Last updated October 2007
The Today programme, BBC Radio 4's flagship news and current affairs programme, reached a milestone on Sunday 28 October 2007, celebrating its 50th birthday.
Today is Radio 4's most popular programme and over the last 12 months Today has reached an average of just over six million listeners every week.
Sony Radio Awards
At the Sony Radio Awards in 2007 the programme picked up a number of awards including:
Gold in the Breakfast Show Award category
Silver for News & Current Affairs Programme of the Year
News Journalist of the Year Award: John Humphrys (Gold) and Mike Thomson (Silver)
Speech Broadcaster of the Year Award: John Humphrys (Silver).
A short history of the Today programme
It was Sir Robin Day who first suggested the idea of a daily morning programme on joining the BBC in 1955. The Morning Review, as it was called, was dismissed with general incredulity by senior BBC managers who could not envisage any demand for such programme.
However, the idea remained in the ether until 1957 when it was decided to give listeners a morning alternative to light music.
Several names for the programme were considered, including Morning Miscellany, This Morning, and Morning Magazine, but it was the programme's first editor, Isa Benzie, who decided Today was a suitable title when she took command of the project.
Today was launched on the BBC's Home Service on 28 October 1957 as a programme of "topical talks". It was initially broadcast as two 20-minute editions after existing news bulletins and religious items.
In 1963 it became part of the BBC's Current Affairs department, and it started to become more news-oriented.
The two editions also became longer, and by the end of the Sixties it had become a single two-hour long programme that enveloped the news bulletins and the religious talk that had become Thought For The Day.
Much to the chagrin of staff on the programme, it was cut back into two parts in 1976/78, but was swiftly returned to its former position.
The programme was less concerned with hard news and politics and had much more a magazine sound.
The first presenter was Alan Skempton who was then replaced by Jack de Manio in 1958. He was hugely popular with listeners despite or perhaps because of his on-air gaffes.
Libby Purves recalls an incident when, following an interview on civil rights marches in Northern Ireland, de Manio remarked: "Um, it's interesting this civil rights thing because I hadn't realised there were so many black people in Northern Ireland."
In 1970 the programme format was changed so that there were two presenters each day. De Manio left in 1971.
In the late Seventies the team of John Timpson and Brian Redhead became established. The programme became increasingly news orientated and focused on politics.
It was under the aegis of editors Julian Holland and later Jenny Abramsky in the Eighties that the programme crystallised into the form we recognise today.
The reputation as the agenda-setting, pre-eminent news programme was cemented and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an avid listener with ministers increasingly keen to appear.
It was a time also of frequent criticism against the BBC by the Conservative Government which felt the programme pursued a left-wing agenda.
John Timpson retired in 1986, after which John Humphrys and Sue MacGregor joined the rotating list of presenters.
After Brian Redhead's sudden death on 23 January 1994, James Naughtie became a member of the team moving from the World At One.
Sarah Montague replaced Sue MacGregor in 2002.
Peter Hobday presented the programme regularly until 1996.
Edward Stourton and Carolyn Quinn are also regular presenters of the show.
Other more occasional presenters include the BBC's Stephen Sackur, Tim Franks, Justin Webb and, more recently, Evan Davis and Greg Wood.
Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day has featured since 1970 as legacy of the inserts of religious programming that were substantial part of the Home Service's output. Guests reflect on topical issues from a theological or philosophical standpoint.
The editorial responsibility for the slot is with the BBC's Religion and Ethics Department.
Regular contributors include:
Rabbi Lionel Blue
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark
Elaine Storkey, President of the charity Tearfund
Anne Atkins, novelist and columnist
Rhidian Brook, writer
Rev Dr Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney
Clifford Longley, writer
Indarjit Singh, Editor of the Sikh Messenger
Father Antony Sutch, parish priest
Mona Siddiqui, Head of the Centre for Islamic Studies, Glasgow University.
The programme has a regular slot for sports news and items between 26 and 30 minutes past each hour, presented by Garry Richardson or Steve May.
Thatcher calls the programme
On 8 December 1988, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called into the programme when she learned that Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev had cancelled his visit to Britain following an earthquake in Armenia.
By all accounts, Margaret Thatcher was an avid listener to the programme and had only learned of Gorbachev's plans to cancel following a report she had heard in the news bulletins and an interview during the programme.
The producers had initially believed the call to be a hoax but, when the identity of the caller was confirmed, she was interviewed by John Humphrys and offered her sympathies to the Soviet people.
This incident was echoed in January 2007 when, following an 8.10am interview with former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke, Government minister Tessa Jowell called in to comment on his memory of the events that led to his resignation.
Hennessy's nuclear launch claim
Journalist and historian Professor Peter Hennessy claimed in his book, Secret State: Whitehall and the cold war 1945 to 1970, that he had been reliably informed that the test a commander of a British nuclear-missile submarine was to use to determine whether the UK has been the target of a nuclear attack (in which case he had sealed orders which may authorise him to fire his nuclear missiles in retaliation), was to listen for the broadcast of Today on Radio 4's frequencies.
If a certain number of days pass without the programme being broadcast, that was to be taken as evidence that the UK had been attacked and the orders must be executed.
Hennessy has never revealed his sources for this story and some, including Paul Donovan who authored a book about Today, have expressed some scepticism about the claim.
Hennessy said: "I'm reliably informed that the last test applied by the Commander of a Polaris and now a Trident submarine on deep patrol in the North Atlantic if he has reason to think Britain is no more, wiped out by a pre-emptive nuclear strike, was and still is the Today programme. Carefully allowing for Sundays, its day of rest, the failure to pick up Today several mornings in succession can mean only one thing that the UK has to all intents and purposes ceased to exist, and the Prime Minister with it. Then and only then does the submarine commander go to the safe and open the envelope containing the Prime Minister's instructions on retaliation (or not) from beyond-the-grave."
Gilligan and Hutton
In the summer of 2003, Today broadcast a report by its correspondent Andrew Gilligan about a dossier of intelligence material the British Government had produced to highlight what Prime Minister Tony Blair considered to be the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
In his live two-way (interview) with presenter John Humphrys, just after 6.07am, Gilligan asserted that the Government "probably knew" that one of the main claims in its dossier "was wrong".
Gilligan's anonymous source for the claim was Dr David Kelly, a key adviser on biological weapons who had worked in Iraq – though it was never established whether Dr Kelly had actually used the words Gilligan attributed to him.
In the furore that followed Gilligan's report, David Kelly's name became public and he was forced to appear before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Shortly afterwards he was found dead, having presumably committed suicide.
In the ensuing public inquiry, the Hutton Inquiry, that reported in January 2004, the BBC was heavily criticised. This led to the resignation of the BBC's Chairman Gavyn Davies and Director-General Greg Dyke; Andrew Gilligan also resigned.
Chatham House Lectures
Starting in 2006, the Today programme, in conjunction with the foreign policy think tank Chatham House, organises an annual lecture on the general theme of international politics.
The first lecturer in 2006 was Condoleeza Rice, US Secretary of State, and the programme broadcast a special interview with her after the event.
Today programme presenters
Alan Skempton (1957-58)
Jack de Manio (1958-1971)
Robert Hudson (1964-68)
John Timpson (1970-1986)
Robert Robinson (1971-74)
Barry Norman (1974-76)
Gillian Reynolds (1976)
Desmond Lynam (1974-75)
Brian Redhead (1975-1993)
Nigel Rees (1976-78)
Libby Purves (1978-1981)
Jenni Murray (1985-87)
Sue MacGregor (1984-2002)
Peter Hobday (1984-1996)
Anna Ford (1986-1997)
John Humphrys (1987-present)
James Naughtie (1994-present)
Edward Stourton (1999-present)
Sarah Montague (2002-present)
Carolyn Quinn (2004-present)
The programmes longest-serving presenter is Garry Richardson who has presented the sports slot since 9 March 1981.
Richardson recalls his first appearance on Today. Presenter Brian Redhead introduced him with the line: "The time is 7.25 and here now for the first time in his life is Garry Richardson."
Today programme editors
Isa Benzie (Senior Producer) (1957)
Elizabeth Rowley (Producer in Charge) (1957)
Janet Quigley (Chief Assistant, Talks) (1957)
Stephen Bonarjee (1963)
Peter Redhouse (1969)
Alistair Osborne (1974-76)
Mike Chaney (1976-78)
Ken Goudie (1978-1981)
Julian Holland (1981-86)
Jenny Abramsky (1986-87)
Phil Harding (1987-1993)
Roger Mosey (1993-97)
Jon Barton (1997-98)
Rod Liddle (1998-2002)
Kevin Marsh (2002-06)
Ceri Thomas (2006-present)
Beginning in 2003, for a week at the end of December each year guest editors have been invited to commission items for one edition of the programme. These usually reflect their social or cultural interests and at the end of each edition the guest editor is interviewed by a member of the regular presenting team about the experience.
2003 guest editors:
Monica Ali, author of the novel Brick Lane
Norman Tebbit, frequent critic of the programme for what he felt were left-leaning sympathies
2004 guest editors:
The Duchess of York
Onora O'Neill, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve
2005 guest editors:
David Blunkett MP, who used the programme as an opportunity to "turn the tables" on John Humphrys
Anna Ford, who discussed ageism in the media
Queen Noor of Jordan, who wanted to explore the possibilities of peace in the Middle East
Steve "Chandrasonic" Savale, - member of the band Asian Dub Foundation
Sir John Bond, Chairman of HSBC
2006 guest editors:
Sir Clive Woodward
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who expressed among other things his growing concerns about the justification for the invasion of Iraq; Britain's role in the affair; the consequences for British armed forces. He also considered that, perhaps, he should have been more a part of the leadership of those who opposed the action
Allan Leighton, Chairman of Royal Mail
End Of Year Poll
Today regularly holds an end-of-the-year poll.
For a long period the vote was for the Man and Woman of the Year (frequently topped by Margaret Thatcher), but this was stopped after an episode of organised vote-rigging in 1990.
The idea was later revived as a telephone vote for a single Personality of the Year. However, following a further episode of vote-rigging for Tony Blair in 1996, the programme decided to consider more unusual polling questions.
In 2004 listeners nominated candidates for a peerage; in 2005 the question posed was "Who Runs Britain?"
Recent years have also included nominations for a "Listener's Law" (which an MP agreed to sponsor as a Parliamentary bill); and, in 2006, nominations were sought for the law that listeners would most like to see repealed.