History of the BBC

History of the BBC

October anniversaries

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Songs of Praise 1st October 1961

Songs of Praise, the longest running religious television programme in the world, was first seen and heard on 1st October 1961. The first edition came from the Tabernacle Baptist Chapel in Cardiff, with guest soloist Heather Harper. The programme showcases the best of congregational hymn singing up and down the land. Although church attendance has declined over the life of the programme Songs of Praise continues to pack out churches and venues with enthusiastic congregations.

 

In 1992 subtitles were introduced in response to the demands of viewers who wanted to sing along at home, thereby creating a nationwide congregation. Over 200 people have presented Songs of Praise since its beginning, including Geoffrey Wheeler, Cliff Michelmore, Karen Keating, Alan Titchmarsh, Sally Magnusson, and Aled Jones.

 

The position of Songs of Praise as part of the fabric of national life was acknowledged when it appeared in the plots of The Brittas Empire and The Vicar of Dibley. In 2011 MPs signed an Early Day Motion acclaiming the programme, and looking "forward to many more years of programmes providing a unique blend of vibrant hymn-singing and uplifting human stories broadcast from beautiful locations around the British Isles."

 

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Points of View 2 October 1961

The first edition of the viewer feedback programme Points of View aired on 2 October 1961. It was presented by Robert Robinson, who asked viewers to send their letters; "I hope they will be highly critical and frightfully disobedient, and so help television from one of its besetting sins, which is complacency." The resulting letters were frequently funny and - combined with Robinson's witty presentation - ensured the programme was entertaining even as it held the BBC to account.

 

Points of View has been presented by Anne Robinson, Kenneth Robinson, Barry Took, Carol Vorderman, and Terry Wogan, amongst others, over the years. The current presenter is Jeremy Vine. The programme features clips from television shows, and in the days before video recorders this gave viewers a chance to catch a favourite clip again, or to see a continuity error or funny moment that had been spotted by an eagle eyed correspondent.

 

Points of View has evolved over the years while remaining unchanged in essence. Today viewers can communicate by phone or email, as well as on message boards. Programme Executives frequently appear on the programme, and Points of View is happy to ask them the difficult questions that viewers want answered.

 

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Monty Python's Flying Circus 40th anniversary

The first episode of seminal comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus, subtitled Whither Canada?, was broadcast just before 11pm on Sunday 5 October 1969. The Radio Times celebrated the launch with a spoof board game that set Monty Python in the context of previous satirical and late night shows. In the first programme sketches included 'famous deaths' presented by Mozart, the writing of the funniest and deadliest joke in the world, and an interview with Arthur 'Two Sheds' Jackson.

 

The writers and performers of Monty Python were assembled by Barry Took. Graham Chapman and John Cleese had previously worked together on At Last the 1948 Show. Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam had just finished Do Not Adjust Your Set. Whither Canada? also featured Carol Cleveland, who became a regular cast member. The Flying Circus team developed the stream of consciousness form of Spike Milligan's anarchic and absurd comedy Q5 and by adding Gilliam's cartoon links, created a loose narrative.

 

After three series John Cleese left. The fourth and final series was simply known as Monty Python. Graham Chapman died in 1989 but the influence of Monty Python's Flying Circus has been so great that the word 'pythonesque' is now in the dictionary.

 

Margaret Korving
You and Yours presenter Margaret Korving
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You and Yours 6 October 1970

A mainstay of the Radio 4 daytime schedule, You and Yours was first heard on 6 October 1970. The consumer and social affairs programme - presented by Joan Yorke - promised to "tackle topics of direct concern to you". The first programme looked into home ownership, and offered a guide to buying a home. Each week day edition had a themed subtitle. Monday was Money while Tuesday was devoted to home and family. On Wednesday, Guarantee dealt with rights and responsibilities. Thursday was Surgery, about health and welfare. Friday's programme looked forward to the weekend with Your Own Time.

 

You and Yours was 30 minutes long until 1998, when it became an hour. The list of presenters over the years reflects the importance of the programme, and includes Liz Barclay, Patti Coldwell, Sue Cook, Derek Cooper, Paul Heiney, John Howard, Jenni Mills, and John Waite.

 

The programme lived up to its description of the Citizens Advice Bureau of the Air when it spawned a book - How to Complain, written by producer David Berry. Today You and Yours exists on all platforms, and actively seeks interaction with its listeners. The programme continues to win awards for its work on social and consumer issues.

 

 

Woman's Hour
T. Holland Bennett interviewing Deborah Kerr, Elsie May Crump and Margaret Bondfield in 1946.
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Woman's Hour 7 October 1946

The first edition of Woman's Hour aired on 7 October 1946, presented by Alan Ivimey. The Radio Times said he was a specialist "in writing for and talking to women." However from the early days the programme responded to the concerns of its audience, and so Woman's Hour tracked and reflected the tremendous changes in the lives of women since the end of the War.

 

Woman's Hour tackled a diverse range of topics, and the programme was always a more radical presence than its image might suggest. Early talks with titles such as "Putting Your Best Face Forward" and "How to Improve Your Whatnot" were mixed with others on current affairs and on subjects such as childcare and equal pay. Over the years Woman's Hour frequently broke new ground in discussing issues such as the menopause, illegitimacy, homosexuality, divorce and prostitution. Many notable presenters have fronted the programme, including Jean Metcalfe, Marjorie Anderson, Sue MacGregor and Jenni Murray.

 

Woman's Hour remains a cornerstone of Radio 4s weekday schedule, providing a distinctive mix of challenging and light hearted content, and popular drama. The programme is more interactive than ever with listeners' opinions solicited through the website, phone-ins and emails.

 

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Later... with Jools Holland 8 October 1992

The first edition of Later with Jools Holland aired on 8 October 1992. It featured The Neville Brothers, The Christians and D-Influence. Each week several bands from across the spectrum of popular music crammed into the studio, and performed live. It began life as one strand of the arts magazine The Late Show, but outlived and outgrew it, and is still going strong 20 years later.

 

Jools Holland was a musician who had proved to be a natural presenter on Channel 4's pioneering music show The Tube. He brought his relaxed style to Later, either accompanying the guests on boogie-woogie piano, or leading everybody in a loose jam at the start of the show. Producer Mark Cooper ensured that the programme featured a wide range of musical styles, writing "it is not intended to be rock or chart orientated, although we do hope to feature some mainstream artists".

 

Since 2008 Later has added an extra show on Tuesday evenings, broadcast live after the recording of the main programme, which goes out on Friday. Every New Year the programme celebrates Jools's Annual Hootenany, which has become an institution. As it enters its 41st series, the BBC's flagship music programme continues to bring familiar and unfamiliar sounds to its loyal audience.

 

In Touch
In Touch presenter David Scott Blackhall with his guide dog Sally in 1965.
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In Touch 8 October 1961

The first edition of In Touch, the magazine programme for visually impaired listeners, was broadcast on 8 October 1961. The programme promised to "keep blind listeners in touch with books, plays, records of special interest, and new gadgets." Initially, the programme was on once a month, tucked away on Network 3. As its combination of entertainment and sound consumer advice gained popularity, In Touch moved, first to the Home Service and then in 1971 to become a weekly show.

 

The first presenter of In Touch was David Scott Blackhall, whose association with the programme lasted until his death in 1981. The current presenter, Peter White, has been with the programme since 1974, and his witty style has been a big factor in the continued success of the show. Other presenters have included Jane Finnis and Tony Hastrick.

 

For many years In Touch produced an annual handbook of advice and services which was very popular and widely used. As the BBC's longest running series for any group of disabled people, In Touch continues to respond to the needs of its blind and partially sighted audience.

 

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Any Questions - the panel discuss the meat shortage. First broadcast 28 April 1949. Picture shows Any Questions from Taunton, Somerset 1948. Major Lewis Hastings, Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, Ralph Wightmn and St. John Ervine.

 

First edition of Any Questions 12 October 1948

The longest running live discussion programme in the UK, Any Questions, began in the West Region on 12 October 1948, with a broadcast from the Guildhall in Winchester. The format was simple, featuring "questions of the moment... put by members of the audience and answered spontaneously". It moved to the Home Service on 13 June 1950. The original chairman was Freddie Grisewood, who was viewed as a safe person to deal with the live audience. The radio audience's feedback was encouraged with the introduction of Any Answers in 1956.

 

For several years Any Questions had to contend with the Fourteen Day Rule, which forbade discussion of any subject due to be debated in parliament for two weeks beforehand. In November 1956, during the Suez crisis, the panellists revealed the absurdity of the Rule in a broadcast where they repeatedly referred to it - although they were briefly taken off the air. This incident and the attention it received in the press, contributed to the government's decision to drop the rule the following year.

 

Although now free to discuss anything, Any Questions has remained largely unchanged from its beginning and continues to attract full houses wherever it appears in the country. Grisewood retired when he reached 80, since which time there have been three question masters: David Jacobs, John Timpson and - currently - Jonathan Dimbleby, who has been in the chair since 1987.

 

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Bombing of Broadcasting House 15 October 1940

On 15 October 1940 a delayed-action 500lb bomb smashed through a seventh floor window of Broadcasting House in central London, before coming to rest in the music library two floors below. It exploded just after 9pm, when attempts were made to move it, killing 4 men and 3 women. Bruce Belfrage, who was reading the news in the BH basement, paused briefly, and than continued. Listeners at home heard a distant impact but were otherwise unaware of the event.

 

Plans for the wartime operation of Broadcasting House ensured that there was never any interruption to the Home Service. Although studios above ground took three years to restore, the main broadcasting operation was already going on from the basement of BH, and so was saved. The bomb destroyed the switchboard, but operators managed to keep 8 out of the normal 70 phone lines open. The news library was also wrecked, and the next morning the librarian was almost arrested as a looter while trying to retrieve files that had been blown into the street.

 

The BBC handbook of 1941 reported the damage to Broadcasting House and included a photograph of a burnt out studio. The Corporation demonstrated its resilience in the face of enemy action - in common with the country at large - and its confidence that it would continue to broadcast, come what may.

 

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Christopher Trace and Leila Williams. The clip features Blue Peter celebrating its 20th anniversay in 1978.

 

Blue Peter 16 October 1958

Blue Peter, the longest running children's programme in the world - and quite possibly the best loved - began on 16 October 1958. It was created by John Hunter Blair and first presented by Leila Williams and Christopher Trace. The programme was 15 minutes long and scheduled to run for only 6 weeks. It became the programme we recognise today following the appointment of Editor Biddy Baxter in 1962, since which time it has been a cornerstone of BBC children's output.

 

Blue Peter presenters have been asked to undertake a wide range of inspiring adventures over the years, from John Noakes riding a toboggan down the Cresta Run, to Helen Skelton walking a high-wire between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station. But they often perform less hazardous tasks in the studio, such as the celebrated "makes" - cookery and craft projects made with household objects such as "chocolate bean tubes" and "detergent bottles".

 

Blue Peter has always had a strong connection with its viewers, rewarding participants in the show with a coveted Blue Peter badge, as well as getting them involved in the annual charity appeal. In 2013 the involvement was taken a step further as viewers voted for a new presenter, eventually choosing Lindsey Russell. She joins Barney Harwood and Radzi Chinyanganya in Salford, the programme's home since 2011. Blue Peter now goes out on the dedicated children's channel CBBC.

 

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Watch our audio slideshow and explore a whole world of children's programmes on the BBC.

 

Magic Roundabout 18 October 1965

Magic Roundabout first aired on 18 October 1965, just before the teatime news. Eric Thompson's brilliant and witty reinvention of the French original - Le Manège Enchanté - combined with the timing of the programme to create an instant children's classic.

 

The first programme featured Zebedee, who came to restore the magic that Mr Rusty's barrel organ and the roundabout had lost, and bring the children back. Subsequent episodes introduced Florence, and the other inhabitants of the garden: Dougal the dog, Brian the snail, Ermintrude the cow, Dylan the rabbit, and Mr McHenry the gardener. In Thompson's version of the story, Dougal - Pollux in the original - was loosely based on comedian Tony Hancock. Accusations that the character Dylan was inspired by drug culture were always denied by Thompson; he also had to deny that the name Dougal was a dig at the French leader de Gaulle.

 

Magic Roundabout ran on the BBC until 1977, but in 1972 outgrew its origins to become a feature film - Dougal and the Blue Cat. After Thompson's untimely death, Channel 4 made some new episodes in 1992, with Nigel Planer pastiching his style. However, it is Eric Thompson's version that is looked on with most fondness today, by viewers who remember the start of the 6 O'clock News as "time for bed".

 

BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Queen's Hall 1930
BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Queen's Hall 1930

 

First broadcast by BBC Symphony Orchestra 22 October 1930

The first broadcast performance by the new BBC Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Adrian Boult, was on 22 October 1930, in a concert relayed from the Queen's Hall, London. The concert featured works by Wagner, Brahms, and Ravel, and Saint-Saens Cello Concerto in A minor, with soloist Guilhermina Suggia. Just three years later Arturo Toscanini was able to remark that Boult had created "one of the finest orchestras in the world".

 

The Symphony Orchestra, of 114 full-time players, was formed to ensure the quality of performance in BBC programmes. Its Sunday Evening Concerts drew the biggest audience of the week and brought classical music into living rooms up and down the land. From the start it was committed to new music, and early in its life gave UK premieres of works by composers such as Ravel, Schoenberg and Holst. In its 80-year life the orchestra has performed over 1000 specially commissioned works, by composers from Adams to Weir.

 

Today - under Chief Conductor Jiri Belohlavek - the BBC Symphony Orchestra continues to be the mainstay of the Proms, and gives concerts at home and abroad, where it is widely admired. All concerts are broadcast on Radio 3.

 

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Captain Pugwash 22 October 1957

The first episode of Captain Pugwash aired on 22 October 1957. The children's animation was written, illustrated and produced by John Ryan. The bumbling Captain was brought to life by Peter Hawkins, who provided all the voices. The simple but beautifully crafted cartoon, with cut-out figures moved by cardboard levers, contributed to the overall charm of the programme, which is still fondly remembered years after it was last shown.

 

Captain Horatio Pugwash was captain of The Black Pig. His crew was Tom the cabin boy, pirates Barnabus and Willy, and Master Mate. His arch enemy was Cut-Throat Jake. Pugwash's greed and cowardice were for ever getting him in trouble, but Tom always rescued him, though he never got any credit for his work. In 1991 Ryan successfully sued The Guardian and Sunday Correspondent, who had repeated the unfounded myth that the names of the crew all contained sexual innuendo, and that the programme had been taken off the air for that reason.

 

Captain Pugwash ran from 1957 to 1966, and was revived in colour in 1974 to 1975, and again in 1997. The programme also ran as a comic strip in the Radio Times. Ryan, who also created Mary, Mungo and Midge, as well as Sir Prancelot, died in 2009.

 

Terry and June
June Whitfield and Terry Scott

 

Terry and June 24 October 1979

Terry Scott and June Whitfield appeared as Terry and June Medford on 24 October 1979, in the first episode of Terry and June. They had previously appeared together as Terry and June Penfold in Happy Ever After but, when co-creator John Chapman ended the series, the BBC moved the characters to Purley, gave them a new surname, and renamed the sitcom Terry and June. With the addition of a jaunty signature tune - Bell Hop, written by John Shakespeare - the programme became the quintessential suburban sitcom.

 

The chemistry between Whitfield and Scott ensured the success of the series, even though very little ever happened. In the first episode, written by John Kane, Terry and June measure up their new home prior to moving in. They meet the neighbours and Terry ends up in hospital after a bump on the head.

 

Although Terry and June was criticised by some later comedians as being dated and too suburban, it remained very popular. Scott went on to create the voice of Penfold in Dangermouse, before dying in 1994. June Whitfield has continued to appear in many shows including Last of the Summer Wine and Absolutely Fabulous - in which she parodied her Terry and June persona.

 

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The Wednesday Play first broadcast 28 October 1964

The Wednesday Play, first broadcast on 28 October 1964, started a run of single dramas that developed a reputation for controversial and ground-breaking material. It included Cathy Come Home, Stand Up Nigel Barton and Up the Junction. The opening play was A Crack in the Mirror, an adaptation by Ronald Eyre of a Nikolai Leskov short story, starring Bill Fraser, James Maxwell, Derek Newark and Michael Hordern.

 

The Wednesday Play was instigated by BBC Head of Drama, Sydney Newman, with the intention of saving the full-length single drama on television - then threatened by the success of faster-moving drama series. The plays adopted some of the techniques of series, such as a pre-title teaser sequence. Newman wanted the plays to dramatise 'the turning points in contemporary Britain'. Cathy Come Home, directed by Ken Loach, was the most celebrated example of this intention, raising the problem of homelessness and giving a great boost to the charity Shelter. Playwrights featured over the years included Dennis Potter, David Mercer, Nell Dunn, Simon Raven, Johnny Speight and Harold Pinter (the latter as actor).

 

The series lasted until 1970, when it moved to Thursday nights and became Play For Today.

 

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First edition of Today 28 October 1957

The first edition of Today was broadcast on 28 October 1957, on the Home Service. The news and current affairs programme began life as a breakfast-time magazine, presented in two, 20-minute segments by Alan Skempton. The first show included items called Briefing a Pilot at London Airport, First Night at Liverpool, The Sale of Napoleon's Letters, and reviews of the latest gramophone records. The Today programme gradually became more serious. It now attracts 6 million listeners a week and is said to set the day's news agenda.

 

Today has boasted some of the great radio presenters over the years. Jack de Manio took over in 1958 and hosted the programme until 1971. He was joined by John Timpson in 1970, who went on to form a partnership with Brian Readhead, which lasted until 1986. The reputation for exacting interviews with politicians which the programme has acquired goes back to this time, and Redhead and Timpson's style has been described by John Humphrys - who took over from Timpson - as "the cornerstone for what the Today programme has become". The current presenters besides Humphrys are Evan Davis, Sarah Montague, James Naughtie and Justin Webb.

 

Today is now the most popular programme on Radio 4. Whenever there is a big news story the audience increases as more listeners tune to Today for authoritative news.

 

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Happy 75th birthday Maida Vale! 30 October 1934

The BBC's Maida Vale building has witnessed every sort of BBC music making - from Pink Floyd to BBC Symphony Orchestra! Acquired in response to the rapidly increasing requirements of broadcasting in the early 30s, it is in fact one of the BBC's earliest premises, pre-dating Broadcasting House in central London. It was the centre of the BBC radio news service during the Second World War, and like Broadcasting House, the site had to be repaired after taking a direct hit during the London Blitz.

 

Initially, however, it was acquired for orchestral purposes, and so in 1934 a skating rink in Maida Vale was converted into studio facilities large enough to accommodate a major orchestra. It continues with this function to this day, and is now the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, used for both performances and recordings of classical music. It can hold more than 150 musicians, a choir of over 100 and an audience of 220. Overall, the building houses a total of seven music and radio drama studios, and - outside its classical music remit - was most famously home to John Peel's BBC Radio 1 Peel Sessions, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (as used in the Doctor Who theme music).

 

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