History of the BBC

History of the BBC

June anniversaries

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1 June 1959

Juke Box Jury was chaired by David Jacobs. Each week he played a selection of 7" singles on a large juke box to a panel of four celebrities. As the music played the camera moved over the faces of the panellists and the audience so the viewer could gauge their reaction. The panellists then gave their opinion of the discs and voted them a hit or a miss. If there was a tie a jury of teenagers drawn from the audience would have the deciding vote. Each week a mystery performer was revealed after the panel had voted on his or her disc, to the joy or embarrassment of the panel.

 

Juke Box Jury audience
The Juke Box Jury audience decides

Celebrity jury members including the Beatles and all five Rolling Stones helped the programme achieve Saturday night audiences over 12 million. People of all ages watched, the Radio Times described them as "the fans and the frankly fascinated". As it exposed this varied audience to pop music so Juke Box Jury made it an acceptable part of the light entertainment mainstream.

 

The original series ended in 1967, but the format was revived in 1979 with Noel Edmonds in charge, and again in 1989, with Jools Holland.

 

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The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 2 June 1953

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, broadcast live on 2 June 1953, was the event that did more than any other to make television a mainstream medium. More than 20 million people watched the Service on television, outnumbering the radio audience for the first time. The BBC knew the event would be popular – based on the reaction to the limited broadcast of George VI's Coronation Procession - but could not foresee that it would mark the coming of age of television, as well as the modernisation of the monarchy.

 

The Coronation brought the nation together, as 10.4 million people watched in the homes of friends and neighbours, and 1.5 million watched in public places like pubs and cinemas. The BBC coverage of the event included cameras installed inside Westminster Abbey for the first time, to show the Coronation Service. The Queen gave her permission for this departure, against official advice - revealing the monarchy's willingness to move with the times. Television commentary in the Abbey was provided by Richard Dimbleby, with 7 other commentators including Bernard Braden and Brian Johnston providing coverage along the processional route.

 

The BBC's Coronation coverage was broadcast around the world. In the United States 85 million people watched recordings of the highlights, while in Germany all 11 hours of coverage were transmitted. Reaction to the broadcasts was overwhelmingly positive. With competition from ITV only 3 years away, the BBC established an early lead as the trusted and reliable broadcaster of national events.

 

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Till Death Us Do Part 6 June 1966

Till Death Us Do Part began on 6 June 1966, following a successful pilot the previous year. The sitcom - written by Johnny Speight and produced by Dennis Main Wilson - became a big success, drawing audiences of 20 million. But it was always controversial, and the central character of Alf Garnett, the opinionated cockney bigot brought to life by Warren Mitchell, attracted complaints from politicians and Mary Whitehouse.

 

Dandy Nichols played Alf's wife Else, quieter that Alf but able to hold her own against him. Una Stubbs was their daughter Rita, married to Mike, played by Tony Booth. Mike was young, bright, unemployed, and from Liverpool, and represented everything Alf hated. Speight hoped that by making Alf "pig ignorant", his views would be exposed as ridiculous, though some felt that Alf's use of offensive language validated it.

 

The programme's success translated around the world, with several versions made, particularly All In the Family, in America. Till Death Us Do Part was retired in 1975 but Mitchell and Nicholls returned ten years later with In Sickness and In Health, in which viewers discovered that Alf had not mellowed with age. Nichols died in 1986 and Speight in 1998, but their comedy legacy can be seen in The Royle Family.

 

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Steptoe and Son 7 June 1962

The first series of Steptoe and Son began on 7 June 1962, with a repeat of the pilot. The Offer first aired as an episode of Comedy Playhouse, but the reaction was so favourable that writers Alan Simpson and Ray Galton quickly produced a full series. The simple set up featured a father and son relationship, and played out in the same cluttered junkyard set every week. Its mixture of coarse comedy and pathos gave it universal appeal and ensured its success.

 

Steptoe and Son were rag-and-bone men. Wilfrid Brambell was Albert, the devious father and archetypal dirty old man. Harry H Corbett played his son Harold, who longed to escape his surroundings, but was forever frustrated by his father. The writers were inspired to create the characters after overhearing some junk dealers talking in a Shepherds Bush café. The theme tune, Old Ned, was written by Ron Grainer.

 

Steptoe and Son ran until 1965, was revived in 1970 and lasted until 1974. The public appetite for the show was such that it spawned two feature films and a radio version, and was remade in America. Brambell played the old man, but he outlived Corbett by three years, dying in 1985. The influence of Steptoe can be seen in every comic senior citizen who refuses to grow old gracefully.

 

Driving School
Maureen Rees behind the wheel in Driving School

 

Driving School 10 June 1997

Driving School started on 10 June 1997. The participants' willingness to be filmed - via a fly-on-the-dashboard camera - as they experienced the failures and triumphs of learning to drive, made for compelling and entertaining television. The documentary ran for six weeks, but was edited more like a soap opera. Maureen Rees was the undoubted star of the series. Her determination to pass the test despite 6 previous fails had viewers hooked, and helped to confirm the popularity of the docusoap genre.

 

Besides Maureen, Driving School followed Joan Rodwell, who had to sit in the back seat as her husband took her out for test drives, and 17 year old Danny Waring, who wanted to pass his test so he could visit his girlfriend. All the participants eventually passed. The programme also followed the instructors Paul Farrell and Pam Carr, and Thames Valley Police as they learned advanced driving techniques.

 

Maureen's phenomenal popularity after Driving School was the subject of a follow-up documentary, which charted the impact of the series on her life. The success of Driving School led to a boom in docusoaps and reality programmes. Ordinary people now became celebrities, such as Jeremy Spake in Airport and Trude Mostue in Vets in Practice.

 

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The Basil Brush Show 14 June 1968

Basil Brush, the glove puppet fox, first starred in his own programme, The Basil Brush Show, on 14 June 1968. Basil was already well known to viewers from his appearances on The Nixon Line with David Nixon. He was assisted on the first programme by Mr Rodney, Rodney Bewes. Guests included Manfred Mann, The Niberco Brothers and Robert Bartlett. Basil's posh voice - said to be modelled on Terry Thomas - habit of laughing at his own jokes and his catchphrase "boom boom" exasperated his sidekicks but proved a hit with children and adults.

 

Basil was created by Ivan Owen from a puppet designed by Peter Firmin. Owen was always at great pains to maintain the illusion that Basil was a real fox and steadfastly kept out of the limelight himself. Basil was supported by a succession of straightmen after Bewes, notably Mr Derek (Fowlds), Mr Roy (North), Mr Howard (Williams) and Mr Billy (Boyle). Later, Basil was a regular on Crackerjack. Basil's popularity was such that he often shared top billing in pantomime and summer season with human stars.

 

Ivan Owen died in 2000. However Basil outlived him, surviving largely unchanged. In recent years he has teamed up with Barney Harwood to present Basil's Swap Shop and Basil and Barney's Game Show on CBBC.

 

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Clip from the unbroadcast 'pilot' episode of The Black Adder

 

Blackadder 15 June 1983

The first series of Blackadder started on 15 June 1983. The medieval historical sitcom starred Rowan Atkinson as Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh - who styled himself The Black Adder - as well as Brian Blessed, Tony Robinson, Elspet Gray, Robert East and Tim McInnerny. Atkinson co-wrote the series with Richard Curtis and it won an Emmy Award. However it was a modified triumph and came close to being cancelled, as location filming at Alnwick Castle - where the production was plagued by a run of terrible weather - proved very expensive.

 

The second series was tweaked to ensure its enduring success. Ben Elton was drafted in to co-write with Curtis, the action was moved to the Tudor period and production was moved to the studio. The writers changed Blackadder from the cringing coward of the first series into a more intelligent schemer, while the more streetwise Baldrick - played by Robinson - became a naïve idiot. They also made more of the class hierarchy between the various characters.

 

Over four series set in different periods the same characters returned. The end of the final season, set in the First World War trenches, proved an affecting climax as they went "over the top" to their probable deaths. Blackadder resurfaced with a special programme for the Millennium Dome. The cast and crew of Blackadder have in many cases gone on to have stellar careers and international success.

 

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Yesterday's Men 17 June 1971

On 17 June 1971 a documentary called Yesterday's Men was broadcast, featuring several Labour ex-Ministers, which examined how they were adjusting to life a year after their defeat in the 1970 General Election. The programme caused a fierce row with the Labour party for the way the participants were seen to have been ridiculed, and with Harold Wilson in particular for the way direct questions were posed about his business affairs. It damaged relations between the BBC and the Labour party, and led to a re-examination of BBC editorial guidelines.

 

Yesterday's Men featured several interviews that revealed the stoicism of rejected politicians, but the tone of the programme was set by its title, which appropriated a slogan used by Labour in 1970 to describe the Conservatives. In addition, the documentary was punctuated by a comic song specially written by The Scaffold, which featured lyrics such as "yesterday's men, and its no fun at all, getting sacked and put out to graze".

 

In the row preceding the transmission of the broadcast, parts of the Wilson interview were cut, and David Dimbleby insisted his name be taken off the credits. After the event, in July 1971, the BBC Report on the programme admitted errors, but the BBC ended by concluding "We shall do nothing that could put at risk the independence of the BBC".

 

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The speakers are; Alan Bullock, historian, and author, Asa Briggs, former BBC historian, and Donald McLachlan, biographer, and former leader writer with the Sunday Times.

Audio accompanying the De Gaulle slideshow, remixed from, BBC Radio 4 programme The War of Words, first broadcast 29.10.1970.

 

De Gaulle's first broadcast to France 18 June 1940

At 10pm on 18 June 1940, General Charles de Gaulle broadcast to German occupied France, and rallied the French Resistance to him in London. With Petain's government about to sign an armistice with Germany, de Gaulle refused to accept that the fight for his country was over; "Quoi qu'il arrive, la flamme de la résistance française ne doit pas s'éteindre et ne s'éteindra pas".

 

De Gaulle announced his intention to broadcast again the following evening. He was furious to discover that his historic broadcast had not been recorded, as BBC engineers with limited equipment had failed to recognise the importance of the speaker or of his speech. On the 22nd de Gaulle broadcast again, and repeated his message in a speech that was heard much more widely. This time it was recorded. De Gaulle was recognised by Churchill as "the leader of all Free Frenchmen, wherever they may be" and made many more broadcasts to France.

 

The Free French were given 5 minutes every day in which to broadcast to France, organising the resistance from afar. In addition the BBC French Service broadcast the news in French as a counterbalance to Nazi propaganda. De Gaulle returned to France when it was liberated in 1944 and later became President of the Republic.

 

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Parkinson first broadcast 19 June 1971

The first edition of Parkinson went out on 19 June 1971. Michael Parkinson's success as a talk show host derived from a combination of his avuncular Yorkshire style and a solid journalistic background. The Radio Times introduced the show as offering "conversation, guests, good music and the occasional surprise". Marion Montgomery was the first guest, and the signature tune was played by the Harry Stoneham Five.

 

Parkinson ran for 11 years, and featured an impressive list of stars, from David Niven, Kenneth Williams, Muhammad Ali and Lauren Bacall, to Rod Hull and Emu. Parkinson put his guests at their ease by trying "not to be pushy or overbearing", aiming to create the illusion of a cosy fireside chat. The chat show was voted number 8 best British television programme of all time in a BFI poll.

 

Michael Parkinson - affectionately known as Parky - returned in 1998 for another successful run of Parkinson. The show remains the bench mark against which other chat shows are measured. Parkinson's contribution to broadcasting was recognised when he was made a CBE in 2000 and knighted in 2008. Today, Sir Michael has a show on BBC Radio 2, featuring his favourite music.

 

Nan Winton
Nan Winton

 

First female newsreader in vision 20 June 1960

Nan Winton became the first woman to appear in vision while reading the BBC news on 20 June 1960. The news of this event, unremarkable today, was reported in the national press the following day and generated much discussion over the following months. The decision to place a female newsreader on screen was made partly in response to the challenge of commercial television, but was announced as an experiment.

 

Winton, who read three news summaries on her first day in front of the camera, was an experienced journalist who had worked on Panorama and Town and Around. She was thought to be serious enough to overcome the prejudice voiced in the media that said women were too frivolous to be the bearers of grave news. However, according to BBC Audience Research, viewers thought that a woman reading the late news was "not acceptable". By October, when the initial experiment ended, Winton had read the late bulletins seven times.

 

The first female newsreader to gain acceptance on the BBC was Angela Rippon, who became a regular presenter of the Nine O'clock News in 1975. Winton went on to work for ITV.

 

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Last programme from Lime Grove Studios 20 June 1991

The final programme to be broadcast from Lime Grove Studios was an edition of the arts magazine, The Late Show. It featured a high speed journey around the building, and ended with a sequence where presenter Cliff Michelmore ceremonially pulled the plug on the television camera. Although this sequence was filmed earlier in the day, it provided a suitably witty end to the long life of Lime Grove.

 

Lime Grove started out as film studios, first for Gaumont, and later for Gainsborough and Rank. The BBC took over the building, opening in 1950 with a speech from Mrs Violet Attlee. It was originally intended as a stop-gap until Television Centre was completed, but was used for many years and proved its worth in the range of classic programmes that were made there. These programmes included Doctor Who, Quatermass II, Andy Pandy, The Grove Family, The Sky at Night, Dixon of Dock Green, Panorama, and Nationwide.

 

After the BBC moved out, Lime Grove Studios were demolished and houses built on the site. The Late Show moved to Television Centre, where it continued until 1995. Elements of the programme endure today in The Review Show and Later... with Jools Holland.

 

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Wimbledon Tennis Championships first televised 21 June 1937

The Wimbledon Tennis Championships was televised for the first time in June 1937. For the young television service this was an important event, providing coverage of a popular sport at a time when interest in it was high following Fred Perry's victories in the 3 previous championships. In the event the Men's final was won by the American Don Budge, but the technical achievement of bringing the live outside broadcast into viewer's homes was great.

 

The broadcasts from the Centre Court featured commentary by Freddie Grisewood and John Snagge. The Radio Times explained the challenges of the broadcasts, highlighting their pioneering nature. Microphones had to be positioned so as to pick up the sound, yet be protected from the elements and out of vision. It also emphasised that events - captured on Emitron cameras - were seen as they happened.

 

The BBC's coverage of Wimbledon extends back to 1927, when the first radio commentary was broadcast. The popularity of sport has ensured it has always remained at the forefront of innovations in broadcasting, with Wimbledon used to entice viewers and listeners. The championships were one of the first programmes broadcast in colour in 1967. Today Wimbledon is broadcast across all platforms on the BBC.

 

Royal Family
 

Royal Family first transmitted 21 June 1969

The documentary Royal Family, first broadcast on 21st June 1969, gave audiences an unprecedented view of a year in the private and public life of the Queen and her family. The 110 minute film was shown with a two minute tea break interval, and watched by 23 million people. A co-production with ITV, it was sold around the world and seen by an estimated audience of 350 million.
Camera crews accompanied the Queen on tours of Chile and Brazil, and Prince Charles to Malta and Cambridge. They also shot more than 40 hours of film in Sandringham, Balmoral, Buckingham Palace, Windsor and Holyrood, as well as on the Royal Yacht, the Royal Train and aircraft of the Queens Flight. The Queen was filmed performing official duties such as receiving the new American ambassador and at her regular meeting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson. She was also shown holidaying at Sandringham and enjoying Christmas with her family. Producer Richard Cawston said "until we made this film, I really believe that none of them had ever spoken into a microphone anything which had not been carefully prepared."

 

The film reinforced the popularity of the Royal Family, even as it showed that they did mundane things such as watching television. In revealing their private lives, the programme spurred ever increasing media interest in what went on behind the formal facade.

 

Princess Margaret in The Archers

 

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Princess Margaret makes a guest appearance on The Archers
22 June 1984

In 1984 for the first time a member of the royal family took part in a BBC drama when Princess Margaret played herself in an episode of the long running soap opera The Archers. The brief scene featured the princess as a surprise guest at a fundraising fashion show held in Ambridge.

 

The fictional fundraiser was in aid of the NSPCC, and the original plan was for the Duke of Westminster to appear in his capacity as chairman of the charity, at the invitation of Caroline Bone, who was a relation in the fiction. However, when Princess Margaret was informed she asked to take part too, in her role as NSPCC president.

 

Rather than travel to Birmingham for the recording the library at Kensington Palace stood in for Grey Gables. Producer William Smethurst said the Princess quickly mastered the microphone techniques required for radio drama.

 

The Princess's appearance cemented The Archers reputation and position in the soap opera firmament. Although the first member of the royal family to take part in The Archers, she was not the only real person to appear as themselves, and over the years other guests included Gilbert Harding, John Peel, Britt Ekland, Alan Titchmarsh and Humphrey Lyttelton.

 

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Opening of Television Centre 29 June 1960

Television Centre, the world's first purpose built television production complex - described as the Hollywood of the Television Industry - was officially opened on 29 June 1960. The opening was marked by a special variety programme called First Night, broadcast from studio TC3, presented by David Nixon and featuring performers including Arthur Askey and Richard Hearne.

 

The building was conceived in 1949 when the BBC acquired a 13 acre site in White City, West London. Architect Graham Dawbarn designed a ring of studios radiating from a central courtyard, with a service road running around the outside to supply scenery and equipment. In 1960 only four studios of the eventual eight were complete. The famous question mark floor plan wasn't realised until the spur was added in 1966, housing the news centre. The building has been extended further over the years and its gradual development means it has kept pace with technological developments.

 

The list of programmes made at Television Centre is enormous, including Doctor Who, I Claudius, Blue Peter and Top of the Pops. Despite changes in television production methods Television Centre is still much in demand today, with live audience shows such as Strictly Come Dancing made there and official tours of the building very popular.

 

Watch some insightful staff stories from Television Centre's history

 

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