In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

The spread of TV - BBC opens a new Midlands relay station


1949. The opening of the BBC's Midlands relay station.

Television was invented by John Logie Baird, who demonstrated his revolutionary invention for the first time in 1926.

The BBC had been established in 1922 to broadcast radio programmes, but it began experimenting with the new technology and in 1936 regular transmissions began from Alexandra Palace in London.

To begin with the two-hour daily broadcast (except Sundays) reached just 100 or so television sets in the south-east of England. The early programmes owed much to the theatre, with music and variety performances particularly popular.

However, the potential of the medium was quickly identified by both programme makers and the public. In 1937 tennis from Wimbledon was broadcast for the first time; the FA Cup and test match cricket followed in 1938. By 1939 programming had extended to 7 days per week and 23,000 licences had been bought. But on 1 September 1939 the screens went blank: Britain was at war with Germany and programming did not resume until June 1946.

When television returned it was still restricted to the relatively narrow radius of homes within reach of the transmitter. However, television began a rapid expansion after the war, commencing with the opening of the Sutton Coldfield relay station in 1949, which brought television pictures from London to the Midlands.

Images in the video include the control room at Alexandra Palace, the opening of the Sutton Coldfield transmitter and early studio scenes from BBC Lime Grove.



Good evening, everybody. This is a very exciting moment for us in television. Tonight I'm not speaking to you from the familiar studios at Alexandra Palace, but from a small room in the new transmitting station at Sutton Coldfield. On behalf of the BBC I offer a special greeting and a warm welcome to our new viewers in the Midlands. Here to open the transmitting station officially are the Postmaster General, the Right Honourable Wilfred Paling, the Vice Chairman of the BBC, the Dowager Marchioness of Reading, Sir William Haley, Director General of the BBC and the Mayor of Sutton Coldfield, Councillor [name uncertain]. And to speak to you first, here is Lady Reading.


We have here the most powerful television service in the whole of the world, and we feel very much that it would never have been possible, had it not been for the individual effort of the practical man on the job, his determination, his resolution and the work he put in to the making of the whole. The service of the Midlands is going to make a very real difference to people in the south of England and in London. It's going to give an opportunity to the people in the metropolis to know the Midlands better. And just as stress and dilemma in the war made us understand each other better, so will the advance of television give us an opportunity to get to know each other better and in a more understanding fashion.

Programmes to download

Programmes to download at any time

Download programmes

A collection of programmes to download as mp3 files at any time. Includes dance and music.



Current podcasts

See all School Radio and other Learning podcasts available from the BBC Podcast Directory.

Contact us

Contact us

Contact us

We are always pleased to receive your feedback, suggestions and pupils' work.

'War Horse' by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse

All 10 episodes of Michael Morpurgo's famous story are now available to listen to online.

'Carrie's War' by Nina Bawden

Carrie's War by Nina Bawden

Carrie's War

Catch up on 'Carrie's War' by Nina Bawden. All 10 episodes are now available to listen to online.

Perform our School Musicals

Perform our School Musicals

School Musicals

Our performance scripts for 9 to 11s, complete with music, songs and special effects to download.

Our brand new Macbeth pages!

Macbeth videos for mobile and tablet

Macbeth - the musical

Check out our new pages for our Macbeth musical with 8 songs to learn! See the Teacher Notes.

Curriculum for Excellence

100 years since World War 1

WW1 Performance Pack

WW1 Performance Pack

Commemorate 100 years since WW1 by staging our specially-written play 'Archie Dobson's War'.

Private Peaceful - listen now!

Click to listen to Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Private Peaceful

All 13 episodes of Michael Morpurgo's moving WW1 story are available to listen to online.

Teacher's notes

Teacher's Notes

Online Teacher's Notes

Notes to support the programmes including details of all the series content.