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Reith, John, 1st Baron Reith

Reith, John, 1st Baron Reith (1889–1971). Reith stamped his image on the first 40 years of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The son of a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, ‘famous for his impassioned advocacy of righteousness in every department of human activity’ (as his son put it), he was born at Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. He began as a railway engineer and was badly wounded in the First World War. In 1922, at something of a loose end, he saw an advertisement for general manager of the new BBC and was appointed. Reith created his own vision of an austere, sober, and responsible corporation, with important educational and religious obligations. He stayed until 1938 and then went to Imperial Airways, but at the outbreak of war was brought into Parliament, serving as minister of information, minister of transport, and minister of works. He and Churchill disliked each other and he was abruptly dismissed in February 1942. Though after the war he held a number of important commercial posts, the draft title for his post-1938 memoirs was ‘Adrift’. A tall, gaunt, impressive, and fierce man, he had no concept of compromise and his diaries are full of unpleasant and savage remarks about colleagues. His conceit bordered on megalomania: with Churchill as prime minister, Reith deplored the lack of leadership—‘and I might have given it—a lot of it’. He was knighted in 1927 and given his barony in 1940.

J. A. Cannon

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