John Reith, 1st Baron Reith, GCVO, GBE, PC, lived from 20 July 1889 to 16 June 1971. He is viewed by many as the father of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Reith was born in Stonehaven, the youngest of seven children of a minister of the United Free Church of Scotland. He was educated at Glasgow Academy and then at Gresham's School in Norfolk. Reith wanted to progress to university, but his father insisted he become an apprenticed engineer at the North British Locomotive Company in the Springburn area of Glasgow. At the outbreak of the First World War, Reith volunteered for the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. He was wounded in October 1915, and subsequently transferred to the Royal Engineers. He spent two years in the USA managing armaments contracts and at the end of the war had been promoted to the rank of major.
After the war, Reith became manager of an engineering company, but in 1922 moved to London. On arrival he saw a newspaper advert for a General Manager for the planned British Broadcasting Company. Despite a lack of any obviously relevant experience, Reith got the job. His title was changed to Managing Director the following year. During the 1926 General Strike he struggled to ensure editorial independence for the BBC, and in the following year he became Director-General of the reformulated British Broadcasting Corporation. He was also knighted in 1927.
Reith was invited to resign from the BBC by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938. During World War Two he became a Member of Parliament and was successively Minister of Information, Minister of Transport, and First Commissioner of Works. He was subsequently elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Reith of Stonehaven. After being fired from the government by Churchill in 1943, Reith was given the rank of Captain in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and became Director of the Combined Operations Department at the Admiralty.
After the war, Reith served as chairman of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Board; chairman of the Colonial Development Corporation; and chairman of the National Film Finance Corporation. The BBC's annual Reith Lectures were launched in 1948 in his honour. Later in life he held a number of directorship of public companies, and he was Lord Rector of Glasgow University from 1965 to 1968. In 1967 he accepted the post of Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, a role he had always wanted but had turned down in 1943 because it was offered by Churchill, who he disliked intensely. Lord Reith died in 1971.