Champagne Breakfast 

1 July 2022

Lime Grove clocks up its early morning with only one false alarm



Masthead of Ariel

From Ariel, the BBC staff newspaper, for 18 January 1983

The BBC’s breakfast TV debut yesterday was a unanimous hit with the 1,000 callers who rang in during the show. Viewers from Aberdeen to the Channel Islands said they enjoyed the fresh approach and that the show had cheered them up.

Many had made a special effort to get up early — and said they would be watching again.

And it all happened with hardly a hiccup. The one hitch came at 8.20 when screens briefly went blank. The problem was with the vision mix desk set on auto in Television Centre’s network control.

It cut into a routine test of its functions, but an engineer stepped in and put Lime Grove back on screens.

Presenter Selina Scott took a dousing as the programme ended with a celebration giant champagne bottle frothing over the set.

The bang of the cork had been so loud Selina crouched down in her settee. “I thought I had been shot,” she said on the air.


The stars celebrate on set

It’s all over! Flowers for Selina Scott, champagne for everybody including Frank Bough and Nick Ross — and sheer relief all round.



Thumbs up!

Even if editor Ron Neil had ‘battalions of butterflies’



Breakfast Time — Britain’s first regular TV early morning programme — came off the air at 9am on Monday to the explosive sound of a cork popping from a giant champagne bottle.

Afterwards editor Ron Neil admitted: “I had battalions of butterflies”.

But the verdict of top BBC management who were at Lime Grove viewing the two-and-a-half-hour launch programme was: Thumbs up.

Director-General Alasdair Milne, who used to work on BBC-tv’s Tonight programme, said: “It’s been marvellous. The first Tonight was not as good as that’’.

Alan Hart, BBC1’s Controller, was equally enthusiastic. “It’s got its own style, a very lively visual one. It doesn’t look like just another Current Affairs programme,” he said.

He estimated that the average Breakfast Time viewer would probably watch for about 20 minutes.

“The programme got more featurish in the last hour — the time most commuters had left home,” he said.

Breakfast Time managing editor Tony Crabb was also pleased with the way the first programme went.



In the first hour 500 people — particularly shift workers — called in with messages of congratulations. Train drivers reported a new phenomenon, the glow of TV sets lighting up homes along the line. And one viewer said he had been so interested that he had let his kettle boil dry.

BBC Chairman George Howard visited the studio gallery during the live show. “The atmosphere was relaxed and everything seemed very much under control,” he said.

News of David Bellamy’s arrest in Tasmania came at 8.20am — “I was pleased they managed to turn it round for inclusion in the 8.30 Breakfast Time news,” said George Howard.


Debbie Rix holds a wine glass as she talks with Alasdair Milne

Study in relaxation: Debbie Rix chats to Director-General Alasdair Milne


The lead-up to Breakfast Time had been an exhausting one for staff. Editor Ron Neil had been working on the Monday morning programme almost solidly since the Saturday, snatching an odd hour or two of sleep on an office sofa.

The programme, which aims at a relaxed approach for early morning viewers, was opened by a casually dressed Frank Bough. The studio interviews were on settees with coffee bubbling in jugs on a side table.


Cameraman and people with wine glasses

The sign are good: Astrologer Russell Grant (left), Selina – and a worn-out Ron Neil


Shortly after the programme’s 6.30 opening there were messages of welcome from other breakfast TV shows around the world.

First-day guests included Sir Harry Secombe — a shadow of his former self, down to 14 stone ten pounds [94kg] from over 19 stone [120kg] — “now I’ve lost half-a-hundredweight I can cross my legs”.

Stories about other morning jobs included a Scottish pearl hunter who gets up before dawn to stand up to his waist in a freezing river peering through a glass-bottomed bucket for oysters.


A man sprays champagne around

Putting the bubbles into Breakfast – and all over Debbie (left) and Selina.


Most of the presenters favoured the casual look — anchor man Frank Bough a grey pullover, sports reader David Icke an open-necked shirt and pullover, and weather man Francis Wilson a tartan shirt.

Politicians Norman St John Stevas and Opposition leader Michael Foot who appeared on the programme kept to formal suits.


Three people work at desks

Final moments before transmission for Selina, Frank and Nick.


At London’s Broadcasting House Radio’s Managing Director Richard Francis watched Breakfast Time on a set in his office with the sound turned down — at the same time he was listening to Radio 4’s morning programme Today.


Studio scene showing sofas

“You can’t stay up with the grown-ups, you have to go to bed with the children.” NBC breakfast presenter Jane Pauley (right) advises Selina. Frank is otherwise absorbed.


At Bristol’s Broadcasting House the canteen was open an hour early, at 7.30am so the staff could eat breakfast while watching Breakfast Time on monitors. The menu included champagne.


Six people behind a control desk

Studio gallery team looks relaxed, though they’re being filmed by a documentary features crew (from left): vision mixer Heather Gilder, director Chris Fox, production assistant Caroline Tofts, editor of the day Tim Orchard, technical manager Tony Troughton.



Masthead of Ariel

From Ariel, the BBC staff newspaper, for 25 January 1983

Fight for audience as Britain sleeps

Overnight U.S. stories will build Breakfast figures



“Wakey Wakey!” says the notice on Aubrey Singer’s office door, “It’s Breakfast Time” — a confident reminder that bang on schedule the BBC has given birth to Breakfast. Appropriately, it all took nine months.

Television’s Managing Director is in buoyant mood, proud of the new baby, and pleased to have disproved faint-hearted murmurings that it couldn’t be done in the time available.

“It was a major, major undertaking. We had just nine months, and in that time we refurbished two studios, rebuilt the control room, the videotape area and the graphics area, and put in the newsroom computer — and at the same time we were running Nationwide and other shows from down there.” Down there, for anyone who has spent the last few months in a media vacuum, is the new Topical Production Centre at Lime Grove.

“We had to find a home for Breakfast. At the same time we had to refurbish Lime Grove, and bearing in mind the problems we were going to have with our three main topical shows — Breakfast Time, Nationwide, and Newsnight — it was decided that they should all come out of Lime Grove and that the News and Current Affairs group should be there.”

Having found a home it had to be filled — with people, equipment and ideas.

“We’ve all been working on it. Ron Neil has been the driving force as the editor, Tony Crabb as managing editor and Phil Gilbert as the general manager there, getting Lime Grove ready.

“Roy Vitty and his colleagues in SCPD had to put in all the equipment and Dick Craig has borne the basic responsibility for all the complicated union negotiations.

“Corporately we’ve had to negotiate WOODs payments and night duty payments because they affect everybody. In Directorate terms we’ve had to negotiate the use of portable single cameras, the newsroom computer rotas and the graphics situation at national and local level. It has been a pretty hectic time.

“It’s an incredible achievement by everybody and one can only feel proud of having such colleagues.”

Two-year polish in first edition

Aubrey Singer

‘When the BBC puts its mind to a thing, my God it can move!’ – Aubrey Singer

Having done it, was it worth it? What was Aubrey Singer’s reaction to the early show’s early shows?

“I’m delighted. The dry runs have paid off, though we had a lot of teething trouble during that time.

“In spite of the problems Ron Neil saw quite clearly from the first run that the whole thing was possible. Of course we knew it would be but there’s always a nervousness when you have to produce two and a half hours daily.

“We started our dry runs two weeks before and by the time we took the air the team was nervous but quietly confident. It’s rare for a show to start so smoothly and professionally. It looked as if this was an edition of something that had been going on for the last two years.”


A lot of preparatory work is being done in America, making sure the New York and Washington offices are able to cope with the new demand for material and setting up a contract with CBS for feature material. A lot of overnight stories happen in America while Britain sleeps and they are the stories that Aubrey Singer believes will be important for breakfast viewing figures.

“I’ve always said that I hope we’ll be sharing an audience of five million by the end of two years but I think we’re going to have to fight hard to get that audience. We’re going to need exciting through-the-night stories that people go to bed with and want to get updated when they get up.”

Running stories will of course be a staple of TV-AM’s breakfast show as well, but the thought of competition doesn’t have Aubrey Singer reaching for the tranquillisers.

“One is always conscious that competition is around the corner but I’m more confident now than I was before we started. I think they’re going to give us a run for our money, we’ll wait and see. Can we rise to that challenge? Well, we won’t sink to it!”

But what of the competition that Breakfast Time presents to Radio — should BH be shaking in her shoes? An ex-Radio man himself, Aubrey Singer doesn’t think so.

“I think the Radio audience will still be there, 25 per cent of the American population listen to it in the morning. We might make some dent in Radio’s audience but I don’t think we’ll affect it all that much.”


The plan is that breakfast and early morning radio should work together, sharing their guests. A radio studio is being built at Lime Grove so that breakfast guests will be able to go straight into Radio 4’s Today programme without hot-footing it along the Bayswater Road.

With early morning shows on all local radio stations, the internal competition Radio faces might be stronger than Breakfast TV’s, says Aubrey Singer.

“The local radio shows have already been eating into the audience for Radio 4. Breakfast television might actually affect the audience for Radio 2 more than Radio 4.”

Looking to the future, Aubrey Singer sees any changes to Breakfast Time as being in the nature of fine tuning.


“I think the tone is right. There’s a lot of work to do on every new show — what I call the grammar of the show — and that we can do. There are certain things we might not be doing in three or four months’ time; you try things out, some work and some don’t.

“But the basic show is there and it’s more than basic, it’s pretty damned good. It just shows that the BBC, thanks to the people who work in it, is a really great organisation — when it puts its mind to a thing, my God it can move!”



Opt-out nightmare has worked like a dream


Frank Bough and Co have been disappearing from the Breakfast Time screens four times in every show — but it’s not a technician pulling out the plug.

On the quarter hour from 6.45 to 8.15 the show splits into 12 for two and a half minutes as it plugs into its regional opt-outs.

It’s a technician’s nightmare that has been working like a dream, says Breakfast Time deputy editor Lina Ferrari.

The regions have been left a free choice of how they handle their slots. All that London asks is that the Breakfast Time logo is seen behind them.

Some regions have just one presenter, some are using two or three on a rota. Here is a potted guide to who’s who in the regions.





◼︎ London and South East


Born near Hampton Court in 1946, GEOFF SIMMONDS studied law and had a brief but hectic career on the Stock Exchange and in banking before joining the Metropolitan Police civil staff and the public information department at New Scotland Yard.

His first contacts with the media were a baptism of fire — a hijacking and an airplane disaster.

After four years in one of the country’s busiest press offices Geoff became the broadcast officer and spent the next four years making daily broadcasts on London’s three local radio stations.

From that it was a natural progression to Police 5 and yet another four-year stint, this time with television as producer and co-presenter of that programme.

He was also a mainstay of the Yard’s own video unit, producing programmes for exhibitions and local crime appeals as well as voicing internal training films.

Having spent a near lifetime in crime, forever helping the police with their enquiries, he is going straight at last.

Geoff and his wife Jackie — who still works for the Met — live at Oxted in Surrey.



◼︎ Scotland (Glasgow)


Dorset-born LOUISE BATCHELOR, who presents the Scottish end of Breakfast Time, is married to Radio Scotland producer Dave Batchelor. She shares his love of jazz to such an extent that in the last two years she’s been taking lessons on the tenor saxophone. That is, of course, when she’s not on the screen or at home with her five-month-old son, David.

Her BBC experience began as a reporter with Radio Scotland, and, after moving to television, she became a reporter/presenter on BBC Scotland’s nightly news magazine programme, Reporting Scotland.

She became nationally recognised when she fulfilled a short stint last year as a Newsnight presenter, before the birth of her baby. She returned to the Reporting Scotland team at the beginning of this year, prior to her appointment with Breakfast Time.

Although she was born south of the border, Louise claims Scottish blood in her veins — her granny came from Aberdeen.



◼︎ North East (Newcastle)


A Geordie by birth, and in adult life by choice, TOM KILGOUR has spent his 20 years with the BBC at Newcasde. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic An (the course interrupted congenially by National Service with the Royal Marines) and within two weeks of leaving landed his first acting job at the Guildford Repertory Theatre.

After stage work around the country he joined the Newcastle Playhouse and while there began reading television and radio news for the BBC. He left the theatre and spent some years freelancing on all sorts of programmes, even for one day introducing Woman’s Hour.

He joined the staff to be a pioneer in regional television presentation and presented for over ten years a regional wildlife programme that’s returning soon under a new title: North Country.

Tom is married with one son and one daughter. Interests include opera, gardening and fell-walking.


PAM TIBBETTS was born in Glasgow and spent her first 15 years just down the road from BBC Scotland.

A patriotic Scot (her parents had to drag her screaming away from Glasgow) she finally adopted Newcastle as her home where she has been for 13 years.

She has been given lots of encouragement and opportunities since joining BBC North East as a production assistant seven years ago and has become a sort of Jill-of-all-trades, with attachments as regional presenter, assistant producer on the nightly magazine programme Look North, and now Breakfast Time.

Pam is not too worried about the early mornings because she usually falls asleep by nine in the evening anyway. Outside the BBC she tries to fit in a bit of amateur acting and directing. Art history is her other great love and there aren’t many art galleries in the world to which she hasn’t made a pilgrimage.

Pam is married to an understanding husband (whom she manages to see occasionally) and lives in a cottage in the Northumberland countryside.



◼︎ Wales (Cardiff)


MARTYN WILLIAMS was born in Pontyberem, Dyfed in 1947. He was educated in Cardiff, St Donat’s and in Connecticut.

Martyn started his broadcasting career in commercial television and worked for four years in America before joining HTV as a presenter and reporter.

In 1974 he joined the BBC as a freelance and produced the morning current affairs programme Good Morning Wales.

For two years he was West Wales correspondent and has subsequently presented quiz programmes, rugby commentary and documentaries.

He has also worked in radio, presenting news bulletins on Radio Wales for the last three years and broadcasting in Welsh on Radio Cymru.

He says getting up is not such a problem as getting the opt-outs Martyn Williams exactly right for time. “It’s a very precise operation.”



◼︎ Midlands (Birmingham)


SUE BEARDSMORE, 28, has worked for the BBC for six years since she became Britain’s top personal assistant in winning the Royal Society of Arts silver medal for secretarial training.

She joined Pebble Mill in Engineering Department, went on to Pebble Mill at One as a floor assistant, and then to Midlands television where she has been working as a station assistant.

Sue, who is married to a computer executive and lives at Kings Heath, is a former spare-time lifeguard who has settled down to a less frenetic pastime in working out old cooking recipes.


KATHY ROCHFORD, also 28, worked on newspapers in the London area before joining the news team at Radio Derby three years ago.

Her main concern is the transition from radio to television.


Joining Sue and Kathy on a one week in three basis is veteran broadcaster David Stevens, head of Midlands Presentation, who has trained his two new presenters.



◼︎ South West (Plymouth)


CHRISTOPHER SLADE’s voice may be more familiar than his face — until recently he was a national newsreader and presenter for Radio 4.

Born in Brighton, his broadcasting began at grammar school. His father was a producer for Radio Brighton, and the young Christopher used to help out.

At 18 he began working as a freelance for Radio Brighton and three years later was appointed by Radio Bristol. There he got used to getting up early as he worked behind the scenes on the morning show. He also produced a programme that made the Guinness Book of Records as the longest radio show — lasting some 14 hours.



◼︎ North West (Manchester)


JOHN MUNDY started his working life in the theatre as a scene shifter, quickly graduating to a 15-year-old baron in panto. No money for a wig then, he says, so they showered his hair in talc.

Then he progressed via Oldham Rep to television in the North East and Wales before joining BBC North West in presentation and news-reading. John is also currently jointly presenting Yes, a North West regional weekly TV programme featuring youth enterprise.


After leaving school PHIL SAYER tried his hand at being a lorry driver, fairground attendant, barman and salesman. A job as a night club compere and DJ in a Watford night club led him to the only pirate radio station in the Middle East then home again to factory broadcasting, ITV, ILR and now BBC North West.

Breakfast TV is one new baby in his life; another is in the offing. He and his wife are expecting their second child in March.


DIANA MATHER was born at Cuddington near Northwich in Cheshire. She later trained to be an actress at Shelagh Elliott Clarke’s drama school in Liverpool and has done a variety of stage and television assignments.

During her varied career Diana has been a disc jockey on the QE2, appeared in BBC1’s Potters Picture Palace and Granada’s Crown Court, and done a spell as a presenter with ATV in Birmingham.

Now she is one of BBC North West’s regular team of news readers.



◼︎ South (Southampton)


JOHN ANDREWS joined the BBC reporting team four months ago. He spent three years with the Eastern Daily Press and then went to Hull where Radio Humberside tried to teach him which end of the microphone to talk into and why Uhers didn’t record when the spools weren’t turning.

By the time he joined Radio Derby he’d learned to use the radio car and would take it to Donington Park to do commentary on the motor racing — and then remember to put the aerial up.

He also hosted a rock music programme once a week which probably played more records at the wrong speed than any other radio show.

Then came the big break: the chance to work in television at Norwich. The six-month attachment turned into a job — at Bristol. This was a problem as the girl he was to marry was still in Norwich cueing in the studio.

At Southampton, John is a reporter/presenter. He is 30 and is married with two hamsters.

PAUL HARRIS was born at Poole, Dorset, in 1945 and educated in London — where he made his first BBC broadcast as a chorister at the age of 12. At the University of Kent he graduated with an honours degree in politics and government.

After working briefly in publishing and the civil service, he strengthened the family tradtion by becoming the third member of the family to work for the BBC, joining World Service audience research in 1971. Two years later he moved to Radio 4 on attachment as an announcer, joining BBC South as a television presenter in 1974. Since then he has worked both as a network continuity announcer and as a BBC2 network newsreader, becoming a freelance broadcaster in 1980.

What spare time he has is taken up with “anything creative” — particularly writing, painting (an interest he shares with his wife Amanda — a professional artist), music and restoring antiques (notably his crumbling house in Winchester).


TIM HURST joined the BBC in the Seventies as a news producer with Radio Solent. He began his journalistic career with a weekly newspaper at his home town in Warwickshire before moving to London where he worked variously as a chief reporter, features editor and political editor on newspapers and magazines.

He was, and still is, a sailing man and while working in London he commuted to his boat on the River Hamble each weekend.

The chance of joining the BBC and working in Southampton was too good to turn down. After four years with Radio Solent he joined the BBC South TV team and was appointed the region’s staff reporter three years later.

He says he is enthusiastic about arriving at the Southampton studios at 5.30am.



◼︎ Northern Ireland (Belfast)


WENDY AUSTIN, 30, is already well known to viewers and listeners in Northern Ireland. She has been working as a journalist and reporter for the BBC in Belfast for six years, and before that was with the East Antrim Times at Larne, the Belfast Telegraph, and with Downtown Radio, the commercial radio station at Newtownards in Co. Down.

She has been presenting Good Morning Ulster on Radio Ulster for two years. The programme goes on the air at 6.30am, and she says “Getting up early for Breakfast Time presents no problems, except perhaps that on the radio no-one can see what you look like!”



◼︎ East (Norwich)


JOHN MOUNTFORD, 33, started in broadcasting as a studio manager at Bush House. He transferred to breakfast television from Radio Norfolk. “This show is an exciting new challenge for me,” he says. “I have been getting up at 5am for the past five years for local radio so rising at this unearthly hour is no hardship.”

John’s local butcher won’t be giving the programme the chop. “He says the programme goes down a treat while he’s boiling his hams at the crack of dawn,” says John. “In Norfolk that’s a real compliment!”



◼︎ North (Leeds)


BARRY CHAMBERS was a founder member of the BBC North team of presenters in Leeds and was with it from its inception in 1968 until the mid Seventies.

He then returned to farming and business but still kept his broadcasting work alive in this country and in the United States.

He came back to the screens in the North region when Breakfast Time opened up last week.

Barry was born in Goole and started his working life as an actor before turning to radio and television.

He lives near Harrogate and is just back from a short holiday, ready for those middle-of-the-night rings on the alarm clock five | mornings a week.



◼︎ West (Bristol)


ANNE NANKIVELL had just a week to prepare herself on the air in the self-op studio (known as the Bubble as it is so small).

Anne, 30, who is from Adelaide, has had experience of television and radio in Australia before moving to England six years ago. Since then she has been a reporter and presenter for local radio in Sheffield, BBC Leeds Look North, and Yorkshire Television.

Anne has roots in Cornwall, so as far as she is concerned, “I feel I have come home being here in the West Country. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience of breakfast television and am not finding it too difficult getting up in time. I have been having no breakfast before the programme, as I have been far too nervous.”


VIVIEN CREEGOR, sharing the Breakfast Time duties with Anne, is already a familiar face on the screens of BBC West as a presentation announcer and, more recently, as a presenter of the regional magazine programme Points West.

Vivien, who is 26, joined the BBC in 1975 as a secretary in Radio Training straight from the London Poly. She then became a production assistant in radio drama and found that she had a talent for adapting stories for radio.

Her most recent adaptations were Jack London’s short stories, broadcast on Radio 4 just before Christmas. Her ambitions? “What I would ideally like to do is to present News Afternoon for BBC1. But, on the other hand, I love radio. I would like to combine the two.”



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