Tonight’s BBCtv… in 1969 

18 July 2018


‘We choose to go to the moon… we choose to go to the moon… we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard!’


President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had a way with words, or at least, a way of delivering speeches and just over six years and three months later after his historic speech at Rice University, Texas delivered in that famous Bostonian accent, three American astronauts fired the engines of the Apollo 8 mission’s command module, broke away from earth’s hold and headed out to circle the moon. Seven months on, and Apollo 11 is ready to land and the BBC goes all out to take all possible pictures from the mission including of course the historic lunar landing.

It’s no surprise therefore that NASA’s Saturn V rocket adorns the front cover of this week’s edition of Radio Times, counting down to the moon landing on 20th July – ‘the ‘greatest adventure of all time’ realising President John F Kennedy’s ‘end of the decade’ goal. The words ‘Target Moon’ herald the event in that strange ‘Amelia’ typeface that screams 1960s ‘space’ and all things futuristic (although also used as LWT’s World of Sport font, which denotes neither).

It’s the north of England edition so it carries BBC Radio Merseyside’s listings – the third BBC local radio station to hit the airwaves less than two years earlier, beaten only by BBC Radio Leicester (first) and BBC Radio Sheffield. Still fairly cheap at ‘eightpence’ (often written as one word before decimalisation), which relates to around 55p today.

Let’s take a look at Friday (July 18). BBC-2 has already faded the test card and is on air at 11.0 with the progressive Play School and today it’s Science Day. Miranda Connell and Rick Jones are the presenters and today’s story through the square, round or arched window is ‘Orchestra of the Sea’. The channel is in colour now, so all the day’s shows are listed with the ‘COLOUR’ tag. Me? I’d have just had printed at the top of the page, “All programmes in colour unless otherwise stated…”

BBC-1 opens (in black and white) at 12.45 pm with – what else in this historic week – Apollo 11: Target Moon, credited with ‘from the Apollo Space Studio’. BBC-2 also takes this bulletin so we can see it in colour too, then promptly closes down again until the evening. James Burke (Tomorrow’s World, Connections) and Patrick Moore (The Sky at Night) provide the science and excitement. A note here – Sir Patrick (as he became) – presented all bar one of the 721 episodes of TSAN until his death in December 2012 (the final show he presented was already in the can and was aired in January 2013). The series briefly faced the axe amidst rumours of cancellation but a petition (to which yours truly added his name) saved it, although it moved from BBC One to BBC Four.

The Apollo bulletins air throughout the day – 1.50, 4.40 and 12.20 am (Saturday) on BBC-1 also on BBC-2 broadcast simultaneously on both channels – but in colour on BBC-2.

This report contains the first inflight pictures as the command module Columbia approaches the moon. Make the most of these TV pictures – by the time Apollo 13 launched the following year, the US networks were losing interest in showing live feeds from space. That is, until the explosion. Interest again waned following Apollo 13 (as far as broadcasters were concerned) and Apollos 18, 19 and 20 were cancelled by Congress for financial reasons but also probably because the fickle finger of fate might have meant luck would run out sooner or later and the real possibility of American astronauts breathing their last on the moon was too much to stomach.

All the Apollo 11 reports have a specially designed ‘badge’, with the double letters ‘ll’ in the word ‘Apollo’ forming the number ‘11’ set against a circle representing the moon. Neat eh?

This is only a fifteen minute round up though and at 1.0 it’s Tammy (and friends). I admit I had to dig a bit here and almost thought it was as American sitcom starring Debbie Watson but ‘first shown on BBC Wales’ gave me a clue. This is a show with Welsh singer Tammy Jones from Bangor, North Wales and she had appeared on many BBC Wales shows and was a regular winner at the Eistedfodd. In the next decade, Tammy recorded Love’s a Carousel, competing in the 1977 A Song for Europe for the annual Eurovision Song Contest. In that year however, Brotherhood of Man were chosen singing Save Your Kisses for Me and weirdly, (or not depending on musical taste), won. Whilst Bucks Fizz were successful in 1981 the UK had to wait until 1997 for Katrina and The Waves to win for the UK again in this campest of all televisual Euro-campfests, with the agreeable Love Shine a Light. Ah, those were the days.

There’s a lot to get through here, so we’ll skip News and Lawn Tennis (The Davis Cup) and go straight to the absolute gem of younger viewers’ television – (and thinking about it, of more mature viewers too) – the delightful, gentle, Jackanory at 4.25, today with Alex Glasgow. If ever there was a need for a revival of such a simple, storytelling show on television today, it’s this one. It would be an enchanting oasis within much of the dross that is offered on many children’s channels in the 21st Century.

The series began in 1965 (actor Lee Montague was the first story teller in December) and was put to bed in 1996 – a 31 year run. It was criticised in the beginning as it was thought it would discourage children from reading and it was difficult to recruit storytellers but as the series progressed, it was realised that it encouraged children to read, rather than putting them off. The list of readers is almost endless and includes Judi Dench, Tom Baker, Margaret Rutherford, Wendy Hiller, Alan Bennett, James Robertson Justice and even HRH Prince Charles who read his own work The Old Man of Lochnagar. The most prolific contributors however, were Bernard Cribbins who read 114 times and Kenneth Williams who appeared in 69 episodes.

There were brief attempts at reviving the series on CBBC and CBeebies (Jackanory Junior) between 2007 and 2009 and CBeebies Bedtime Stories currently carries on the tradition. Nothing though quite stands up to those original daily shows at teatime on the BBC’s flagship channel.

More moon news at 4.40 – with children’s questions – (I bet one was ‘how do you go to the toilet on the moon?’) followed by High Jinks with Ray Alan and Tich and Quackers. George Chisholm, Heather Barbour and Sons and Lovers provide the musical entertainment and it would appear from scouring BBC Genome that the ‘High Jinks Repertory Company’ presented some sort of a comedy slot.

Just before the news and Weather Man (forecasters were still weather men in 1969 and Barbara Edwards, the first female BBC television weather presenter, wasn’t seen until 1974), the affable, erudite and combed-over Robert Robinson presents 10 minutes of Junior Points of View, the younger viewers’ version of, well… Points of View. It was all letters and postcards in those days of course and was as most things even in the late 60s, quite deferential. Robinson, born in Liverpool in 1927 was master of the literary and presented other shows such as Call My Bluff, Stop the Week, Brain of Britain, Today and – I’d almost forgotten – BBC-3, the satirical Saturday evening show, during which time he presided over the discussion where Kenneth Tynan first uttered that word on live television. I’m tempted to send off a postcard to Points of View as ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ but I’ve never actually been there…

The various regional variations of Look North follow The News and it’s still quaint to see the transmitters given a mention – Holme Moss, Belmont, (Leeds), Winter Hill (North West) Pontop Pike (North East and Cumberland) etc and names we still remember are Eddie Waring, John Humphrys, Mike Neville, Michael Rodd. As with the weather, there’s not a high heel in sight and Look North remains for the moment (at least in vision) a male preserve.

The Spinners provide sea shanties, calypsos and folk (‘you can, watch, join in or just listen’) at 6.20 – and strangely, John Peel’s in there too, although what his role was is probably lost to history. This comes from the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, and the little cross denotes that it’s a tele-recording.

Before a trip up to Liverpool with The Liver Birds, it’s the great American West and NBC’s The Virginian. Shot in colour, the series was first shown on BBC 2 and was the first 90-minute western on television. It’s not 90 minutes of course, as there are no commercial breaks on the BBC, so this shaves off around 16 minutes when it’s shown here.

While we’ve been at Cripple Creek on BBC-1, over on 2, Newsroom with John Timpson and Peter Woods kicks off the evening schedule. The latter was the first newsreader to be seen in colour on BBC-2 and it was later revealed by broadcaster Justin Webb that Woods was in fact his father, the result of an affair with a secretary at the Daily Mirror. There’s an integral Apollo news report with the BBC’s Aviation and Space Correspondent Reginald Turnill (spelt wrongly in Radio Times as Turnell).

There’s a quick look at the News Headlines on BBC-1 and then Don’t Ask Us – We’re New Here. This new sketch show features Adrienne Posta, Peter Legge, Frank Abbott and Mike Redway. Script Editor was comedy writer Dick Vosburgh who wrote for Ronnies Corbett and Barker, Frankie Howerd, Tommy Cooper, Bob Monkhouse and others. Also appearing on At Last The 1948 Show and in a Python sketch, American born Vosburgh was also a talented voice-over artist on commercials and film trailers.

If hilarity isn’t for you, there’s Marius Goring on BBC-2 as Home Office pathologist Dr John Hardy in The Expert. Devised and produced by Gerald Glaister, this was one of the first BBC series to be made in colour. It had a four series run and starred many familiar names such as Geoffrey Palmer, Warren Clarke, Brian Blessed, Peter Barkworth, Ray Brooks, Jean Marsh, Anthony Valentine and Edward Fox. In addition to many BBC appearances, Goring had extensive film credits but for many 60-somethings today, his name is synonymous with the early ITV series The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel in which he had the leading role. How our buckles were swashed.

As promised before I got waylaid by BBC 2, it’s off to Liverpool and Carla Lane’s The Liver Birds on the flagship channel. But wait – this isn’t Nerys Hughes and ‘that one off Emmerdale’. No – Pauline Collins and Polly James star in Series 1 as Dawn and Beryl, later Dawn became Sandra (Hughes) and Polly James stayed with the series until series 5 when Elizabeth Estensen joined the cast as Hughes’ flatmate Carol Boswell (yes – the Bread connection). The delightfully snobbish Mollie Sugden (later Mrs Slocombe, Are You Being Served?) played Sandra’s mum.

The series is lovingly remembered and ran until 1979 but I could never understand why Beryl didn’t have a Liverpool accent, (after all, she was supposed to be from Bootle). A reprise in 1996 with Beryl and Sandra reunited after failed marriages, as is often the case with comedy revival, just didn’t work.

Robert Dougall with The News is at 8.50 (and again, there’s a special Apollo 11 report with Messrs Burke and Moore) but if you want to know how to ‘entertain’, switch to BBC-2 and spend the next 20 minutes with the horrendous Fanny Cradock and husband Johnnie. They will provide you with all you need in Giving a Dinner Party, from how to set your table and table decorations to alternative menus. This is No. 3 in the series – Soup, Gaspacho and Vichyssoise, and Johnnie’s on the wines of course and personally, who can blame him? This harridan of haute cuisine was described as ‘hell on wheels’ by Esther Rantzen, whose later Big Time series featured ‘Cook of the Realm’ when entrant Gwen Troake was subject quite unjustifiably to Cradock’s scathing criticism of her culinary efforts. And that, dear reader was the end of La Cradock on BBC television and her contract was not renewed.

At 9.10, another contrast with BBC-1 – something that BBC-2 was pretty good at in those days. The Violent Universe – ‘A Mammoth Examination of the Universe we inhabit’ – features leading astronomers in Australia, Britain, Holland, Puerto Rico and the United States. Magnus Magnusson (Mastermind) introduces with Ian Roxburgh. The synopsis is full of dramatic verbosity… ‘breathtaking violence… stars so utterly crushed… matter squeezed out of existence… leaving behind only a black hole of gravity like the grin of a Cheshire cat…’ It’s a re-run of the first showing that was aired on 17 April and also features ‘verse’ spoken by Richard Burton that no doubt added to the majesty of such a production.

There’s a brief respite at 10.20 for News Summary and The Weather and then we’re off again with the second part of this spectacular – and to emphasise the space theme, there’s a picture on the listing page of the radio telescope at Parkes, Australia, which will track the progress of the Apollo 11 mission. We knew it later as The Dish from the movie of the same name.

If this space stuff is all too much, BBC-1 has a crime series at 9.10 entitled Detective, starring Colin Blakely who shot to fame as Jesus in Son of Man, Denis Potter’s controversial play in the Wednesday Play strand. Blakely, a star of many theatrical roles later starred in Jonathan Miller’s BBC Television Shakespeare and Granada’s King Lear, as Kent alongside Laurence Olivier.

No Ten O’Clock News yet on BBC-1 (ITN still reigned supreme with News at Ten) so David Coleman chats to Petula Clark about her career and some of her favourite films at 10.0 in Petula Clark’s Cinema. Pet’s still in her thirties in 1969 and it’s hard to believe she still does the occasional performance and records at her current age of 85. It’s even more amazing that she made her debut radio performance in 1942 followed by her first television appearance in 1946 (at the age of 14) on Cabaret Cartoons. This led to her own series Petula Clark and Pet’s Parlour in 1949 – and she wasn’t even 18 years old.

Twenty Four Hours at 10.25 (the start time was eventually fixed at 9.55) was a current affairs, journalistic programme whose roots can be traced to Tonight and lives on in Newsnight. Cliff Michelmore was one of the main presenters (we don’t know who it is tonight) but Michael Barratt, Kenneth Allsop and Robert (Bob) McKenzie (he of the Swingometer), David Dimbleby and for a time David Coleman all had stints on the show. Filmed reports were very much part of the programme, often with Michael Parkinson, David Jessel, Fyfe Robertson and Julian Pettifer. Once again, there’s an Apollo 11 report of course as the mission nears the moon and Michelmore himself probably headed up this report as he was anchor for the show just two days later when the edge-of-the-seat landing actually took place.

There’s nothing like a good Hitchcock and if you’re up for it, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock at 10.55 on BBC-1 is showing Suspicion, with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. (Spot the Hitchcock cameo with the man himself with posting letters in the post box outside the post office). Hitchcock aficionados will also be able to relate almost every continuity error and mistake of which there were always quite a few in his films. I’m not familiar with the ones in Suspicion, but Rebecca is full of them. I swear I saw Mrs van Hopper step over some cables on the studio floor…

Back on BBC-2, Violent Universe has at last run its course and there’s time to look at Westminster at Work with David Holmes. But there’s nothing of televised proceedings – we’re still twenty years off that dubious delight, although there was a three day experiment televising the House of Lords proceedings in 1968 but it was not pursued at the time.

Late Night Line-Up is on at 12.5 – ‘the end of today in front of tomorrow’ (who dreamt that one up?) but the presenter isn’t listed. Among them since its inception from the launch of the second channel were Denis Tuohy, Tony Bilbow, Michael Dean, Sheridan Morley and of whom Frank Muir referred to as ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’, Joan Bakewell.

Bakewell, now 85 and the high priestess of older people’s rights, remains passionate in many fields and spoke out about the lack of older women in television, especially when Moira Stuart and Selina Scott disappeared from in front of the camera once they reached their 50s. Her awards and achievements are too many to list but I’ll mention that she was appointed CBE in 1999, (and later, DBE), became an honorary graduate at the University of Essex and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Chester. She was awarded Journalist of the Year at the annual Stonewall Awards in 2009, became a Labour life peer in 2010 and co-Chair of the cross bench All Party Humanist Group in 2017. The girl from Stockport did well.

Catch the latest headlines at 12.25 on BBC-1 and then at 12.29 there’s a final look of the day simultaneously on both channels on the journey to the moon with live pictures from the US astronauts. With only 45 hours to go to the landing, you’d better keep up, because on Sunday night, both BBC and ITV go all out to attract you to their own particular take on the final descent of Eagle before Armstrong and Aldrin step foot on another world.

Sadly and true to form, there is precious little of any tapes of those live programmes on 20/21 July 1969. They were either lost, wiped or even more astounding, there’s a suspicion that they weren’t even recorded at all. ITN were just as bad, virtually nothing survives.

So with a look towards the momentous weekend, let’s come down to earth with some Northern News Headlines and the weather on BBC-1. Cue National Anthem… and fade.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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You Say

12 responses to this article

Dave Rhodes 18 July 2018 at 2:07 pm

Not sure when Barry Chambers left Look North (Leeds) but he came back as regional newsreader with the launch of Breakfast Time.

Geoff Nash 18 July 2018 at 4:51 pm

I’m assuming ‘High Jinks’is a BBC North programme, interestingly being billed as “from the north” just under a year after Granada had dropped that phrase.

Tim Smith 19 July 2018 at 1:20 pm

BBC weren’t too concerned with the accuracy of regional accents in those days- as well as Polly James, I give you Rodney Bewes in The Likely Lads

Arthur Nibble 20 July 2018 at 11:45 am

Talking about accents, is the Jackanory presenter Alex Glasgow the same chap who sang the Geordie accented theme tune to “When The Boat Comes In”?

Arthur Vasey 20 July 2018 at 3:18 pm

As for Nerys Hughes – she was actually Welsh – the casting director mistook her Welsh accent for a Scouse one – as for Elibazeth Estensen – she’s from Stockton-on-Tees in what was Teesside!

Nigel Stapley 20 July 2018 at 7:25 pm


Yes, it is the same Alex Glasgow. He was a noted folk singer from Tyneside (which led me once to ask myself whether there ever was a Glasgow singer called ‘Alex Gateshead’?)

Regarding Nerys Hughes, the north-east Wales accent does have some similarities to (albeit a comparatively genteel version of) the Merseyside one. Even moreso latterly.

Paul Mason 21 July 2018 at 3:25 am

Holy baloney is it 49 years since Armstrong and Aldrin allegedly (my late father was a sceptic) set foot on the moon. The media speculated that people would be holidaying there by 2000. Didn’t happen.
Back to pitch and with our TV tuned to BBC Leeds we didn’t see the young Humphrys who is still giving interviewees hell on R4 Today programme at 76.
The Liver Birds was not aLiverpool comedy as few of the cast were from thee city. Pauline Collins was, but Polly James sounded just like
Jimmy Clitheroe (an adult comic whose body didn’t develop and who sadly took his own life). Towards the middle of its run we stopped watching and listening to fake L’pool accents.
In Detective was an actor called Otis.E.Mason. An impressive name but sadly no relation.

Paul Mason 21 July 2018 at 3:31 am

Arthur you are correct the late Alex Glasgow was a Geordie “cultural figure” of the 1960s and 70s, similar to poet Roger McGough of the Scaffold. AG emigrated to Australia to escape Thatcherism but sadly died there.

Pete Singleton 23 July 2018 at 12:39 am

Arthur is right to point out that Nerys Hughes was from North Wales. And you will hear many a hybrid Liverpudlian accent in that part of the country. Indeed, Liverpool has been referred to as the ‘capital of Wales’ and the city has a ‘Liverpool Welsh Society’.

I take slight (but friendly) issue with Paul though – whilst the Liver Birds accents were somewhat ‘wrong’, it most certainly was a ‘Liverpool Comedy’ in all senses.

There are still ‘wrong’ accents to be heard in TV series and especially in period dramas. An example is ‘Lilies’ (BBC 2007) set in 1920s Liverpool – for me it was ruined by 21st century ‘scouse’ spoken by some of the actors. The accent in 1920s Liverpool would have been far more ‘Lancashire’ than what is heard today.

Joanne Gray 24 July 2018 at 6:01 am

On the subject of bad regional accents, I live in a former mining town in Northumberland and the local population take great offence as Brenda Blethyn’s accent in detective show Vera. I don’t know what part of Northumberland Vera is meant to have grown up in, but I’m pretty sure Geordies and Cockneys are separated by a couple of hundred miles, not merely living in abutting neighbourhoods.

Simon Wise 14 October 2018 at 9:36 pm

Oh,Carla Laine! Why didn’t you call the nineties revival “Whatever happened to The Liver Birds?”…

Andy Roberts 20 July 2020 at 7:15 pm

‘John Peel’ is listed as one of the folk songs performed by The Spinners, rather than the DJ who took his name from the song. But being from Merseyside he might not have been out of place even if the music wasn’t his groovy genre…

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