In Pictures

How the BBC took the news outside

Picture shows outside broadcast van with microphones, equipment and reporters at Loch Lomond in 1932.
Image caption An early outside broadcast van in Loch Lomond, 1932

Since the launch of television at Alexandra Palace in London by the BBC in 1936, reporters and producers have wanted to escape the four walls of a studio to report on the world first-hand.

Before the BBC even commissioned the first outside broadcast, the teams had attempted this at Alexandra Palace, taking the studio cameras, still attached by the studio cable, into the grounds.

One of the first programmes to use this technique was a gardening programme with CH Middleton, a broadcaster with the BBC.

Picture shows gardening in the grounds of Alexandra palace featuring C.H. Middleton (centre) discussing the relative merits of various paving stines with the contractor Mr Moss (left).
Image caption In the grounds of Alexandra Palace

By 1928 the BBC had established the technology to design its first outside broadcast van, designated to cover events away from Alexandra Palace.

While television broadcasts were only just starting out, colleagues on the radio side of the BBC were becoming au fait with reporting on location and were coming live from an eclectic mixture of spots.

Picture shows an outside broadcast from the Drury Lane Theatre of Jack and the Beanstalk. (l-r) an engineer with gear, Clifford hatherley and John Watt.
Image caption Radio broadcast from the Drury Lane Theatre performance of Jack and the Beanstalk
Picture shows a BBC outside broadcast van with engineers and equipment at the Cenotaph in 1928.
Image caption BBC engineers controlling the OB van at the Cenotaph in 1928
Picture shows messers Hall, Preston and Howard, outside broadcast engineers, on the raised sun deck.
Image caption Outside broadcast engineers setting up a broadcast from the sea
Picture shows zoo keeper with a cockatoo and microphone during an outside broadcast.
Image caption Sound effects of the zoo

By May of 1937, the BBC was committed to getting out to film more live events around the country and the sights for the first large outside broadcast were set on the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Although most households didn't have a television, this was a huge moment for broadcasting.

Decisions had to be made. Filming at Westminster Abbey was denied so the cameras were to be set up at Hyde Park Corner. The big question though was how the television signals could get all the way from there back to the TV transmitter at Alexandra Palace. In the end a special cable, encased in a protective lead case, had to be made.

The Royal Coach passing the television camera at Apsley Gate.
Image caption The Royal Coach passing the television camera at Apsley Gate
Controls of the microphone mixers in Westminster Abbey control room.
Image caption Controls of the microphone mixers for the Coronation in Westminster Abbey control room
Emitron Camera being used - Mobile Television Unit at Apsley Gate, Hyde Park Corner, For Coronation Procession, May 1937.
Image caption The set-up at Hyde Park Corner

But two years later, after an exciting start of television broadcasting, it suddenly stopped as war was declared on Germany.

The outside broadcast trucks would not be used for the BBC again until 1946. In the meantime they served as vehicles for the war efforts, stripped of their electrical equipment.

A microphone picks up sound of the crowd at the Victory Parade
Image caption A microphone picks up sound of the crowd at the Victory Parade

By the 1950s the BBC was experimenting more with outside broadcast locations, and in August 1950 plans were made for the first outside broadcast abroad, in France for the Centenary of the first message sent by submarine telegraph from England to France.

It was the first time in history that a programme was transmitted across the Channel when viewers saw the town of Calais "en fete", with a torchlit procession, dancing in the square and a firework display.

Television Camera facing the Clock Tower of the Hotel de Ville, Calais. Richard Dimbleby and Alan Adair gave commentaries on the festivities and interviewed local personalities in the front of the cameras, August 1950.
Image caption The first outside broadcast abroad took place in Calais

It took almost two months to plan and five portable radio-link stations, designed to receive and send microwave signals, were set up temporarily along the 95-mile (153 km) route from Calais to London.

Previously the working range for outside broadcast units was just 25 miles (40km).

Richard Dimbleby On August 27th the BBC televised the celebrations of the Centenary of the laying of the Submarine Cable between England and France. For the first time in history a programme was transmitted across the Channel, when viewers saw the town of Calais en fete, with a torchlight procession, dancing in the square and a fireowok display. Richard Dimbleby and Alan Adair gave commentaries on the festivities and interviewed local personalities in the front of the cameras, August 1950.
Image caption Richard Dimbleby broadcasting from Calais

After the success of the France broadcast, the sights were firmly set on bringing the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II to as many people via TV as possible. For much of the country this would be the first time they had watched television.

Before this ownership of a TV had been limited, but plans for the TV coverage of the Coronation alerted the British television manufacturing industry to a potentially enormous sales opportunity.

The carriage procession of H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and H.R.H. the Princess Margaret passing the television camera on the Victoria Embankment on the way to the Abbey. This image is taken from the Coronation of Her Majesty (H.M), Queen Elizabeth II (Queen Elizabeth The Second), June 2nd 1953.
Image caption The carriage procession during the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

The Coronation was a success and viewers were able to see seven hours of footage including almost all of the service itself. It was estimated that 20 million people in the UK alone tuned in to watch.

The place of television outside broadcasting was secured, and the BBC's coverage of world news events continued with a move from Alexandra Palace to a bigger transmitter station in the grounds of Crystal Palace.

Colour television was just around the corner.

All photos from the BBC's archives. For more archive content visit BBC Rewind.