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You are in: Leeds > History > Local history > Celebrating Look North at 40!

Harry and Christa

Look North's Harry and Christa

Celebrating Look North at 40!

Forty years ago, in March 1968, the first edition of Look North was broadcast from Leeds. Now, as a special anniversary edition of the programme is broadcast from Bradford's National Media Museum, we take a look back at how it all started...

Of course, people in Yorkshire had enjoyed TV since the early 1950s when the transmitter at Holme Moss brought the medium to the north and later they were able to share in the nightly magazine programme Look North, transmitted from Manchester.

David Seymour in a boat in York

David Seymour on the first Look North

However, the first Look North from Yorkshire turned out to be much more memorable than is usually the case with such programmes. The centre of York was flooded, the only way anyone could get round was by boat and it was from a boat that reporter David Seymour uttered the programme's first words: "Goodnight, and welcome to Look North from the new Leeds studios."

The 'new' studio was situated not in Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, which would eventually be its home for over thirty years, but in All Souls which was a former church nearby.

Bill Greaves was the programme's first news editor, and later Regional Television Manager. Looking back on the occasion of the programme's 25th anniversary, he remembered: "When I first clapped eyes on All Souls in Blackman Lane, I thought they had to be joking. I'd come down from London on a day trip to meet local freelances and say hello to my new domain. I'd just been appointed news editor of the BBC's North Region and was eager to please. But the insouciant smile playing around my lips froze in to a rictus grin as I entered the dank and dusty interior.

Look North newsroom 1968

The newsroom in 1968. Bill Greaves is on the left.

"My instructions were to be on the air by March. It was November 25th already and there was only me and this peeling office. I had nightmares for weeks to come but soon I was too busy to worry any more. We de-rigged the ancient OB [Outside Broadcast], installed mobile film processing outside the front door, convinced the church Brownie pack they should meet in the room beneath the studio at some time other than 6pm (the time Look North was then broadcast) and recruited as good a bunch of guys and gals as you'd ever wish to meet. Suddenly we were through the dreaded opening night and into the hectic and happy time beyond."

In those days, although the reputation was undeserved, regional television programmes used to be all too often associated with stories involving talking parrots, and the like.

Years later, Look North journalist and producer John Irwin remembered: "Back in the mists of time, the 70s actually, when Look North programmes stumbled out live on air as few items were recorded, it was all a bit amateurish, bringing on rage, frustration and yes, fun. Some of the items were excruciating but we had a few laughs.

"When we had empty spaces to fill, and nothing much to fill them with, the then news editor would call up one of his favourites, a dotty vicar story. This Lincolnshire vicar had an obsession with moles in his garden. His unusual method of pest control was by tracking them down by sound. He appeared to be able to hear them moving about underground and, when he did, he would open fire with his air rifle at their position on his lawn. Then he would stare at his empty lawn for a while, suddenly shout, 'There's one,' and open fire again. All the reporters had to do was to ask the vicar a few deadpan questions and leave him to blaze away. No mole, dead or alive, appeared."

Newsroom 2008

Today's newsroom...

When Mark Byford came to work for Look North he thought it would be for just a few weeks: "I started at Look North in June 1979 as a twenty-year-old holiday relief assistant working on a short term contract over the summer holiday in the newsroom as a 'general dogsbody'. I'd just graduated in Law from Leeds University, literally walking across the road.

"From day one I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do…to be at the heart of telling stories, finding things out, communicating with audiences. Look North had been with me even as a child…I used to watch it every night with my Mum and Dad at tea-time and I remember really well the first presentation team…David Seymour, Barry Chambers, John Burns."

Of course, it's not always been fun and Look North has covered all too many tragic stories over the years.

Now the technology's very different. The newsroom typewriters were disposed of long ago, the graphics are no longer done on the back of cereal packets and it's difficult to imagine that, in the early days, the first time film items would not be seen in their negative form was when they were transmitted! Today you can catch up with the very latest edition of Look North from anywhere in the world via this website or via satellite or cable - AND in full digital quality should you desire! And it's still on the move: just a few years ago Look North travelled down the road from its old home on Woodhouse Lane into new state-of-the-art premises on Quarry Hill in Leeds.

Look North studio, Noughties-style

Look North studio, Noughties-style

Forty years on, Tim Smith is the Editor of TV News here in Yorkshire. He points out that it's not just the way the Look North team gathers the news that has changed dramatically: "The way viewers watch the news has changed too. These days we broadcast 11 bulletins a day instead of just one programme at 6pm. Viewers can also watch Look North online, on BBC big screens in places like Bradford, Leeds and Rotherham or get BBC News from Look North on their mobiles. We can't expect people just to watch the news when we want to broadcast it.  Look North is now available on different platforms 24-7. But the programme on BBC1 at 6.30pm is still popular, attracting up to 800,000 viewers a night - more than any other BBC1 programme in Yorkshire apart from Eastenders!"

'Holiday relief assistant' Mark Byford, now the BBC's Deputy Director-General, looks back at his days as a member of the Look North team: "Because it's where I started and because it's the BBC programme for the region I'm from, I feel real affection for Look North.  It's a huge part of the BBC for audiences in Yorkshire and long may it continue to serve them with reliable, revealing and relevant news and features. 

"Happy 40th birthday!"

Look North's anniversary edition will be broadcast from the National Media Museum at 6.30pm on Friday March 28th, 2008 when Harry and Christa will be joined by former presenters Khalid Aziz and Sue Wilkins.

last updated: 28/03/2008 at 11:16
created: 20/03/2008

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