Tonight’s BBC Television Service… in 1938 

7 February 2015

19380207 BBCtv

From the Radio Times for Monday 7 to Saturday 12 February 1938 comes this run down of what you could be watching on television. Things worth noting:

  • Television is off air on Sundays
  • This edition of the Radio Times, a special “variety” number, is 96 pages. This is the only page for television
  • There are two “houses” each day: a matinee and an evening showing. They’re not particularly streamed in any way, other than the daytime programmes are notionally for women and older people and the evening programmes are notionally for working age men
  • The audience, which numbers in the few thousands and is confined to London and the Home Counties, consists mainly of hobbyists who have built their own “set” from a kit. These people, and the ones who have bought their “set” ready-assembled from a radio dealer, are virtually all middle class family men. The working classes couldn’t afford a set; the upper classes didn’t want one
  • None of this output survives. It was almost all live and there was very little in the way of technology available for making a record of television programmes, and, anyway, who would want to bother?
  • The average duration of a programme – even a play – is under 30 minutes. This is partially because staring at the screen for longer than that without a break must be bad for you and partially because much longer than that and the actors start to die from being literally baked under the huge studio lights. Those same lights, if run for much longer, may blow, or worse blow-up and catch fire.

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4 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 7 February 2015 at 7:06 pm

That very first programme… is its music composer the very same Eric Coates who composed a number of BBC and regional ITV start-up themes?

Kif Bowden-Smith 8 February 2015 at 3:43 pm

It certainly is! Coates gained international fame during the war for his radio works.

As an aside, at one point in 1956, Eric Coates was simultaneously responsible for the daily start-up music used by the BBC Television Service, Associated-Rediffusion and both ATV regions!

Joanne Gray 3 October 2015 at 11:19 am

I notice on Friday, there is a cooking show featuring Marcel Boulestin and mussels. Is Monsieur Boulestin the first cook on UK television? I always thought it was someone called Philip Harbin in the early 1950s?

Russ J Graham 3 October 2015 at 12:04 pm

It’s semantics, I’m afraid: Boulestin is recognised as being the first television chef in the world; Harben is recognised as being the first celebrity chef in the UK. The difference being, apparently, that very few people saw Boulestin on the early BBC Television Service, so he achieved no additional fame, whilst Harben appeared on the Light Programme, the Home Service, the post-war BBC Television Service with its greater reach and eventually ABC’s part-networked Grammar of Cookery over on ITV, leading to immense amounts if fame.

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