Blackout wrecks BBC-2 first night 

20 April 2024

New TV channel off the air as massive power cut hits London


Hullaballoo and Custard look in consternation at a TV screen reading "BBC-2 OOPS! SORRY!"


Cover of the Daily Mirror

From the Daily Mirror for Tuesday 21 April 1964

A MASSIVE power failure in London last night knocked out the BBC’s new £40,000,000 [£675m in today’s money, allowing for inflation – Ed] television Channel 2 before it got started.

Television Centre, where Channel 2 was due to be launched at 7.20 pm., was in the heart of a blacked-out area which also embraced the West End showland.

And at 9.45, BBC-2 chief Michael Peacock reluctantly decided: “There’ll be no BBC-2 opening tonight.”

Buckingham Palace and Scotland Yard were plunged into darkness; hospitals used oil lamps in the wards; the lights of Piccadilly Circus faded out. Theatres had to close — even the Windmill, which could boast that it never closed in the wartime blitz.

THE CAUSE of the great black-out — which began at 6.54 p.m. — appeared to be a fault on the circuit between Lombard-road power station and nearby Battersea power station.

This overloaded the circuit and caused a breakdown in a 66,000-volt feeder station at Iver, Bucks.


The Battersea breakdown was followed by a fire in a cable duct — and more than thirty firemen were still fighting the blaze late last night.

BBC Television — based in Television Centre — was hard-hit. The Centre was plunged into darkness, and both BBC-1 and BBC-2 — the new “kangaroo” programme — were off the air.

BBC-1, due to show the live show “Tonight,” was able to carry on with a stand-by Western put out from Alexandra Palace, eight miles away from the Centre and unaffected by the power cut.

Off-screen photo of Gerald Priestland

The BBC’s Gerald Priestland appears on Channel 2 in his pullover to announce the hold-up

Channel 2 — the “ghost of it” — had also to be switched to Alexandra Palace.

A news executive, Gerald Priestland, went in front of a camera, wearing a pullover, and announced the big hold-up.

He went on the air five minutes after Channel 2 was due to start, apologised for the delay … and read the news.

THEATRES were hit just as most of the shows were about to start. Some playgoers sat patiently in their seats waiting for the lights to go up again.

But at other theatres — like Her Majesty’s staging the musical “No Strings” — the evening show was cancelled.

Most of the Soho strip clubs were in darkness. Men stood outside some of them inviting passers-by to “see the girlies by candlelight.”

MPs were dimmed out, too. And microphones in the Commons failed

TV screen caption reading "BBC-2 WILL START AS SOON AS POSSIBLE"

The standby sign on the screen: “BBC-2 will start shortly”


Channel 2 programme chief Michael Peacock, 34, was in his office with his wife, Daphne, ready to watch the debut of his “TV baby” when the power cut came.

BBC executives raced to the fourth-floor studios to see if there was any means of getting the Channel on the air.

“We’ve waited sixteen months for this moment,” said one of them, “and now this has to happen. Tonight of all nights. It’s enough to make you weep.”

A speaker for Rediffusion, the ITV programme firm, said that their television programmes were not affected by the power-cut. “All our programmes tonight are recorded,” he added.



TV’s Wizard World

But a last minute black-out mars the birth of the BBC’s Channel Two..


Studio scene

Beneath a myriad of power-lines and light hoists, actors, directors, cameramen and scene-shifters set the scenes in Studio 1 at the BBC Television Centre


THIS is the picture you never see on your TV set … the geometrical chaos of one of the world’s most complicated television studios.

IT IS the BBC’s new Studio One at the Television Centre at the White City, London. A vast (100ft. by 108ft.), superbly-equipped complex with 266 lighting hoists suspended from its 45ft. ceiling.

IT IS the TV production centre of today — for the new BBC-2 channel.

IT IS the TV production centre, of tomorrow — the first large studio capable of working on a triple-line standard.

Shows can be transmitted on 405 lines (the old-fashioned BBC-1 standard), 625 lines (BBC-2’s ultra high frequency standard) and 525 lines (the American system.)

And when colour television comes to Britain — the fantastic maze of Studio One will cope with that, too.

But despite all the technical marvels there is still the final problem of getting the show on the road — as last night’s power cut proved.




-625 TIMES


THAT Was The Night That Was! Or — The Programme That Wasn’t!

After all the weary months of preparation and testing, the opening of the new BBC-2 programme was wrecked by a dramatic London power failure.

A word of commiseration for Michael Peacock, head of BBC-2, and all the other keen young men in his team who have been living for their big moment.

The Daily Mirror will be ready with praise or criticism for BBC-2 — whichever it earns — as it fights to make its mark. But nobody can feel anything except sympathy for the planners and producers who were tormented by a freak black-out on their first night

What an agonising evening it must have been for them when the gremlins ruined the show.

It shouldn’t have happened to a dog … it had to happen to a Peacock.


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