Sussex academic appointed as the BBC’s latest official historian

Professor David Hendy

David Hendy, Professor of Media and Communications at Sussex, will embark on a major project to produce a single-volume history of the corporation in time for its centenary in 2022.

As well as charting the inception and growth of world’s first public broadcasting service, Professor Hendy will explore the interconnection between the BBC and its audiences. 

He will be delving into oral archives and first-hand accounts of listeners and viewers to understand how broadcast coverage of key moments in history – from wars to royal weddings - made their impact.

He says: “One of the pleasures of exploring the BBC’s past is that while so much of what it has done over the years seems very familiar – all those TV and radio programmes we’ve grown up with, and loved or hated – there are still plenty of stories, as yet untold.

“As a nation we have allowed these broadcasters to examine our lives, reflect us back to ourselves, perhaps even change our ways of seeing the world. It’s an extraordinary institution – woven so deeply in to the culture and politics of the past century that almost none of us has been left untouched by it.”

Entitled The BBC: A Century in British Life, Professor Hendy’s book will be published by Profile in 2022. In the course of his research, he also intends to produce snapshots for BBC online on various themes. The first, last April, looked at the relationship between the BBC and election coverage; the next, this November, is due to look at the birth of television.

“Although this will be the authorised history of the BBC, it will not be a whitewash,” he adds. “I won’t be shying away from uncomfortable aspects of the BBC’s past. Its history is our history.”

Professor Hendy is particularly proud to be following in the footsteps of Lord (Asa) Briggs, a renowned historian and a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, who was the BBC’s first official historian. Lord Briggs produced five volumes charting the corporation’s history from 1922 until 1974. 

A sixth volume, Pinkoes and Traitors: The BBC and the Nation, 1974-1987, authored by Lord Briggs’ successor Jean Seaton, was published last year.

Professor Hendy’s previous books include Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening, which was serialised on Radio 4 in 2013. He also authored Life on Air: A History of Radio Four, which won the 2008 Longman-History Today Book of the Year award and was nominated for the Orwell Prize.

Robert Seatter, Head of BBC History, says: “This centenary history will capture the transforming power of BBC broadcasting in Britain and the wider world. It will also tell the human story of an organisation and its audiences. As official centenary historian for the BBC, David Hendy brings the perfect mix of insider and outsider knowledge, combined with the powerful voice of a lucid and cogent storyteller.”

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 29 January 2016