BBC R&D

BBC R&D History

The need for research and development at the British Broadcasting Company was identified almost as soon as public service broadcasting was established in 1922. Based in Research Labs in Salford and in London, our teams continue to pioneer in research, design and engineering for broadcast and IP, collaborating with and setting the standard for research departments everywhere.

To find out about over 80 years of innovation and cutting edge technologies, click on the links below.

  • 1920s

    The British Broadcasting Company forms, becoming the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927. The first BBC Engineering staff are appointed and research & development begins.

    • 1922

      British Broadcasting Company formed

      The BBC was formed on October 18th 1922 with daily broadcasts following on November 14th. Since then BBC engineers have been at the forefront of broadcasting developments. Image is of the 2LO Control Room.

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    • 1923

      Captain P.P. Eckersley appointed Chief Engineer

      With this appointment, the necessity for specialists in fields of research and development became apparent, so at the end of 1923 Captain A.G.D. West was appointed Assistant Chief Engineer.

    • 1924

      H.L. Kirke becomes Senior Development Engineer

      Following this appointment Captain West was redesignated Assistant Chief Engineer (Research), therefore becoming the BBC's first research engineer. 

    • 1927

      The BBC becomes the British Broadcasting Corporation

      Converting from a company on January 1st 1927, the Royal Charter establishes how the BBC is to be governed and the first charter ran for 10 years. The 2007 charter committed the BBC to delivering the latest technology to the public and taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.

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    • 1929

      BBC R&D sections move from Savoy Hill to Avenue House in Clapham

  • 1930s

    BBC Research Department forms and moves location twice. Early research is mainly concerned with short-wave radio, the Simultaneous Broadcast system, and Television.

    • 1930

      BBC Research Department launches in April 1930

      In 1930 the remaining Development section becomes the Research Department. The new department is led by H.L. Kirke, first as Senior Development Engineer and from 1936 as Head of Research Department, a position he held until 1950. It's first location is Avenue House in Clapham.

    • 1932

      Research Department moves to 74 Nightingale Lane in Balham

      From nearby Avenue House, Clapham. This building was a former Jewish Home of Rest. 

    • 1934

      Research Department moves to Nightingale Square

      This was formerly a convent and situated very close to Nightingale Lane. 

    • 1937

      Research Department develops the first close-talking noise-cancelling ribbon microphone giving the broadcast speech, the L1

      It is the predecessor of the lip mic which was developed in 1949. 

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    • 1939

      Many staff from department leave to join the armed forces and the war effort

      The few that remain are concerned with investigations into HF problems and developments of antennas and antenna arrays. Some worked on disc recording apparatus, including types used by front-line correspondents.

  • 1940s

    After a World War II bomb attack, the department moves to Bagley Croft followed by a permanent move to Kingswood Warren. FM radio is introduced, early tests of colour television and new magnetic recording techniques start.

    • 1944

      Staff evacuated to the safety of Bagley Croft near Oxford

      This was following a flying bomb attack near Nightingale Square during the Second World War.

    • 1945

      First VHF/FM transmission tests from Alexandra Palace

      To determine range and general possibilities of an Ultra-Short-Wave Frequency Modulated Broadcasting Service.

    • 1947

      Work on scale model cylindrical slot antennas for Wrotham and Sutton Coldfield

    • 1947

      BBC Designs Department launches

      The Department's function is to design equipment the BBC requires.

    • 1948

      First attempts to recruit graduates from Cambridge

      BBC R&D still recruits graduates for their trainee scheme today, but not just from Cambridge. 

    • 1948

      Television: proposals for five channels in the band 40-68 MHz

      This was accepted by the Scientific Advisory Committee and the Radio Industries Council.

    • 1948

      Kingswood Warren in Surrey acquired

      The Department began to look for premises in 1947 to accommodate the post-war increase in staff. The first wave of staff moved surrey in1948. H L Kirke (Head of Research Department) moved in 1949 and it became the Department's official headquarters. 

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    • 1949

      Work starts on smaller, light, higher sensitive commentator's microphone called the L2

      Replacing the L1 microphone which had been in use since 1937. The design was developed commercially by STC and Coles. 

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  • 1950s

    It is the decade of television. Telerecording equipment is designed and used, followed by the introduction of the department's first tape recorder and at the end of the decade, the first transatlantic television transmission takes place.

    • 1951

      Department demonstrates World's first TV Standards Converter

      It uses a special camera tube and picture monitor with long-persistence phosphors (a compromise between flicker and blurring of motion). A twin channel version was used in 1952 to enable British viewers to see pictures simultaneously with the French over a London to Paris link. 

    • 1952

      Twin channel version of first Standards Converter used

      Used to convert French 819-line pictures to the 405-line UK standard, enabling British viewers to see pictures simultaneously with the French over a temporary Paris to London link. It was still in use for Princess Margaret’s wedding (1960) to convert pictures to the American Standard.

    • 1953

      Suppressed-frame telerecording equipment designed

      It was used to record pictures at Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation service in Westminster Abbey on the 2nd June 1953. The PSG/1 microphone ribbon was also used to record the service and then selected for commerical production.

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    • 1954

      Approval of Frequency Modulation (FM) for VHF radio broadcasting

      This is given by the Post Master General.

    • 1955

      First VHF/FM Transmitting Station opened at Wrotham

    • 1956

      Demonstrations of 405-line NTSC Colour Transmissions

      This was to CCIR (Consultative Committee on International Radio)  Study Group 11 and many other important bodies. The CCIR was part of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) and the group subsquently became known as ITU-R.

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    • 1957

      First experimental 625-line television transmission at UHF in Band V

      From Crystal Palace. 

    • 1958

      VERA (Vision Electronic Recording Apparatus) demonstrated

      It was the first video tape machine used by the BBC, development began in 1952. It was demonstrated by "Panorama" on the 14th April 1958. Unfortunately its life was very short, as it was overtaken by the creation of Ampex VR1000a from the USA.  

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    • 1959

      First transatlantic television transmission by R&D's 'Cablefilm'

      It was done by television cables using slow-speed transmission equipment constructed by the Designs Department at the Research Department. The occasion was the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway jointly by Queen Elizabeth II and President Eisenhower of the United States.

  • 1960s

    TV & radio production continues to expand. Satellite communications are used for the first time in broadcasting and by the end of the decade the nation has seen the transition to colour TV.

    • 1960

      First Prototype Multi-Standard Converter

      Used to convert to the American Standard, pictures of Princess Margaret's wedding in May 1960.

    • 1961

      Stockholm Conference on VHF/UHF planning

      Detailed proposals for frequency allocation in Bands I, II, III, IV & V submitted by the Department to the conference via the Post Office. 

    • 1962

      First colour transatlantic TV transmission by satellite

      Using the Research Department's Slide scanner from Goonhilly Down to Andover, Maine.

       

    • 1963

      NTSC, SECAM and PAL Colour demonstrations to the EBU and ORIT

      The UK adopted the PAL colour system in 1966. ORIT stands for the Organisation Regional Inter-American de Trabajadores.

    • 1964

      First studies into Digital Techniques for Television

    • 1965

      Sound-in-Syncs first assessed

      A method of transmitting audio signals in the television signal line synchronising pulse period. 

    • 1966

      625-line PAL colour television system adopted by the UK

    • 1967

      BBC Two transmits first regular colour television service in Europe

      Beginning on the 2nd December 1967. The first colour broadcast came from Wimbledon that year. 

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    • 1968

      First electronic Field-Store Standards Converter used for Mexico City Olympics

      Used to convert 525/60 NTSC pictures from the Mexico City Olympics via satellite to 625/50 PAL at Television Centre. Its storage elements are quartz blocks. 

    • 1969

      BBC One starts full colour service

      On the 15th November 1969. 

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    • 1969

      Queen's Award for the Field Store Standard Converter

      The Department's first Queen's Award for the Field Store Standards Converter (awarded with BBC Designs Department).

  • 1970s

    The pace of development quickens as the use of integrated circuits for signal processing leads to many innovative developments, such as the launch of CEEFAX.

    • 1970

      Digital Line-Store Standards Convertor work commences

    • 1971

      World's first demonstration of Digital Recording of Stereo Audio Signals

    • 1972

      Quadraphonic (Four-Channel Sound) Recordings

      Made at the 50th Anniversary Promenade Concert in the Royal Albert Hall, experimental broadcasts happend in 1977. 

    • 1974

    • 1974

      BBC R&D demonstrates world's first Digital Television Recorder

      At IBC (The International Broadcasting Convention).

    • 1974

      Queen's Award for Sound-in-Syncs

      This was awarded jointly with the BBC Designs Department.

    • 1975

      Successful transmission of Digital Television signals

      Over 120 Mbit/s Post Office link between Guildford and Portsmouth.

    • 1976

      First transmissions of Digital Television over INTELSAT satellite

      This was at 60 Mbit/s. INTELSAT stands for International Telecommunications Satellite Organization. 

    • 1977

      World first Multi-Channel Digital Audio Recorder to be made commercially available in 1979

      This was publicly announced in November 1977 and was jointly developed by the BBC and American company 3M. It was the first of its kind. 

    • 1978

      Demonstrations of VHF Radio Data (RDS) on Tomorrow's World

      The system was publicly launched in 1987. 

    • 1979

      First CEEFAX Teletext subtitled programme

      "This will be a milestone in the history of television. For the first time anywhere in the world, a programme will be transmitted to two sets of viewers at the same time. For most viewers it will be seen as a normal programme. but for deaf viewers with Ceefax sets it will be seen with a visual commentary. There will be sub-titles but, for the first time ever, only for Ceefax viewers who want them."

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  • 1980s

    A debate on how best to exploit the satellite broadcasting spectrum rages: should we use analogue, wait for digital, or a hybrid? The BBC launches several important initiatives that the department contributes heavily to.

    • 1981

      "Songs of Praise" first programme to use Transportable Earth Station

      Built by Research Department for live transmissions from Guernsey via the Orbital Test Satellite. 

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    • 1982

      HDTV (High Definition Television) studies commence in earnest

    • 1983

      Successful transmission of two 68 Mbit/s PAL television/sound/data packages over 140 Mbit/s between London and Birmingham

      This was undertaken in cooperation with Designs Department, Communications Department and British Telecom (BT). This experimental digital link provided the main feeds to Birmingham for several months.

    • 1983

      Queen's Award for Teletext

      Awarded with the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA).

    • 1984

      Video Watermarking devised

      A method for electronically labelling television pictures. 

    • 1985

      LF Radio Teleswitching service launches

      This enables the Electricity Supply Industry to remotely control radio teleswitches in homes, offices and factories in order to optimise power distribution at peak demand times. 

    • 1986

      HDTV picture store and high line-rate picture monitor demonstrated

      At IBC in Brighton. 

    • 1986

      Development of motion estimation technology and application to standards conversion

      A patent for this work was filed in March 1986, it was licensed to Snell & Wilcox and used in the 'Alchemist' standards converter and jointly awarded a Queen's Award in 1998.

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    • 1987

      R&D designed Digital Audio Editor

      It was subsequently installed in BBC Broadcasting House, London.

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    • 1987

      Queen's Award for LF Radio Teleswitching

      In April 1987 BBC Engineering received their fourth Queen's Award, on this occasion jointly with the Electricity Council, for their pioneering work in developing Radio Teleswitching. Radio Teleswitching was an offshoot of what, to broadcasters, was a much more important system - RDS. 

    • 1988

      RDS (Radio Data System) on FM launches

      • RDS Forum (RDS Forum)
    • 1989

      Helitrak successfully demonstrated during the Boat Race

    • 1989

      The Ginger Tree (the first HD Film) produced

  • 1990s

    The creative work of our engineers means the BBC enters the digital age, with the start of digital services and the BBC website launch. The BBC's Research and Designs departments merge to become BBC Research & Development.

    • 1990

      First trials of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting)

      From Crystal Palace with an active repeater at Kenley. It was presented to press and interested parties in 1991, it was subsequently compared with the FM service on board a specially adapted coach in Birmingham.

    • 1991

      Internet name bbc.co.uk registered

      This was done by Brandon Butterworth, Engineer in BBC Research Department.

    • 1991

    • 1992

      Queen's Award for NICAM 728

      In April of 1992 BBC Engineering received the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement, it was in recognition of the Research Department's development of the NICAM 728 Digital Stereo Sound System for Television.

    • 1993

      BBC Research Department leads a demonstration by two collaborative projects on Digital TV to European Parliament

      In very hot weather the demonstrations are kept going by a teapot full of ice cubes! But they persuaded the European Commission to back European research on Digital TV, and Europe retained its lead in the technology.

    • 1993

      BBC Research and BBC Designs Departments merge

      It is now known as BBC Research & Development (BBC R&D). 

    • 1995

      DAB launches

      The new DAB radio service was launched in September 1995. The system was implemented using technology and support provided by BBC R&D.

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    • 1996

      First DVB Compliant Digital TV broadcast on the Continent

      In September 1996 R&D takes the digital TV feed broadcast from Crystal Palace over an experimental ATM link to Amsterdam, enabling the Dutch broadcaster NOZEMA and BBC led EC-sponsored VALIDATE to make the first broadcast of this kind.

    • 1997

      Demonstration of Free-d camera tracking system at IBC 1997

      It won an RTS Innovation award in 1998. 

    • 1997

    • 1998

      Queen's Award for the development of a Standards Converter

      The BBC has been awarded its sixth Queen's Award to Industry for Technical Innovation. Awarded jointly with Snell & Wilcox Ltd, the award was granted for the development of a standards converter -- a technology that has contributed to the exchange of television programmes between Europe and the US.

    • 1998

      Public launch of digital terrestrial television in UK

      BBC R&D plays a key part in the team that delivers the technical infrastructure for this service. 

    • 1999

      BBC Digital Text service successfully launched on DTT

      This new service is the digital replacement for analogue Teletext.

    • 1999

      Emmy Award for Sound-in-Syncs

      Nearly 30 years after its completion, the BBC's sound distribution technology, Sound in Syncs, has won an Emmy. Three of the engineers who worked on the project in the late 1960s -- the department's head of Business and Engineering, John Astle, and former Kingswood Warren colleagues Chris Dalton and Colin Spicer -- collected the prized trophy at a ceremony in New York.

  • 2000s

    Emerging technology continues to challenge the privileged place of television and radio in people's lives. New platforms such as Freeview, Freesat and BBC iPlayer all launch with help from BBC Research & Development.

    • 2000

      World's first digital radio camera demonstrated at NAB Convention in USA

      It was first used on air, for Great Northern Run in 2000.

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    • 2000

      First demonstration of Audio Description

      A service to help people with visual impairments to better follow television programmes.

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    • 2001

      Speech Recognition used as an aid to provide subtitles

      This gained an Award from the Royal Television Society (RTS).

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    • 2001

      BBC R&D designed a "Virtual Swingometer" for the election night broadcast

      However, there was hardly any swing for it to display.

    • 2001

      Interactive Wimbledon first broadcast on Digital Terrestrial TV

      BBC R&D provides technical know-how for this new service.

    • 2001

      Queen's Award for the Digital TV Chip

      BBC Research & Development and LSI Logic (a leading designer and manufacturer of communications and storage semiconductors), have received the highly prestigious Queen's Award for Industry in the category of Innovation for a jointly developed single-chip digital terrestrial television (DTT) demodulator.

    • 2002

      Freeview launches

      BBC R&D provides vital technical advice for the Freeview bid, and helps to get the service up and running.

    • 2003

      Digital Radio Mondiale launched at Radio Consortium in Geneva

      World first for BBC R&D, we demonstrated two synchronised DRM transmitters in different frequencies and frequency-diversity reception.

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    • 2004

      HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited BBC R&D at Kingswood Warren

      The Duke was shown our work on Automated Camera Control, Digital Radio Mondiale and Access Services for Digital TV.

    • 2004

      Sports Graphic System (Piero) used on Match of the Day on the 25th September 2004

      It was licensed to Red Bee Media (now Ericsson) for the Piero system and RT Software Ltd for the Tog Sports System. Piero also includes a novel approach for rendering virtual views covered by various patents.

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    • 2006

      World's first end-to-end MIMO broadcast system tested

    • 2008

      Freesat launches

    • 2009

      BBC R&D North Lab opens in BBC Manchester

      Established as BBC R&D's 2nd Lab.  

  • 2010s

    The department is heavily involved in delivering technical innovations for major sporting events held in the UK. Youview & BBC Microbit are launched, the prototype of which is developed by BBC Research & Development.

    • 2010

      BBC Kingswood Warren closes

      Kingswood Warren closes for the final time, BBC R&D staff move to BBC's West London Campus and Manchester. 

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    • 2010

      Successfully transmitted a live music event using Super Hi-Vision signals

      This was from BBC Televison Centre to NHK in Japan.

    • 2011

      Queen's Award for the Piero Sports Graphic System

      The Production Magic team at BBC R&D has been working on new techniques and applications of computer-based image processing for TV production for many years. Some of this work was recognised in the form of a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the "Innovation" category, for their contribution to the Piero sports graphics system.

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    • 2011

      BBC R&D North Lab moves to BBC MediaCityUK in Salford

      MediaCityUK is the new location for BBC North (BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Breakfast are broadcast from there). BBC Oxford Road in Manchester is decommissioned. 

    • 2012

      World's first Super Hi-Vision coverage of the Olympic Games

      With live transmission from London to Japan and the USA. The games were held in London and the BBC was the host broadcaster. The opening ceremony was broadcast live on BBC 1 and achieved one of the biggest UK television audiences in recent years. 

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    • 2012

      BBC Connected Studio launches

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      BBC Connnected Studio

    • 2012

      YouView launches on 26th July 2012

      Joint venture between the public service broadcasters in the UK. BBC R&D contributes heavily to its launch.

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    • 2012

      HM The Queen officially opens BBC North and sees BBC R&D's work

      Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh opened BBC North in MediaCityUK and staff gave the royal party a short demonstration of the work undertaken by the Department. 

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    • 2013

      BBC R&D's Central Lab in One Euston Square, Central London opens on 23rd June 2013

      It becomes BBC R&D's 3rd lab. 

    • 2014

      World's first implementation of a live end-to-end UHD broadcasting system over IP at Commonwealth Games 2014

    • 2014

      BBC Connected Studio and World Service (international) partnership programme launches

    • 2015

      Replacing NICAM decoder in New Broadcasting House in London

      NICAM stands for Near Instantaneous Companded Audio Multiplex.

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    • 2015

      BBC Taster launches on 26th January 2015

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      BBC Taster

    • 2015

      Built the BBC micro:bit prototype

      Pocket-sized codeable computer with motion detection, a built-in compass and Bluetooth technology, given to school children in year 7 for free.