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The BBC Clerk

The role of the BBC clerk is seldom described. There are scant references in newspaper articles presumably because the work did not have the glamour or interest that typists, telephonists or even duplicating operatives did. The responsibilities would have varied hugely depending on which section of the BBC the clerk worked. For example, Lilian Taylor, briefly in Programme Finance (from 1926-28) had amongst her responsibilities the maintenance of a card index of Artists who were booked by the Music, Production and Talks Sections. She recorded details of their fees which ensured that the appropriate payment was made for each subsequent booking, regardless of which Section employed them. She also prepared the Artists Expenses Sheets, making certain they had been paid. s 05 Miss Wallage, a clerk in Premises and Standing Charges, was described in

1937 as being personally responsible for the accounts and statistics connected with the Post Office lines used for Outside Broadcasts; work that was ‘specialised and of a somewhat unattractive type’. 1 06 Clare Lawson Dick’s clerical role in the Registry was to file letters while Mary Lewis’s in the Duplicating Section was to check the quality of the job. The BBC employed both women and men as clerks; in 1934, for example, 86 male and 68 female clerks worked for the Corporation.[1] [2]

It is difficult precisely to compare the work of the BBC’s male and female clerks as they rarely worked side by side. However, they were employed in the same grades and payment bands, which was unusual for the times.[3] Women clerks worked in the Registry, in Programme Finance and Salaries and in the Gramophone and Music Executives. Male clerks worked chiefly in four BBC areas: Accounts, Catering, Equipment and Publications.[4] While a small number of clerical jobs were interchangeable, in most instances there appears to have been a specific decision to employ either a male or female clerk. In the Advertising Department, the Publications Department and the Post Room, all predominantly male departments, clerks were men. In the Duplicating Department, the Registry, Office Administration and Programme Administration, clerks were women. Only two small departments employed equal numbers of male and female clerks: Staff Records and Display. Staff Records was part of the Staff Administration department which included a significant number of senior women amongst its managers. The Display section was headed by Kathleen Lines which suggests that while male bosses had a preference for working with male clerks, female managers were more open to working with a mixed staff.

There are hints that male clerks were viewed as more valuable to the Corporation. For example, a memo from the Programme Correspondence Section in 1934 pointed out that ‘it was a waste of a man’s ability’ to keep him on routine, simple work such as answering easy enquiries, copying talks statistics and checking dance band correspondence.[5] Rather, it was suggested that a Miss Grieves should be taken out of the General Office and made responsible for the work ‘as described as suitable for a woman’. This request was strongly supported by Nicolls, the Director of Internal Administration who commented, ‘I have felt for some time that material is being wasted through the men having to devote so much time to dealing with simple enquiries and routine work which could be done so easily by someone like Miss Grieves’. Whether Miss Grieves aspired to a long-term BBC career is not known, but many women clerks took their positions very seriously, particularly if they sought to rise to the salaried ranks. This opportunity for promotion, however, was not a possibility for the BBC’s House Staff.

  • [1] BBC/WAC:R49/372: Married Women Policy: Tribunals, Tribunal held on 2 June1937.
  • [2] Salary Information Files.
  • [3] Salary Information Files shows six women and 20 men began their BBC careers aswaged clerks. Their wage rates reveal broadly equal pay.
  • [4] BBC Staff Lists, 1934, 1937.
  • [5] BBC/WAC:R13/395: Programme Correspondence, Freeston to Programme ServicesExecutive, 8 June 1934.
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