HOME
EARLY DAYS
HISTORY
TRACKS
MEMORIES
STAFF
HOMEGROWN
CONTACT
OUT NOW The Best of Homegrown Music. Order on line @
THE EARLY DAYS OF RADIO NORMANDY

Today it is an accepted part of radio to have advertising but back in 1920 England this was forbidden. Perhaps you thought that the first adverts on British radio was the pirate ships of the sixties that dotted themselves around the British Isles. No, in fact it was IBC,which stands for International Broadcasting Corporation and was the brainchild of Captain Leonard PLUGGE (1889-1981) British Scientist, Politician and Inventor of the car radio two-way telephone. Plugge was also the first man to broadcast a Pirate Radio Station, Radio Normandy, in the 1930s.
Little else is known about Captain Leonardo F. Plugge, except that he had been a consulting engineer for London's underground railway and had also been a Philco radio salesman. He also "invented" special glasses to watch television and took part in scientific research with the Royal Air Force as well as being a World War 1 RAF pilot. Plugge was a Conservative MP for Rochester, to the south of London and became Conservative MP for Colchester in 1935
This seemingly eccentric man understood the importance of commercial  radio and  conscious of the importance of a potential market he created the  International Broadcasting  Company.
 The first commercial broadcast to England was in 1925, with the initiative  of the Captain  who persuaded Selfridges's - a London department store -  to sponsor a fifteen minute  fashion talk, to be broadcast to Britain from a  studio on the Eiffel Tower. Only three people  were noted that had heard  the broadcast, that had not been publicised and so there was  little  response.
     
The following year Plugge was touring through Europe in a vehicle that was fitted out with the very first car radio made by Philco. He noticed that advertising was allowed and his jaunts around Europe inspired him with an idea to get around the British Broadcasting Corporation's monopoly of the UK airwaves. The British Government thought that advertising was an exploitation of a powerful medium for financial gain, but also viewed commercial radio as a potential corrupter of public morality.
         
In 1930 the captain was on another one of his driving trips when he stopped in the
small Normandy fishing town of Fécamp, that supplied most of the salted cod
consumed in France and was also the only place in the world where genuine
Benedictine (the popular liqueur) was distilled. Plugge heard that the youngest of
the directors of Benedictine, M. Fernand Le Grand, (pictured left) was a keen
wireless amateur with a small wireless transmitter in his drawing room.
With this he amused himself broadcasting to his friends in Le Havre (about 12 miles away) and
had been relatively successful at selling shoes by wireless for one of his friends.
  Captain Plugge and M. Le Grandmet met over a bottle of Benedictine in the drawing room with the wireless set. They talked and decided that Le Grand would allow Plugge to use his transmitter to broadcast in English at certain times of the day for 200 francs per hour. (The exchange rate at that time was around 200 French francs to the pound sterling) So they fixed up a deck and Plugge set off for Le Havre to try to buy some English gramophone records.

Bursting with excitement Plugge returned to London and in March of that year he formed the International Broadcasting Company (IBC) to produce sponsored English-language programmes for transmission from European radio stations. With headquarters at 11 Hallam Street, adjacent to the building site of the BBC's new Broadcasting House, its production subsidiary is to be called the Universal Programme Company (UPC turns up later in IBC's history when a disastrous attempt to start a record label with the same initials was launched in the early seventies).

The following year Fernand was invited to London, to meet the management of IBC and he promises, when he returns to Fécamp, to carry out a signal on the night of June 29, 1931 in order to test the quality of the reception in England. The results are conclusive. On October 11 the First programme produced from London by the International Broadcasting Company (IBC) are transmitted: a Special Concert for the Benefit of British Listeners and in November Radio Normandy broadcasts its first English-language sponsored programme, the Philco Slumber Hour.
                              Captain Plugge contacted various newspapers in the hope of interesting them in his scheme. Only one responded (the Sunday Referee) and the following Sunday the paper started carrying details of the programmes which would be broadcast from Normandy, together with times and information about the station's wavelength. Audiences started to rise and within weeks M. Le Grand's half a kilowatt drawing room wireless set became five-kilowatt Radio Normandy, the first regular English language commercial broadcasting station selling British goods to British listeners.
With its success the newspaper started the "International Broadcasting Club" for which they charged a couple of penny stamps to join. Within three weeks nearly 50,000 applications had been received at the Sunday Referee offices and in less than three months more than a quarter of a million people had joined.
Captain Plugge had started commercial advertising two years ahead of the
launch of English programming from Radio Luxembourg  (During the war,Radio
Luxembourg was used as a propaganda station by the occupying German fascists.
In 1944, a special American task force under the direction of the Psychological
Warfare Division liberated the station and silenced Lord Haw-Haw's (alias William
Joyce's) infamous voice. He was later hanged for treason)

By 1932 Leonard Plugge had established the International Broadcasting Company, which was
broadcasting regular nightly sponsored programmes from a range of European stations in England,
Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and even Luxembourg. Plugge knew that at night
medium wave signals propagated much further, and so he established a network of stations across
the continent to broadcast programmes produced by his International Broadcasting Company,
now based just across the road from the BBC's new Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London.

On Sundays, when the BBC was concentrating on religious output, Radio Normandy was said to command 80% of the British radio audience. The programmes were comparatively lively and fun, and financed by advertising, Philco being an early sponsor. Henleys successfully launched the SS1 motor car on the station. This proved to sceptics that radio advertising really worked. Henley's went on to become the now famous Jaguar Cars brand. Roy Plomley and Bob Danvers-Walker were voices that could be heard on Radio Normandy in the late 1930's, along with commercials voiced by Gracie Fields.
The production of sponsored broadcast material meant a major adjustment in the way many advertising agencies operated. Almost all programmes were pre-recorded in Britain and Programmes were recorded on 16-inch 78 rpm discs shipped out to the Continental stations for transmission. In these programmes the sponsor's message was usually integral to the overall content, which meant that the agencies had of necessity to become programme-makers as well as experts in their own field.
IBC itself quickly established itself as a facilities house, offering sophisticated studios for hire and towards the end of the decade, it boasted proudly that it had helped set up some of the agencies' radio services by this method.

                  
         In 1934 IBC had countered a British press ban on publicity for its programmes by launching its own listings magazine, Radio Pictorial. From this time many of the major clients bought advertising space in the journal as well as on the air. For instance, the daily Horlicks Tea Time Hour, broadcast on weekdays on Radio Luxembourg and on Sundays on Radio Normandy between 4.00 pm and 5.00 pm, was supplemented by a half-page cartoon-strip featuring a series of fictional `case studies' such as `Ames, the fighting parson' who `worked desperately hard in a poor, thickly populated parish.' However, when things became too much for him, `night starvation' was diagnosed, and Horlicks provided the answer. The studio use to record such sponsors as Ovaltine and the legendary Ovaltineys and there was Bile Beans (Out of Sorts? - Don't blame the spring weather, take Bile beans and tone up your system.)
Captain Plugge was such an avid commercialiser that the term 'to plug' was coined after him and at the height of its success in the mid-thirties, IBC programmes could be heard across the night time radio dial beaming in from Madrid, Valencia and San Sebastian in Spain, Ljubljana, Rome, Athlone in Ireland, Poste Parisien from the Eiffel Tower, Lyon, Toulouse and Juans Les Pins

The ever thinking Captain Plugge then began outside broadcasting which would use the watts disc system to cut something that could be shipped to Normandy and replayed back to England.
Roy Plomley, later to become famous for his BBC programme, Desert Island Discs, began his career in radio with the IBC and in 1936 he directed the first programme made for IBC stations by mobile unit,which was called Radio Parade. These programmes were recorded on Sunday afternoons in a cinema in Kingston-upon-Thames and it quickly became so popular it was subsequently sponsored by Stork Margarine. Initially the I.B.C. had two mobile units, but this was expanded to three very soon, developing the touring show, Radio Normandy Calling

               The picture on the right shows the back of IBC Studios which remains the same to this day

The use of recorded material from outside sources as opposed to live transmissions, gave commercial companies such as the IBC an advantage over the BBC in terms of flexibility. Many of the variety shows recorded by the IBC (they were only 15 minute long), were also broadcast 'live' by BBC radio.
Plomley was charged with the task of planning a schedule so as to pre-empt the competition, by changing transmission dates. On several occasions he was able to put a show on air just a few days before it was broadcast by the BBC. Disc recording remained popular and it was reported in 1939 "that at I.B.C. recording sessions "electrical transcription discs are recorded on a machine which is in effect a precision lathe, the turntable of which rotates at the exact speeds of 77.9 r.p.m. or 33 1/3 r.p.m."
All over the south of England you might see broadcasting vans, designed to test the signal strength of Radio Normandy
                      

September 1939 Radio International is set up by the International Broadcasting Company (IBC) to broadcast English-language entertainment to forces in continental Europe, using Radio Normandy's facilities. Billed as 'The station behind the lines', it is on the air daily at 07:00 to 18:00, broadcasting mainly recorded (and record) programmes with the sponsors' messages removed.
This commercial bonanza was to end with the outbreak of World War 2, the requisitioning of the commercial broadcasters by the French state and the eventual take over of the by now renamed Radio Mediterranée in Juans Les Pins by the Vichy Government

On the declaration of war (3rd September 1939), the BBC closed all its national and regional programmes, and substituted a single 'BBC Home Service', consisting of news, gramophone records and (several times daily) Sandy Macpherson at the Theatre Organ.
The IBC station at Fécamp resumed transmissions in English at either the end of September or early October, playing gramophone records of light and dance music in daylight hours up to approx 7.15 pm. At 15-minute intervals they played the old Radio Normandy chime, followed by the announcement, 'This is the International Broadcasting Station, preparing a new service'.

Their programme production company, Universal Programmes Corporation, based opposite Broadcasting House at 35 Portland Place, was unable to provide recorded programmes or deliver them to the so they shipped a large quantity of transcribed programmes from America direct to France, and appointed Bob D-Walker chief announcer and news reader. There were no full commercials with the wartime broadcasts, just the introductory and closing announcements and the name of the sponsor, probably added at the station.
In January 1940 Radio International ends its transmissions and the International Broadcasting Company (IBC) ceases activity

The last breath of the IBC took place in the Spring 1940 when a Parisian station (Le Poste Parisien) and probably the station of Fécamp, transmitted some Saturdays afternoon "The quarter hour of the Tommy" composed of discs without advertisements. All French radio, after the military defeat, was replaced by one station - Radio Paris and under German rule. After the Liberation, General De Gaulle forbade revival of commercial radio, but Radio Luxembourg resumed transmission in French,
A few weeks after the closedown, the BBC started their own 'Forces Programme', which later became the 'Light' and now Radio 2.

What happened after the war is still an ongoing hunt for answers and I can only take it from the fifties (see History page) As for Captain Plugge, he retired to California and died discreetly, aged 92 years, in 1967
Perhaps someone out there can complete the early years and this page can be added to.        



If you have any IBC Memobilia click here