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Listening to youth? BBC youth broadcasts during the 1930s and the Second World War

Tebbutt, M (2017) Listening to youth? BBC youth broadcasts during the 1930s and the Second World War. History Workshop Journal. ISSN 1477-4569

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Abstract

This article explores the largely neglected history of BBC youth broadcasting in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly from the mid 1930s, when a broad youth movement drew together many voluntary youth organizations in humanitarian and political projects. A novel youth consciousness embraced a radical younger generation of middle-class literary intellectuals and artists who, disconcerted by the popular appeal of fascism in Europe, wanted to know more about the everyday lives and views of ‘ordinary’ working-class people. During the same period, the introduction of BBC audience research stimulated greater receptiveness to the idea of capturing ‘different’ voices, including those of youth and encouraged progressive programme producers to give young people a voice in the new public sphere of broadcasting, unusual in a period when children’s education and the workplace were dominated by adult-centred approaches and assumptions. These programmes, despite their limitations, recognized young people as protagonists with valid voices and stressed the importance of youth developing critical understanding in order to play an active and participatory role in society. Their emphases on audience participation and interactivity and their efforts to listen to young people and shape a public space in which they could express their own views and passions as critical and autonomous thinkers are part of the archaeology of youth programming. They also connect with our globalized world, in which the skills of critical thinking, debate and participation are so vital and where the importance of asking young people about what they think, what they feel, and actively listening to what they have to say is still so often ignored.

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