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Eighty years of Broadcasting House

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Robert Seatter Robert Seatter | 15:05 UK time, Monday, 30 April 2012

The BBC made the first official broadcast from Broadcasting House in London on 15 May 1932.

In this anniversary blog post, Head of BBC History Robert Seatter explains how the building was designed and constructed, and how it was received by critics at the time.

You can see more pictures taken during the construction phase and some showing how the building was initially used in an About the BBC Flickr slideshow here.

Eighty years ago a quiet revolution took place in Regent Street, central London.

The first ever purpose-built broadcast centre in the UK (and almost in Europe - Germany just pipped us to the post) was officially opened for business. The splash of royal pageantry had to wait until July that year, when King George V and Queen Mary formally opened the building, unveiling the plaque which is still there in the entry porch of Broadcasting House.

Broadcasting House under construction.

BBC Broadcasting House under construction in 1930.

Director-General John Reith had bid a sad adieu to Savoy Hill, the BBC's first borrowed HQ, which had seen the fledgling company mushroom from four employees to a couple of hundred in the space of ten years.

It's 'the new Tower of London' trumpeted the Architectural Review, others likened it to the brain centre of the modern civilization, a new Babel tower, and a resplendent cruise liner cresting the wave of Regent Street.

Broadcasting House complete in 1932.

BBC Broadcasting House in London, complete in 1932.

Some years later, writer George Orwell was less complimentary, defining Broadcasting House as a cross between a lunatic asylum and a girls' public school!

It was primarily a monument to the exponential rise in radio's popularity. 'Listening in' had become the craze of the 1920s, and the building had a wonderful metaphorical richness about it, as the BBC's architects and designers struggled to capture this new pervasive magic. They plundered the Bible and Shakespeare, and on the front of BH (as it is often known in shorthand) is Eric Gill's naked statue of Ariel, from The Tempest, being propelled into the air by the magician Prospero. Shocking in its day - there were complaining letters in the Houses of Parliament about the naked boy, and the BBC myth is told that the notoriously puritanical Reith told Gill to reduce the size of the boy's penis - it is now one of Gill's best loved sculptures.

A BBC bespoke-designed mixing desk, created for the then new Broadcasting House in the1930s.

A BBC bespoke-designed mixing desk, created for the then new Broadcasting House in the 1930s.

But let's not forget that BH was also an architectural and technical triumph. There were 800 doors, 6500 electrical lamps, 98 clocks (all synchronized to the new control room), 22 studios, 142 miles of broadcast circuit wiring. Oh, and 840 radiators and some rather nifty hydraulic lifts! Even more impressively, this new temple had been completed in less than three and a half years. A feat indeed.

That the building was uncared for in later decades (especially the 60s and 70s when TV was on the ascendant), and actually considered 'moribund and obsolete' by the Royal Insitute of British Architects at the time, makes its current transformation as the creative hub of the BBC, even more astounding.

BBC Broadcasting House reception in 1932.

BBC Broadcasting House reception in 1932.

The building has been completely reinvented, while maintaining the important historical elements. Recently staff from the BBC World Service began moving into the new wing of Broadcasting House. And within a year or so, teams from Radio, News and Television (known as Vision inside the BBC), along with BBC London, will all be co-sited in the newly extended Broadcasting House.

I wonder what Mr Orwell would make of it now?

Robert Seatter is the the Head of BBC History

  • See more pictures of Broadcasting House under construction on Flickr
  • Watch a video tour of Broadcasting House presented by Robert Seatter.
  • More BBC anniversaries in May can be found on the History of the BBC website.

Voting with Mobile Short Dial Codes

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Claire McLaughlin | 17:06 UK time, Thursday, 26 April 2012

Working as Head of the Interactive Technical Advice and Contracts Unit, my team is tasked with ensuring that all BBC audience facing events (such as voting, competitions and awards) are run in a compliant manner. We also make sure we keep abreast of emerging technologies.

For the first time in UK broadcasting, I am very excited to say that we will be offering our audience the option to vote via Mobile Short Dial Codes (MSDC) and where better to launch a voice product than on the hottest new talent show, The Voice?

But, what are MSDCs? Well, also known as Voice Short Codes, MSDCs are short numbers, typically 5-7 digits, which can only be called from a mobile phone, but which also ensures that the caller is charged a guaranteed fixed price when casting their vote. The voting experience is exactly the same as if the caller was dialling an 090... long number, from the message they hear to the way in which their vote is counted, but by using MSDCs we are able to detail the exact price the consumer will be charged (which for The Voice will be 25p).

Traditionally '090...' Premium Rate numbers have been used for live voting which has left the mobile caller being charged, in some instances, up to three times that of a land line caller. The mass telephony voting platforms we use on our live programmes are run by the UK's fixed line operators (such as BT and Cable & Wireless). When a caller from a mobile wishes to cast a vote, the journey that call takes across to the fixed line provider has historically lead to the high charges incurred from a mobile. A mobile caller can still vote via the 090.. number, should they choose to, however a clever piece of device detection will be in place to identify mobile callers and will play a free message informing them of the lower cost route via the MSDC.

MSDCs are a joint initiative launched by the major UK mobile and fixed line operators; they have a commercial agreement in place that ensures price parity for the mobile caller. Cross-network MSDCs were made available by all operators in April 2012 and are strongly supported by the interactive broadcast industry.

A growing percentage of our audience are choosing to interact with voting shows via a mobile and with a belief that this growth will continue, Mobile Short Dial Codes will help us ensure the cost to the viewer is transparent and consistent, whatever their preferred route of contact is.

Claire McLaughlin is Head of the Interactive Technical Advice and Contracts Unit

The Voice will raise funding for one of the BBC's official charity, the BBC Performing Arts Fund. The charity supports the performing arts across the UK by awarding grants. This year it will be awarding up to £450,000 to community music groups and organsations as well as fellowships for individuals.

Commissioning food programmes

Alison Kirkham | 14:24 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Food brings my family together. And when we eat, more often than not we discuss what the next meal will be. Or relive a particularly delicious meal devoured the previous day. It may be gluttony but food is central to my life. I rarely have time to actually cook myself, but I've always got time to fantasise. The way food has also become an integral part of my job is, I like to think, a triumph of personal career planning!

People often ask me why there are so many food programmes on TV and what their enduring appeal is. I admit that in my job I often hear the question: Why are you always commissioning more food?

Yet, interestingly, despite this perpetual background noise, food continues to rate well with the viewers. Which raises interesting questions as to why?

Ken Hom & Ching-He Huang cook their way across China in an epic culinary adventure, <em>Eat, Drink, Cook China</em>, one of a series of new programmes about food on BBC Two in 2012.

BBC Two is rich in intellectual offerings - programmes that expand our boundaries and stimulate new passions. But television should also speak to the everyday. What is quotidian should never be considered unimportant or unworthy of the attention of programme makers, simply because of its 'ordinariness'.

Food programmes connect with the audience in an intimate, visceral way. And that connection, tapping directly into how people live their daily lives, is invaluable for television. Food, possibly more than any other subject, allows BBC Two to make an emotional as well as an intellectual connection with the audience.

As the Commissioning Editor for Factual Features & Formats, BBC One & Two my role is different from day to day, I can have up to 100 pitches to look through a week and they will be across a huge range of subjects.

My main criteria when considering new features and formats sounds straightforward; it is working out what people want to watch and what they will return to again and again. However, there is certainly no tried and tested formula and I often rely on my instinct to know what will work and what won't.

Nigella Lawson

In her new series, Nigellissima, Nigella Lawson shows how easy it is to bring the spirit of Italy into the kitchen.

With food, as with all subject areas, you have to try to make sure that new commissions really earn their place. Every new show must offer a complimentary perspective to what already exists rather than just duplicating what has come before.

I feel a real surge of pride when I think about the quality and range of BBC Two food programmes, which in my view is unsurpassed on British TV. Nigella stimulates all the senses of the home cook with her sheer passion for food. Raymond Blanc gives us a glimpse of the refined expertise of a two time Michelin star winning talent. With food as the transport mechanism, we can travel the world: to India with Rick Stein, China with Ken Hom, or Paris with Rachel Khoo.

Hairy Bikers Si King and Dave Myers

Hairy Bikers Si King and Dave Myers use pedal power in their latest series <em>How To Love Food and Lose Weight</em>.

Lorraine Pascale holds our hand developing our skills without fear of intimidation. The Hairy Bikers have that rare ability to make us laugh while also making us reflect on the importance of food as a connector between people from different generations. They are a fine example of food programming that blends in a good dollop of social history. Similarly the recent, Our Food, lyrically examined how the geography and history of these islands have brought us to the foods we now eat as a nation.

These food faces and their shows epitomise what the BBC should be all about. They inspire, educate and most definitely entertain us. They broaden our horizons without necessarily broadening our waistlines.

Alison Kirkham is Commissioning Editor for Factual Features & Formats, BBC One and Two.

More information about the series of food programming announced for BBC Two can be found on the BBC Media Centre website.

Bringing the internet to every individual in the UK

Saul Nassé Saul Nassé | 12:04 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Go ON UK is a new organisation which aims to bring the internet to every individual in every community across the UK. Saul Nassé, Controller, BBC Learning attended the launch event introduced by UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox. Saul blogs about the project and the BBC's involvement here.

I've just returned from a holiday in China where I tried a new experiment. I decided to take a basic mobile with me - no laptop, no tablet, no smartphone. Only books, and photocopies from a guidebook.

The idea was a proper break from work emails, to catch up on novels I'd bought but not read, and to have quality conversations with my wife instead of spending the time playing her at online Scrabble.

All that worked, it was a brilliant holiday. But boy was it like going back in time not having the internet at my fingertips. I couldn't discover the history of Chiang Kai-Shek when my interest was piqued by a place he'd visited, find out the address of a restaurant I'd heard about in Beijing, or even check in for our flight back to the UK.

The experience made me reflect on how much the internet has become part of the warp and weft of most people's lives, in work and play. But it is most, not all. That's why I am really pleased that the BBC is part of a new organisation, Go ON UK, which launched yesterday.

UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox introduced the Go On UK launch event on Monday 23 April 2012.

UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox introduced the Go On UK launch event on Monday 23 April 2012.

Along with partners Age UK, E.ON, Big Lottery Fund, Lloyds Banking Group, the Post Office and Talk Talk, we've pledged to work together to bring the benefits of the internet to every individual and organisation in the UK.

It's a really important endeavour, as there are more than eight million adults in the UK who are still not online. If you're not on the internet you're not just missing out on online Scrabble, but access to the information and education that can change your life - as well as a stack of cash savings you can increasingly only access online.

I think the BBC can play a really important part alongside its partners to help people get online, by raising awareness and giving a helping hand. This summer we'll be bringing back our successful Give an Hour campaign to encourage people to help others make the most of the BBC's Olympic coverage on the web. We want people to join celebrities from the world of sport in giving an hour of their time to help others enjoy the Games online.

But we don't want to stop at simply getting people online. The internet's more and more a place where the more you put in, the more you get out. So we want to help build people's skills to make the most of the web, whether it's helping them learn to shop online, participate in social networks, or make the kind of films that the BBC used to think only it could produce.

On that trip to China, I saw the incredible investment that is being made in 21st century infrastructure, and how it's driving the country's significant growth. The investment we can make in creating digital skills can be just as significant for the UK. By working with Go ON UK and partners, we hope we can reach every sector of society and help ensure the UK is truly the most digitally literate country in the world.

Saul Nassé is Controller, BBC Learning

Lucy Adams on the recent BBC pay deal

Lucy Adams Lucy Adams | 20:18 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

There has been a series of reports in today's papers relating to this year's pay rise. As you will have seen, the joint unions have stated that they are not happy with the increase and have announced that they will ballot their members on strike action as a result and that could affect coverage of the Diamond Jubilee.

I want to clear up some erroneous elements of these stories as I think they have portrayed BBC employees in an unfair light. Before doing so however let me provide a bit of background.

Earlier this year, we announced a pay increase of 1% for staff in 2012. We did this based on what we could afford. We're conscious that our people have had below inflation pay rises or, in some cases, a complete pay freeze for the last three years. And during this period, like many others outside the BBC, they have seen their pay fall in real terms. We are also currently in the process of trying to deliver savings of £700m a year by 2016/17 as part of the Delivering Quality First efficiencies programme. Given these challenges we made a tough judgement on the amount by which we could afford to raise pay.

Feedback from our staff on the pay rise has been mixed. Some staff are not happy with the offer but others tell us that whilst they would obviously have preferred to have had a pay rise that matched the rise in the cost of living they understand our financial position.

We know that we're not alone in this situation. Many licence fee payers have seen their own pay frozen. In the public sector for example there is a two year Government cap on public pay of 1%. Local Government workers are due to enter their third consecutive year of pay freezes. Against this backdrop the joint union's demands of a pay rise for staff amounting to nearly 6% looks unrealistic.

And this is the point. In some of today's press BBC staff were described as 'militant', 'unpatriotic' and 'greedy'. The suggestion is that they are threatening to 'wreck the Queen's Jubilee celebrations' in order to get more money. This is not the case. No decision has yet been taken on whether or not there will be a strike and we remain hopeful that staff will vote against such a course of action.

We have made clear to the unions that even if they do take industrial action it won't change what we can afford. What it could do however is damage our relationship with licence fee payers and that is the last thing we want.

Everyone I speak to at the BBC is excited at the prospect of working on some of the biggest events this country has ever seen. They are proud that they will be bringing the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and Euro 2012 to audiences of millions around the country and I don't believe anyone at the BBC wants to see this coverage jeopardised.

Launching the BBC Proms 2012

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Roger Wright Roger Wright | 17:46 UK time, Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Editor's Note - Today sees the launch of the 2012 BBC Proms, an eight week season spanning the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, welcoming an international line-up of leading orchestras, conductors and soloists from the UK and around the world.

Over on the Radio 3 Blog, Roger Wright, Director BBC Proms writes,

At the heart of the Proms is the scale of the event, and it's something which puts quality and accessibility together. It is, simply, the best music festival in the world.

Roger Wright also talks about the forthcoming season, its ethos and the experience of the first night concert in this audio interview for the About the BBC blog.

New College of Production website editor appointed

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Jon Jacob Jon Jacob | 16:26 UK time, Thursday, 12 April 2012

Paul Buller has been appointed College of Production website editor, replacing the previous editor Amanda Lyon who has returned to a role in BBC Vision.

Paul has recently been editor of itvWild, which offers the public online access to thousands of wildlife clips from ITV's archive of the past 50 years. He has a wide and varied experience of over 14 years in television production and direction and is also a BBC-trained Avid editor and proficient self-shooter.

Read the rest of this entry on the BBC Academy website.

BBC Breakfast is live from Salford

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 10:19 UK time, Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The gallery during rehearsals ahead of the first BBC Breakfast broadcast from Salford.

The gallery during rehearsals ahead of the first BBC Breakfast broadcast from Salford.

Every morning for more than a decade, BBC Breakfast has helped viewers start the day, with its trademark mix of news, issues and guests. Today, it's done just that - but this time from its new studio at MediaCityUK in Salford.

We announced the move two years ago, as part of the BBC's commitment to developing a strong creative hub in Salford. In recent months, the team has been working hard to bring Breakfast alive in its new home, on time as planned. It's a big day for the team, but in some ways we hope that viewers may not notice that much. Breakfast is still the same programme that viewers know and love as it was last week - the news of the day (the fate of Abu Hamza, the ceasefire that isn't in Syria), issues that matter to viewers (pay day loans, neighbourliness). All that and school champion cup-stacking and some horse whispering too!

Obviously, there's the brand new studio in a new location. We're pleased with the studio that we will share with the news team responsible for putting out the regional bulletins, North West Tonight. It's a flexible modern space, making the most of the latest technology, and with a bright warm look. Breakfast is the first daily BBC News programme to be broadcast from an HD studio.

There's still a big red sofa and the same BBC Breakfast logos, titles and music. In fact very much business as usual, broadcasting more than three hours of live news, sport, weather and entertainment every day, the most successful morning show on television. As always, we tried to strike a balance between the big issues of the day and inspiring stories from around the UK.

Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid on set in the new BBC Breakfast studio MediaCityUK in Salford.

The presenting team, too, has a familiar look to it. Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid presented today - later in the week it will be the turn of Charlie Stayt and Louise Minchin. This is our core family of presenters, all now firmly established on the show, along with business presenter Stephanie McGovern, sports presenters Sally Nugent and Mike Bushell, and Carol Kirkwood, Breakfast's weather presenter.

Breakfast is an important part of BBC News, primarily a news programme - but with a big helping of human interest, entertainment and culture. We get more than our fair share of interesting guests with great stories to tell and some of those guests are household names. This won't change. This morning we were joined by Connie Fisher, star of the Sound of Music and now the lead in Wonderful Town, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.

The BBC has a rich heritage of journalism in the north of England across local, regional and national outlets. BBC North is home to Breakfast, regional news and current affairs; network and regional radio programmes, including Radio 5 live and Radio Manchester; plus BBC Children's and BBC Sport. Some guests will be down the line - as happened until now with out of London guests - but we know that the red sofa will continue to be a magnet for a great mix of guests.

Breakfast has always been very successful at reflecting all our audiences, no matter where they live, and being in the heart of the UK means we can continue to reflect all points of view. After all, we're a network show and we won't be making a Northern Breakfast any more than we made a London one, although we'll also make the most of our new home. The move comes during a hugely successful period as it continues to reach more than 12 million viewers per week. There are many people who helped make the move successful. But our real appreciation is for our loyal viewers. Breakfast from Salford will continue to serve them.

Mary Hockaday is Head of Newsroom, BBC

More about the BBC Breakfast team's move to MediaCityUK in Salford can be found on the Media Centre website.

Matters of faith and community

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Peter Salmon Peter Salmon | 09:27 UK time, Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Preston Bus Station was the unlikely venue for the BBC's latest and most innovative live event - The Preston Passion. This sixty-minute live programme on BBC One fused mass-audience participation, compelling drama and music-making to celebrate both Good Friday and the city itself.

Hosted by Fern Britton, featuring actors like Tom Ellis and Samantha Bond in three mini dramas, Jamelia -who agreed to step in at the last moment - and hundreds of locals from across the city who rehearsed for weeks, this reinterpretation of the medieval Passion Play was a searing success. Not only did hundreds of fellow Prestonians turn up to show their support but, true to the times we live in, many watching at home expressed their pride as well as their surprise as they recognised friends and family on national television via Twitter.

For everyone involved as well as those watching across the UK, it showed what the BBC and an entire city can achieve by working together. The Preston Passion was a truly inspiring moment of community spirit as well as a strong and undeniable expression of faith. And it happened because a powerful new BBC North base, with the BBC Religion and Ethics department, Drama Productions and local programmes combined to extraordinary effectiveness.

Its success was a good omen.

Today everyone here at MediaCityUK can be proud that the final milestone in the first phase of the BBC's move to Salford has been reached.

BBC Breakfast team

At 6.00am today Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid presented the first ever BBC Breakfast show from Salford Quays. And later this week their colleagues, Louise Minchin and Charlie Stayt have their first turn on the sofa in the new studio. This talented quartet is joined by Stephanie McGovern for business and Sally Nugent and Mike Bushell for sport. And Carol Kirkwood will continue to present Breakfast's weather reports from London and locations across the UK.

BBC Breakfast is a significant part of people's lives across the UK. Providing three hours of uninterrupted live news, sport and entertainment at the start of every day, it now reaches over 12 million viewers per week. We take its continued success very seriously.

And it also marks a small piece of broadcasting history. BBC Breakfast joins BBC Children's Newsround - now in its fortieth year - as one of only two network television news programmes made outside London.

The BBC Breakfast team is part a thriving community of journalists here on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. Regional and network news and current affairs have been produced in the North for decades but never in such numbers. From front-line coverage of last summer's riots to this year's Budget coverage and the recent Bradford by-election shock they help make the local national; the national global and the global local.

With over 400 journalists based here - including Radio 5 live and BBC Sports news - BBC North is now home to the biggest concentration of journalists outside the capital. That should effect the way the BBC looks, sounds and is perceived. Over time, I am confident we will see and hear more stories that reflect new communities here and capture a real sense of Northern warmth, humour and grit. That isn't something we need to force - it will happen naturally, carefully and organically.

So as we approach the first anniversary of BBC North this May it really does feel that we are closing the opening chapter of our Northern story.

A great deal of hard work and faith in what we are trying to do by everyone here as well as across the BBC has brought us to where we are now. No one should underestimate what has been achieved despite the challenges we have encountered.

Not only have we successfully completed a 36-week migration of staff from both the South and North but we have recruited and welcomed over 700 new people fresh and full of new ideas into the BBC. We have also started to see increased investment of the Licence Fee with creative companies across the region and begun to develop a generation of new talent in our own backyard that can have long-term benefits for the BBC and other creative industries. All this in just less than one year at our new home.

There has been no bigger single shift in the history of British broadcasting. With the first phase complete and BBC North fully operational, now is the time to focus on the future and start to write the next chapter of our story.

Peter Salmon is Director, BBC North

Launching the Shakespeare season on the BBC

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Mark Bell Mark Bell | 16:18 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2012

Editor's note - The forthcoming Shakespeare Unlocked season on the BBC forms part of the London 2012 Festival and Cultural Olympiad.

In this blog interview, Commissioning Editor, Arts, Mark Bell highlights some of the programmes that form part of the season and what he hopes viewers and listeners will get out of it.

Why Shakespeare now?

Around the country there is an amazing festival of Shakespeare related activity - the RSC, The Globe and many theatres are mounting productions.

The BBC is broadcasting four film originations, notably the four history plays that cover the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V and a film adaptation of the new RSC production of Julius Caesar to join in those celebrations.

The BBC has also made some factual output across TV, radio and online to add context in the hope of adding to the audience's appreciation of Shakespeare's skill as a writer.

Filming Henry V on location

Filming Henry V on location

It's been 400 years since Shakespeare was writing and we wanted to explore what makes his work stand out. Why does everyone still know about him after all this time? Many of his tales are about universal human preoccupations - love, death, power, corruption. Many of us know something at least about his plays but he does have a reputation for being hard work and difficult to understand.

We hope that with greater understanding of the history and of how his plays work, then people will get more out of it. We want this season to bring Shakespeare alive to a modern audience and celebrate his work.

What are you hoping the season will achieve?

I'm hoping it will show people just how rewarding Shakespeare can be. Yes the language is tough but it's well worth sticking with it. I wanted the season to explore the historical context in which Shakespeare was writing and also celebrate his language and try and understand what made him just so incredibly good at capturing all it means to be human.

James Shapiro presents The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History

James Shapiro presents The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History

We're kicking off the season this April with a look at the historical context in which Shakespeare was writing. We want to bring his times alive and explore why he told the stories he did. On BBC Four, historian James Shapiro examines the second half of Shakespeare's career - the dark and turbulent times during which he wrote some of his most powerful plays (The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History) . Meanwhile, on BBC Two Francesco da Mosto visits some of the spectacular locations in Italy that fired Shakespeare's imagination (Shakespeare in Italy, BBC Two).

I also wanted to look at how the language Shakespeare used works and what makes it so special. Many children study Shakespeare's texts in school. When you hear the words aloud the sense is more immediately evident - it really helps bring Shakespeare alive. Off by Heart is a competition for secondary school children that opens up the language of Shakespeare to a new and younger audience. I was there for the final and it was deeply moving to see young people putting new life into Shakespeare's language with such understanding and passion.

Off By Heart

Later on in June, Simon Schama argues that it is impossible to understand how Shakespeare came to belong "to all time", without understanding just how much he was a product of the time he was writing (Shakespeare and Us, BBC Two). And you can't do much better than have Oscar-winning Director Sam Mendes at the helm in four new adaptations of Shakespeare's history plays.

You've worked with the RSC and the British Museum. What do you think these partnerships have brought to the season?

These partnerships have proved to be incredibly fertile. Bringing Shakespeare to the screen is very different to a stage adaptation and I think we've really learnt from each other.

The RSC have brought their depth of understanding of Shakespeare and, through their actors, have made the language come alive visually for a modern audience. Shakespeare Unlocked, the online digital resource we've produced together with BBC Learning, will be a great legacy for the future.

When it comes to the British Museum, we have of course already worked with Neil McGregor on his History of the World series. It's been great to build on the success of that series with Neil bringing his incredible insight and knowledge to the season by exploring some of the objects from the turbulent period during which Shakespeare was writing (Shakespeare's Restless World, BBC Radio 4).

What these partnerships give us is great expertise, access to different and often deeper knowledge of the subject and a new perspective. And it gives us the chance to encourage our audience to go and visit an exhibition or a see a play on stage. The combined force of a single season like this is greater than the sum of its parts and very exciting.

RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd talks about the partnership between the RSC and BBC.

Julius Caesar offers to take an innovative approach to bringing the live experience to viewers. How do you aim to do this?

Julius Caesar is one of the plays that feels most politically relevant, particularly if you think about what events in Libya over the last year or what has been happening in Mali now. I think it's a really innovative and brave idea to set a modern Julius Caesar in an African state and will create something very fresh and thought provoking for viewers. With the RSC taking such a radical approach it seemed only right that we try and do something just as experimental in the way that we bring the performance to the screen.

The production team have found an amazing disused shopping centre in North London and are busy turning this into the set for our African state. We're filming some of the scenes there and combining them with footage from one of the stage performances. I'm very excited about this new way of bringing theatre to television and I hope it will really energise viewers and bring the performance alive for them.

What do you hope viewers will get out of the Shakespeare season?

I hope that they'll think we've stayed true to Shakespeare and that we've conveyed some sense of the real wonder of his language and ideas - there's a reason why Shakespeare continues to be the world's greatest playwright nearly 400 years after his death.

The BBC has an opportunity to reach a really broad audience and I hope that by the end of the season we'll have gone some way to explaining why it is that the themes and ideas that Shakespeare explored resonate now just as clearly as they did when he first wrote his plays.

First University Boat Race radio commentary anniversary

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Jon Jacob Jon Jacob | 12:05 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2012

The picture shows engineers testing equipment before the broadcast of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race in 1928.

Engineers testing equipment before the broadcast of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race in 1928.

Eighty-five years ago today marks the first broadcast of a radio commentary from the University Boat Race.

That commentary was given by former rower Oliver Nickalls and cricketer Sir John Squire at the 1927 race. Writing about the event on the 80th anniversary in 2007, journalist Frank Keating quoted Nickalls' post-race account of the commentary experience with Squire:

"We stood on each other's foot when it was our turn to interrupt and simply poured excited words from start to finish, totally oblivious to being heard or not."

Exactly eleven years later, the BBC Television Service transmitted pictures from the boat race on television, although cameras were only on the finish line and the boat house.

The winning Oxford crew, bringing in their boat at Chiswick at the end of the 1938 race. This was the first television outside broadcast (OB) of the boat race. A camera can be seen on a small 

raised platform.

The winning Oxford crew, bringing in their boat at Chiswick at the end of the 1938 race. This was the first television outside broadcast (OB) of the boat race. A camera can be seen on a small raised platform.

In March 2010, Head of BBC History Robert Seatter wrote on the About the BBC blog about early boat race commentator John Snagge:

He made his initial commentary in 1931 - and went on to do it for 37 years (the war years intervening), listened to by people all round the world. His Michael Fish moment, which stuck to him he said 'like a tin can tied to a dog's tail' was the famous occasion during the 1949 recording when the engine of the TV launch broke down, and poor Snagge was left saying: 'I don't know who is winning. It is either Oxford or Cambridge'.

This year, Clare Balding will present live coverage of the boat race on Saturday 8 April from 1.00-3.15pm on BBC One and BBC One HD.

There will be uninterrupted commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 2.00-3.00pm with updates on the race forming part of BBC Radio 5 Live's Saturday afternoon sports coverage.

The History of the BBC website has more detail about the first radio commentary in addition to other to other important BBC anniversaries in April.

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