1920-1939 | Appeasing Hitler | Backing dictatorships | Germany

BBC Director General offers to fly the swastika from Broadcasting House

John Reith (Howard Coster © NPG x46074) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (German Federal Archives via Wikimedia).

[ 10 March 1938 ]

On Thursday 10 March 1938, the newly appointed German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was on the second day of a four day diplomatic visit to London. Earlier in the day, he lunched with the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, at the Foreign Office, having being forced to run a gauntlet of protesters shouting ‘Get out Ribbentrop,’ despite what the Daily Mirror described as ‘elaborate precautions… taken to shield the visitor from demonstrations.’ He also had invites to visit King George VI at the Palace the next morning before taking lunch with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Mrs Chamberlain and other ministers with their wives at Number 11 Downing Street.1 His prime mission to sound out whether Britain would go to war if Nazi Germany annexed Austria and whether he could rely on the support of the BBC in winning over British public opinion. At Ribbentrop’s request, John Reith, the founding director general had been invited to attend a function at the Germany Embassy on the Thursday evening. The unusually tall Scott, who ran the Corporation with a firm hand insisting that all announcers wore dinner jackets, was an ardent admirer of the Fuhrer. Five years earlier, and just six weeks after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, an exultant Reith had noted confidently in his diary: ‘I am certain that the Nazis will clean things up and put Germany on the way to being a real power in Europe again.’2

Ribbentrop greeted Reith warmly as he aware that the BBC had done everything possible to exclude critics of appeasement, including Winston Churchill, from the airwaves. Reith was equally affable, confessing in his diary that ‘I quite enjoyed myself’ and adding that he ‘told Ribbentrop and the Embassy counsellor to tell Hitler that the BBC was not anti-Nazi. He also assured Ribbentrop that if he were ever fortunate enough to be honoured by a visit from ‘my opposite number,’ (a reference either to the head of German radio or to Jozef Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of public enlightenment and propaganda) that he would gladly arrange for the swastika to be flown from the top of Broadcasting House.3 Ribbentrop, no doubt reassured by Reith’s comments and the lack of any unequivocal warning from Halifax or Chamberlain, returned to Berlin to inform Hitler that he did not need worry about any serious opposition from London over his plans to annex Austria and a mere two days after the Embassy party, German troops marched into Vienna.


  1. ‘Ribbentrop Hears “Get Out” Shouts,’ The Daily Mirror, 11 March 1938, p. 7 and ‘Von Ribbentrop at the Palace,’ The Scotsman, 13 March 1938, p. 16. Winston Churchill MP (who was not then a minister) was also present at the lunch at 11 Downing Street – see ‘Ribbentrop at the Palace,’ The Northern Daily Mail, 11 March 1938, p. 7, ‘Britain and France protest,’ The Scotsman, 12 March 1938, p. 15 and ‘Von Ribbentrop at Buckingham Palace – Lunch at Downing Street,’ – The Dundee Evening Telegraph, 11 March 1938, p. 1.
  2. John Reith’s diary, 9 March 1938, cited in David Maddox, ‘BBC refuses to move bust of former chief who backed Hitler while scrapping Fawlty Towers,’ The Daily Express, 20 June 2020 accessed online at url https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1295687/bbc-news-fawlty-towers-bust-lord-reith-director-general-don-t-mention-the-war Also cited in John Simkin, ‘John Reith,’ Spartacus-Educational, accessed online at url https://spartacus-educational.com/Jreith.htm
  3. John Reith, diary entry 10 March 1938 cited in Tim Bouverie, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War, The Bodley Head, London, 2019, p. 179 and Nick Robinson, Live from Downing Street: The Inside Story of Politics, Power and the Media, Bantam Books, London, 2013, p. 114.

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