Historical Cultural Value

Long before ‘public diplomacy’ became the familiar term it is today, the influence exercised overseas by BBC World Service (WS) and the British Council (BC) had been a prized (and government-funded) asset of British foreign policy and diplomatic initiatives for several generations. Established in 1932 and 1934, respectively, for eight decades their work in international broadcasting and cultural relations has been a principle means of engaging opinion abroad with British cultural, political and social thought and ambitions.

The reports in this section discuss how the cultural value of these institutions can be understood in historical context and the amorphous and contingent ways in which it is revealed as a significant and contributing factor in their perceived influence. Based on primary research into the regular, if somewhat ad hoc, government-commissioned reviews of British information and representational services since the Second World War, it takes as its central focus the triangular relationship between WS and BC, those who engage with their services, and the British government.

What emerges are a range of professional practices and capacities in which cultural value can be identified, alongside alternative categories of value – political, economic, diplomatic, trade – which have become synonymous with, and reliant on, the exercise of those practices and capacities. To this extent, cultural value is an important, though often hidden, component of the wider public value ascribed to the activities of BBC World Service and British Council, which animates the interaction with their audiences and users.