Tonight’s BBC-1… in 1965 

24 October 2018

The term ‘Independent Television’ (and later ‘Independent Broadcasting’) was invented because calling the UK’s second broadcasting service ‘commercial’ was thought to be crass and misleading – it was a public service broadcaster with adverts, not an American-style commercial free-for-all. The ‘Independent’ moniker also helped the publicity for the younger channel as it suggested that the BBC was not independent, perhaps even a government mouthpiece, and certainly not allowed the free rein that ‘Independent’ broadcasting would bring.

Ironically, Independent Television in the 1960s was double-regulated, with standards being set by both the Post Office and the Independent Television Authority. Meanwhile the BBC had greater freedom, since it regulated itself via the Board of Governors and was generally ignored by the Post Office to the same degree that ITV was micromanaged – mainly because the Post Office, as a department of the government with a cabinet minister at its head, could put requirements and regulations upon commercial concerns with little opposition on either side of the House of Commons, but doing so with the BBC was seen to be politicising broadcasting and interfering with the Corporation’s independence.

Thus the Independent companies had to do a formal station identification, with a registered piece of music and an announcement with certain defined words to be spoken, whenever they had a break in transmission of more than 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, the BBC had no such requirements thrust upon it, and could drift on and off air as it saw fit, sometimes going back to a test card, sometimes running an interval, sometimes ‘formally’ starting up again, sometimes just popping back on air, all as the transmission controller of the day wanted.

The Post Office allowed ITV to come on air on a Sunday morning, but only to show a church service. Adult education was slipped in, but with a careful cordon sanitaire of a closedown and start-up before such programmes began.

The BBC came on air when they wanted, and filled Sunday mornings with various adult education programmes, and ran its morning religious programme – notably not just a church service – directly into more adult education afterwards. (As a point of order, both networks ran the same amount of adult education programmes in total each week, not wishing to be seen to be competing over a service they were both supposedly doing out of the goodness of their hearts).

So the day begins at 9am, on transmitters covering the main centres of labour shortages and therefore immigration in the UK: London, Birmingham, Peterborough, Manchester, Bradford, Newcastle and Central Scotland. And Norwich. Which is not noted for being particularly diverse in its population, but it’s likely that the line to Peterborough ran from Tacolneston rather direct than from Crystal Palace, meaning they couldn’t have one without the other. Incidentally, the Radio Times happily tells viewers which transmitters certain programmes are on, using the transmitter names rather than region names. Partially this is because there weren’t all that many transmitters, since you could cover large areas with a Band-I signal; but also ordinary viewers knew the names of their transmitters – and actually used them if they were lucky enough to live in an overlap area. Of course, most television sets of the day had rotary tuners – none of your pushbuttons or, for that matter, even click-click-click dials – and settling down to watch TV involved briefly retuning your set which would’ve drifted overnight. With such intimate knowledge of the mechanics of the television apparatus we almost never even see these days [RETUNING: PLEASE WAIT…] it’s no surprise that people also knew more about the mechanics of getting the signal to their house.

Under the general title Make Yourself at Home, programmes for the new Britons were made in Birmingham and dealt with cultural differences, unstructured English language lessons, and, in this segment, Can I Help You?, advice on dealing with local and national bureaucracy, the NHS and workplace rights. The BBC’s Pebble Mill studios don’t exist at this time, so writing to Can I Help You? involved send a letter to the BBC’s Broadcasting House in Carpenter Road on the other side of Edgbaston Park.

There’s a ten minute interval now before the next programme – designed to get adult education classes in the technical colleges out and in to the television room. This was a standard on both channels for several years before somebody spotted that almost nobody was using the programmes that way; ITV stopped doing it, but the BBC, wishing to keep the programmes starting on round times – not something that bothered them in peak – kept it up.

When we think about television of this era, it’s easy to imagine ITV completely regionalised and the BBC completely centralised. But on weekends, almost three-fifths of the population were watching just the one ITV company – ABC in the North and Midlands – whilst the BBC is keeping the Home Service regional pattern going on TV by pointing out that Make Yourself at Home and Farming at 1.45pm were from Birmingham and Industrial Archaeology at 12.30pm was ‘from the North’. Meanwhile the BBC in Scotland is freely opting in and out of the network fare and BBC Wales was classed by the BBC as a completely different channel to BBC-1 and BBC-2.

At 9.30 we’re off to France for a lesson in the local language, aimed squarely at the holidaymaker wanting to have a smattering of words to say whilst doing a bit of shopping in Calais. Most people did not learn a second language at school at this point, so having a bare grasp of French was quite an achievement for the day-tripper. Over on ITV, French was also a pet subject, although of a more advanced level than here, along with TTT’s Say It In Russian, an outlier as that was aimed at people in the great ports of Newcastle, Glasgow and Liverpool communicating with visitors from the Soviet merchant marine.

In the mid-1960s, owning a car became an aspiration for many, and a desperate requirement with British Railways branch lines and nearly all city tram systems being torn up. This moved driving a car from something that the rich did before World War II and something the middle classes also did after, into something that the working classes were starting to do. Could they be trusted to understand the road system, driving etiquette and the importance of keeping their (invariably old secondhand) car maintained? No, they couldn’t, thought The Establishment. So a barrage of public information films appeared to remind Sid and Doris not to overtake on blind corners and not to eat their sandwiches in the lay-bys. For the BBC, Master Driving at 10am sees advanced driving techniques being patiently explained to these salt-of-the-earth novices, just in case. For all that, the PIFs and such programmes as this were considered successful: whilst the death toll on British roads was terrifyingly high compared to now, it was still better than the rest of Europe.

We take a break from adult education at 10.30am – and indeed from BBC television itself – as there’s a 30 minute break before the next programme. Note the star, indicating a closedown and re-start as compared to intervals which are unmarked. Note also that same star is used to highlight the Scottish opt-outs, leading to the feeling that BBC-1 is shutting down for half an hour at 7.30pm tonight too.

The BBC’s Charter (signed by the Queen) and Licence (signed off by Parliament) are joined by an Agreement (made with the Postmaster General) into a lovely British fudge that makes the BBC one of the world’s few state broadcasters that is not an arm of the state. Tucked away in the Agreement are several aides-mémoire as to what the Post Office expects the BBC to do. They’re not quite requirements, but lie in that nice fudge area where they manage to be both not required and entirely compulsory. For instance, the BBC must broadcast on some frequency a daily church service (it now sticks it on 198kHz); there must be a daily and a weekly digest of events in parliament; room must be made for regular party political broadcasts and occasional ministerial broadcasts, the latter sometimes attracting a right to reply from the opposition and sometimes not; and the affairs of the Church of England must be fairly dealt with – in other words, a weekly television church service is expected.

And today… the BBC aren’t doing this on television. On radio, the Home Service has a hour’s C of E mass at 11 (with the lesson being read by Harold Wilson!), and the Light has half an hour from a Baptist church at the same time. But not on BBC-1. The slot is still there at 11am, and that slot goes to a church, and it’s obviously a Christian thing, but it’s not a church service. There’s no mass being said here. This is much more Non-Conformist, the happy-clappy side of our state church, and whilst it’s within the letter of the Agreement, it’s certainly not within the spirit.

At 11.30am, we’re back with the adult education and back reflecting changes in society and technology. Photography had always been a hobby for the rich. Pre-war photography for most people involved going to a professional photographer and having a portrait done; home photography was simply too expensive. Prices, however, had fallen over time, thanks to mass production. As more people could afford a camera, the developing of the exposed film at the local chemist fell in price too. By 1965, photography was becoming a home hobby for the masses, as would be seen by the launch that year of the Kodak Instamatic, a camera so popular and cheap that the world’s most important photo sharing site in 2018 lovingly parodies the name. What made this camera even better for popular photography was that the 126mm cartridges came with 20 exposures, a vast increase from the 8 on previous models. That meant that grabbing a ‘snapshot’ on the off chance that it would come out okay was worth doing; when you only have 8 on a reel, you’re going to use them carefully. 20 allowed people to make mistakes; and that then invited the BBC to make a weekly programme to show people how to avoid those mistakes – a winning combination.

Repeatedly in these features, Transdiffusion’s writers have looked on at adult education programmes of the 1960s and wondered quite who the companies making them were trying to fool. Many of the programmes in this genre would later be a staple of BBC-2; a lot of them were very thinly disguised general entertainment. You might put Better Photography at 11.30am in that bucket. But The Science of Man at noon is clearly just shy of Open University stuff (and, incidentally, reflects the belief at the time that fat and glucose had an important role to play in nutrition and getting plenty of both was giving your body goodness. Things have changed.)

Meanwhile, 12.30pm’s Industrial Archaeology is like nothing you’d see on TV today. This isn’t pop science, this is pure science. And it’s aimed at the general audience who would like to improve their knowledge of science – especially important as the world moved from mechanical machines into the age of the transistor, electronics and the White Heat of computers taking up only one room and having as much as 4k to play with.

This programme is produced in Manchester, home of technology in Britain from the 1800s all the way to the 1980s, which still has some of the finest university computing faculties in the world. The Radio Times takes the opportunity to point out that this programme is From the North, which is a catchy phrase that others may also have considered using.

And now we’re off air for 45 minutes. Go and get yourself your Sunday lunch: this gap is being used for that by the transmitter staff and many of the transmission team at Television Centre.

During World War II, it became clear that the British love of exotic – and cheap – food was a problem for us. And don’t buy that idea that British food is stodgy crap: we’ve been greedily eating foodstuffs that were unknown to the rest of the world since Elizabethan times. But during a total war, with u-boats merrily sinking our shipping, we came close to starving. We avoided it by effectively nationalising our agricultural sector. There were various government production boards to see that food was being grown, and marketing boards to see that it was being sold.

But the coming of peace and the end of austerity and rationing meant that the palate of the people began to expand again. We wanted vegetables out of season. We wanted apples in December and lamb in July. Once these supply lines were re-established, the competition was very hard on British farmers, no matter how many production and marketing goals were set. The agricultural sector needed to be spoken to and discussed and farmers needed to be given a voice.

Both the BBC and ITV did this – the BBC by establishing The Archers in 1950, a serial designed purely to get agricultural innovation and information into the farmhouses of the Midlands in what we would now call ‘an accessible way’. To this day, BBC Radio 4 has a daily slot for farmers – perhaps superserving this segment of society, but farmers are licence payers too, so should at least be served. At this time, there were farming programmes on most ITV companies on Sundays (and in the more rural regions on other days as well). In the BBC, there was Farming after Sunday lunch, trying to share best practice, new ideas and advice; not because we were in danger of starvation this time, but simply because the money leaving the country to pay for food was exceeding the reserves in the Bank of England. We were buying our food on tick, borrowing against the future. This would, of course, be resolved in 1973 when we joined the Common Market; one cannot help but wonder if regular television programming aimed directly at farmers is about to return.

There’s filler at 2.15pm with Goodbye Piccadilly, first shown on New Year’s Eve 1962. The post-war BBC Television Service was full of these little filmed items, all of odd lengths and odder subjects, which helped make BBCtv a bit more cohesive than it had been in the pre-war experimental days. But that began to change in 1958, when the Ampex Corporation sold Lime Grove its first video recording machine. Almost immediately, little filmed inserts like this went out of fashion, since now it was possible to repeat or time shift yesterday’s regatta, gala or premiere and provide the immediacy that television was felt to be designed for. This piece managed to survive the switch, being made in 1962 and featuring Richard Dimbleby who had not been seen on screen for a few months because he was dying (whether of lung or testicular cancer is disputed; nevertheless, he was remarkable for admitting to even having cancer at a time when people with this disease were commonly shunned out of fear).

Programmes on British television on Sundays at this point in history were regulated, with the Post Office requiring that nothing airing before 3pm be of interest to children – because they must be allowed to go to Sunday School at their local church without being distracted by the demon of television. Goodbye Piccadilly would seem to fit that brief perfectly: as a child, who can imagine having to watch anything worse? As an adult now… well, if this still exists, BBC Four has a guaranteed audience of at least the two of us should they put it out.

Arrest and Trial at 3.05pm (the .05 is important: the rules said no general entertainment should air before 3pm on Sundays… so that extra 5 minutes was a useful buffer that ITV also stuck to) was an American ABC Television Network programme that aired in the US in 1963-4. It had previously been shown on BBC-2, then still only available in London and the Midlands, so this was a big-audience repeat.

That’s not why Transdiffusion people were watching it. We were watching because we hoped there might be some promos for BBC-2 this week, since it was to formally launch from Winter Hill in just seven days. There weren’t. But it means we did manage to catch this breakdown – a loss of sound on the film – on audiotape as it happened on this very day. So that was lucky.

If you mention Eurovision to people now, they will say “Oh! I love [hate] that!”, because we tend to think of Eurovision as meaning the annual Song Contest. The European Broadcasting Union, trading as Eurovision, is a much, much bigger thing than the Song Contest and always has been. There’s the exchange of important news pictures and sporting events, of course, but each public service broadcaster in and around Europe to this day offers much more, from complete programmes to interesting snippets, all designed to be used in any country that wants them as part of their own output. At 4.20pm, we go over to West Berlin for some ballroom dancing, as provided by ZDF through the Eurovision network, with the BBC adding Geoffrey Wheeler on top to do the English narration. Today, only the Song Contest gets an EBU front cap; this would’ve gone out with a frontcap saying BBC (for the first half and added at Television Centre) and ZDF (for the second half and added in Mainz), accompanied by Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum – even though this was a timeshift on videotape of ZDF’s programme.

5.10pm takes us into The Lucy Show. This is the post-divorce reworking of I Love Lucy, and, incidentally, was much funnier once the deadweight of Desi Arnaz on set was removed. I Love Lucy had been a mainstay of early ITV, featuring on the cover of the first ever TVTimes in September 1955, so the BBC going head-to-head with ATV to get the rights to the replacement show was big news at the time – probably as big then as the mid-1980s tussle between the BBC and Thames over Dallas had been.

At 5.35pm it’s time for Hereward the Wake, a typical Sunday evening historical drama serial on BBC-1, something that still exists now, albeit likely to be an hour long and across five episodes rather than 25 minutes across 16 as here. This is your only chance to see this serial: the tapes were wiped and it’s highly unlikely that copies exist anywhere in the wild.

The news is on at 6.10pm, for a bare five minutes including a weather forecast; we’ll be back to Alexandra Palace for more at 9.10pm, but even then that’s only another ten minutes. Nothing of note ever happens on a Sunday anyway.

The “god slot” kicks back in at 6.15pm… sort of. As ITV were doing with ABC’s Sunday Break, the first part of the Post Office-mandated hour of religion is given over to a programme that discusses morals and morality more than it does religion per se. Interestingly, the BBC gets a bit more daring than ABC by having the programme hosted by Ludovic Kennedy, an atheist and member of the British Humanist Association and a vocal critic of organised religion.

A very brief filler at 6.45pm as actor Bernard Miles, no doubt in his popular but faked ‘rural’ accent – he was from Uxbridge – reads a bible story. The BBC had quite a line in little five minute programmes through into the 1980s (Five to Eleven, a poetry reading, was a staple of daytime TV in that decade) on both BBC-1 and the Home Service. It’s now not really imaginable that television would bother – easier to fill a gap with a run of promotions for other programmes than tape an actor reading a chapter of a book in the barely used BBC-2 continuity studio.

Over on ITV, the final part of the god slot was usually more talk but with a few contemporary religious songs thrown in, or Land of Song from TWW. The BBC tended to win in the ratings with Songs of Praise, which carefully chose a mixture of hymns to include one or two that the audience at home would be very familiar with: human beings love nothing more than a good singalong.

1944 was only 21 years before this edition of the Radio Times, so to most of the audience it was a period they remembered well. That helps to get bums on seats at 7.25pm for the Columbia musical Cover Girl – many of the viewers likely saw it in its Technicolor glory in the cinema. For their children, the babyboomers, at this point largely in their teens, it was new and made good family viewing for a Sunday. This type of film also makes for interesting sociological viewing: America of 1944 was richer than the UK of 1965 – the USA is perhaps unique in history for having made money from a massive war – and such movies featured things like two-car households, refrigerators and wall thermostats for turning the central heating up or down, things that were in the realm of dreams for most Brits. The one thing viewers didn’t get was Rita Hayworth singing: as was common at the time and well into the 1960s, she was overdubbed with a more talented but less comely singer’s voice, in this case the long forgotten Martha Mears.

At 9.20pm it’s a repeat of the BBC’s version of Belgian novelist Georges Simenon’s Maigret. This adaptation is often seen as the definitive one, and Simenon’s approval, especially of star Rupert Davies as the French chief inspector, who Simenon thought looked exactly as he had imagined Maigret himself, shines through. There have been several attempts to remake Maigret, with Granada making two well-received series with Michael Gambon in the title role in 1992, and ITV Studios making four less well-received episodes starring Rowan Atkinson in 2016. There was also an Italian version made by Rai that ran from 1964 to 1972. It would be 1991 before Belgian Francophone broadcaster RTBF, France’s Antenne 2 and the Swiss Télévision Suisse-Romande would team up to make the only French-language series, across 54 episodes lasting until 2005. Tonight’s BBC episode was first shown on 12 November 1963 and is from halfway through the fourth and final series. Despite that, the book they’re dramatising is La Première enquête de Maigret, 1913 – Maigret’s First Case (which was not the first book, however).

Perhaps Picasso’s most widely known painting – Guernica

The BBC’s flagship arts programme, Monitor, had just come to an end after 7 years, having slowly run out of steam when Huw Wheldon left as editor (in 1962) and presenter (in 1964) when he got a management job at Television Centre. Its replacement, at 10.10pm, is Sunday Night, which lasted 37 episodes, of which this is the second. Both Monitor and Sunday Night, along with ABC’s Tempo, are frequently cited as giving “ordinary people” their first grasp of the world of the arts and of art criticism, and introducing them to the arts explosion that was happening in the 1960s. Anybody who wanted to know just a little bit more about Rachmaninov’s concertos, Henry Moore’s sculptures or, as here, Pablo Picasso’s oeuvre, could find it just by watching shows that neither patronised the viewers nor talked over their heads, sins that many arts programmes to this day are wont to commit.

Meanwhile, over on BBC-2…

BBC-2 spread very slowly over the country. It has been on air 18 months and still hasn’t reached the north west of England. That’s about to change: the Channel 62 transmitter on the recently rebuilt ITA mast at Winter Hill near Bolton officially opens in a week. The Radio Times is getting ready for this: the North edition of the magazine has had space made for the listings – filled with advertisements at the moment – ready for the launch. So far, the magazine has excluded BBC-2 editorial content in the North edition, perhaps hearing the howls of complaints from viewers fed up of promos for BBC-2 programmes on BBC-1 when BBC-2 wasn’t yet in their area. If the Radio Times has indeed listened, they’ve gone deaf again: it would be 1966 before Emily Moor was rebuilt and gained a BBC-2 transmitter, but the magazine didn’t split its North edition down the Pennines – people in Leeds would just have to put up with seeing features about a channel they couldn’t receive.

The planned spread of BBC-2 was the same as the BBC Television Service and ITV had been: London, Birmingham, the North, Wales and Scotland, everywhere else. But there had been delays in the construction of the new mast at Winter Hill, which had knock-on effects on Emily Moor, so Wenvoe, serving south Wales and Western England had beaten it to air.

Despite the launch officially being next Sunday, the Radio Times gives a box out on each day’s BBC-1 listings showing what’s on BBC-2 “for the radio and television trade”. It’s highly unlikely that any television engineers would be found working on people’s TV sets at 7pm at night, so it’s more probable that these listings are for early UHF/625 adopters to have something to watch. What it also does is show these new viewers just how underpowered and unsatisfactory UHF television was. The coverage area is vastly smaller than VHF Band-III transmissions from the same masts; the drop off from good coverage to ‘fringe’ coverage was very sharp; and 625 lines did not look better if the picture wasn’t perfect (405 lines hid a multitude of sins). This was all rapidly becoming apparent to BBC engineers, hence the rebuilding of taller masts to try to spread the signal further and the rather rushed plans for dozens – eventually hundreds – of fill-in UHF booster masts.

All of that, the glacial pace of new transmitters opening and BBC-2’s output being upmarket, highbrow and minority-focussed meant that ITV’s original fear that the new channel would syphon audiences from their very profitable programmes didn’t come to pass. But ITV had already made a huge investment in its programming ready to see off the challenger, and BBC-1 had regained the confidence it had lost when face by competition from ITV. All in all, that meant that the second half of the 1960s produced some of the best television the UK has ever seen. So BBC-2 wasn’t a complete disaster!

The planned BBC-2 UHF network main transmitters from 1964

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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3 responses to this article

Paul Mason 26 October 2018 at 12:13 am

Richard Dimbleby came out about his cancer in one of ,if not last Panorama in December 1965 which discussed smoking and lung cancer RD died on 22nd December 1965 aged 52.

Aidan LUNN 9 November 2018 at 5:51 pm

A small point of order: TVs of the day had turret tuners (or “click-click-click dials” as was referred to here) for VHF. Rotary tuners came in with UHF TV and were used exclusively for UHF.

John R 1 January 2020 at 12:53 pm

The New Years Day concert from Vienna also gets the EBU cap, as well as the Song Contest.

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