1943: First broadcast from Algiers

Archive photograph of individual talking into a raised microphone.

Capt. A.C.L. Bennett making the opening announcement, with Capt. M. Luker at the controls of the transmitter.


"This is the British Forces Experimental Station, Algiers."

These words, spoken at 6:30am on 20 December 1943, were the start of a broadcast journey that, through conflict, peacetime and world-changing events, has seen the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) at the forefront of technological innovation time after time. 

In late 1943, General Dwight D Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces for Operation Overlord. He and his colleagues were starting to plan the operation, a top-secret mission that would later become known as D-Day. 

At this stage of the Second World War, Allied forces and the home front needed a boost of morale after tens of thousands of Allied troops and civilians had been killed in brutal attacks such as Dunkirk, the Blitz and the Siege of Malta. 

Allied forces had been in Africa since November 1942. A victory there would mean safe passage across the Mediterranean Sea and into Italy, a crucial turning point during the war. 

The British public needed to know what was happening in Africa, to create hope that victory was possible. This is when three service personnel started a BFBS tradition of using innovative methods to assist defence provide a crucial link with home. But they needed to have the right technology to make this happen. 

Archive photograph from the Imperial War Museum. Military gathered together listening to a radio.

Members of the Duke of Wellington Regiment listening to the Army Broadcasting Service, Anzio 1944.

So in Algiers, North Africa, with the help of some British Army blankets for soundproofing, a few old packing cases, a lot of ingenuity and a captured German transmitter, Major Gale Pedrick-Harvey, Captain Emlyn Griffiths and Captain Philip Slessor – the man whose voice was the first to be heard on forces broadcasting airwaves  – took on the gargantuan task of setting up a radio station to entertain troops starved  of a taste of home. 

This is what became known as the Army Broadcasting Station, the precursor to BFBS. To mark BFBS's 50th anniversary in 1993, the documentary Battledress Broadcasters was created using archived audio of people such as Major Gale Pedrick-Harvey, Bryan Cave-Brown-Cave, John McMillan and King Charles' great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. 

As part of this documentary, Major Gale Pedrick-Harvey recalled setting up the station in Algiers, saying:

"We bent King's regulations like mad – we pinched equipment. 

"Most of it had been captured in the desert and we had to blow the sand out of it and, as the CO, I was in daily danger of a rocket if not a court martial. 

"Nevertheless, it all worked, thank goodness.” 

From its starting point in Algiers, Army Forces Broadcasting moved with the troops into Italy, setting up radio stations on the way in Naples, Bali, Rome, Florence and Austria, advancing all the time with the Eighth Army. 

And so, for the first and, as history proves, certainly not the last time, BFBS stepped up and supported the Armed Forces by the use of technology to report on what was happening in North Africa and drive the dream of victory home. 

Recalling his time spent setting up the station in Algiers, Major Gale Pedrick-Harvey said:

With a small transmitter, a few lengths of cable, two portable gramophones, some records and a couple of radio engineers, Major Pedrick-Harvey, Captain Slessor and Captain Griffiths would broadcast for about 16 to 18 hours a day. Major Pedrick-Harvey said:

"All this came to pass but not without a historic scrounge for equipment and a monumental bending of King's regulations. 

"Griffiths interviewed commanding officers throughout the area and left them bewildered and minus other ranks and NCOs whom they'd had no intention whatsoever of parting with. At first, we could only recruit men who were over 30, wounded or of a low medical grade but, in a few months, we'd assembled enough gear to build studio 3A, so-called after a famous studio in Broadcasting House."

Thanks to all that hard work, the troops were able to listen to the same programmes their families and friends were listening to back home. They also put a lot of focus on making the troops laugh. Major Pedrick-Harvey said:

Lord Louis Mountbatten was a big advocate of broadcasting to the Armed Forces long before the first BFBS station was set up in 1943. Speaking of his passion for forces broadcasting, which began when he was the Fleet Wireless Officer of the Mediterranean Fleet in 1932, Lord Mountbatten recalled a time he helped the Armed Forces hear a very important Royal message. He said:

"One day the Commander-in-Chief sent for me and told me to arrange for the fleet in Malta to receive what was to be the first broadcast of a reigning monarch, the Christmas message of King George V. 

"Of course, in those days, there was no Forces Broadcasting Service and so we built special radio receivers and low power transmitters which enabled us to receive the King's voice from London and retransmit it on local frequencies that were received by all ships of the fleet and a few local positions ashore."  

In archive audio heard in the Battledress Broadcasters documentary, Lord Mountbatten said the "highly efficient broadcasting service to the forces" was due, in part, to the Second World War accelerating the development of technology. He said: