A year of decisions 

6 August 2021 tbs.pm/73087


BBC Handbook 1963 cover

From the BBC Handbook 1963

The year 1962 was notable for two events which were significant to the viewer and listener. One was the appearance of the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, more popularly known as the Pilkington Report; the other the use of the satellite Telstar to exchange ‘live’ television pictures between Europe and the United States.

The Committee’s report was published at the end of June. A week later the Government issued a White Paper accepting many of the recommendations affecting the BBC. The Corporation was given permission to start a second television service and thus offer viewers for the first time a genuine choice of alternative programmes. The BBC was also authorized to increase the hours of sound broadcasting so that, among other benefits, the listener could be provided with a service of good music throughout the day.

The Committee’s report had long been awaited. It was particularly gratifying to the BBC that the Committee strongly endorsed the principle of public service broadcasting on which the foundations of the BBC were laid forty years ago, and the BBC welcomed the recommendation of the Committee that ‘the BBC should remain the main instrument of broadcasting in the United Kingdom’. There were debates in Parliament and a good deal of public discussion about some of the issues dealt with in the Report. In the midst of this discussion the United States successfully launched the satellite Telstar, and the people of Britain saw a practical demonstration of what, in technical terms, that future could be. The Atlantic was bridged and television pictures were received from the United States with great clarity. It had only been six months earlier that radio had probed into space to bring the voice of Colonel Glenn as he orbited round the world. Now the two forms of broadcasting, sound and television, were truly in the space age. These exciting developments, added to the public attention focused on the Pilkington Report, made 1962 an historic year in broadcasting. And it was against this background, of technical achievement on the one hand, and a blue-print for the future of public service broadcasting on the other, that the BBC recorded its fortieth anniversary.

In its fortieth year it broadcast nearly 3,500 hours of programmes in television, over 20,000 in sound radio, and nearly 32,000 hours to the world in English and thirty-nine other languages through its External Services. And in the course of a day 25½ million people looked at something on BBC Television, and 26 million people heard something of the BBC’s sound broadcasts.



To meet the interest of listeners and viewers in current affairs and the world around them, sound radio and television were able to give a service of topical impact and comment in greater depth. The BBC’s own reporters and camera crews ranged wide, covering thousands of miles in a year with the results of their work appearing not only in news bulletins, but also in television programmes such as ‘Tonight’, ‘Panorama’, ‘Monitor’, and sound radio’s ‘Today’ and ‘Ten o’Clock’.

Documentary programmes formed an important part of the BBC’s television output. Among the most widely-noticed were Richard Cawston’s ‘Television and the World’ — awarded the Italia Prize in the television documentary category at Verona in September 1962 — and ‘The Schools’, another in a series of portraits of professions which have previously covered medicine and the law.


A woman and a man look over a roll of photographs

The fictional magazine Compact. Here are the first editor Joanne Minster (Jean Harvey), and the new editor Ian Harman (Ronald Allen)


Among programmes of a lighter kind, the BBC again proved that it can produce the highest quality. ‘The Big Band Concert’ received a special award at the Montreux Golden Rose festival, following in the wake of ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’ which had carried off the premier award at the same festival in 1961. Other notable light entertainment programmes during 1962 were ‘Steptoe and Son’, the story of two rag-and-bone merchants; ‘The Rag Trade’ — behind the scenes at a gown manufacturer’s; and the serial about a woman’s magazine, ‘Compact’.


Three women in work uniform

The Rag Trade – the television comedy series with Sheila Hancock, Esma Cannon, and Miriam Karlin


One of the most popular of all television drama series was ‘Z Cars’; its realism was commented upon from the opening episode. Another series which strengthened its hold on popular feeling during the year was ‘Maigret’, adapted from Georges Simenon’s novels and short stories. Individual plays televised during the year included works by Strindberg, Ibsen, and Shaw, as well as many specially-commissioned plays from contemporary writers.

Full attention was given in both sound and television to the Test series and to Wimbledon among the sporting events which were presented by the BBC to interest the majority of sportsmen. During the by-elections in the spring of 1962, BBC cameras visited several towns up and down the country to cover the declaration of the results.

Music accounted for 37 per cent of the content of the sound radio programmes during the year and when the plan for the use of Third Programme transmitters for a day-time service of music is introduced the already considerable range of music offered to listeners will be further expanded. The BBC hopes, too, to restore the BBC Symphony Orchestra to the position of eminence it enjoyed before the war. Steps were taken to bring this about by a specially careful choice of conductors, by recruitment of players and in re-planning rehearsals. The annual Henry Wood Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall included unusually adventurous programmes which were warmly received by gratifyingly large audiences.


Two men lighting pipes

Rupert Davies (Inspector Maigret in the television series) met Georges Simenon (author of the Maigret stories) at the Television Centre


Apart from appearances in opera, a number of internationally-known singers were brought to the screen in other BBC programmes, including Victoria de los Angeles, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, and Tito Gobbi. Distinguished instrumentalists, including David Oistrakh and the young British pianist, John Ogdon, were also heard, some in solo recitals, others in performances with leading orchestras. The agreement between the BBC and the Royal Ballet led to the performance on television of several works, including a notable representation of ‘Petrushka’. More recently agreements were signed by the BBC with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company and with the Sadler’s Wells Trust.

Television viewers were able to see performances from Glyndebourne and sound radio presented a concert version of Glyndebourne’s Cosi fan tutte at a Promenade Concert. As usual, the Third Programme offered its listeners direct relays from Glyndebourne of all the operas in the 1962 repertoire.

Music of a lighter kind was heard at the 1962 Light Music Festival, held in collaboration with the London County Council at the Festival Hall.


Four police officers, two in plainclothes



Two uniformed police officers

The series with a regular audience of nearly 13 million


Distinguished drama productions on sound radio included the series ‘National Theatre of the Air’, devoted to classics of the English theatre. The Third Programme offered its usual wide range of plays by foreign dramatists, many of whom have been introduced to British audiences in this way. Listeners living away from London or the few centres of ‘live’ theatre still surviving elsewhere had an opportunity to appreciate something of the changes occurring recently in the theatre when the BBC presented its series, ‘From the Fifties’. The top-prize winner at Verona was the Third Programme’s ‘Ballad of Peckham Rye’ which won the Italia Prize for a literary and dramatic work in sound radio.

Although current affairs occupied a good deal of attention in talks programmes during 1962, a large number of other subjects was handled. These ranged from gardening advice to programmes for old people and a series for archaeologists. The 1962 Reith Lectures were given by Professor G. M. Carstairs, who holds the Chair of Psychological Medicine at Edinburgh University. His subject was ‘This Island Now’, a survey of Britain in biological terms since 1900.

Now that some 99 per cent of the population of the British Isles are in reach of the BBC’s television service, work goes on with the object of bringing this service to the 1 per cent who are still without it and improving reception conditions where these are unsatisfactory. This work takes place along with the intensive preparations now being made for the BBC’s second channel. Experimental test transmissions on 625 lines in UHF Bands IV and V were undertaken and further investigations were made into the problems of colour television.


A giant satellite dish dwarfs two men

An interview for West Country Magazine in the General Overseas Service at Post Office station aerial at Goonhilly Down, which is part of the Anglo-American satellite control system


To improve the reception of its sound radio services the BBC continued to develop its VHF coverage and progress was made with the building of the relay stations bringing the sound services on VHF to over 98 per cent of the population.

During the year the Corporation engaged in extensive and widespread research into the potential of local broadcasting. Local closed circuit experiments were conducted throughout the country at Bristol, Portsmouth, Norwich, Hull, Dundee, Poole, the Potteries, Swansea, Wrexham, Durham, London, Dumfries, and Reading. The communities concerned were carefully chosen to offer a wide diversity of size, character, and primary interests. These experiments confirmed the Corporation’s belief that a community of sufficient size and cohesion would be able to provide sufficient programme material to sustain as much as four or five hours a day of local programme output of good quality. In every case the BBC met with wide and enthusiastic local co-operation.

The BBC’s External Services continue to provide a regular flow of news and comment in many different languages, stating the facts and explaining the attitude of this country and at the same time seeking to build a closer understanding between peoples by providing programmes of interest, information, and entertainment.


Six people at a control desk

BBC TV Centre control during live transmission for the United States


The External Services were not included in the terms of the Pilkington Committee inquiry, which devoted itself to the broadcasting situation at home.

After the publication of the Government’s decisions, immediate steps were taken to put into effect at the earliest practicable date the plans for home broadcasting outlined at the beginning of this article — a second television programme, more hours of sound broadcasting, more Welsh and Scottish television, and more educational programmes for adults on the present television service.

The Government’s decision in favour of providing a self-contained television service in Wales was very welcome to the BBC which had always supported the views of the National Broadcasting Council for Wales in this matter. The decision that the National Broadcasting Councils for Wales and Scotland should exercise the same powers in relation to the content of television services as they already do for sound was also acceptable to the Corporation and in accordance with its own recommendation.

The BBC also welcomed the Government’s acceptance of its responsibility to see that the Corporation should secure sufficient income to carry out the additional tasks.

On local broadcasting the Corporation noted that the Government had deferred its decision in order to take cognizance of public reaction. The BBC hopes that the Committee’s recommendations in favour of a service of this kind being entrusted to the BBC will at some future date be adopted.

The BBC now looks ahead with confidence to the developments which, in 1962, it was empowered to undertake and which are within the BBC’s concept of public service broadcasting.


Two men smile at someone or something off camera

Lord Reith (right), the first Director-General of the BBC, and Mr. Hugh Carleton Greene, the present Director-General, visiting an exhibition at Birmingham Town Hall marking forty years of broadcasting in Britain. Broadcasting began in Birmingham and Manchester 15 November 1922, the day after the service had been introduced in London.



1. Government Decisions

The Committee on Broadcasting under the Chairmanship of Sir Harry Pilkington was appointed in July i960 and its Report was published on 27 June 1962. Within a week, on 4 July, the Government set out its first proposals in the White Paper, Cmnd. 1770, and promised another White Paper later in the year on matters which required further consideration. The Government’s proposals in the White Paper, Cmnd. 1770, were adopted by both Houses of Parliament in July.

The main points affecting the BBC that were thus decided were:

  • The Corporation to continue to be constituted by Royal Charter. The next Charter to run for twelve years.
  • The BBC’s National Broadcasting Councils for Scotland and Wales to exercise the same powers in relation to the content of television services as they already do for sound.
  • Where it is possible for only one camera team to be present at Royal and State occasions the BBC to undertake this broadcast, the television picture being available as of right to the ITA.

Sound Radio

  • The BBC to be authorized to extend progressively the hours of its Third Programme/Network Three throughout the day and to run the Light Programme from 5.30 a.m. until 2.00 a.m.


  • Additional hours in television to be authorized at once for the specific purpose of providing programmes for the education of adults.
  • The BBC to be authorized to put out a second television programme on 625 lines in the Ultra High Frequency bands, to be started by mid-1964 in London and to be extended to the rest of the country as rapidly as possible after then.
  • The present services to continue on 405 lines for some considerable time to come.
  • The BBC to be authorized to start transmitting some programmes in colour as part of its second television programme.
  • The BBC to be authorized to go ahead with providing a new transmitter to enable a distinctively Welsh Service to be given to South Wales. The Government added that stations to serve North-east Wales and South-west Scotland would probably also be necessary to implement the conception of self-contained national television services.


  • The Government accepts its responsibility to see that the BBC can secure sufficient income to finance adequate services to include more hours for sound broadcasting, a second television programme, a start to colour, the extension of Welsh and Scottish television, and more adult educational programmes in the present television service.

Local Broadcasting

  • While taking note of the Pilkington recommendation that a service of local sound broadcasting should be provided by the BBC, the Government decided that they would prefer to take cognizance of public reaction before taking a decision.

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2. The BBC and the Future

Following the publication of the Government’s White Paper on 4 July 1962, a BBC spokesman said:

‘The Government’s intentions are most welcome to the BBC. We look forward to providing more hours of network sound broadcasting and we think the first stage in this extension could be reached in about six months’ time.

We also look forward to introducing the second BBC television programme by mid-1964 [later advanced to early April 1964], and to introducing colour as soon as possible after the start of this second black and white programme.

We shall be glad to press ahead with the provision of the separate television service for Wales, which should be possible by the beginning of 1964, and we are studying the best means of filling the gaps in the Scottish coverage.

So far as the question of educational programmes for adults is concerned, the BBC has already announced plans, subject to the Postmaster General’s approval [subsequently given], for broadcasts to technical colleges and colleges of further education, to start in the autumn. The BBC regards this as only a beginning and we would be glad to discuss with the appropriate education bodies the nature of other such programmes and, as the Government requests, a formula to cover them.

We welcome the Government’s assurance that the BBC shall have a sufficient income to carry out these developments.’


A map of the UK

Production centres and the English regions


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The Chairman of the BBC, Sir Arthur fforde, opening the 29th Annual Radio Show at Earls Court, London, on 22 August 1962, also spoke of the BBC’s plans for the future. He said:

‘We are to move from 405 lines to 625 lines. We are to start transmissions in the Ultra High Frequency Bands IV and V.

…the change in line standards will mean a better picture for the public. The 405-line standard has served its turn well. There was no doubt we had to adopt it again after the war if television was to be restarted quickly, and, like all pioneering efforts, there was a price to be paid for being the first in the field. Now, however, the date of the final payment has become closer.

The opening of the UHF Bands IV and V means for the BBC that we can carry out a long-standing wish to have a second television service. We hope to have that service operating in the London area by the beginning of April 1964, in little more than eighteen months’ time. In that period, new cameras for 625 lines will be installed in our studios, the important series of UHF test transmissions now starting will be completed, and orders will be placed for new transmitters. Early in 1966 with the building of the first seven of these transmitters outside London, we hope to provide the second service for 60 per cent of the population. Ours is a national service and our aim is national coverage as quickly as possible. The UHF operation is new to this country; it calls for a great number of transmitters. If we can do anything to improve on these dates and speed up the provision of the service to the rest of the country, we shall do it. The size and complexity of the task, however, has to be borne in mind.

Then there is colour television, also sanctioned by the White Paper, on the new standard of 625 lines. Much remains to be done before colour at reasonable prices can be a commonplace in our homes. The BBC has been experimenting with colour television for many years in co-operation with the industry. The result of these experiments will be of the greatest value in determining exactly how and when we shall have a colour television service … we mean to achieve this, too, as quickly as possible.

Far from being wiped out by television, sound radio is more than holding its own. The extensions authorized by the White Paper will give it fresh strength. The extensions may be expected to start in February 1963.

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In the early autumn the BBC was in consultation with the General Post Office about the technical and other problems arising out of the White Paper’s decisions.’


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1 response to this article

Paul Mason 12 August 2021 at 9:59 am

Until 1982 there was only a BBC Wales and Scotland OPT OUTS of BBC TV,later 1 and 2. Welsh language programming was moved to S4C but BBC Scotland didn’t get its own channel until 2019! I was amazed that there wasn’t a “C4S” for Scotland back in the eighties although apart from Gaelic speaking areas there wasn’t a need for a separate language service as only accents were different.

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