In 1988 the BBC's impartiality and independence were questioned repeatedly. The play Tumbledown, the broadcast of the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert, and the introduction of the government's ban on the direct broadcast of voices from certain organisations in Northern Ireland all proved controversial. Against this background the BBC Producer Guidelines were published for the first time on 1 March 1989. They served to provide a clear public statement of the editorial principles by which the BBC operated, although their primary purpose was to be a useful guide for programme makers.
Editorial guidelines were not new for the BBC, circulated internally in memos and in documents such as the 1948 Variety Programmes Policy Guide. A glance at this document - which prohibited suggestive references to underwear such as "winter draws on" – shows how concerns over taste changed over the decades. The 1989 Producer Guidelines provided the latest advice and subsequent editions were published in ring-binder form so they could be easily updated.
Today, more than ever, the BBC has to be able to justify every editorial decision. To this end the Corporation's Editorial Values are now freely available online, set out in the Editorial Guidelines, covering everything from the depiction of sex to product placement and the handling of politically sensitive situations.
Truly Madly Deeply 1 March 1992
Alan Rickman in the 2010 BBC production, The Song of Lunch.
Truly Madly Deeply got its first television showing on 1 March 1992. The film was written and directed by Anthony Minghella, starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman. Minghella wrote the part of Nina for Stevenson. Rickman was very happy to play a role which was different from the cinema villains that had made him famous. The film – made by BBC Films – had already been a success in the cinema and won Evening Standard awards for Stevenson, Rickman and Minghella.
The Radio Times made light of the plot; “Nina is a young woman unable to cope with the death of her lover Jamie. One day she misses him so much that he comes back!” Truly Madly Deeply has romance at its heart and many comic moments, but is much more than a romantic comedy. The film features a harrowing depiction of grief – in intensely moving scenes with Stevenson. A fine supporting cast include Bill Paterson, David Ryall and Michael Maloney - who plays potential new boyfriend Mark.
Stevenson has said that Nina in Truly Madly Deeply is her favourite role. Her range can be seen in contrasting BBC dramas The Village and Atlantis. Minghella went on to win an Oscar with the English Patient. He returned to the BBC with The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, shortly before his death in 2008. Rickman died in 2016, but his varied career included a return to the BBC in 2010 for The Song of Lunch.
Launch of new channel BBC Four 2 March 2002
The new digital television channel BBC Four began on Saturday 2 March 2002. It was launched with the slogan "everybody needs a place to think", offering a diet of arts, culture and documentaries. The new channel replaced BBC Knowledge. Controller Roly Keating explained in the Radio Times that BBC Four would have the time to examine subjects in greater depth than had been possible on BBC Two.
BBC Four's first night was a simulcast with BBC Two, acknowledging the links between the two channels and the need to showcase the potential of the new digital station to the far larger terrestrial audience. The first programme was The Man Who Destroyed Everything, about artist Michael Landy. This was followed by a documentary on Goya, a comedy drama on the Surrealists and music from Baaba Maal. BBC Four also offered a distinctive international emphasis to the news, with a bulletin presented by George Alagiah.
BBC Four overcame initial reservations about the size of its audience to become a recognised home of intelligent programming, and won the award for Non-terrestrial Channel of the Year at the Edinburgh Television Festival. The channel has originated many acclaimed programmes, and made successes of others such as Wallender and The Killing, that would otherwise have struggled to find an audience.
Housewives' Choice 4 March 1946
The music request programme Housewives' Choice started on 4 March 1946. It was part of a new post-war schedule for the Light Programme, and was intended for women left at home while their men were at work, although the presenters were invariably male. The first week was introduced by Robert MacDermot. Other presenters over the years included Gilbert Harding, Eamonn Andrews, Edmundo Ros, Sam Costa and George Elrick. At its height Housewives' Choice received 3000 requests a week.
The signature tune - In Party Mood - written by Jack Strachey - became synonymous with the Light Programme, not least because it was heard on six mornings a week. The presenter George Elrick was caught singing along on an open mic, a musical ad lib which proved so popular with listeners that it became a regular part of Elrick's presenting, inspiring him to add lyrics such as "I'll see you all again tomorrow morning".
Housewives' Choice ended in 1967 with the Light Programme, replaced by Family Choice on the new Radio 2, a reflection of the changing audience. However, Housewives' Choice remains an iconic Light Programme show and the theme tune still signifies an old-fashioned domestic optimism.
Round the Horne 7 March 1965
The first episode of Round the Horne was heard on 7 March 1965. Listeners immediately took to the characters introduced, such as Julian and Sandy, Dame Celia Molestrangler, Fiona and Charles, and Rambling Syd Rumpo. Kenneth Horne presided over the same cast that had found success in Beyond Our Ken - Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee.
Announcements were by Douglas Smith, and each week a musical interlude was provided by The Fraser Hayes Four.
The programme was transmitted on a Sunday afternoon for a family audience, but writers Barry Took and Marty Feldman took advantage of the permissive air of mid Sixties Britain to insert lots of saucy humour. The most popular characters, Julian and Sandy, spoke in Polari - the underground slang used before the decriminalisation of homosexuality - and produced several catchphrases that passed into common use.
The show ran for four series but ended after Horne's untimely death. Feldman left for the final season to concentrate on his flourishing performing career. Round the Horne continues to delight new audiences today, through repeats and release on CD. The influence of the programme can be traced in shows like The Fast Show.
Pennies From Heaven 7 March 1978
Pennies from Heaven - Bob Hoskins and Cheryl Campbell.
Pennies From Heaven was the television drama where Dennis Potter truly found his voice. The six part series – debuting on 7 March 1978 - told the story of music salesman Arthur Parker’s struggles in 1930s Britain, helped by the innovative use of a soundtrack of contemporary songs. It made a star of Bob Hoskins, with great work from a cast including Cheryl Campbell, Gemma Craven and Hywel Bennett. Pennies From Heaven was Potter’s biggest success at that time and won the BAFTA for Most Original Series.
Pennies From Heaven used the sweet romantic songs of the Thirties to counterpoint the daily grind of life during the Great Depression. At times the characters spontaneously burst into song - lip synching and dancing to the hits of Al Bowlly, Lew Stone or Arthur Tracey - as they might in a Hollywood musical. The drama was fairly grim – culminating in Parker’s execution for a crime he didn’t commit – but the optimism in the songs pointed up the endurance of hope.
A film version of Pennies From Heaven was made in 1981, starring Steve Martin. Potter revisited the musical drama form in The Singing Detective and Lipstick on Your Collar. He died in 1994 but in 2000 Pennies From Heaven was voted 21st in the BFI 100 poll of the Greatest British Television programmes. Potter’s influence can be seen in dramas such as the 2004 musical murder mystery Blackpool.
The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy 8 March 1978
The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy began life as a radio series, with the first episode airing on 8 March 1978. The science fiction comedy was described in the Radio Times as "an epic adventure in time and space including some helpful advice on how to see the Universe for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day". Written by Douglas Adams, and produced by Simon Brett, it started a franchise that included books, television and a feature film, and even outlasted the author's untimely death.
Radio was the perfect medium on which to debut Adam's vision of the universe, as visual effects were at that time incapable of matching his imagination. However the BBC Radiophonic Workshop rose to the challenge, using the full potential of stereo - previously only used in radio dramas - to bring The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to life. Peter Jones was cast as the voice of the book, and his calm tones punctuated the action with extracts from the Guide.
The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was adapted for television in 1981, after the second radio series. Radio has always proved to be fertile ground for comedy, being cheaper to produce and more able to take risks than television, and many television classics started on radio. However for many, the original radio series of HHGTTG will never be surpassed.
French and Saunders 9 March 1987
Audio slideshow featuring the best of BBC comedy. For a list of those featured, go to this page.
The first series of French and Saunders started on 9 March 1987. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders promised a fresh female take on the comedy duo; coming from the flourishing alternative comedy scene, but in the tradition of double acts like "Morecambe and Wise and George and Mildred". As their popularity grew over 6 series they became mainstream stars and their Christmas Specials big events.
The first episode was a deliberately shambolic affair, with amateurish support from house band Raw Sex - Roland Rivron and Simon Brint - and The Hot Hoofers dance troupe. Guest star Alison Moyet was on to sing a song - but first had to witness French do her own version. There were 2 sketches - Classroom and Sports Desk - but the majority of the programme had more in common with French and Saunders' roots in theatre. Later shows became known for the increasingly elaborate sketches, with spoofs of films proving very popular.
Both Saunders and French went on to become individual stars in the comedy firmament. Saunders created Absolutely Fabulous - itself a spin off from a French and Saunders sketch. French had success with The Vicar of Dibley. The two comedians reunited for a Christmas Special in 2005, and both continue to write and perform.
The Frost Report 10 March 1966
The satirical comedy show The Frost Report made its first appearance on 10 March 1966. Each week David Frost took a different subject and examined it with the help of illustrative sketches. The supporting cast for the first episode was Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, John Cleese, Nicky Henson and Nicholas Smith. In addition Julie Felix and Tom Lehrer provided music. Barker was already well known but it was Cleese, Corbett and Henson’s first break on television.
The theme of the first week was Authority. Subsequent weeks looked at Holidays, Sin and Elections. The fifth week - on Class - featured the series’ most enduring sketch, with Cleese, Barker and Corbett cast as upper, middle and lower class. It was written by Marty Feldman and John Law. Other writers on The Frost Report included future Pythons Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor and established names such as Frank Muir and Dennis Nordern.
The Frost Report helped establish satire as a staple of television comedy, inspiring programmes such as Not the Nine O’clock News. The on screen and backstage talent involved with making the show went on to contribute to the some of the most loved programmes on television. Frost himself continued his ascent and became known for his with searching political interviews. He was knighted in 1993 and died in 2013.
World Service Television News 11 March 1991
BBC World Service Television News began at 7pm GMT on 11 March 1991. It was launched to complement World Service radio, at a time when demand for impartial 24 hour global news television was growing. It started in Europe but by the end of the year had expanded into Asia and the Middle East. BBC Chairman Marmaduke Hussey introduced the service; "The BBC brand is a world leader. The more widely it is known, the more credit it brings to our country."
The service was established as a wholly owned subsidiary of the BBC, funded by subscriptions and advertising. It proved its value in times of conflict, such as the Kosovo crisis of 1999, when viewers and contributors - including US government officials and the Albanian Prime Minister - praised its coverage. World Service Television News changed its name as its reputation grew, first to BBC World and then - in 1998 - to BBC World News.
Today BBC World News is available around the clock in over 200 countries with an estimated weekly audience of 76 million. It is available in homes and can be seen in three million hotel rooms, on cruise ships, airliners and mobile phones.
First broadcast by the BBC Dance Orchestra 12 March 1928
Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra at the London Palladium, August 1934.
The BBC Dance Orchestra, led by Jack Payne, made its first official broadcast on 12 March 1928. The band had proved its popularity as The Cecilians, occasionally broadcasting from the Hotel Cecil. Given the title Director of the BBC Dance Orchestra, Payne moved his 10-piece band to the studio at Savoy Hill. His regular radio performances ensured his success, and made his signature tune, "Say it with Music",a hit.
The BBC Handbook of 1929 acknowledged the importance of dance music on the radio and called it "the voice of something very typical of ourselves and of this post-war age". Radio dancing lessons were all the rage, and the listeners' appetite for dance music was huge. The BBC Dance Orchestra was soon receiving 10 thousand letters a week.
Payne left the BBC in 1932 and was replaced by Henry Hall, who continued the success with another line-up of the BBC Dance Orchestra. Hall was followed by Billy Ternent and then Stanley Black, until 1952. The orchestra provided the music for many hit programmes, including The Goons, Ray's a Laugh and Much Binding in the Marsh.
Launch of the Latin American Service 14 March 1938
Director-General Lord Reith introduced the first programme on the BBC Latin American Service. The English announcement is followed by a direct translation in Spanish.
The BBC launched the Latin American Service on 14 March 1938. It was the second foreign language radio service, following the Arabic Service launched in January. Both were initiated in the tense pre-war period, to counter propaganda, coming from other countries, that was seen to be damaging Britain's interests in the regions. The Latin American Service was broadcast in Spanish and Portuguese, reaching a potential audience of 70 million people in Central and South America, and a further 40 million in Brazil.
The Latin American Service set out to provide straightforward news and information, starting with 15 minute news bulletins broadcast in Spanish and Portuguese in succession. Letters from the region thanked the BBC for providing impartial news. The foreign language services proved their effectiveness during the Second World War, and by 1945 the BBC was broadcasting in 45 separate languages.
The Latin American Service was renamed BBC Mundo in 2005 to include Spanish speakers in the US. At the same time BBC Brazil was created for Portuguese speakers. BBC Mundo ended radio transmissions in 2011, but today maintains a strong presence online.
I’d Do Anything 15 March 2008
I’d Do Anything final
I’d Do Anything was the Saturday night talent show that cast the role of Nancy in a new West End production of Oliver! The show began on 15 March 2008 and - after 12 weeks of performances and sing-offs - Jodie Prenger was the winner by public vote. At the same time three boys were chosen to play Oliver, but without the stressful elimination rounds. The overall quality of the performers was very high and more than one star was born, with runners-up Jessie Buckley and Samantha Barks both going on to substantial success on stage and screen.
I’d Do Anything was presented by the ebullient Graham Norton and presided over by Andrew Lloyd Webber, judging proceedings from his golden throne. It built on the success of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do. The other judges were John Barrowman, Denise Van Outen and Barry Humphries. Each week the rejected contestant left the show with a brief chorus of Be Back Soon and a solo performance of As Long as He Needs Me.
Money raised from the viewers vote on I’d Do Anything was put towards the BBC Performing Arts Fund, which gave bursaries to aspiring performers and musicians. The fund raised and distributed £5.2 million in grants over its 12 year existence.
Up Pompeii 23 March 1970
23 March 1970 was the start of the first series of Up Pompeii, a repeat of the pilot shown as a Comedy Playhouse the previous year. The Radio Times said it was loosely based on the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum and the works of Roman playwright Plautus. However it was written by Talbot Rothwell, in a broad style that owed a greater debt to the Carry On films he had scripted.
Frankie Howerd was the star of the show, and expert at extracting every innuendo from the punning script. He played Lurcio, household slave to Senator Ludicrus Sextus and his wife Ammonia, and to their children Erotica and Nausia. Every episode began with Lurcio attempting to declaim The Prologue in the manner of a Greek chorus. He never got very far as he was always interrupted by Senna the soothsayer, predicting doom. Howerd played to the studio audience, reacting to their laughter with the range of looks and saucy remarks that were his trademark, peppering his speech with anachronistic remarks.
Up Pompeii ran for two very successful series and became a feature film. Howerd died in 1992 but his place as an icon of British comedy was recently celebrated in a Radio 2 documentary.
Letter From America 24 March 1946
The world's longest running speech radio programme, Letter From America, presented by the inimitable Alistair Cooke, began on 24 March 1946. The initial agreement was for a 13 week series, but Cooke's natural style proved such a success that it ran for 58 years and only ended with his death in 2004.
Letter From America was commissioned by Lindsay Wellington, the Controller of the Home Service, as a return to Cooke's pre-war work on American Half Hour. Wellington knew what Cooke could bring to a broadcast. "I had to offer", wrote Cooke in the Radio Times, "a direct impression of anything of America that took my fancy. Not a diatribe, not a composed essay, but the first impression of an accident, a person, a landscape on the nervous emulsion of A. Cooke". In this fashion Letter From America covered 11 Presidencies and events such as the death of Bobby Kennedy and the September 11 attacks.
In 1972 Cooke made the critically acclaimed television series America, which was an international success. Cooke remained popular on both sides of the Atlantic and it was said on his death that with Letter From America he did more than any other individual to maintain the "special relationship" between the US and Britain.
Grand National televised 26 March 1960
BBC Sport celebrates The Grand National 1960-2012.
The first Grand National to be televised was run on 26 March 1960. The race - which was won by favourite Merryman II, ridden by Gerry Scott - was broadcast live from Aintree as part of Grandstand. At the end presenter David Coleman assured viewers that they had witnessed a piece of television history.
To capture every inch of the four mile 856 yard steeplechase the BBC deployed 16 cameras, including Television's Roving Eye. This outside broadcast van, with a camera mounted on the roof, was able to drive alongside the runners and riders for over half of the course. Thus viewers at home got a far better view of the race than any spectator at the racecourse. Commentary was provided by Peter O'Sullevan and Peter Bromley.
Today the Grand National continues to be a popular draw on BBC Sport, and is one of the few sporting events judged to be of national importance, and so preserved by the government on free-to-air television. In addition to the domestic audience of 10 million, it is watched by an estimated worldwide audience of 500 million.
Troubleshooter 27 March 1990
In Troubleshooter, Sir John Harvey-Jones, the flamboyant former chairman of ICI, went to look at ailing companies and offer his expertise as to how they could be turned around. The first episode - on 27 March 1990 - featured the venerable toy manufacturer Tri-ang. Sir John showed that the business world could provide popular television, mixing personality in with the analysis, and Troubleshooter ran for 5 series.
Tri-ang did not survive in the long term, but many companies featured on Troubleshooter took Sir John’s advice and thrived. These included Churchill China, Velden Engineering and Copella. Classic car company Morgan was a slightly different success story. They ignored Sir John’s advice to increase capacity - preferring to maintain their exclusivity - but credited a boost in sales to their appearance on the show, which highlighted their traditional manufacturing methods.
Troubleshooter showed there was an appetite for entertaining programmes about industry and led to others such as Back to the Floor. Harvey-Jones died in 2008, but his show was revived in 2014 as Digby Jones: The New Troubleshooter. The brutal honesty that Sir John pioneered can be seen in personality driven business programmes such as Mary Queen of Shops, The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den.
Opening of new Crystal Palace transmitter 28 March 1956
The slideshow contains many images of the iconic Crystal Palace transmitting station, with thanks to Derek Brice, Mike Jordan, Tony Stamp, and Robert Whittaker. The music used in the slideshow was heard before the regular transmitter 'Service Information' programme broadcast on BBC Two from 1967, Monday to Friday at 10am, 11.30am, and 2.30pm. The track is called 'Walk and Talk' by Syd Dale, and was used until 1978, when it was replaced. 'Service Information' helped television engineers with information about transmitters going on and off the air, and other relevant information for the radio and television trade. 'Service Information' was finally dropped from the BBC Two schedule when daytime TV programming started.
28 March 1956 saw the official opening of the new Crystal Palace television station, designed to provide increased coverage to a large swathe of London and the south-east. Since the opening of the BBC Television Service, twenty years before, programmes had been broadcast across London from a transmitter on the iconic tower at Alexandra Palace. Now the station at 'Ally Pally' was to be switched off, not to operate again as a regular transmitting station until 1982.
For many years, live programme production from Alexandra Palace had suffered from interference because of the close proximity of the transmitter to the studios. Now there was a solution. Stable and more reliable pictures could be sent from state-of-the-art transmitters, located some twenty 20 kilometres away. The site was also a safe distance from the BBC studios at Lime Grove. By 21 December 1957 the formal commissioning (opening) of the Crystal Palace television aerial, meant the BBC was well placed to face commercial competition from ITV which had opened nearly two years earlier.
Nearly 215 metres high, the tower, confined to a small area of Crystal Palace Park, was erected by British Insulated Callendars Construction. Soon after opening, its transmitters were equipped to broadcast test programmes in colour late at night, after regular programming was over for the day. It was also adapted to 625 line operation in time for the launch of BBC Two in 1964, and colour in 1967. Today the transmitter continues to serve London and the Home counties, reaching over 12 million people. In April 2012 the analogue signal from Crystal Palace will be switched off, and the station will become an entirely digital operation, fit for service into the twenty first century.
Going for a Song 31 March 1965
Going for a Song was first seen in the BBC West Region on 31 March 1965. The show, in which "connoisseurs and customers explore the world of antiques", was an instant success and made its network debut in October. The first presenter, Tony Ross, was replaced by Max Robertson, who remained in the chair until 1977. However the undoubted star was Arthur Negus, whose knowledge and enthusiasm made him a hit with viewers.
Each programme began with a mechanical bird singing in an ornamental cage, competing against the theme tune. The three guests of the early shows were soon reduced to two, who had to examine antiques and guess their value. The item was then passed across to the experts - invariably Negus and another - who gave it a professional evaluation. The guest with the closest estimate was the winner. Negus believed the programme was best when the objects examined were relatively ordinary ones that might also be tucked away, unappreciated, in the viewers' homes.
Going for a Song ended in 1977, but returned, presented at different times by Michael Parkinson, Anne Robinson and Michael Aspel. Arthur Negus inspired interest in 'collectables', and went on to The Antiques Roadshow, a programme which is still thriving today.
Teletubbies begins 31 March 1997
Teletubbies said "Eh-Oh" for the first time on 31 March 1997. The programme was created by Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport, and starred, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, La-La and Po, brightly coloured creatures with aerials on their heads. It was an immediate hit with its pre-school audience. It went on to become a phenomenal international success, and even produced a number One single.
Some people were concerned over the Teletubbies language, which was based on the first words children say. But by encouraging the viewers to join in and play, Teletubbies successfully stimulated children of all abilities to communicate with confidence. The show was deliberately repetitive, which drove some parents to distraction, but was loved by toddlers, who invariably wanted to see the films screened on the Teletubbies tummy screens "again again". Tellytubbyland was created on a farm in Warwickshire, and the set was populated with giant Flemish rabbits. The actors playing the Teletubbies were Dave Thompson, John Simmit, Nicky Smedley and Pui Fan Lee.
Teletubbies finished after 365 episodes were made, and then led to Teletubbies Everywhere, which debuted on Cbeebies. The BBC has continued to lead the way in pre-school programming, creating colourful popular shows for young children, including Tweenies, Fimbles and In the Night Garden.