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seemingly eccentric man understood the importance of commercial radio and
conscious of the importance of a potential market he created the International
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.
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.
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.
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)
1932 Leonard Plugge had established the International Broadcasting Company, which
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.
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
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
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
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.