Behind the Wireless

© SpringerA History of Early Women at the BBC
Kate Murphy
20th April
£21 | $34 | Paperback | 978-1-137-49172-5


Behind the Wireless tells the captivating story of women at the BBC in the 1920s and 30s. Their stories shed light on the crucial role women played at the BBC during the interwar years – giving them a voice in what has, until now, largely been a history of men.

In Behind the Wireless, former BBC Radio 4 producer Kate Murphy places women centre-stage in the BBC’s early history, exploring the different experiences, motivations, and expectations that they brought to their jobs, and how this impacted on the BBC.

Murphy examines the BBC from its earliest days at the start of 1923 through to the outbreak of WWII in 1939 – an era when broadcasting was brand new and Britain was buzzing with opportunities, particularly for trained and educated women. With its central location, good pay and good working conditions, touched by both celebrity and grandeur, the BBC was a desirable place to be. But lurking behind the façade of modernity were hidden inequalities in recruitment, pay and promotion.

However, the BBC had fewer overt discriminatory practices than was common at the time and there were good chances for women to rise through the ranks. From the very beginning, women proved vital to the BBC’s existence: they worked in positions as varied as furniture buyer, press officer, play writer, wardrobe assistant, gramophone-record cataloguer, and advertising canvasser; they provided essential typing and secretarial services; they headed departments and ran the telephone exchange; they were the voices women heard on the wireless and the producers of the programmes women listened to. Through her detailed research and engaging profiles of key figures such as Mary Somerville, Hilda Matheson, and Elise Sprott, Murphy casts fresh light on women’s capacity to create, innovate and lead at the early BBC.

Behind the Wireless is the definitive history of women in the BBC in the 1920s and 30s, and the first comprehensive study of women’s work in a modern ‘professional’ industry at this time. Murphy’s passion as a 24-year BBC veteran shines through as she shows that women had an important role to play in the formation of one of Britain’s most influential organisations.


“Kate Murphy's wonderful and sharply corrective book shows how women made the BBC and had a wonderful, creative time in doing so.”
– Jean Seaton, University of Westminster, UK; official historian of the BBC

“As a historian and former senior producer for Woman's Hour, Kate Murphy was well-qualified to write this illuminating study. It captures beautifully the fledgling BBC's progressive attitudes towards its many female employees, tempered by societal and some structural bias. This compelling, carefully researched account fittingly informs, educates and entertains.”
– Angela V. John, Swansea University, UK


About the Author

Kate Murphy is Senior Lecturer at Bournemouth University, UK, where she leads the BA (Hons) History programme. Prior to this, she worked at the BBC for 24 years, predominantly as a Senior Producer on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. She is the author of Firsts: British Women Achievers.

For more information or to get in touch with the author please contact:

Rebecca Krahenbuhl, rebecca.krahenbuhl@palgrave.com, +44 0207 014 6634