Hilda Matheson, OBE (1888-1940)

Hilda Matheson attended what was then called the Society of Oxford Home Students, now called St Anne’s College. She was not technically a graduate, as women were not allowed to obtain degrees until 1920. She worked for MI5 during the war and afterwards became political secretary to Lady Astor. After her wildly popular tenure at the BBC, and in the wake of her much-discussed resignation, Lady Astor attempted to have her made a BBC governor. Hilda declined, instead becoming a radio critic and columnist, and then writing the first comprehensive book on broadcasting, Broadcasting (1933), alluded to in this novel. This remained the only textbook in use on radio broadcasting until the late 1960s (some say early 1970s). She later worked with Lord Hailey on producing the African Survey, published in 1938, taking on most of the work when Hailey became ill. This garnered her OBE in 1939. She became involved with Dorothy Wellesley, the duchess of Wellington, beginning in 1932, and it was by all accounts a long, stable, happy relationship. Hilda returned to MI5 at the commencement of World War II, working as director of the joint broadcasting committee. Among other work, she prepared instructions in wartime broadcasting including propaganda. Despite her unexpected death during surgery in 1940 (she died of Graves’ disease), these instructions were so thorough, they were used throughout the remainder of the war.


John Reith (1889-1971)

Sir John Reith was the first Director-General of the BBC, remaining with the corporation until 1938. He was said to rule “with a hand of granite.” His diaries indicate pro-Fascist leanings and admiration of both Mussolini and Hitler. He apparently was diligent in keeping anti-appeasement ministers from broadcasting. During the war he served in both Chamberlain’s and Churchill’s cabinet. In later years he was appointed Lord Rector of Glasgow University and, befitting his staunch Presbyterian beliefs, Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He received many honors and was later styled Baron Reith. The BBC continued to honor him as well, beginning the annual Reith Lectures in 1948. These talks are meant to advance the "public understanding and debate about significant issues of contemporary interest.”


Nancy Astor, Viscountess (Lady) Astor (1879-1964)

Born in Virginia, her second marriage to Waldorf Astor brought her to England and, eventually, the peerage. Lady Astor was the first woman elected as a Member of Parliament, winning her seat in 1919. She served as representative of the Conservative Party for Plymouth Sutton until 1945.


Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)

Award-winning poet, she was also a novelist, journalist, and garden designer. She and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson created the famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle.


Charles Vernon Oldfield Bartlett (Vernon Bartlett) (1894-1983)

Journalist and politician. Director of the London office of the League of Nations from 1922 to 1933.


Isobel Shields

The first person appointed to the BBC by John Reith, she served as his personal secretary from 1923-1927.


Charles Siepmann (1899-1985)

Served with the BBC from 1927 to 1939, then moved to America and became a lecturer at Harvard University. He wrote several books on broadcasting.


Mary Somerville

The first Director of Schools, she held the position from 1929-1957