Tonight’s BBCtv… in 1968 

15 February 2017

The Radio Times tells us what was on BBC Television on Thursday 15 February 1968. Things worth noting include:

  • The BBC-1 schools programmes include a little new material but are heavy with repeats. Not only repeats from earlier in the week, but from previous terms. A particular economy the BBC used was in making programmes for schools that could be repeated for constantly renewing age groups, term after term and year after year. There were no video recorders in schools – domestic recording formats were beyond the means of all schools of the time. The programmes were held on large and unwieldy open reel video machines at the BBC and any repeating for differently timed classes had to be done at the broadcaster’s end… so many of the programmes here are broadcast several times in the same week and some shown again the following week. It was always to be hoped that one of the transmissions would fit in somehow with the pre-ordered classroom timetables.
  • The list of optional repeats in these schools listings are byzantine and were supplied to subscribing schools on large wall charts so that classroom usage could be coordinated. Most schools owned only one television, with different classes trooping in and out endlessly. For many larger schools this was a challenging exercise in logistics – hence the minute-long countdown in front of each programme.
  • At a time when permitted broadcasting hours were limited to 50 a week – educational programmes were not counted towards the total, along with religion, sport, outside broadcasts and adult education – this slightly repetitive schools output enabled the BBC and ITV, on weekdays at least, to provide some sort of daytime television where a proper service was not otherwise authorised. Television had originally arrived as more of a theatre substitute than cinema substitute – and so most broadcasting was concentrated in the evenings. Adults who were prepared to watch educational output intended for children were thus offered daytime broadcasting on weekdays some years in advance of the real thing.

  • The Welsh language programmes, shown on certain transmitters only at 1pm, were often not simulcast in Wales – being in the main repeats of evening programmes on BBC Wales that had already gone out in peak time in the principality. The purpose of these transmissions was to serve the Welsh diaspora; over 100,000 Welsh speakers having migrated to industrial England over the years. Many wanted to maintain their language connection and these programmes were well watched.
  • A secondary purpose for these transmissions was to fill in reception gaps for citizens of East Wales, who were sometimes obliged to get their television from English transmitters, because transmission coverage of mountainous Wales by BBC Cymru was still patchy in parts of the East, the lower uplands of the eastern Welsh hills and The Marches.
  • Permitted broadcasting hours ensured that a ‘closedown’ and plenty of test card music was presented from 2.25pm to 4.40pm. Audience research showed a surprisingly large audience who enjoyed listening to the light orchestral fare on BBC-1 – heavily dominated by German light music library recordings in the 1960s – with a mixture of light jazz and classics more often found on BBC-2.
  • After the eternal-seeming Jackanory at 4.40pm, the even more eternal Blue Peter takes to the air, with the classic mid-sixties presenting team of Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves. Valerie Singleton had started as one of the late fifties BBCtv in-vision continuity announcers – a feature that lasted on children’s television until 1965, having disappeared from peak adult hours some 4 years earlier. Purves was fresh from Doctor Who.
  • An imported European programme for children follows in the Tales from Europe slot at 5.20pm, this time from a Russian series. Many of these imports were fairly cheaply overdubbed with a rather approximate English language commentary, using a storyteller format to avoid engaging too many new actors. Economy was always paramount.

  • Look North, the regional news programme at 5.55pm, was in its last few months as a two edition feature (Manchester and Newcastle) because the nascent ITV contractor for Yorkshire was due for launch six months later, spurring the BBC into a benefits of competition/spoiler operation (take your pick) in launching a separate Look North from Leeds. This was facilitated by promoting the pan-North, channel 2 Band I BBC-1 transmitter at Holme Moss, as carrying the planned new Leeds based programme, while a previously minor BBC-1 booster service from Winter Hill on Channel 12 Band III was restyled as the conduit for Manchester-based output.
  • This was not wholly successful at first as many viewers West of the Pennines, getting a perfectly good picture on Holme Moss, were not bothered to change their viewing habits, leading to a large minority of Lancashire and Cheshire viewers watching Leeds-based local news for several years. To ameliorate this, BBC-1 wisely called their Leeds output ‘BBC North’ rather than BBC Yorkshire, the coverage area being vastly wider than that of new competitor Yorkshire Television.
  • The Winter Olympics showing different events on BBC-1 and BBC-2 showed the BBC’s delight at having two outputs at the same time (an old Wimbledon trick with Centre Court and Number 1 court), and though this irritated non sporty viewers, gave real meaning to the primitive idea of multi-channel television, which still only meant 3 channels rather than 1.
  • With the 6.40pm quiz programme coming from Northern Ireland and the 7.05pm soap The Newcomers hailing from The Midlands, BBC-1 continues to proclaim its regional nature, in terms of national programming – a time before the later ITC allowed regional production to mean regional news, and something of a lost world now.
  • The documentary at 9.05pm is the sort of low-key look at home life that was later spoilt by conversion to fly on the wall format. This early set up was all on the record, and remarks made to camera – making it more comfortable to watch than the edgy documentary style that took over in later years. It’s unlikely that a worthwhile and interesting but unambitious programme like this would make a peak slot today – let alone be commissioned in the first place.
  • Twenty Four Hours, the Newsnight of its day, was popular and successful, running since 1965. It is showing here opposite the recently launched News at Ten on ITV (which began 1967). This seems timed as a spoiler, but was exceptional as it was more often a bit later than this, and had a variable start time.
  • Adult Education at 11.37pm on BBC-1 was half an hour that the Post Office would not count towards broadcasting hours – and time that could be saved up for something extra one nearby afternoon.

  • BBC Wales has a variation listing at the foot of the page which is a programme for Wales in English – a major strand of Cardiff output, which was all produced in addition to programmes in the Welsh Language. Here an amateur boxing match helps cement the BBC commitment to covering the life of the principality, and the other transmitter variations show similar arrangements in place for Scotland.
  • Over on BBC-2, still only available to part of the viewing population and often with poorer reception than BBC-1 due to the lack of infill transmitters in hilly districts at this point, we see a mixture of colour and monochrome programming – the number of studios converted for colour production still being limited. Colour had started with a limited service on BBC2 in July 1967. It would be well into the early seventies however before black and white BBC-2 programming was banished altogether, despite BBC hype that the channel had gone “full colour” in November 1967. For Open University viewers, it was still to be seen on occasion in 1980, many programmes in the curriculum being almost infinitely repeatable. Colour did not come to BBC-1 until November 1969, and even then in selected regions only. Slow creep was the name of the game.
  • The High Chaparral was a US import, bought as one of BBC-2’s few mass appeal programmes. It had been planned as a heavier network, almost from the start in 1964 (London only at first) and as late as 1968 it still seemed odd to see a mass television film series (as US imports were seen ) on BBC-2. It followed in the footsteps of the highly successful US import The Virginian and was a plea to the ITV viewership not to forget that BBC-2 existed.
  • Late Night Line Up was one of the joys of BBC-2. Open ended with no stated finishing time, it mopped up unused remaining hours from the Post Office allocation to BBC-2, and tailed each night with a relaxed and intimate style, very much “metropolitan Hampstead” in content, and perhaps a revelation to provincial viewers in its liberal, secular outlook. The definitive magazine show for the swinging sixties.

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7 responses to this article

Les 15 February 2017 at 3:19 pm

‘Bonanza’ was used to persuade people to buy colour sets in the usa. I suspect ‘the high chaparral’ was scheduled on bbc2 to do a similar job here. It did look good in colour after seeing the black and white westerns on the other channels.

Westy 15 February 2017 at 5:20 pm

Couple of later to be notorious people presenting BBC 1 shows that day!

Arthur Nibble 15 February 2017 at 6:54 pm

Interesting to see a couple of BBC2 programmes on a night that’s unfamiliar to me. I was an avid watcher of “The High Chaparral” (and indeed “Alias Smith and Jones”) on a Monday night prior to “Call My Bluff”, and I recall “The Money Programme” as a Sunday night alternative to religious offerings elsewhere.

I’m assuming “Wheelbase” was a sort of hybrid of “Top Gear” and, say, “Wish You Were Here”.

Arthur Nibble 16 February 2017 at 1:38 pm

Anorak alert! I thought I recognised the Radio Times cover featuring the unusually green haired Martin Jarvis – turns out we looked at Saturday 10th February last year. I’ll get my coat!!

Bruce McCready 16 February 2017 at 10:52 pm

Ah, the Grenoble Olympics. Too long ago for me to have seen, but I am a regular visitor to Grenoble. Many of the venues, and the accommodation blocks, are still there and in use to this day.

Paul Mason 23 February 2017 at 6:01 am

I remember all the kids shows, being one myself at that time! Peter Purves was a third presenter, John Noakes having replaced Christopher Trace the year before.
Top Of The Pops no comment.
The Mason household was affected by the transmitter change and we were stuck with Look North Leeds until we got a new b/w TV in 1973 with BBC2 button and a spare for the fourth channel which didn’t arrive until 1982. We did get Granada news on the old TV. My late mother was obsessed with The Newcomers which was on twice a week in the late 1960s An order of hush was imposed when it was on. I remember Wendy Richard as the surly Joyce Barker. Another actor from a the show became a celebrity in her own right, an Australian called Maggie Fitzgibbon
,who had her 15 minutes of fame at the turn of the 1960s/70s.

Paul Mason 24 February 2017 at 3:37 am

One thing I will say about TOTP that week was that the No 1 single that week was The Mighty Quinn performed by Manfred Mann (written by R.A.Zimmerman).

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