BBC Producer Guidelines published 1 March 1989
In 1988 the BBC's impartiality and independence were questioned repeatedly. The play Tumbledown, the broadcast of the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert, and the introduction of the government's ban on the direct broadcast of voices from certain organisations in Northern Ireland all proved controversial. Against this background the BBC Producer Guidelines were published for the first time on 1 March 1989. They served to provide a clear public statement of the editorial principles by which the BBC operated, although their primary purpose was to be a useful guide for programme makers.
Editorial guidelines were not new for the BBC, circulated internally in memos and in documents such as the 1948 Variety Programmes Policy Guide. A glance at this document - which prohibited suggestive references to underwear such as "winter draws on" – shows how concerns over taste changed over the decades. The 1989 Producer Guidelines provided the latest advice and subsequent editions were published in ring-binder form so they could be easily updated.
Today, more than ever, the BBC has to be able to justify every editorial decision. To this end the Corporation's Editorial Values are now freely available online, set out in the Editorial Guidelines, covering everything from the depiction of sex to product placement and the handling of politically sensitive situations.
Also in March...
French and Saunders 9 March 1987
The first series of French and Saunders started on 9 March 1987. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders promised a fresh female take on the comedy duo; coming from the flourishing alternative comedy scene, but in the tradition of double acts like "Morecambe and Wise and George and Mildred". As their popularity grew over 6 series they became mainstream stars and their Christmas Specials big events.
The first episode was a deliberately shambolic affair, with amateurish support from house band Raw Sex - Roland Rivron and Simon Brint - and The Hot Hoofers dance troupe. Guest star Alison Moyet was on to sing a song - but first had to witness French do her own version. There were 2 sketches - Classroom and Sports Desk - but the majority of the programme had more in common with French and Saunders' roots in theatre. Later shows became known for the increasingly elaborate sketches, with spoofs of films proving very popular.
Both Saunders and French went on to become individual stars in the comedy firmament. Saunders created Absolutely Fabulous - itself a spin off from a French and Saunders sketch. French had success with The Vicar of Dibley. The two comedians reunited for a Christmas Special in 2005, and both continue to write and perform.
Grand National televised 26 March 1960
The first Grand National to be televised was run on 26th March 1960. The race - which was won by favourite Merryman II, ridden by Gerry Scott - was broadcast live from Aintree as part of Grandstand. At the end presenter David Coleman assured viewers that they had witnessed a piece of television history.
To capture every inch of the four mile 856 yard steeplechase the BBC deployed 16 cameras, including Television's Roving Eye. This outside broadcast van, with a camera mounted on the roof, was able to drive alongside the runners and riders for over half of the course. Thus viewers at home got a far better view of the race than any spectator at the racecourse. Commentary was provided by Peter O'Sullevan and Peter Bromley.
Today the Grand National continues to be a popular draw on BBC Sport, and is one of the few sporting events judged to be of national importance, and so preserved by the government on free-to-air television. In addition to the domestic audience of 10 million, it is watched by an estimated worldwide audience of 500 million.