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- Part 1: From Bristol to Bedford -

   LINKS to other pages in this site and to other sites in the Travelling Days series:

Autographs Home Page:      Bedford 1939 onwards:      BBC in Bedford Part 2:
BBC Symphony Orchestra Personalities:      Bedford Miscellany:       Bedford School (1940s):
Composers:      Conductors:       David Gentleman:      Glenn Miller:       Instrumentalists:
Personalities of the 1940s:       Pianists:       The RAEC in Cornwall:
Religion and Drama:       Singers:       BBC in Cornwall 1949:      Colin Day's List-O-Links:
America West Home Page:      Guest Book:

AT THE START of World War II, because of the threat of bombing, various departments of the British Broadcasting Corporation were relocated for reasons of safety out of London to other parts of the United Kingdom. The BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Theatre Orchestra were sent to Bristol in the West Country during the latter part of 1939 and for several months enjoyed the use of that city’s facilities (including the famous Colston Hall).

    The beginning of the blitz in September 1940, which included the ‘Baedecker Raids’ that involved targets other than London, saw Bristol being increasingly under attack by German bombers. Reliable BBC operations in the area became difficult to maintain and another location, with facilities able to cope with the number of personnel involved, close to London and on a main railway line, was sought for as a matter of urgency. The Corporation made enquiries of more than a half dozen local authorities and eventually the Mayor of Bedford’s offer of the services of his town was accepted.

    In August 1941 a special train, one of the last in wartime England to provide the luxury of a buffet car, left Bristol with the two orchestras and their associated staff. After a long journey by a devious and unconventional route avoiding London the train eventually arrived at Bedford some fifty miles north of the capital.

    However, the Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, Sir Adrian Boult, made a solitary journey from Bristol to Bedford on a push-bike, stopping for lunch at the British Restaurant in Aylesbury!

    Suitably sized studios for the full orchestra were made available in the Corn Exchange (above) in St Paul’s Square and in the Great Hall of Bedford School (left - with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.    The author of this website is standing on the gallery - fifth from the right!).  

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    Accommodation was provided in Bedford for office and technical departments in the hall of the Bunyan Meeting House and at two private hotels in Bushmead Avenue situated between Castle Road and The Embankment (see below).

    The picture (right) shows the hall of the Bunyan Meeting House today - the chapel is behind it on the far left. During the war the red door to the basement on the far right led to an ARP wardens' post. The hall was also used in the early stages of the war by the Goldington Road Primary School to accommodate extra classes resulting from the arrival of evacuees from London.

    The BBC’s Religious Department also moved to Bedford and had its studio in a converted billiards saloon in Castle Lane.

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    The BBC Daily Service was broadcast each morning from the Lady Chapel in St Paul’s Church, with the BBC Singers, conducted either by Dr George Thalben-Ball or Leslie Woodgate, providing the music.

    The orchestras made Bedford their base until they returned to London in July 1945.

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The photograph (right) taken in 2003 shows the hotels in Bushmead Avenue used by the BBC from 1941 to 1945. The 1986 winter view (below left) shows Bushmead Avenue looking towards the Embankment. (Black and white pictures on this page with acknowledgement to the BBC.)

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