Carlton House, Lower Regent Street
London SW1Y 4LS
Remembering: Beverley Hamilton Lyon
The co- founder of Rediffusion
In the late 1920s and early 1930s English country cricket was, as usual, in the doldrums and was thought to be dying a slow death through lack of support. As players, administrators and sports writers theorized about the causes of the disease, one man, an apostle of
brighter cricket, came forward with a prescription. “Cricket needs its tonsils out,” he advised, and suggested that Sunday cricket be started forthwith, as well as “a knock-out competition between any counties sporting enough to enter, the final to be played at Lord’s
or the Oval.”
Reactions in high quarters were not exactly favourable, particularly to the idea of cricket on the Sabbath. “I am dead against Sunday
cricket myself,” said Jack Hobbs. “Sunday cricket? Bah! No, no, no !“ sniffed Lord Hawke, the ex-England captain. So the author of these
controversial proposals a hard-hitting captain of Gloucestershire by the name of Beverley Lyon found no-one willing to back them; indeed, over 30 years were to elapse before the authorities in control of the game would come round to Bev Lyon’s way of thinking.
But a man as imaginative and farsighted as Bev Lyon had other ideas to occupy him and for one of them, at least, he found plenty of
Since the middle of the I920s, as a director of a company called Wireless Music Limited, he had been concerned with the development of sound. His fellow directors were Wavell Wakefield, Dudley Joel (son of the famous Solly Joel), and Sir George Grossmith a unique combination of sport, finance and the theatre. Wireless Music at first tried to devise a top quality radio set but later turned its attention to the production of a moving iron loudspeaker.
This interest in loudspeaker units led Bev Lyon into a discussion one day with Peter Eckersley, who as Chief Engineer at the BBC had been responsible for the introduction of the regional scheme of broadcasting. It was a memorable meeting, for it sowed the seeds in
Bev Lyon of a new enthusiasm the distribution of broadcast programmes by wire.
As early as 1922, Peter Eckersley told him, he had been thinking in terms of using wired distribution to economise in the use of available frequencies in the broadcast spectrum. (A paper he wrote on this very subject was still in existence in the archives of the BBC.) Eckersley had pointed out to the BBC that by this method they could control, not only the transmission of programmes, but also the reception of them. The BBC, however, did not seem interested in the idea.
If the BBC seemed indifferent, Bev Lyon was not. “Why don’t we do it ourselves ?“ he asked Eckersley. Eckersley could see no objection
and that same evening the two of them flew to Holland to investigate a company there that was experimenting with wired systems. Forty-
eight hours later they returned with enough information to begin operations in England.
Wavell Wakefield was also interested in the new idea and in 1931, with an American named Allan Miller to provide the money, Rediffusion
Ltd. was formed, primarily to seek concessions to operate radio relay services. (The name ‘Rediffusion’ was suggested by Peter Eckersley.)
Then on August 4, 1931, the first Group company Standard Radio Relay Services Limited came into being to take over Rediffusion Ltd., Broadcast Relay Service Ltd. and other existing radio relay concerns. Broadcast Relay Service, which operated in a number of places including Ramsgate and Hull, was managed by Joe Robinson (leter to become Chairman of Radio Rentals) and owned by his father-in-
law. Its purchase was largely engineered by Bev and it was the first important acquisition.
Bev Lyon recruited solicitor Frank Medlicott to draw up a concession agreement which was mailed to every town in the country with a population of over 50,000. He didn’t really expect any answers so it was a bit of a shock when one came back all signed and sealed from Nottingham, authorising Rediffusion to wire up the whole town! Alarmed by this response he sold the concession to another company as resources were very meagre at that time.
By the end of 1932 with Bev Lyon providing much of the drive and inspiration the name of Rediffusion had spread right across the map of England and Wales, and across the Irish Sea as well. This expansion continued in the UK and overseas, until Rediffusion become the world’s major operator of wired television and sound systems and a world leader, too, in many other fields of electronic communications.
Merely to have grasped the potentialities of wired distribution systems and given Rediffusion its initial impetus would have been enough
to make Bev Lyon a memorable figure in the annals of the Group. But he did a lot more than that. For 35 years he served as a Director of the parent company and on the Boards of many of it's subsidiaries. At the time of his retirement in 1967 he was a Director of Rediffusion Ltd., Chairman of Reditune, International Library Service and Rediffusion (South West), and Managing Director of Rediffusion (South East). Important offices he held in earlier years included Assistant Managing Director of Broadcast Relay Service Ltd. (then the parent company), Chairman of Rediffusion (West Midlands) and Chairman of the Australasian and Far East Divisions.
He not only made an impact as a maker of policy in the Board Room. Essentially a man of action, he was not afraid to take personal
charge of a new enterprise and loved to be ‘out in the field’ where the action was fiercest and the challenge greatest. He supervised the
growth of Rediffusion in Plymouth, Wales Newcastle and Bristol, for example, and was primarily responsible for Hong Kong and Jersey. In 1952 he spent a year in Montreal at a difficult stage in the business there. Reditune was another of his pet projects and its development owed much to his original inspiration.
Apparantly there were many stories told about Bev Lyon and the remarkable thing is that most of them were true. People started to tell them in the 1920s when his brilliant and unorthodox captaincy, and his love of a gamble, almost made Gloucestershire county cricket champions and himself captain of England.
Bev had no time for defensive tactics and once, in a match against Yorkshire when Gloucester had already batted and made over 500 in a single day, he told Percy Holmes, the Yorkshire skipper, that he would give £5 every time a Yorkshire player hit the ball out of the ground. First man in for Yorkshire was Herb Sutcliffe who, according to Bev, “had never hit a six in his life before.” Bev threw the ball to Wally Hammond to open the bowling and Sutcliffe opened his shoulders and hit the very first ball into the pavilion! Then, turning to Bev, he said: “Was that all right, then?” He went on to score 135. But for Bev Lyon to lose a gamble was most unusual. Newspaper headlines of the day were full of acclaim for his bold declarations in the interests of brighter cricket. One of these also in a match between Gloucestershire andYorkshire set a precedent in first-class cricket, enabling a three-day match to be finished in one day after the first two days’ play had been washed out. To quote “We sat up all night working out the legal implications,” says Bev, “and when we batted first next day, Robinson bowled one ball which was purposely allowed to go for 4 byes. I then declared at four for no wicket, and Hammond bowled four byes to the first Yorkshire batsman whereupon they declared. So it became a one-innings match with everything to play for.” Gloucester went on to win the match by 47 runs. One cricket writer called it “the most remarkable game ever played."
His flair for the unorthodox and the daring which so distinguished Bev Lyon’s cricket career were qualities from which Rediffusion was also to benefit. And they were qualities that endeared Bev to all Rediffusion people who came into contact with him.
One Christmas day he loaded up his Bentley with food and drink and drove some 800 miles round the country inside 24 hours to distribute good cheer to Rediffusion staff on duty at our various control stations.
Personality, coupled with audacity and ability, that is what is required of an ideal leader. B. H. Lyon was such a mixture.” So wrote
a cricket correspondent of Bev Lyon when he was being considered as a possible captain of England’s cricket team. But England’s was
Rediffusion’s gain for who knows, if he had captained England and made a success of the job, Rediffusion might never even have
come into being.
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