National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Lord John Reith (1889-1971)

Lord John Reith (1889-1971)

First Director-General of the BBC, 1927-1938

John Reith was apprenticed to the North British Locomotive Company. He served in the First World War, was wounded at the battle of Loos in 1915 and subsequently worked as an inspector of arms in Philadelphia. He applied for the post of general manager of the new British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and became its first Director General in 1927, overseeing the development of the organisation as a public service up to 1938. During the Second World War he was the Minister of Information, then Minister of Transport and Minister of Works. In the late 1960s he returned to Scotland and was appointed a knight of the Order of the Thistle in 1967.

Birth in 1889

John Charles Walsham Reith was born on 20 July 1889, the son of George Reith, Free Church of Scotland minister and Adah Mary Weston. There are two entries in the statutory register of births. The first, is in the register for the district of Fetteresso in Kincardineshire, where the child was born. It gives the place of birth as Alexander House, Evan Street, Stonehaven and the parents' domicile as 37 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow.

Birth entry for John Reith

Birth entry for John Reith (34 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1889/258-1/58

The second is a transcript entry based on details supplied by the registrar at Fetteresso to the registrar for the district of the parents' usual residence which was Kelvin in Glasgow. The entry has been annotated in the left-hand margin of the register page with 'District of Birth - Fetteresso'.

Transcript of birth entry for John Reith

Transcribed birth entry for John Reith (36 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1889/644-9/1150

1891 to 1911 censuses

In 1891 John C W Reith, aged one, is the seventh child enumerated at the family home, 37 Lynedoch Street in Glasgow. The census record for the district of Kelvin shows that the household also included his grandmother, aunt and four servants.

1891 census record for John Reith

Detail from 1891 census record for John Reith (68 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1891/644-9/47, page 12

In 1901 John C W Reith, 11, scholar, is enumerated at the same address in the district of Kelvin. The household consists of his parents, one brother, one sister and three servants.

1901 census record for John Reith

Detail from 1901 census record for John Reith (68 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1901/644-9/43, page 13

In 1911 John Reith, 21, student of engineering, was enumerated at the same address in the district of Hillhead with his parents, brother and two servants. The record shows that his parents had been married for 40 years and had seven children, all still living at the time of the census.

1911 census record for John Reith

Detail from 1911 census record for John Reith (68 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1911/664-12/4, page 30

Death in 1971

John Charles Walsham Reith, the Lord Reith of Stonehaven, died on 16 June 1971, aged 81. The entry in the statutory register of deaths for the district of St Andrew in Edinburgh gives his occupation as company chairman, his spouse's name as Muriel Katharine Odhams, the place of death as 25 Belgrave Crescent and his usual residence as 36 Moray Place in Edinburgh. The informant was his son C J Reith. (National Records of Scotland, 1971/685-2/357)