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The Listener was a weekly magazine established by the BBC under Lord Reith in January 1929. It ceased publication in 1991.

It was first published on 16 January 1929, under the editorship of Richard S. Lambert, and was developed as a medium of record for the reproduction of broadcast talks. It also previewed major literary and musical broadcasts, reviewed new books, and printed a selected list of the more intellectual broadcasts for the coming week.

Its published aim was to be "a medium for intelligent reception of broadcast programmes by way of amplification and explanation of those features which cannot now be dealt with in the editorial columns of the Radio Times". The title reflected the fact that at the time the BBC broadcast via radio only.


The Newspaper Proprietors' Association considered its launch to be "an illegitimate stretching of official activity" and, after consultation between Reith and the Prime Minister, a number of compromises were agreed to, including an upper limit of 10% original contributed material not related to broadcasting. Another compromise was a limit to the amount of advertising it could carry.

It came to be seen as one of a trio of weekly magazines, the other two being The Spectator and the New Statesman, though it was distinguished from them by not being associated with a political party. The management of the other two magazines were occasionally critical of what they saw as the privileged financial position of their subsidised rival.

Above all, the The Listener represented the BBC's cultural mission (strongly emphasised by Reith). It gradually declined after 1960 as British society changed, the BBC became more plural, and other sources of information became more available.


In 1981 Richard Gott, features editor of The Guardian, was chosen as editor but his appointment was blocked because MI5marker declared that he had "ultra-Leftist" sympathies. The job was given to Russell Twisk instead.

Following the report of the Peacock Committee in 1986, all the BBC’s commercial activities, including The Listener, were moved into BBC Enterprises Limited. Management was now mainly answerable for the magazine’s commercial performance rather than its literary standards.

In 1987, The Listener was spun out to a new company jointly owned by the BBC and rival broadcaster ITV. Seeing The Listener’s eclecticism as a lack of focus, the new company appointed Alan Coren from Punch as editor in 1987 to try to establish a clearer identity as a humorous weekly, moving slightly away from the more intellectual and artistic aspects for which the magazine had also been known.

The attempt did not work, perhaps because the change of direction alienated subscribers who had valued the eclecticism, and the company replaced Coren with Peter Fiddick in 1989. In 1990, ITV pulled out of the joint deal, the BBC found themselves unable to support it on their own, and the last issue of The Listener was published in January 1991.


In its early decades The Listener attracted celebrated contributors including E. M. Forster, Julian Huxley, George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and J.K. Galbraith. It also provided an important platform for new writers and poets. W. H. Auden, Edwin Muir, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkinmarker all had early works published in The Listener. Later, regular columnists included John Cole, Stephen Fry and Roy Hattersley. Barry Fantoni provided the magazine with cartoons and illustrations for twenty-one years.


The Listener crossword puzzle, introduced in 1930, is generally regarded as the most difficult cryptic crossword to appear in a national weekly. It survived the closure of The Listener, and now appears in The Times on a Saturday, currently in the Books supplement.

Solvers are invited to send in their solutions, with each of three randomly-drawn correct solutions winning a prize of a book provided by the sponsors, Chambers. An annual list of statistics is also compiled for regular solvers to compare their performances. In most years only a handful of solvers are able to complete and submit all 52 puzzles correctly. The leading solver each year is awarded the Solver Silver Salver, and he or she selects the best puzzle of the year - the setter of which is awarded the Ascot Gold Cup.


Arts and literary editors included: J. R. Ackerley 1935-59, and Anthony Thwaite.

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