Tonight’s BBCtv… in 1963 

23 November 2016

The Radio Times tells us what was on BBCtv on Saturday 23 November 1963. Things worth noting include:

  • This is not an accurate recording of what BBCtv put out today: yesterday, at 5.30pm GMT, the president of the United States was brutally murdered by person or persons unknown
  • There’s no geostationary satellite connection between the US and Europe, so the extended news reports and extra bulletins were largely rip-and-read; what did come through on Relay 1, a periodic satellite, was mainly stills
  • The death of Kennedy cast a shadow over the whole night’s viewing – Brits were shocked and upset in a way they hadn’t been since the war and wouldn’t be again until 31 August 1997
  • There was no power cut disrupting television production or electricity to viewers homes. The knock-on effect on later schedules during the next week is entirely due to the Kennedy assassination and nothing to do with the electric going off
  • The news at 5.55pm was extended, but without much in the way of film and with the news not having changed in 24 hours (“Kennedy still dead” is not much of a headline), only by four minutes
  • Likewise, the 10.05pm news was extended slightly, knocking TW3 to about 10.30pm
  • The Telegoons were not as funny as the radio Goon Show, but they were still a fun, and surreal, 15 minutes. Two series of 13 episodes each were made, and immediately repeated after their first showing. And then never shown again, nor released on DVD, even though all 26 still exist
  • Dixon of Dock Green is in its tenth series (out of 22, for a total of 432 episodes) but this was your only chance to see this episode – it was wiped
  • Two hours and 15 minutes of Western action from 7.20pm. Tales of Wells Fargo, its name shortened by the BBC, had been cancelled by NBC a year and a half earlier. Santa Fe Passage was a Republic B-movie (all Republic movies were B movies) vehicle for John Wayne from 1955 and has some truly shocking depictions of Native Americans
  • The Comedy Playhouse at 9.35pm was one of 17 pilots in the 1963-4 series. Two got a full commission. The Chars was not one of them. Elsie and Doris Waters were the sisters of Jack Warner, seen earlier in Dock Green
  • Jack Rosenthal and Harry Driver were not, according to Rosenthal, having a good weekend. With the shock of Kennedy’s death, comedy seemed inappropriate, so they were shocked when Granada repeated their episode of Bootsie and Snudge on Friday evening. They then had The Chars premiere the next night on BBCtv, when comedy was still not on people’s radar
  • The TW3 at 10.20pm here tore up the planned comedy script in favour of a somewhat mawkish tribute to the slain US president

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10 responses to this article

Geoff Nash 23 November 2016 at 12:05 pm

Let us not forget the first episode of Dr. Who at 5.15. I believe this episode was repeated the following week in the wake of events that weekend.

Les 23 November 2016 at 12:54 pm

I remember watching two episodes of dr who played back to back the folliwing week.

‘The telegoons’ had a great theme tune.

Arthur Nibble 23 November 2016 at 3:06 pm

I had to look up those two pilots which became fully blown series. One was “The Bed” which sprung into “Meet The Wife” with Freddie Frinton and Thora Hird, the other was “The Walrus And The Carpenter”, co-written by Barry Took (who wasn’t credited on purpose as he was contracted to Granada at the time) and which would have made a second series, but for differences between the scriptwriters and BBC’s head of light entertainment and also because one of the show’s key actors suffering drink problems.

A couple of ‘wow’s in that billing. An amateur boxing contest featuring Guernsey taking place at a transport company’s sports club, and musical guru Sid James voting hit or miss in “Juke Box Jury”.

Meanwhile, the writers of “Emerald Soup” suddenly discover why they won’t get a second series….

Paul Mason 24 November 2016 at 1:43 pm

The Comedy Playhouse pilot starred James Beck(1926-73,) ,later to play Private Walker the spiv on Dad’s Army, and the late Derek Nimmo who was on All Gas And Gaiters, Oh Brother! and other TV comedies, as well as being a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4 Just A Minute. He had a long run on the stage show Charlie Girl in the West End.

Paul Mason 24 November 2016 at 5:22 pm

Derek Nimmo lived from 1930 until February 1999/when he died due to complications after a heavy fall down stone steps.
Where was I when Kennedy was shot? In the living room of the home I lived in until autumn 2008.
I was only 5 1/2 at the time so I didn’t know much other than the fact. I am glad a year earlier that I was unaware of the Cuba missile crisis.
As for Princess Diana her death came in the early hours , as did John Lennon’s murder.
The well developed media of 1997 stretched “Diana is still dead” over a week!
Luckily our VCR came in handy to blot out the excess.

Paul Mason 25 November 2016 at 2:40 am

Returning to the assassination of John F. Kennedy that happened the previous day (Friday 22nd). It is on record that viewers in the Granada region got the news first on the regional Scene at 6.30 from presenter Mike Scott, beating the national ITN by half an hour when a newsflash came on. We may have been watching it but my memory was too young then to take it in.
On the Saturday more reports had come in but any film would have had to be flown in from the USA in 1963. Abraham Zapruder from Dallas filmed Kennedy’s visit to the city and the assassination. The TW3 tribute was filmed and flown to the USA on the Sunday. This contained Millicent Martin singing the hastily written song “The Summer Of His Days” which was tear-jerking to say the least. I saw the show in full in the 1990s.The show contained a poem read by Dame Sybil Thorndike but humour was lacking that night. TW3 had only a few weeks to run because it was a general election year in 1964 and it was too “hot” for the BBC to run even though it didn’t happen until October.

Alan Keeling 25 November 2016 at 8:36 pm

The “Tales of Wells Fargo” episode was from the final season (six) of the series, the only season filmed in colour. Actor James Beck appears in “Dixon of Dock Green at 6.35 & later in “Comedy Playhouse” at 9.35.

Victor Field 26 November 2016 at 8:17 am

Impossible to imagine any tribute of that these days.

Ray Oliver 11 December 2016 at 12:11 pm

I’m a bit puzzled. Is the entry titled “Stereophony”, I take it this was experimental stereo broadcasting (using the “Third Programme’s”VHF frequency and the television sound channel.) I thought these ended in 1958? Anyone know any different?

Michael Dembinski 14 January 2017 at 9:41 am

At home watching television with my parents. I was six years and seven weeks old, the full import of what was happening was lost on me, though in my consciousness, America was a violent country where people routinely shot one another. My parents sat in front of the television watching BBC news with a sense of gloom. My attempts to cheer them up failed. That evening, the BBC rescheduled its programmes and put on some light entertainment – TV comedian Harry Worth.

In that episode, Harry pulls out of his wicker basket an old teddy bear, which he says he only “brings out on special occasions”.

I joked “…like when a president gets shot”, again trying to raise spirits. This time the joke was met with a rebuke from my father.

My memory of that evening was the Novemberness of it all; the gloom, the three-bar electric heater radiating a dull orange light, the utilitarian grey and black furniture, the flickering black and white 405-line TV set, the sadness in my parents’ hearts.

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