LORD John Reith, the Scot who founded the BBC, did not actually invent the term “inform, educate and entertain”, but he made it the ruling mantra of his corporation.

Reith made the phrase, or versions of it, so central to the way he ran the BBC that his name became a byword for it: Reithian.

Reith, in some ways, was the BBC at its inception: he was the first general manager when the organisation was set up as a company in 1922, and the first director general when it became a public corporation in 1927. He ruled, one observer said, with a “hand of granite”.

John Charles Walsham Reith was born on July 20, 1889 at Stonehaven, Kincardineshire. His family were holidaying there from Glasgow, where his father George was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. His mother Adah was English and the daughter of a London stockbroker.

Reith served in the First World War and for a time afterwards worked at an engineering firm in Glasgow. He returned to London to work as secretary to the London Conservative group of MPs in the general election of 1922. Later that year he applied for the role of general manager for an as-yet unformed British Broadcasting Company.

He went on to set the sober tone and the determined philosophy for the broadcaster. He once said his view of what the BBC should be broadcasting was “all that is best in every department of human knowledge, endeavour and achievement. The preservation of a high moral tone is obviously of paramount importance.” 

Now his famous mantra is to be updated. In the new White Paper, the BBC has been told that it must “act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality and distinctive content and services that inform, educate and entertain”. One wonders what Lord Reith, who died in 1971, would think of it.