Earlier this month, the BBC marked its centenary with special programming that highlighted some of its finest moments from over the years. While many of these high watermarks of BBC broadcast relate to entertainment, music and politics, the BBC has played a pivotal role in wartime too. 

The Second World War is perhaps the main reason that the BBC has been able to position itself as a great British institution. In the earliest years of the war, the British news was seen as dull, perhaps not as objective as it could be, and less entertaining than the famous ‘Lord Haw Haw’ broadcasts from Germany. 

Throughout the conflict, however, perceptions of the broadcaster were transformed, as did the organisation itself. Staff numbers doubled and the BBC began to provide essential news – and distractions – to its audiences. 

Behind-the-scenes, the public broadcaster was assisting in other ways. Its transmissions around the globe began to use more languages than ever before, supplying reliable updates to receptive ears beyond the British borders. At the same time, the BBC was listening closely to what was being transmitted by other nations, identifying which broadcasters were supplying false information or propaganda and trying to ensure the people served by those stations had access to better news sources. 

Following the war, the BBC would continue to play a key role in all future conflicts. One of its most prominent arms was the BBC External Services, later renamed the BBC World Service. As a direct route into other countries, even those with poor diplomatic relationships with the UK, it was a way of providing outside news and information. This was of particular use in the years of the Cold War when misinformation was at large. 

While the world’s media landscape is essentially unrecognisable since the BBC’s dawn, there are still ways in which the broadcaster can play its part. BBC presenters reporting live from Kyiv to the west, and reporting from Russia to the east, are just two examples of the importance of reliable updates from the frontline.