Lord John Reith was born on 20 July, 1889 in Stonehaven, Kincardineshire. He graduated as an engineer from Glasgow Technical College and started his career as a locomotive fitter. Wounded during the First World War, he was despatched on a supply mission to the United States. He was inspired by the optimism and dynamism of American society.
Extracts from the accompanying The Greatest Scot television programme are being added to these biographical notes as the programme is broadcast between November 9 and 13. If you live outside the UK, you will not be able to see these, but you may enjoy other videos about some of the subjects which are available via links in the text.
Returning to Britain in the 1920s, it became apparent that engineering was not his true vocation. He is reported to have written that he "would a thousand times rather see a sunset than the most wonderful piece of engineering in the world."
After initially considering a career in politics, he applied to the newly-formed BBC. At the time, broadcasting was still the preserve of a few enthusiasts but Reith did not even own a radio receiver. Few people foresaw what broadcasting would become and someone with Reith's forceful personality was able to shape British broadcasting in his own image. In just a year he became managing director. Four years after that, he became the BBC's first director-general.
Many of Reith's beliefs at the time still underpin the philosophy of the BBC and there is little doubt that it was his personality which meant the BBC would to grow up almost uniquely in world broadcasting as neither commercial nor government owned. (The Canadian CBC is the nearest equivalent). He was adamant that the BBC should become a national broadcaster, allowing news and events that had previously been accessible only to a minority of people to become an everyday part of British life.
Crucially, he stood up to the government during the General Strike of 1926, broadcasting impartial information to the whole country on the strike, much to the disgust of a certain Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would later use the BBC's airwaves to such brilliant effect during the Second World War.
Reith also sought to use the BBC for education and improvement, forming strong links with adult education services and firmly embedding the public service ethic into the BBC.
Having established the BBC as an institution at home - by the end of the 1930s, 75% of British homes had a radio - Reith sought to expand radio-broadcasting overseas, pioneering the Empire Shortwave Broadcasting Service (later the BBC World Service) in 1932.
It was also under Reith that the BBC inaugurated the first regular schedule of public television broadcasts in the world in 1936. Despite these successes Reith parted from the BBC in 1938, after 16 years in its service. It is reported that his dogged inflexibility was to blame and that he was forced out in a managerial coup.
In compensation he was ennobled becoming Baron Reith of Stonehaven. He then went on to hold a number of other notable appointments, becoming chairman of Imperial Airways Ltd and later of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. His early political leanings were also fulfilled when he became Member of Parliament for Southampton in 1940 afterwards serving as Minister of Works in the wartime government.
As chairman of the new Commonwealth Telecommunications Board (1946-50), he reorganised the cable and wireless systems of the Commonwealth. From 1950 to 1959 he was chairman of the Colonial Development Corporation - another area in which he worked to nurture the same virtues of improvement, education and public service.
Reith was instrumental in shaping one of the great institutions of the twentieth century, arguably one of the most successful cultural and educational institutions in the world.