In place of the advertised programme… 

26 January 2017

Article from the Radio Times for week commencing 1 February 1969

The lady at the other end of the telephone was very angry. Her son had been expecting to watch a special edition of ‘Tom and Jerry.’ Instead, he had found himself seeing, as she had put it, yet more of the Apollo 8 Moonshot. His mother left no doubt about her views on the wisdom of the BBC’s decision. Nor did many other callers that afternoon. Their anger equalled that of those viewers who had protested three days earlier at the decision on that afternoon to show the advertised programme, ‘Jackanory,’ instead of more of the space flight. This had led to many complaints from enthusiastic admirers of what was, after all, one of man’s greatest feats of exploration. The programme planner may reflect that he can rarely hope to win!

When ‘Radio Times’ goes on sale to the public it gives details of all the BBC programmes for the coming week. These programme schedules are the climax of many months of preparation. Indeed, for events like the Olympic Games planning may have gone on over a period of years. Naturally enough, people tend to arrange their week’s activities round the programmes they want to see. It may be a serial they are following, a documentary on a subject of particular interest, or a series of quizzes. And few people are more devoted to their favourite programmes than children. It is, therefore, a serious matter to many viewers or listeners if, for some reason, after ‘Radio Times’ has been published, programmes have to be postponed or cancelled.

Yet, occasionally at the last minute, change really is necessary. The reasons may be tragic. A leading public figure may have died, or some disaster struck which involves the whole community in distress. The extent to which pro grammes are then disrupted depends on an interpretation of the public’s need for information and of the public’s mood. Too much displacement of published programmes may lead people to think that the event is even worse than it seems. Too little can lead to accusations that a particular occasion is not being given sufficient attention.

There are no hard-and-fast rules. No standard work exists to guide the planner in every set of circumstances. He has to trust to experience, which is growing more considerable as the years pass. But just as the public expects to be kept informed by television and radio about dramatic events as soon as they happen, so the broadcasters have to try to keep in mind the sensitivity of public reaction at such times.

On other occasions, the disturbance of schedules is more debatable. Should the climax of a golf tournament, which millions have been following for several days, take priority over a children’s programme? Should a football match, which unexpectedly lasts beyond its scheduled time, be allowed to elbow out the recital for which many viewers are waiting? The rights and wrongs of particular decisions, which often have to be taken against a background of swiftly moving events, can be argued almost endlessly, with nothing to prove which answer would have been correct.

The fact that it is usually some item of news or a sporting event which causes disruption leads to understandable criticism from those who do not care for sport or feel that news, outside a bulletin, has no great interest for them. But, of course, there are many others who hold contrary views. All this has to be weighed by the programme planner. Yet the unexpected continually occurs. Rain can delay a cricket match; the dramatic highspots of space exploration are not always predictable; and, even in these publicity conscious days, not every political coup is arranged to suit programme schedules.

For these reasons a broadcasting service cannot cling too inflexibly to its schedules. If it did, it would — in the long run — be denying its audiences much of the medium’s ability to reflect what happens as it happens.

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6 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 26 January 2017 at 2:11 pm

At least BBC1 never had to deal with the aftermath of the “Heidi Bowl”!

The above article reminds me of when I tuned in with great anticipation for the second episode of the notorious BBC2 documentary series “Cumbrian Tales” and it had been cancelled as, indeed, was the rest of the series. I phoned BBC’s switchboard to ask what had happened and the lady at the other end was as refreshingly frank as you could get – the show’s producer owned the pub which had been heavily showcased in the one episode shown, and he’d broken the rules laid down for BBC producers. It appears the series only ever got shown in the UK on Tyne Tees Television some years later.

AdeJ 26 January 2017 at 2:39 pm

It’s when they move a Tennis match (for example) from BBC Two to BBC One because there is a British person playing. Every household with a television has access to all BBC Channels so why does it have to move?

Russ J Graham 26 January 2017 at 5:01 pm

Anything on BBC-2 gets lower viewing figures – much lower – than the same thing on BBC-1, and that’s always been true.

The BBC have sometimes moved a big film or an episode of EastEnders or something that would be huge on BBC-1 over to BBC-2 for various reasons and the programme there always dies a death comparatively.

Something to do with the innate conservatism (small ‘c’) of most human beings, one would suppose.

Jeff Featherdtone 27 January 2017 at 5:03 am

What I find particularly annoying is wheh, as a sports event is overrunning they have at least helpfully moved the scheduled next programme from BBC1 to BBC2, but don’t bother to announce on BBC 1 that viewers wanting to see it need to change channels.

The other annoying factor is when a sports event has overrun, but when it is finished there is still just about enough time to get back on schedule, but they comtinue to have the post-match panel discussion instead. I recognise that some sports fans like the discussion, but when a sports event has overran, droppoing the discussion would seem to be a fair compromise.

Paul Mason 28 January 2017 at 4:12 am

One thing the BBC hasn’t had to deal with for years – the death of a monarch. In February 1952 TV was in the stone age and there wasn’t much to interrupt. How would they handle it in the 21st century? Whereas BBC1 and the News Channel will be the chief mourners as it were, with ITV1 and Sky News to
a lesser extent, I can’t imagine blanket coverage in this day and age.
When the Queen Mother died it was a Saturday and at about 5.45pm BBC2 was screening an old Steptoe and the screen went blank. The announcer said “This is BBC2 and we are expecting an announcement”. Then came the Union Jack and the slow version of the national anthem and a newsreader came on at 6pm. Actually QM died earlier that day but the BBC waited for Grandstand to finish before going public. Weshall have to wait and see what happens.

Barbara Kirk 2 July 2021 at 12:48 pm

BBC-4’s programmes were cancelled altogether when the Duke Of Edinburgh died – on a Friday night when usually Top Of The Pops 1990 was shown.

A number of people on Twitter were infuriated.

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