City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Calling All Nations

Written in



Of course, for all the fine talk of gleaming modernity here, I can’t resist nostalgia sometimes. So, regard this public information booklet on the BBC World Service, produced during WWII. Many varied publications were issued by government-backed stationers, aimed at explaining the war-time effort in all its palatable facets – such as these on military equipment – and a couple covered the work of the BBC in this context. It veers fairly close to propaganda at times, yet I find it fascinating as an example of mid-40s publishing and a telling artefact from the history of public service media.

The crisp typography, charts, and Abram Games-style cover are redolent of a professional and valued culture of communicative arts in everyday lives. The writing itself speaks volumes of British culture at that point. The empire is barely fading at all; still a meaningful global entity. The BBC’s original role in shaping that is clear too, at this distance. This booklet attempts to describe a world brought together through broadcasting, littered with photographs of people around the globe, apparently connected by a common set of beliefs as well as a common platform. You can see the power in this message. It’s been well-documented how the Other Side used the power of broadcast radio, so it’s interesting to see these messages from the home front.

It’s not without surreal aspects too. I love this picture below: DInkas listening to a radio in the Sudan. Clearly staged, and to what end? But amazing either way. They’ve hidden the generator. Actually, it looks like they, or enterprising BBC engineers, have tethered the radio to the cow. (Perhaps an early methane-powered prototype.)


It wasn’t just the listening Sudanese; Scottish people were even allowed on-air, apparently, though perhaps only at Christmas.


This chart below is the piece-de-resistance for me. A beautifully painted infographic indicating transmissions across the globe; a Truly Great Britain floating above, as if some celestial body. It claims 200 million listeners at that point. An exaggeration? Perhaps not.


I’ve uploaded a higher-resolution set of selected pages from the booklet at Flickr. Enjoy.


One response to “Calling All Nations”

  1. Nick Reynolds Avatar
    Nick Reynolds

    Lovely. Heartwarming.


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