A History of the BBC in 100 Blog Posts: 1954.

As you will have noticed a few months ago the title of these posts changed because despite my best efforts, some of these posts have been leaning heavily on the contents of the BBC website anyway.  But there's so much unheralded material on there.  For some reason the BBC website still hasn't integrated the stuff in the BBC Archive section onto the iPlayer, which is understandable for clips, but there are whole programmes and discrete elements which would probably be relatively popular on the larger streaming service.

There's a page dedicated to the old Interludes for example, perhaps the most famous of which is the Potter's Wheel.  Given the fashion for calming sounds and images, these short films certainly fit the bill for an iPlayer slot with their shots of waterfalls, windmills and beaches (perhaps less so the bonfire).  The closest equivalent was the caption on HD BBC One filling in for the regional opt outs, but just last week they were finally phased out.  Fortunately, YouTube has the goods from back in the Oneness era.

Colour Television Experiments

"When programmes were over at Alexandra Palace, a small group of pioneers took over the studios at night, trying to make colour television work."
[Alexandra Palace]

"The House of Commons is treated to a live demonstration of Colour Telelvision, thanks to the installation of some experimental new colour receiver sets. Colour television for the general public remains a long way off, according to Postmaster General, Ernest Marples.  The test was telerecorded for posterity - in black and white, so you'll have to use your imagination."
[BBC Archive]

"Britain retained its 405 line TV standard after World War Two, while the rest of Europe and America adopted higher resolution systems. In 1953, the BBC experimented with field sequential color. When the NTSC color system was adopted in the U.S. in 1953, British manufacturers experimented with adopting it for the 405 line standard. Ultimately the BBC decided not to proceed with color using the 405 line standard, and finally adopted the PAL color system with the switch to a 625 line standard in the 1960s."
[Early Television Museum]


"Richard Dimbleby goes on a visit to Marlborough College in Wiltshire to take a look at how the Public School system works."
[BBC Rewind]


"James Moir celebrates Brian Matthew, a true icon of the airwaves, who began his broadcasting career in Germany and trained as an actor at RADA before joining the BBC in 1954."
[BBC Clips][BBC Programme Index]

"George (pictured above) joined the Met Office in 1939 as a met assistant with No 4 Bomber Group at FAF Yorkshire.  From 1942 until 1953, he worked as an RAF forecaster in the UK, Normandy, Belguim, Holland and Germany.  He was based at the London Weather Centre when he was selected to be the very first BBC TV forecaster, appearing on air from 11th January 1954 until March 1957, from the Lime Grove Studios."

"I hAVE been asked to set down some thoughts on conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and I am happy and willing to do so since it allows listeners to go behind the scenes, into the studios, as it were, and see how things are done."
[Radio Times via Rediffusion]


"Riverside Studios were (and in fact still are, in a new form) on the north bank of the Thames near Hammersmith bridge."
[TV Studio History]

"For the TV Mirror’s 13 February 1954 edition, Ken Jones paid a visit to the BBC’s Lime Grove and listened in on the conversations in the canteen, capturing a unique slice of television life in the genteel days before the BBC had competition. We reprint his article in full below, with the usual reminder that it is, in places, very much of its time."
[TV Mirror via Transdiffusion]

"The building of the first broadcast tower on Divis, military parading at Ballykinler, the removal of Belfast tram lines, potato and apple harvesting, Portavogie harbour construction work and Lord and Lady Brookeborough at home."
[BBC Rewind][BBC Programme Index]


"The 20-minute bulletin was read by Richard Baker and was introduced as an "illustrated summary of the news ..."
[Liverpool Echo]

"From Thank You Ally Pally, A Television Party. Original transmission, BBC Television Service, Friday 19th March, 1954, 20:35 & 21:55."
[BBC Clips][BBC Programme Index]

"For many years, in addition to weather broadcasts, the BBC made its own programme dedicated to everything you wanted to know about the weather. It was called The Weather Show. In this edition, the 50th anniversary of TV weather is being celebrated."
[BBC Clips]

"Debuting in April 1954, The Grove Family was the first British television soap opera for adults. It was set in the north London suburb of Hendon and featured three generations of a successful builder’s family who took their name from the BBC’s Lime Grove studios."
[Nostalgia Central]

"One of my favourite television programmes has a bit of a problem, you know. It doesn’t actually exist any more. What’s more, it never really did, unless you happened to be watching it at the time."
[Dirty Feed]

"The study of television drama is complicated by the regular regurgitation of inaccurate accounts and misinformation about old programmes."
[British Television Drama]


"Early in 1953 the Corporation submitted to the Government a broad plan of development covering the ten years of the new Charter period.  The plan was based on a careful study of the short-term and long-term factors which were likely to influence the development of public service broadcasting during that time.  The Corporation's proposals were made in public in June, 1953."

"From 1928 until 1952 the BBC produced an annual publication, sometimes called a Handbook but more often a Year Book. Its purpose was to provide a record of the broadcasting year and to supply useful information about the BBC. The later Year Books contained articles about well-known broadcasting artists, designed for the listener and viewer primarily interested in the BBC's entertainment programmes, and were illustrated with numerous photo- graphs. The new Handbook has been planned on some- what different lines."
[World Radio History] 

The Palin Diaries: Pole To Pole

Travel   Pole To Pole was the 1992 follow up documentary to Around The World in 80 Days.  Having successfully circumnavigated the globe, in this journey Michael Palin would travel from the North Pole to the South Pole along the line of longitude at thirty degrees, chosen because its the point which has the most land and perhaps because it a large variety of different countries and cultures to visit unlike other choices like the Americas and what is to our perspective the Far East.  The series lasts eight episodes and resulted in a follow up book containing a diary of the trip.

The other day perusing the Roy Castle charity shop on Smithdown Road, I spotted a copy of the third in the series of Michael Palin's diaries, Travelling To Work, covering the period 1988-98.  Having managed to ignore the first two, or at least not got around to them amid not reading books in general, what intrigued me was how this set of diaries would fit around otherwise published travel books based on his various television series.  Could there be days when there'd be two entries, the public facing on the job version and then the record of how he was really feeling that day.

Turns out that's entirely possible with Around The World in Eighty Days because in that book he includes the dates for when his exploits occurred, probably due to the nature of the endeavour and the need for transparency.  But as I discovered on ordering a boxed set of the first five books in paperback (having completely forgotten the Palin's Travels website exists), Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Sahara and Himalaya do not, presumably because they weren't necessarily filmed all in one go or even in the order in which they're portrayed on screen or in print.  

Rather than letting process get in the way of artifice, Palin chose to write them as one single narrative, to the give the impression of them being a single journey.  As he says of Sahara:

"Sahara was filmed between February 2001 and February 2002. For various reasons, it was impossible to shoot it as one continuous journey. Summer heat and all-year-round bureaucracy forced a number of breaks upon us. The diary days in the text represent days at work, give or take the very rare day off, and not time spent travelling out to the desert."

That's especially acute in Pole to Pole were as we'll see, the beginning of the journey was filmed months after the end in two separate recording blocks.  

But, I wondered, how easy would it be to work out which calendar days each of the entries occurred and if it would be possible to read the travel diaries in production rather than narrative order and in conjunction with the personal diaries, navigating around the days and entries not included because he omits rest days.
"Not every day is described.  Rest days when nothing happened except laundry have been omitted out of consideration for the reader."
Unlike some of the later series, Pole to Pole offers a particular challenge because Michael's personal diary was lost by Zambian Airways which leaves a half year gap in Travelling To Work where the only record of his life is the travel diaries.  He says the notebook covered the period 20th July to 5th November and that he didn't keep a personal diary again until 11th December.  So what were the filming dates for Pole to Pole?

Palin himself will surely know this and it's only of the very mildest of interest in general, but wanting a challenge, I decided to read my way through the book looking for indications of events outside the journey which might suggest when various "days" happened.  Thirty years on and with access to the web, it's possible to chase down even the most obscure data and in the event I was able to triangulate a couple of dozen dates which you'll find below along with my workings out.

All quotations are from the book unless otherwise stated.

Day 15: Tromso ~ 21st July 1991

In Tromso during Episode One, Michael meets a group of football supporters lubricating themselves in preparation for a match between "Trondheim" and "Tromso".  The scarf which one of the supporters is carrying has the word Rosenborg printed across it which is the main football team in Trondheim.  They played Tromso on the 21st July 1991.  He mentions it’s a Sunday.  

The material with the supporters is included on Day 14 in the book so if I had to hazard a guess, the material between Day 14 and 15 has been reorganised to create a more seamless narrative between the two production periods.  Nevertheless we can say with some certainty that no matter what Michael says on screen, production on Pole to Pole began 21st July 1991.

It's strange that the book and programme don't match.  In Travelling to Work, he says he finished writing the book on the morning of the 17th April, just over a fortnight before the start of the second recording block and doesn't record the voiceover for (the presumably edited) first episode until 2nd July.  The next time the book is mentioned is when it goes to the printers the following August.  Some extra writing and manuscript editing will have been done in the meantime which might be when the discrepancy occurred.

Day 17: Hammerfest to Karasjok ~ 23rd July 1991

From Day 45:   "In one of the fields a group of white-veiled women are tossing turnips, or possibly watermelons, into a tall trailer. Behind them rises the first substantial patch of high ground since we left Hammerfest twenty-eight days ago." 

Counting back 28 days brings us here.  Which makes sense.  Day 15 spent in Tromso.  Tromso to Hammerfest on Day 16,  leaves Hammerfest on Day 17.

Day 25: Tallinn to Leningrad ~ 2nd August 1991

"The newspapers are full of the news that in Moscow yesterday President Bush demanded a measure of independence for the Baltic states as the price of 'most favoured nation' trading status for the USSR."  

This speech by Bush Snr happened on 1st August 1991.  You can watch it here.  I'm assuming a rest day in Karasjok or Helsinki.

Day 43: Istanbul ~ 17th August 1991

"Back in England, it's the first day of the football season and in my hotel the new BBC World Service Television is showing Episode five of Around the World in 80 Days." 

The first day of the football season in 1991 was 17th of August.

Day 44: Istanbul ~ 19th August 1991

"It is at breakfast at the Pera Palas Hotel that I hear the first news of modern history in the making. Those with short-wave radios have heard word from the Soviet Union that Gorbachev has been overthrown in a right-wing coup."  

The coup began on the 19th.  Let's assume the 18th was a rest day which doesn't have a diary entry.

Day 45: Istanbul to Selcuk ~ 20th August 1991

"Up at 6 a.m. to get down to Sirkeci station to buy a rail ticket for Izmir. Fraser is becoming more Cassandra-like each day. This morning he's heard news that a British businessman has been killed in Istanbul and British travellers are advised to be on their guard. Unfortunately no one's told us what to be on our guard against."

Andrew Blake, 33, deputy director of the British Commercial Union Insurance Co. was killed on 19th which an AP story says was a Monday so all of this tracks.  Day 43 was Saturday.  Rest day Sunday.  19th was a Monday.  Michael finds out about it Tuesday morning.

Day 46: Selcuk to Ephesus and Marmaris ~ 21st August 1991

"A Turkish voice chunters on from its radio. Sevim stops suddenly and listens, with a frown of concentration which gradually relaxes into a look of disbelief. She talks to us as she listens:  'The news from Moscow is that the coup is over . . . some generals are dead . . . ' She listens again. 'Gorbachev is coming back to Moscow.'  On this languid, lazy afternoon in southern Turkey, it seems unbelievable. History shouldn't happen as fast as this."

The coup ended on the 21st August.

Day 50: Limassol and Akrotiri ~ 25th August 1991 (?)

"There is a copy of the Sunday Times in the hotel - the first up-to-date English newspaper I've seen for two months. Gorbachev is to disband the Communist Party. The Ukraine and Estonia have declared independence."  

This is also seven days since last Sunday so assuming that it was possible to get the Sunday Times in Akrotiri on the day of publication than this seems about right.   The Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine was adopted on 24 August 1991 which would be reported on in the paper the next day.  Restoration of the Republic of Estonia, was proclaimed on 20 August 1991 but Michael's probably putting them together to emphasise the point about Europe changing.   Except according to sources who went abroad back then, newspapers were frequently a day or so out and there's the potential for a rest day in Rhodes, so this attribution is pretty shaky, hence the question mark.

Day 57: Luxor ~ 4th September 1991

"You don't know how Sheffield Wednesday went on last night?"  

They lost 2-1 to Notts County.  With a couple of rest days (mentioned in the text already) and Michael's mention of it being September at the opening of the day's entry, it's pretty safe to say that Day 57 was on the 4th September.

Day 66: Atbara to Khartoum ~ 21st September 1991

"It is Mohammed's birthday and there will be festivities tonight."

Mawlid (Birth) of the Prophet was celebrated on the 21 September in 1991.

Day 102: Dodoma to Kigoma ~ 21st September 1991

"Craig and Nigel have ears pressed to a radio at the window, trying, in the midst of this line-side cacophony, to pick up the sound from Edinburgh where England are playing Scotland in the Rugby Union World Cup semi-final. [...]  Nigel suddenly turns from the radio with a look of total disbelief. 'They've gone to the news! . . . They've gone to the news with two minutes left!'"  

Happened on this date.  England beat Scotland 9-6.

Day 103: Dodoma to Kigoma ~ 27th September 1991

"As if to further mock my dreams of solitariness and isolation, all I can hear as I unpack is a radio crackling out the last seconds of commentary from the Rugby Union World Cup followed by a roar from the darkness outside as Australia defeats New Zealand."

Happened on this date.

Day 107: Kigoma to Mpulungu ~ 30th September 1991 (?)

"Aboard the Liemba, Lake Tanganyika. The last day of October, 1991."  

Is it?  Later in the entry Michael reports:  "As we progress south, some Zambians come aboard. Tomorrow they are voting for a new government, and I am quite shocked to hear that Kenneth Kaunda is so unpopular that he may well be unseated after twenty-eight years in power. "

But the Zambian General Election happened on the 31st October so you'd think that Michael was wrong about it being the last day of October.  But if you count onward from Day 103, this would be Day 107 but I'm assuming a rest day in Kigoma.  Maybe.  It gets messier ...

Day 108: Kigoma to Mpulungu ~ 31st September 1991 (?)

"'It's the first day of spring,' I hear someone say as we crowd at the deck rail.  'Don't be stupid,' another retorts, 'It's November. Spring starts in September.'  Of course, they're Australians. Or New Zealanders. Looking around at them I do not see the faces of explorers but of pale, tired children."  

Which suggests that we're in November now at least.  But later in the same entry, Michael says "As waves of rain lash through the trees I talk to Paul about the problems of the country, it being election day in Zambia" and later mentions "plenty of evidence of the euphoria following Chiluba's victory over Kaunda, which appears to have been a landslide".   Given that these entries are based on notes and tape recordings, it's just possible that the timings of everything have become corrupted.  Who knows.

Day 109: Shiwa to Kasanka ~ 1st November 1991 (?)

"I can't help noticing that the lavatory on which I spend most of the night is called the Victory. A night of victory for myself and Mr Frederick Chiluba, the new President of Zambia. I only hope he feels better than I do."

If we're keeping to the "real world" timetable this would have happened on All Saint's Day morning.  But we're very much in give or take a day territory here.  The only other thing I can think of is Michael's keeping to British time and there's a time zone mismatch?

Day 112: Mpulungu to Shiwa ~ 2nd November 1991 (?)

"Nigel manages to pick up commentary of the England-Australia Rugby World Cup Final"

Honestly at this point anything is possible and no, there wasn't a replay.  The Rugby World Cup Final was on the 2/11/1991 but he mentions this in the entry for Day 112.    Was this a repeat of the commentary?  Did his notes get messed up?  Do his 2s look like 5s?  Was he writing this bit completely from memory?  I have checked the BBC Genome and the only radio mention is the domestic Radio 5 coverage and there doesn't seem to be a slot on BBC World Service for a simulcast.  There are too many variables here, question marks all round.

Day 114: Lusaka to Livingstone ~ 7th November 1991

"And the Times of Zambia carries barely believable evidence of the pace of the Soviet Union's Great Leap Backwards. The story, filed from St Petersburg (which was Leningrad to us, three months ago) reports that the Grand Duke Vladimir Romanov, heir to the throne of Russia, has arrived in the Soviet Union for the first time."

This happened on the 5/11/1991 but with time differences and deadlines, I'm willing to bet Michael read this on the 7th.

Day 116: Livingstone ~ 9th November 1991

"The morning paper reports that President Chiluba has lifted Zambia's twenty-seven-year State of Emergency. The police have been ordered to remove all road-blocks (still common in countries like Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya) and various powers of search and detention have been curtailed."

This happened on 8/11/1991 so that fits - he probably had a rest day in Livingstone on the 7th or 8th.  

"For myself and the crew another day of new experiences. If it's Saturday it must be white-water rafting, and we assemble by the swimming-pool to sign in, absolve the company taking us of any culpability and generally try to look cheerful."

The 9/11/1991 was indeed a Saturday.  This date's also confirmed in Travelling to Work when he mentions the cracked rib incident as happening on 9th November during the trip up the Zambesi River.

Side note:  "At the hotel another bruise to add to the two already growing - one of my missing bags has arrived, the other has been lost by Zambian Airways and no one seems to hold out any hope of finding it."  As he mentions in the Day 117 entry and in Travelling to Work,  this is the moment he discovers his personal diary is lost.  I can't imagine how painful that must have been.

Day 125: Johannesburg ~ 18th November 1991

"A November Monday morning in Johannesburg."

"The last thing I hear from High Veld Stereo, '94.95 Eff-Em', is that Terry Waite has been released."

The 18/11/1991 was the next Monday of the month with enough days in between and it was also the date Terry Waite was released.

Day 133: Santiago, Chile ~ 26th November 1991

"A well-drilled changing of the guard takes place and then, with much preparation and flourish, the sixty-piece military band breaks into the unmistakable tones of 'Happy Birthday to You'. Not just one chorus, but a long symphonic variation which keeps a small crowd mystified for some five minutes. It's presumed that this is for the President, but no one seems at all sure."

The then President of Chile, Patricio Aylwin, was born on the 26 November 1918.

Day 134: Santiago, Chile ~ 27th November 1991

"I take a last look at the destination board. It's 27 November."

Holy shit.

Day 141: Santiago, Chile ~ 8th December 1991

Caption from photograph in Travelling To Work.  This would have been last the day of the first recording block.

Day 1: The North Pole ~ 9th May 1992

"It'a 3.45 on a Saturday afternoon and I'm seventeen miles away from the North Pole."

According to Travelling to Work, he's still in London on the Saturday 2nd so this has to be the 9th.  In the narration for Episode One, Michael says "Even if everything works we have almost half a year's travelling ahead of us."  No you don't.

Day 14: The Barents Sea to Tromso ~ 22nd May 1992

In Travelling to Work, Michael says that Pole to Pole filming extended to the 23rd May which should be Day 15.  But as we discussed in the 21st July 1991 entry (above), a lot of evidence points to Day 14 being the last day.  On screen we don't see him disembark at Tromso.  There's a cut to an establishing shot and a caption for "Day Fifteen" and an implication of it being the next day.  But as I said earlier, the book's more ambiguous.  I'm working on the assumption that everything before the lacunae on page 37 is from this later production period.  So let's say filming ended on Pole to Pole 22nd May 1992.