Tommy Handley, and a specially written episode of the BBC's evening series Inspector Hornleigh Investigates[11].

There were no schools broadcasts on Monday 25th December 1939, Christmas Day, but from Tuesday 26th December onwards there were two programmes per day, one at 11:00am and another at some time between 2:00pm and 3:00pm. In general these programmes were Holiday Talks on various subjects including science, geography and nature. Highlights included The Magic Shop by H.G. Wells on Wednesday 27th December, "The Black Spot" from Treasure Island on Wednesday 3rd January 1940, and talks on France in Wartime on Friday 29th December, and Half an Hour with Schubert on Tuesday 2nd January 1940.

There was also an episode of Singing Together on Tuesday 26th December 1939 - possibly the only time that series, traditionally broadcast on Monday mornings[12], was heard on a Tuesday until schools programmes moved to BBC Radio 5 half a century later.

The Holiday Talks continued until Friday 5th January 1940, with the spring term schedule beginning on Monday 8th January.

Sources & References

  • Bailey, K.V. (1957) The Listening Schools: Educational Broadcasting by Sound and Television, London: BBC. p.39
  • BBC (1939a) Broadcasts to Schools in the National Programme: Programme Schedule, Autumn Term 25 September to 15 December 1939. London: BBC.
  • BBC (1939b) Broadcasts to Scottish Schools: Programme Schedule, Autumn Term 1939 25 September - 15 December. London: BBC.
  • BBC (1940) School Broadcasting in War Time: Programme for the spring term 1940, 8 January - 21 March 1940. London: BBC.
  • BBC Broadcasts to Schools - (former) BBC library collection of all publications for autumn 1939
  • Cain, John & Wright, Brian (1994) In a Class of Its Own... BBC Education 1924-1994, London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 37056 4 pp.29-34,41,132
  • Collies, Henry (1942) Walford Davies: A Biography, London: Oxford University Press. pp.166-167
  • Cox, Gordon (1996) 'School music broadcasts and the BBC 1924-47' in History of Education volume 25 number 4, December 1996. London: Taylor & Francis. pp.363-371.
  • Cox, Gordon (1997) 'Changing the face of school music: Walford Davies, the gramophone and the radio' in British Journal of Music Education volume 14 number 1, March 1997. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp.45-55.
  • Crook, David (2007) 'School Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: An Exploratory History' in Journal of Educational Administration and History volume 39 number 3, December 2007. London: Taylor & Francis. pp.217-226 (available online from Informaworld)
  • Fawdry, Kenneth (1974) Everything But Alf Garnett: A Personal View of BBC School Broadcasting, London: BBC. ISBN 0 563 12763 5 p.49 & p.121
  • Glover, C. Gordon (1939) 'What the Schools will hear in Wartime' in Radio Times dated 22 September 1939, p.6
  • Palmer, Richard (1947) School Broadcasting in Britain, London: BBC. p.117
  • Radio Times listings, 1939
  • Times (1939) "B.B.C. Service to Schools: helping teachers in reception areas" in The Times, 20 September 1939, p.6 col.G
  • with thanks to Robin Carmody
  1. A Christmas message from Rhoda Power in the Radio Times dated 22nd December 1939, p.11, establishes that the planned Adventures of John in the Past episodes of World History did go out this term: " John sends his love and hopes they will have heaps of presents, and the Professor says: 'Bless my spectacles! Of course they're going to have a happy New Year.'"
  2. An advert in the Radio Times dated 25th August 1939, p.4, announced that the autumn term's schools pamphlets would be available from BBC Offices on 1st September at 3d. each. The back page of BBC (1939a) announced that they would be "ready" for schools on 4th September. An item on "childrens' pamphlets for autumn term, 1939" in BBC (1940) said that "the BBC is prepared to sell them at the cost of 1d. per copy" and also gives the quote that "it was impossible to secure their distribution to all Listening Schools."
  3. The Senior Geography unit on Geography of the War was described in the Radio Times listing for 28 September 1939: "The talks will be designed to show children the meanings of the geographical relationships between the various countries engaged in the war."
  4. BBC (1940) explains under the heading "Secondary Schools" that "We realize that many Secondary Schools are missing the Modern Language Talks very much, but unhappily with only a single programme for the whole country and all ages, these must be regarded as a minority interest for schools and general public alike." Also in its introductory text that "there is now only one Home Service Programme for the whole of Great Britain, and certain series of particular interest to Scotland and Wales have had to be abandoned."
  5. BBC (1940) explains under the heading "Changes in the Programme" that "certain duplicate courses which were put on this term for schools working in shifts have been dropped as there is a steady diminution of shift working."
  6. The initial purpose of Singing Together was confirmed by Herbert Wiseman in a broadcast of Scottish Life and Letters on 31st December 1962, transcribed in Cox (1996) p.369 from BBC Sound Archive LP28639.
  7. The assertion that "Miss Mary Sommerville begged Walford to resume his schools broadcasts" is from Collies (1942) p.166
  8. The full Radio Times billing for the first episode of Music for Every Day was "it will be noted that this morning's talk is being given by Ronald Biggs instead of Sir Walford Davies. The reason for this is that Sir Walford has been forbidden by his doctor to give two broadcasts a week. He will therefore be giving his Music-Making broadcast on Wednesday afternoons only of each week, and Ronald Biggs, Director of the Rural Music Schools' Council, will be giving the Thursday morning broadcast."
  9. 9.0 9.1 Times (1939) explains that: "The emergency programme, which had been prepared in advance by the B.B.C. in consultation with the Central Council for School Broadcasting, first came into operation in the early days of evacuation, when almost all the schools were being used as social centres and little attempt at formal teaching was being made. During this time the programme for Schools was modified and contained more entertainment than normally."
  10. The Radio Times billing for Round the Countryside at 11:05am on Monday 18th September said "Country schools are filling up with children from urban districts, and this herd of city youngsters is being let loose, in many cases for the first time, on rural England. Many teachers are taking parties of young people on country rambles, and these talks will help the little newcomers to get the very most out of the wild life of field and woodland."
  11. The Radio Times billing for the End-of-Term Entertainment was "a variety programme to end the school term; with Tommy Handley; a charade by Rhoda Power; 'Inspector Hornleigh Investigates', an episode specially written by H.W. Priwin, with S.J. Warmington as Inspector Hornleigh; the BBC Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Reginald Burston."
  12. Singing Together's occupation of the Monday 11:00 slot was cause for comment by Kenneth Fawdry (1974 p.122) in response to an Education Officer's account of a Headmistress's request that the time be changed: "'Singing Together' had been carefully placed for over a decade at a time which seemed admirably suited to the convenience of the great majority of the 15,000 schools following it. Yet for this Head the rhythm of her children's lives took precedence over any BBC broadcast; and who shall say that she was wrong?". The headmistress in question ran an isolated school in the Scottish Highlands with five pupils. Singing Together occupied the slot on Mondays at 11:00 practically uninterrupted during term time from 1939 to 1981. In autumn 1981 it was moved to Wednesdays, where it remained for another decade until the move to Radio 5 in autumn 1990.