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Groundbreaking Writtle Hut reimagined for BBC centenary

A key part of broadcasting history is being turned into a piece of digital art to celebrate the centenary of the BBC this October, and Writtle’s role in that history. Artist Sian Fan is collaborating with Chelmsford Museum to create Forecast22 – Birth of British Broadcasting, an immersive digital model of the Marconi Company Writtle Hut, where groundbreaking weekly 2MT radio transmissions started in February 1922.

Forecast22 collaboration will be immersive and interactive

Interdisciplinary artist Sian will scan the Writtle Hut using lidar technology to create a virtual 3D version of the building and its contents, including a replica of the 2MT transmitter and the piano used in the original 1922 broadcasts. The immersive, interactive model will blend historic content from museum curators with present day performances and contributions from the Chelmsford community, producing a new interpretation of this famous space.

The collaboration is the first time the museum has worked with an artist to explore part of its collections in this way. Sian Fan, who is currently the ‘Digital Wonderlands’ artist in residence at the V&A, uses different media to combine the physical and the virtual. In keeping with the global legacy of the 1922 broadcasts, her Forecast22 will be designed to be best experienced on a smartphone, available online to viewers all over the world as well as in situ at Chelmsford Museum.

Sian Fan says the project will look at the incredible story of 2MT in new way.

“The title Forecast22 is a riff on the idea of the link between the birth of broadcasting as we know it and what it means for present and future generations. I really want to respond to the remarkable history of the hut and the amazing things that happened in 1922, but I also want to connect that with people working and living here now.

The creative crucible of the Writtle Hut produced a spark that had a profound effect on the world of sound and music we live in today. Rendering the physical space of the hut into a digital artwork which can be potentially viewed by any of the billions of people on the planet with a smartphone feels like a fitting response to what was started a century ago.”

Sian Fan, Artist

Hut hosted UK’s first regular radio shows

On 14 February 1922 the Marconi Company was granted a licence to broadcast using the call sign 2MT or ‘Two Emma Toc’. The experimental weekly radio shows that followed from this long wooden hut in a field in Writtle revealed radio’s huge potential to bring entertainment to the masses.

The pioneers of 2MT, led by Captain Peter Eckersley, created programmes that were irreverent and light-hearted, like nothing that had come before. Although these Marconi engineers were expected to push the boundaries of transmitter technology, it was the maverick content of the 2MT shows that really captured the imagination.

Instead of simply delivering a short news bulletin or reading aloud from a railway guide, Peter Eckersley tried out silly voices, put on comedy skits and played gramophone records, and people loved it. Later that year, 2LO, another Marconi station, started broadcasting from The Strand. It was used by the new British Broadcasting Company and Peter Eckersley became their first chief engineer.

2MT centenary live radio broadcasts from the hut

The Writtle Hut has been part of Chelmsford Museum’s collections since the 1990s. The hut is too large to be displayed at the museum in Oaklands Park, so the industrial store at Sandford Mill has been its home for the last few decades.

Although the site isn’t open to the public, access is granted for special occasions and a live radio broadcast for BBC Essex and Chelmsford Community Radio will take place there on the evening of 14 February, exactly one hundred years after Two Emma Toc first took to the air.

Forecast22 opens in October

Then in October, to mark the formation of the BBC, Forecast22 will open up the Writtle Hut to the world. Chelmsford Museum curator Sarah Harvey says Sian Fan’s new digital interpretation is exactly the right treatment for this unique artefact.

“The Writtle Hut is an important part of our Marconi collection, but its size makes the hut impossible to display at our main site in the city. Our new digital exhibition will break down these physical barriers to give everyone the chance to experience this pivotal place regardless of where they live, and there’s so much potential to bring its story to life in a new, immersive way.

Sian’s work will be much more than an online replica of a wooden outbuilding. I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing how Forecast22 uses and responds to all the museum’s material and mixes this with new recordings and images made in 2022 especially for this piece.”

Sarah Harvey, Curator

'Forecast22 – Birth of British Broadcasting' will open to the public on Saturday 15 October with a physical exhibition at the museum and a digital exhibition available online.

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Julie Weight
Julie Weight

Julie writes stories and creates videos for Chelmsford City Council. Contact her at julie.weight@chelmsford.gov.uk or on 01245 606984.