B.B.C. Television comes of age 

2 November 2023 tbs.pm/79170


Cover to the Earls Court Radio Show catalogue 1957

From the Earls Court Radio Show catalogue for 1957

B.B.C. Television comes of age in this year’s Radio Show. It is exactly 21 years ago that the first high definition television programmes in England were put on the air for the National Radio Show, and were received both there and in the homes of the few hundred people who had equipped themselves with television sets. A few months later the B.B.C. started its regular service from Alexandra Palace – the first public service of television in the world.

This 21st anniversary is being celebrated in the Radio Show. Immediately opposite the main entrance, up the stairs that lead to the balcony, is the main B.B.C. exhibit, with the Celebrity Dais which is its central feature. Both here, and in the B.B.C. studio on the balcony to the left, the birthday is being celebrated in a variety of ways. B.B.C. shows are put on daily in the studio, which is like a theatre with seats for about a thousand people. Both sound and television shows are broadcast from the studio, including the final of the popular television series “A-Z”, a special sixty-minute “Rooftop”, a television Minstrel Show, Billy Cotton on both sound and vision, and the popular sound programmes, “My Word” and “Twenty Questions “. The rehearsals for all these shows are also seen, and have a special “behind the scenes” popularity.

On the Celebrity Dais B.B.C. stars of sound and television are introduced to their public several times a day, and members of the staff whose names have long been household words are also seen and heard. Women visitors to the Radio Show see there some of the personalities whom they have got to know in the afternoon television programmes. Occasionally, interviews from the dais are likely to be fed “live” into a topical programme on the network. The public plays a major part in the entertainment in this part of the Radio Show, because from around this dais the ever popular “See Yourself” demonstrations are held. This is where members of the crowd may cease for a brief moment to be anonymous and suddenly find their features and gestures shown far and wide on the monitoring screens, where their friends and relations can see just what they would look like as a stand-in for Richard Dimbleby or Alex Macintosh.

Joy Adamson behind a BBC desk microphone

Joy Adamson who broadcasts in “Twenty Questions”

Two television cameras operate on and near the Celebrity Dais. Pictures from these cameras are transmitted by means of a super-high-frequency radio link of the type used on outside broadcasts, and are received, in another part of the B.B.C. exhibit, on a large dish aerial mounted at the top of an Eagle Tower. This is a telescopic tower which can be carried from point to point by a specially constructed vehicle and can be raised to a height of 60 feet above ground. The picture received on this equipment is shown on monitor screens.

On the sound side of outside broadcasting there are two exhibits. One of these is a sound studio and control room vehicle which provides complete facilities for an outside broadcast using up to eight microphones as well as a self-contained studio for interviews.

The programme from this vehicle is normally sent back to a convenient B.B.C. centre by Post Office land lines, but can if necessary be transmitted by radio link equipment carried in the vehicle. The other sound outside broadcast exhibit consists of a taxi cab containing a set of the B.B.C.’s most recent design of outside broadcast equipment. One set of this equipment will handle up to four microphones, and the public are invited to speak into microphones of different types and to listen to the sound of their own voices, which will be recorded and played back.

Alan Melville behind a BBC microphone

Alan Melville – author, dramatist and lyric writer.

In other ways, too, the B.B.C. exhibit this year takes you behind the scenes so that you can see how things work and see the people who make them work. For example, it has always been a basic job at the Radio Show to record the various sound programmes that have been put on there. This year the recording channel, as it is called, is doing its job as usual, but in view. Using the magnetic tape system with which the B.B.C.’s static tape recording rooms are equipped, it is seen and heard recording programmes from the Earls Court Studio as well as other programmes sent by line from Broadcasting House. For comparison purposes a steel tape magnetic recording machine used by the B.B.C. as early as 1935 is shown. The equipment used for the reclamation of magnetic tape is also shown in operation, with appropriate signs lighting up to indicate particular faults on tape which is being reclaimed after having been used.

Another exhibit connected with recording shows the production of fine groove (L.P.) styli, which are exceedingly difficult to make. They have to be three times as accurate as ordinary coarse groove styli, and the B.B.C. has every reason to be proud of its achievement in manufacturing them.

The remarkable variety of equipment used by the Natural History Unit in recording bird noises and the like is on view, and a member of the Unit is available to discuss the use of the equipment with visitors.

From this section of the B.B.C. exhibit comes Exhibition Choice, where a different disc jockey is seen and heard every day acting as a compère for a record choice programme going out on the Light Programme. The records themselves are played from the B.B.C. Record Library several miles away near Broadcasting House.

Under a platform, and at such a height that adults would bang their heads, is an invitation to younger visitors to “Come and have a peep”. They see models and three-dimensional exhibits which illustrate the background to some of the scientific programmes which the B.B.C. has broadcast on both sound and television.


Billy Cotton in a sombrero with dancers in sequinned gowns

Billy Cotton and the Silhouettes in ‘Fiest’ from ‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’


Gilbert Harding glowers off to one side

Gilbert Harding.

The most modern and elaborate television news studio in Europe is at Alexandra Palace, where the B.B.C. started its public service of television 21 years ago. A big animated panel on the stand shows the whole machinery of this television studio, with its various cameras, its scenic effects, maps and alternative background. Here one can see exactly how the news gets into the studio and the processing that takes place before the viewer sees it on the screen at home.

One of the purposes of the B.B.C exhibit is to let the viewer and listener get into contact with the B.B.C. The information stand will be more many-sided than ever before. Here the curious and the interested can ask about everything from details of their favourite programmes to the particulars for careers in the B.B.C., and just how the Audience Research Department does its work.

Finally, in a small demonstration theatre, distinct from the studio where the big shows are put on, several audiences a day can hear an entertaining show devised by B.B.C. engineers that reveals some of the secrets of the Sound Effects team. “Sounds Crazy”, it is called, and it does! In this theatre the B.B.C. demonstrates the advantages of V.H.F. over the old medium wave broadcasting. In some areas V.H.F. is the only way to get the sound programmes without intolerable interference. In others, medium wave transmissions can be heard with comparatively little interference, but the demonstration shows how much one gains in fullness of tone and vividness of quality on a V.H.F. set.


Derek Russell was Head of Publicity for the Earls Court Radio Show


You Say

1 response to this article

Maxwell Bogie 30 November 2023 at 1:07 am

‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’ is fun on BBC Television Service for that show too in the 1950s. I love this one! Thanks.

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