TV News celebrates its 60th birthday

BBC News - the logo for the first news bulletin in 1954

Sixty years ago on Saturday, the first ever BBC TV News bulletin was aired - wedged in between a cricket match and a Royal visit to an agriculture show. Not much has changed, has it?

At 7.30pm on July 5, 1954, Richard Baker uttered the opening words. Topics included the end of rationing and truce in Indochina. The bulletin was 22 minutes long. And you couldn't see Baker in any of those minutes.

As BBC TV News celebrates its diamond anniversary on Saturday - complete with robotic HD cameras whizzing around studios, fancy graphics, and live reporting from all over the world - it's worth considering these relatively humble beginnings.

Richard Baker Richard Baker, the first BBC TV News newsreader
Kenneth Kendall Kenneth Kendall, first to be in vision

But it wasn't too long before the BBC had its first in-vision newsreaders. Kenneth Kendall was the first, in 1955, later joined by others such as Robert Dougal, who would all become semi-permanent fixtures of the living room furniture.

This is quite literally the case in New Broadcasting House, where newsreaders such as Nan Winton - the first female presenter in 1960 - 'are immortalised in the furniture of this building' through specific rooms named in their honour, says controller of BBC News Channel Sam Taylor.

'For many of us working in television news or multimedia news, some of these people are the people we grew up with,' says Mary Hockaday, head of the newsroom and responsible for about 1000 staff.

'Whether it's Richard Baker, Kenneth Kendall or Robert Dougal, the profile of the BBC newsreaders of tv news is so strong. Those are the faces and voices of people beamed into people's homes, parts of people's childhoods, of people's lives,' she adds.

But BBC TV News did not evolve in a vacuum.

Nan Winton Nan Winton, first female newsreader

'A large part of the story was intense competition and innovation between the BBC and ITV, and then with Channel 4 over many years,' says Taylor.

The competition was evident almost immediately. The BBC, wary of its new rival's cutting-edge format, exhibited its newsreaders on screen for the very first time just two weeks before ITN launched in 1955.

But Newsround, which launched in 1972, was certainly a BBC idea - the first news targeted specifically at children.

It was a time when we realised that the hunger for news and understanding was not just something that adults needed, says Hockaday. 'It was an instinct for children as well.'

Newsround John Craven's 1972 John Craven presenting Newsround in 1972

'The BBC has played a really important role in tailoring a news service to children in a way that doesn't sanitise the world but communicates to that particular audience in a way that makes sense them.'

But while Newsround is still going strong, another significant innovation recently perished. The teletext service Ceefax ran from 1974 until it was finally closed down in 2012.

ceefax Ceefax ran from 1974 to 2012

'We still get people today saying where is Ceefax?' says Taylor. As a precursor to the digital age, people would 'watch' cricket matches by waiting for the page to refresh, he recalls.

'You can also see in this the seeds of personalisation,' says Hockaday, 'that I can come to this and choose whether I want the travel and sport news, but I'm not interested in business, for example.'

In some ways Ceefax was also a precursor to permanent news access, a path that would lead to 24-hour news channels.

But back in 1983, when round the clock news was still a distant dream, there were bigger priorities than the 2-3am slot in the nation's daily news intake.

On January 17 at 6:30am, Breakfast Time became the country's first early-morning tv news programme.

Breakfast team Breakfast Time was Britain's first early-morning tv news programme

'It was another move towards the sense that news is happening all the time,' says Hockaday. 'We [were] beginning to fill in the day. You wake up and you want to know what's going on in the world.'

'There was no early morning news on television before Breakfast Time,' notes Taylor, 'and then you've got two channels doing it within months - and it's gone on to serve millions of people every day.'

24 hour news BBC News 24 studio pictured in 1998, a year after its launch

Technological improvements extended the boundaries of what was feasible, ultimately leading to the launch of BBC News 24 in 1997. 'You couldn't run a rolling news channel very effectively if you were still shooting on film, waiting for it to come out of the developing bath,' says Taylor.

nbh newsroom The newsroom at New Broadcasting House

But audience viewing habits have changed too, with younger audiences particularly accessing news through online and mobiles, rather than tv directly.

'It's just incredible in a way that people have said many times that television won't be there [in the future], it's just been so strong for so long.' (Sam Taylor)

'The power of television, pictures and storytelling is hugely there,' agrees Hockaday. 'At the heart of it, it's [about] doing the right journalism in the first place and then thinking as innovatively and flexibly as possible about making sure we can offer people that quality however they come to us.'


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