BBC-2 opens 

20 August 2021


Radio Times cover

From the Radio Times for 18-24 April 1964

On Monday evening the first programme of the BBC’s new television service will be broadcast from the Crystal Palace transmitter serving the London area and parts of south-east England. From then on the existing television service will be known as BBC-1. Full details of BBC-1 and BBC-2 will be printed day by day and side by side in the London edition of Radio Times. Other editions will follow this pattern as BBC-2 spreads to other areas

A Stretch Towards Happiness


BBC Director of Television

LET US consider what BBC-2 will not be. It makes a change, and it is a chance to correct some wrong ideas which have been put about, wilfully, or guilelessly, or exasperatedly because we hung on to the plans until the last moment. Competition has taught us a thing or two.

BBC-2 is not an invitation to watch more, to become a television addict. A new channel, some religious and social leaders have said, means more ‘vegetating’ in front of the set. We shall become even more of a passive, peering people.

This is not the moment to argue the effects of television; in spite of many confident claims nobody knows what they are — anyway, not yet. But it is the moment to state quite firmly that BBC-2 seeks to give people more of what they really like, and some of what, so far, they have not had from television, at times more convenient to them, without necessarily increasing the total volume of viewing at all.

Two men behind a desk

Kenneth Adam (right) with Michael Peacock, Chief of BBC-2

BBC-2 is not seeking, in unholy partnership with BBC-1, to seduce viewers away from ITV. There is no masterplan designed to destroy the competitor. Even he, I think, at last believes this. In any case, as I said to him (several of him), surely you must have more faith in your product and your popularity than to believe such a thing could happen, whatever we did. However, we pledge no sinister plotting between Michael Peacock, chief of BBC-2, and Donald Baverstock, chief of BBC-1, against the Thirteen of ITV.

BBC-2 is not seeking, either, to undermine or in any way diminish the importance of BBC-1, as critics outside London have suggested. We begin as we mean to go on, now in the South-East and when BBC-2 has spread countrywide, by providing between the two channels at any one time programmes which are either sensible alternatives to each other or entirely different in kind. The new channel will have no monopoly of new ideas or talent. BBC-l’s autumn plans, already well advanced, will provide formidable proof of this when Donald Baverstock announces them.

BBC-2 is not intended as a menace to BBC Radio. A special correspondent of The Times recently wrote there were ‘hatchet-men’ of BBC-2 out for Radio’s blood. This is a highly romantic conception. BBC-2 is to be staffed, perhaps, by the Midwych Cuckoos, a cold, blonde race of intellectuals, owning no allegiance except to each other, ruthlessly drowning their elder sister en route to Parnassus. Alas for this idea, by SF out of Ouida, echoed also in the magazine Town, with its talk of the ‘young masters and cohorts of Channel Two’! It has no basis in reality. No knuckle-dusters. No long knives.

BBC-2 is not staffed by an elite. Apart from Michael Peacock and a handful of announcers, it is not separately staffed at alL We reorganised the Television Service a year ago, setting up new and smaller departments which could take in the recruits needed to keep two channels going, give them proper leadership, and a focus for loyalty. Most of the reinforcements are young; some are very young; most have taken naturally and eagerly to television; some have already been floor-managing, filming, editing, directing for BBC-1, without the viewer’s being any the wiser (or sadder). Some specialisation will emerge, naturally and properly, but not by age or class. Too much would be fatal.

BBC-2 will not be ‘the same as BBC-1, only longer,’ as other false prophets have foretold. Of course, every programme
cannot be entirely fresh-minted. Nor would it be right if it was, because we should be denying our past. Some of BBC-2 therefore will develop, logically and obviously, from past and present performance. Much of it, I am sure, will seem surprisingly new. If it calls upon the viewer occasionally to stretch himself a little further, it is because we think he is ready for the exercise. If we fail to be adventurous enough, we shall be glad to hear of it.

Summing up then, BBC-2 is not a new piece of push-button machinery in the parlour, not another thought-saving device, not a product of the ‘Guardians’ or the ‘samurai’ of broadcasting, but an effort, honest and hard-thought, by a large number of resourceful professionals, programme people, and engineers, working in partnership, driven by a common excitement, to push back the horizon a little. We ask for recognition of what we are seeking to do, and for forbearance when we fall short of our intention. ‘Happiness,’ said Aldous Huxley, ‘is a hard master, particularly other people’s happiness.’ That master we in television are ourselves happy to serve.


A map of London and the south east of England with approximate service areas marked by dots




THE SERVICE starting on Monday will be the first in the United Kingdom to be transmitted on the 625-line standard, which is already in use in most European countries. Eventually it is expected that all television programmes here will be on 625 lines but it will obviously be some years before the existing services can be changed over to the new standard.

Most people will now be aware that BBC-2 will be transmitted in the UHF bands whereas the present television services are transmitted in the VHF band. These new wavelengths bands provide space for four programmes altogether — BBC-2, the two existing services (BBC-1 and ITV) when eventually they are transferred to the 625-line standard, and a further additional service.

This means that over the next few years television receivers will have to be made to deal with two different standards of transmission, 405 lines on VHF and 625 lines on UHF. These dual-standard receivers are now being sold everywhere.

For reception of BBC-2 a new, UHF, aerial is needed. Investigations made during the past few months of test transmissions have shown how essential it is to install a suitable UHF aerial if the full benefits of the new system of transmission are to be realised. This will become even more important in the future when many more UHF stations come into operation.

UHF transmissions behave very much like light waves. Hills and other large obstructions in their path produce shadow areas in which reception may be weak and may also reflect the signals and cause multiple images or ‘ghosts’ on the screen. Multiple images can usually be overcome by using a highly-directional aerial, which needs to be sited and installed with considerable care. This type of aerial is one with more elements or rods, some being a specially-designed combination amounting to two or more aerials side by side or one above the other; such aerials will also improve reception in areas where the signal is weak.

Viewers having doubts about their chimney stacks should note that UHF aerials are lighter and more compact than their VHF counterparts.

Cover of a BBC-2 leaflet on reception

An aerial amplifier can also improve reception when the signal is weak, but to be of any real use it must have a ‘clean’ signal fed into it. The amplifier should preferably be connected close to the aerial because in this way the amplified signal helps to overcome any interference picked up by the aerial feeder cable. Aerial amplifiers will not help to overcome ‘ghosting’ or interference picked up by the aerial itself.

BBC-2 will initially be available only in the Greater London area and parts of south-east England from the Crystal Palace station, but many additional stations will be opened throughout the country in the shortest possible time, and the first seventeen are already planned. By the winter of 1966/7 it is expected that BBC-2 will be available to about two-thirds of the population, some 35-million people.

Large shadow areas occurring in hilly districts will be served by ‘fill-in’ stations which it is hoped to bring into service about one year after the main station for the area. The first four of these in the Crystal Palace service-area will be near Guildford, Reigate, Tunbridge Wells, and Hertford. People living in these areas who cannot receive Crystal Palace satisfactorily without erecting a large and costly aerial may prefer to wait until the local ‘fill-in’ station is working. A comparatively simple aerial will then suffice and, it should be noted this will need to be designed for a group of channels different from the group to be used by the main station.

NEWS for BBC-2


Cartoon of two kangaroos with telescopes

Waldo Maguire, Editor Television News, introduces the programmes in the new service for which his department will be responsible

HUNDREDS of thousands of words, thousands of feet of news-film, scores of news pictures: every day a vast quantity of information pours into BBC Television Newes headquarters at Alexandra Palace on the North London heights. Most of this running report on the world today finishes on the spike, in the wastepaper basket, or the film bin. With the start of BBC-2 more of the interesting and meaningful news will get to the screen.

News programmes in BBC-2 will differ in presentation from the BBC-1 bulletins in two major respects. There will be no professional newsreaders; the items will be read by members of the team of television journalists who will have spent the day reporting, sifting, and analysing the news. And the programmes will come direct from a newsroom specially built in Studio A at Alexandra Palace.

The first news transmission each evening will be included in Line-Up. One of the BBC-2 News team will summarise the main stories of the day and indicate their possible development in the full news programme later in the evening. This programme, Newsroom, to be broadcast from Monday to Friday, will be a 25-minute survey of the day’s major — and not so major — events at home and abroad. It will include, of course, the best of the day’s newsfilm and up-to-the-minute reports. But above all it will try to put the day’s news in perspective; to give more facts behind the news; to answer the questions which we think viewers are likely to be asking. BBC reporters and specialists and foreign correspondents will be the regular contributors, but will be joined periodically by other specialists; and whenever possible people in the news will be brought to the studio.



Westminster at Work

The work of Parliament is too often seen through the sometimes distorting mirror of the headlines on the big occasion, the sensational row, the revolts, the manoeuvrings behind the scenes. This new programme will set out to fill some of the present gaps in television reporting of Parliament.

Ian Trethowan and the BBC’s parliamentary and political news team will try to present a picture of what actually goes on day by day, every week that Westminster is at work — the solid law-making as well as the clash and sparkle. M.P.s themselves will have the opportunity to record their own impressions of a debate. This will give backbenchers, who often complain they are only reported in Hansard, a better crack of the whip (if they will excuse the reference), and it may in turn give them a better idea of the reporter’s task. It would take far more than the total television time allotted to BBC-2 each week to give a Hansard-size report of the proceedings of both Houses. But in thirty minutes on Friday nights the assignment will be a half-hour ‘Hansard of the air’ that will include the week’s political background and will be an illustrated edition as well.


BBC-2 monochrome test card


News Review for the Deaf

It has been estimated that over 3-million people in this country suffer some loss of hearing late in life, and one person in a thousand is born deaf. This new Sunday-evening programme will enable the deaf and hard of hearing to follow the commentary on a review of the main newsfilm stories of the week. All the information needed to supplement the pictures will be superimposed, in the same way as sub-titles on foreign films. This process, which usually takes days or weeks, has to be accomplished in a few hours, and this has entailed the development of new equipment.

In addition to this visual script there will be a normal commentary and sound-track for the general viewer who may want another chance to see outstanding film of the week.

The film sequences will be introduced by two men chosen for their clarity of diction. Robert Dougall, the first presenter, received an award last year as the television personality most helpful to the deaf. He and Michael de Morgan will be joined from time to time by a sign-language interpreter from the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.



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