The Orchestra and its Instruments (lost early BBC music talk show; 1937)

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Issue 692 of Radio Times summarising episode 1.

Status: Lost

The Orchestra and its Instruments is an early music talk show. Hosted by Philip Thornton, the six-part series examined the history of the various instruments incorporated into an orchestra at the time, with the intent to encourage greater interest in orchestral music.


The BBC's interest in orchestral music started when it opened its BBC Television Service on 2nd November 1936. As part of the show Variety, the BBC showcased the talents of the BBC Television Orchestra, being their first of many appearances in pre-Second World War television.[1] In an attempt to further entice viewers to take up orchestral music, programme deviser Cecil Lewis established The Orchestra and its Instruments, a six-part television series where Philip Thornton would discuss the various instruments that made up a 1930s orchestra.[2][3] According to issue 696 of Radio Times, Thornton prior to the show had appeared in several radio music broadcasts, including Musical Switchback, A Traveller in Search of Music, Song and Dance, and Food and Music.

The Episodes

The first episode of The Orchestra and its Instruments was broadcast on 5th January 1937.[2][3] It featured Thornton discussing the stringed components within orchestral instruments, including showcasing some of the original stringed instruments.[2][3] Based on each Radio Times issue, the episodes would be repeated later that same day, lasting for 20 minutes.[2][3] The second episode, given the title of Musical Instruments, was broadcast on 19th January.[4][5] Here, Thornton discussed wooden instruments, including the bassoon, oboe, clarinet, and flute. A deep dive into early flutes and those utilised across the world also transpired, including Turkey's zurba, and Bulgaria's duduk and kaval.[4][5] The third episode, which was broadcast on 1st February, looked at a set of wind instruments, including the euphonium, the tuba, the French horn, the cornet, the bugle, the trumpet, and the hunting-horn.[6][7]

Episode 4, presumably due to be broadcast on February 15th as new episodes were aired on a fortnightly basis, was not documented by issue 698 of Radio Times, which lacked a section dedicated to television airings from the 14th to the 20th of February.[8] On 2nd March, the fifth episode aired, focusing on keyboard and percussion instruments like the cimbalom, piano, clavichord and harpsichord.[9][10] The show concluded on 16th March with a summary of the preceding talks, while the BBC Television Orchestra provided a full demonstration of the music and instruments covered throughout the series.[11][12]


Like all early television transmissions, all episodes of The Orchestra and its Instruments were televised live and there were limited viable means of recording television prior to the Second World War, with recording seldom having occurred until videotape was perfected in the late-1950s.[13] Thus, all footage of the show is likely permanently missing. The Radio Times issues helped to document five of the six episodes that aired.[3][5][7][10][12]



See Also

Early BBC Television

Early BBC Sports Television

External Link