"The conception of broadcasting as an instrument of education in the domestic setting was most valued by people whose Victorian parents raised them to place altruism and cultivation of feelings at the heart of moral action. These liberal moralists were convinced that political liberty would stimulate men and women to think for themselves, initiate independent action, and prefer progressive ideas. John Stuart Mill convinced them that democracy would nourish a free market of ideas. William Gladstone assured them that democracy would create a level playing, allowing customary and original beliefs to compete so that the best would emerge from reflection rather than unexamined tradition. The public-minded individuals who filled the executive posts at the BBC, however, found that democracy had not unfolded as projected by their intellectual and political guides, Gladstone and Mill. Democracy had not encouraged the common folk to entertain the benefits of modern planning of their cities. They did not give new art a chance; they didn't value musical innovation; and they didn't put communal good ahead of personal gain. Reason was nowhere in sight. Universal adult franchise, granted in 1918, had brought neither the triumph of duty over inclination, nor of will over appetite. The egoism of populist politics eliminated such generous concepts as altruism from public behavior. Self-governance, the moralists felt, had done nothing to cure the Britons of their philistinism, nothing to spark a desire for moral self-improvement. The young idealists attracted to the BBC had absorbed John Stuart Mill's lesson that self-government was possible only among people who had reached a certain level of moral and intellectual development." Only when they appreciated beauty and imagination could they rise above what Mill called "the littleness of humanity" and make wise and impartial decisions." Men and women who had cultivated a care for the finer things in life, [BBC founder] Reith's deputies surmised, would be more inclined to respect tradition, the authority of the state, and national (as opposed to immediate, personal, class-based) interests. Such a public would be partial to consensus, law, and order, thereby improving class relations and strengthening nationalism.
To this pioneering generation of executives, John Reith's ideas glistened as the talisman that would relieve them of their discontents. Radio sparkled as technology's greatest gift, capable of bringing cultural progress up to pace with Britain's advances in self-governance. It would open up people's homes to experts and transform broadcasters into public educators. They would now have the opportunity to rope in "people previously left out from the notion of public." They would be able to influence just as forcefully "the invalids, unadmittables, house wives and spinsters," as they would the "not-so-intelligent and ill informed" and the "intelligent and ill informed." Just when electronic communication was beginning to challenge the superiority of the values associated with artistic culture and educated classes, the BBC gathered all sorts of cultural entrepreneurs and intellectuals to introduce listeners to the higher pleasures of life; all this in order to jump-start the robust participatory democracy envisioned by their forebears.
Reith's staff were not naïve. They certainly had cause to be optimistic about their grand ambitions. In the course of six years, they had transformed from a company, established under a commercial license in 1921, to a quasi-autonomous public service corporation in 1927. They were no longer required to boost the sales of radios for their parent companies. They banned advertising. They had at hand a medium of mass communication over which the Postmaster General had granted them legislative monopoly in Britain. Freedom from market competition and political parties gave them freedom to carve out a mission independent of the exigencies of the public and politicians.
In addition, the BBC staff drew their colleagues not from the pool of journalists trained on Fleet Street, but from elite universities—attracting scholars and civic entrepreneurs with reputations established through innovations in public-sector education."
—Shundana Yusaf, Broadcasting Buildings