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Political Warfare Executive Studio, Milton Bryan, Beds, Milton Bryan

Description: Political Warfare Executive Studio, Milton Bryan, Beds

Grade: II
Date Listed: 11 July 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1401210

OS Grid Reference: SP9700331030
OS Grid Coordinates: 497000, 231029
Latitude/Longitude: 51.9693, -0.5894

Locality: Milton Bryan
County: Central Bedfordshire
Country: England
Postcode: MK17 9HR

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Listing Text


Broadcasting studio for the Political Warfare Executive, designed by Sir Edward Halliday and opened in 1943.

Reason for Listing

The Political Warfare Executive (PWE) Studio is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historical interest: The PWE was part of Britain's secret war against Nazi Germany. The building's plan form and surviving detail directly illustrates its function and historical associations.
* Intactness: The structure, fabric and plan of the building survives largely intact, including recording studio. Some internal fixtures and detail also remain in place.
* Rarity: The building is unique, the only studio purpose built to broadcast programmes to Germany as part of the 'Black propaganda' campaign devised by Sefton Delmer.
* Architectural interest: The building is deliberately unexceptional for the period, but its design is thoughtful and its proportions well considered.
* Historical association: The studio building has a historical association with the Grade II listed blocks and huts at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, eight miles to the west of Milton Bryan, and with another PWE structure, Building No. 3, ‘The Cinema’, at Crowborough, Sussex, listed at Grade II.


From August 1941 to the end of the Second World War, propaganda was controlled by the secret ‘Political Warfare Executive’ (PWE). Milton Bryan Studio (known as MB) was one of two studios used for broadcasting ‘Black’ (clandestine) propaganda but the only one to be purpose built; the other was a country house, Wavendon Tower, about six miles to the north. Black propaganda was a new concept in psychological warfare developed by Denis Sefton Delmer (1904 -1979). Before the outbreak of war Delmer had been a journalist with the Daily Express, and head of the paper’s bureau in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party. In May 1941 he joined a predecessor of PWE, Department Electra House, spending the next two years developing his ideas on alternative forms of propaganda. Before the construction and opening of MB studio in 1942-1943, PWE broadcasts supposedly originating from resistance groups in Europe were recorded onto discs at Wavendon Tower and couriered to transmitters at Gawcott, Bucks, or Potsgrove, Beds. This was not entirely satisfactory, but the construction of the studio at Milton Bryan provided Delmer with the technology to create the immediacy and apparent authenticity of live broadcasts from counterfeit stations, sent down a dedicated land-line to the newly constructed world's most powerful transmitter, ‘Aspidistra’, in Crowborough, Sussex. Building No. 3 ‘The Cinema’ at Crowborough is listed at Grade II.

MB broadcast a number of ‘black’ radio stations, employing a multinational team consisting of refugees and POWs from Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria as well as other nationalities. MB studio also accommodated a renowned intelligence section, the editorial staff of a daily newspaper aimed at German troops stationed in France (370 editions were produced) and a Hellschreiber (a radio operated teleprinter connected to the official German news agency). The studio also broadcast false instructions to German night-fighters. Although the ultimate effect of these various propaganda exercises is difficult to estimate, post-war research suggests that they made a considerable contribution to the undermining of enemy morale.

The PWE commissioned Sir Edward Halliday CBE RP RBA ARCA (1902-84) to design the studio at Milton Bryan. Halliday was a noted portrait painter, co-founder of the Federation of British Artists, president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and president of the Royal Society of British Artists. He was a gifted public speaker and before the war had participated in various radio and television broadcasts; this understanding of broadcasting enabled him to design a building which included all the facilities required by a modern studio.

It seems that for 20 years following the Second World War, a guard or caretaker was stationed at MB, apparently occupying the former offices at the east end of the building. The only evident alteration, apart from the removal of equipment, seems to have been the insertion of a tiled fireplace and external chimney. For the last 20 years a local scout group have used the grounds as a campsite and the building for storage. Since 2010, the structure has been unoccupied. Seven structures associated with the studio survives within the compound, including the guard house near the gate, garages and several sheds to the south of the building.


The broadcasting studio at Milton Bryan, 1942-43, was designed by Sir Edward Halliday for the Political Warfare Executive (PWE). It is a steel framed, brick built structure, the bricks laid in Flemish Bond, with concrete floors and ceilings.

PLAN: In plan it consists of a rectangle with a central projecting section to the south and a small irregular wing to the north-east. Apart from this wing the building is symmetrical, a central three-storey block enclosed on three sides by two storeys stepped down to one storey. The upper two storeys are also stepped in to the east and west on the north side. All roofs are flat, and the effect is to create a series of rectangular planes in each elevation. The wing to the north-east is also single storey.

EXTERIOR: The main elevation is to the south, where the central block contains a wide doorway flanked by plain pilasters surmounted by a wide projecting lintel with two deep horizontal grooves. Above the door is a tall window, the lower third of which has been filled in, and to either side are two small windows. There is a second wide entrance into the link between the main building and the north-east wing. All windows have crittall frames, and apart from those either side of the central entrance, all are of uniform size regularly spaced in rows a set distance below the eaves and inset from the corners of the building.

INTERIOR: Inside, the plan appears unaltered. To the east side of the entrance area within the tower block is an enclosed reception area. A door to the back of the entrance lobby opens onto a corridor which continues around all four sides of the building at ground floor level, dividing outer rooms from a block of four inner rooms. The outer rooms on the south side are of varying size; a description in a memoir written by a former member of the PWE (Imperial War Museum archives) recalls the larger room at the south-east corner as the home of the music section and the rooms to the west of the entrance as housing editors, writers and finally the Hellschreiber installation. On the east and west sides of the corridor are shower rooms and toilets; the shower room to the west retains its original shower cubicle and drain, while that to the east has a drain but only the footings of the cubicle. There are also modern showers to the west. To the south of the shower room and toilet on the east side are narrow rooms with thin vertical bars across the windows. To the north the corridor opens from both sides into a space with rooms to either side, and to the east links the main block with the north-east wing. This contains a series of small rooms which are said to have included Delmer's and his secretary's offices.

The central enclosed block consists of a rectangular room, entered from the south corridor, to the north of which is a row of three rooms. The remains of hollow clay building blocks suggest that the rectangular room was at one time partitioned along its length. The memoir states that access to the disc jockey's record rack was to the left of the entrance. On the north side of this room is a door to a central room, to the west of which is a door to a second room and to the east a window opening to a third; access to this is from the east corridor. The central room has window openings to the outer two. The memoir describes the central room as the operations room and the east room as a recording studio.

A brick built staircase on the west side of the entrance lobby has tiled treads and a black glazed-tile upper surface to the solid brick balustrade. Above the landing at the top of the stairs a hatch allows access to the upper level of the tower and the water tank. From the top of the stairs a corridor runs from south front to the back of the building; the remainder of the first floor was not seen.

Ground-floor detail includes apertures of different shapes and sizes just below ceiling height, possibly ducts for wiring and services of various kinds. A metal pipe runs a short distance along the length of the ceiling of the south corridor, curving across it, and there is extensive evidence for the presence of sound-proof tiles, as well as the tiles themselves, on the corridor ceiling and those of the outer rooms, but none in the inner rooms. Most of the original four panelled doors remain in place.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.