Britsh Wireless for the Blind Logo

Our history

British Wireless for the Blind Fund was set up in 1928 by Sir Ernest Beachcroft Beckwith Towse VC, KCVO, CBE, a blinded Boer War veteran. After serving in the First World War as a staff officer working with the wounded in hospitals in France, he turned his energies to the service of the blind community.

Sir Ernest Beachcroft Beckwith Towse
Sir Ernest Beachcroft Beckwith Towse

He became chairman of the British and Foreign Blind Association and travelled around the country fostering interest in the welfare of the blind. The idea for British Wireless for the Blind Fund was born in 1928 when Captain Towse was listening to a makeshift crystal wireless rigged up by two friends and earthed to a radiator to relieve the monotony of a long stay in hospital.

Although concession had been made in the 1926 Telegraphy Act waiving the license cost of a radio for blind people, the price of a set was still prohibitive for many of them. To remedy this situation, Captain Towse set up the new charity.

Its objective was to provide ‘the relief of registered blind or partially sighted people in the British Islands through the provision of radios and audio players and any other equipment or services necessary to allow them to benefit from the reception of sound transmission in accordance with the Memorandum of Association’. The first appeal for funds was broadcast on the BBC by Winston Churchill on Christmas Day 1929.

As technology has evolved and changed, so too have the sets issued by British Wireless; from the very first crystal radios with Braille dials in 1930 to the wireless internet audio players now available. Most of the sets issued over the years incorporated special adaptations (such as large buttons or dials, a plastic tip on the aerial, a turntable on the base of the set, raised markings on the controls) to a standard model to make them suitable for a visually impaired person to use, though some were unmodified, but suitable standard radios. 

More than 1 million sets have been issued since the fund was started. Today there are approximately 40,000 sets out on free loan across the UK, with a further 3,000 or so sets being issued each year.

Search our heritage to find out more about British Wireless and the adapted radios issued from the very first crystal sets with Braille dials, to valve radios, transistors and digital radios.


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