Needle Time

The BBC, the Musicians’ Union, popular music, and the reform of radio in the 1960s


  • Richard Witts Edge Hill University



BBC, bureaucracy, interclusion, light music, music policy, popular music, radio studies


The BBC is currently the world’s largest media employer of musicians. Influenced by Michel Crozier’s theory on bureaucracies, and using primary source material from the BBC’s written archives, this essay examines, through the prism of Crozier’s strategic analysis, the attempts of the centralized policy makers of BBC radio to comprehend their external environment—pirate radio stations, craft unions, ministries. These bureaucrats strove to retain a working relationship with the Musicians’ Union while, at the same time, attempting to meet the aesthetic demand of their licence-payers to hear popular music presented ‘authentically’ on disc rather than by BBC contract bands playing arrangements. In particular, the pro-music policies of senior bureaucrat Richard Marriott are considered. While the article explores the layers through which policy is pummelled into practice, or by-passed, it concludes that the changes that make the greatest impact are those spurred by the external force of government.

Author Biography

Richard Witts, Edge Hill University

Richard Witts is Reader in Music and Sound at Edge Hill University. He is the author of Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon (1992), Artist Unknown: A Critical History of the Arts Council (1999), and The Velvet Underground (2008). His contributions to BBC Radio include the documentaries 1968 in America and The Technocrats, where he discussed pop music with Stockhausen.


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How to Cite

Witts, R. (2013). Needle Time: The BBC, the Musicians’ Union, popular music, and the reform of radio in the 1960s. Popular Music History, 7(3), 241–262.




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