Breakfast

The image of Tower Bridge at sunrise, followed by that sun logo-thing spinning around and turning upside down, complete with a jaunty and memorable theme tune, heralded the launch of the first ever UK-wide breakfast television service on 17th January 1983.

Breakfast Time was not intended to be a hard news programme - instead, the "keynote [was to be] relaxation" - according the programme's editor Ron Neil. "If we pummel people with facts and analysis at that time of the morning, they just won't want to know." The article went on to state that "the set will reflect the mood - no desks, just long, squashy leather sofas...even the studio lighting will be subdued when the programme goes on air at 6.30, getting gradually brighter as the morning progresses".

Breakfast Time stole a march on rival TV-am by starting over two weeks earlier, and quickly managed to steal most of the viewers. Frank Bough and his jumpers soon became an essential part of the early morning ritual.

Joining Frank on the long squashy sofas in Studio E at the BBC's Lime Grove studios with their jumpers were Selina Scott, fresh from ITN, and Nick Ross in his first prominent television role. Francis Wilson joined from Thames News and, with his jumpers (mostly sent in by viewers), was standing by to present his Window on the Weather. He would sometimes find his forecasts invaded by celebrity guests, most notably Lenny Henry and Pamela Stephenson. Completing the regular team were Debbie Rix who presented news updates every half hour, and David Icke who presented the sports news. Regional news also featured on Breakfast Time which, for the first couple of years, was at quarter past and quarter to each hour.

Though there would be news, there would also be lots of regular features. These included Diana Moran - the 'Green Goddess' - with her attempts at Getting Britain Fit each morning around 6.45; and Russell Grant, whose daily astrology spot and jumpers at 8.40 became a daily signal that it was time for us seven year-olds that it was time to depart for school. Other regulars included the first television look at the new pop charts each Wednesday with Mike Smith, cookery from Glynn Christian, Problem Page with Claire Rayner, The Breakfast Time Doctor, consumer items from Lynn Faulds Wood, and even a 'gossip' spot from Chris Wilson.

Francis Wilson appeared every day of the week on Breakfast Time - but whenever he took a holiday, one of the regular BBC forecasters presented Window on the Weather - here it was Michael Fish who had to reset his alarm clock.

In contrast to the turmoil at TV-am which could only be saved by employing a furry rat, Breakfast Time's format of relaxed sofa chat remained pretty constant with no major changes over the years. Nick Ross took a break for a year to present the unsuccessful Sixty Minutes, while various new presenters joined the team, including Guy Michelmore, Fern Britton and Debbie Greenwood, while Mike Smith graduated from the pop slot and took a break from Radio 1 to become one of the main presenters.

In 1986 the BBC decided that the BT format was too similar to that being served up by the other side. And so the familiar spinning sun was banished, and the famed sofa supposedly auctioned off in aid of Children in Need. From now on, there would be no more astrology, cookery, keep fit exercises or celebrity guests, no more jumpers - and no more fun. Going completely against Ron Neil's assertion in 1983 that viewers did not want a formal news bulletin first thing in the morning, on 10 November 1986 Breakfast Time was converted into just that - a two-hour news programme.

Only Frank Bough and Francis Wilson survived the relaunch - but they were now forced to wear suits. Joining the team were Sally Magnusson and Jeremy Paxman. A new theme tune was introduced, which was clearly reminiscent of the original, but the set was completely revamped with a conventional desk 'upstairs' for hard news, and a coffee table and comfy chairs 'downstairs' for interviews and features. The change did not go down at all well with viewers, sparking complaints that the "friendly informality" of the old format had been ruined, and that Breakfast Time had now become "dull, dreary and diabolical". But the programme's new editor Dave Stanford stood by his guns, claiming that the BBC should offer a "distinctive product from the other channel - not more of the same". Viewing figures would never be the same again.

After fourteen months of newsy breakfasts, Frank finally called it a day just before Christmas 1987, and was replaced by another former Nationwider, John Stapleton. Later on, Kirsty Wark and Laurie Mayer also joined the team. In 1988 Jill Dando made her national television debut on the programme, presenting half hour summaries from the BBC newsroom (this set would also be used by the Nine O'Clock News). She was later promoted to the main Breakfast Time desk.

Just a little before that, however, on 16th October 1987 - the morning after the Great Storm - viewers who still had power would have been surprised to see that Breakfast Time was being presented from the Children's BBC 'Broom Cupboard' by Nicholas Witchell - in his own words "a funny little red-haired figure telling them...to go and make and a cup of tea and on no account to go out of their homes because something terrible had happened...with one sheet of paper I wittered on, repeating myself endlessly for an hour..."

The BBC bosses clearly remembered this performance, because two years later, when Breakfast Time was relaunched as BBC Breakfast News, Witchell was chosen to be the programme's main anchorman. The planned relaunch date had been 18th September 1989, but viewers switching on that morning found that unexpectedly Breakfast Time was still there. The new look programme finally started two weeks later, on 2nd October 1989.

Despite the name change, this time there was to be no radical change in format. "More pace and punch" was the promise given by the programme's editor, Bob Wheaton. The programme started thirty minutes earlier, at 6.30am, with most of the first half hour taken up by business news. Headlines were now repeated every 15 minutes. Nicholas was joined by existing presenters Kirsty Wark, Jill Dando, Laurie Mayer, and that stalwart of early morning television, weatherman Francis Wilson. The comfy area of the set was ditched, but the existing theme tune remained, in re-recorded form.

In 1992, Francis, who for years had been the only survivor from the start of Breakfast Time, finally departed for Sky television. From now on breakfast weather bulletins were presented by members of the BBC weather team.

BBC Breakfast News's next relaunch occured on 13th April 1993. For the first time, it conformed to a standardised look across all of the BBC News bulletins on BBC1. The programme now joined the One, Six and Nine O'Clock News in Studio N2, using the same 'virtual' set. Unfortunately the computer generated backdrop lacked depth and consequently had a habit of looking rather unreal at certain camera angles. The music was revamped once again, this time using a combination of orchestra and electric guitar, which was probably the best of the 1993 re-recordings. Business Breakfast (which at the start of the year had become a programme in its own right) was revamped in a similar style. Presenters around this time included Justin Webb, Andrew Harvey, Jill Dando and Tanya Sillem.

The blue 'virtual' set provided viewers with a rather cold, unwelcoming start to the day, and so after four years Breakfast News (now shorn of the 'BBC' from its name) broke away from the other bulletins again and relaunched with a warmer, friendlier - and non-virtual - set, housed in Studio TC7 at Television Centre. Presenting here are John Nicholson, who replaced Justin Webb as the programme's main presenter in 1998, and Sophie Raworth. For the first time, the clock was now digital.

This look was introduced on 2nd June 1997, and also included a decidedly watered-down new version of the theme tune, and a new title sequence which featured businessmen and women walking down the side of the Big Ben clock tower! These titles were perhaps rather alienating to non-city workers, and around a year later were altered to include a more leisurely scene of a kite rising above people walking along a cliff edge.

In the year 2000, more changes were afoot. The continuous news channel BBC News 24 had been on the air for nearly three years when the BBC bigwigs noticed that in the mornings it was duplicating the service provided by Breakfast News. The accountants therefore deemed this that an obvious saving that could be made, and so the decision was taken to merge Breakfast News and News 24's breakfast programme.

And so on 2nd October 2000, a brand new breakfast programme launched on both BBC1 and BBC News 24, named, um, Breakfast. In widescreen for the first time, the new graphics and title sequence now conformed to the BBC News corporate look, as did the music, which even by this stage still harked back to the original Breakfast Time theme of 1983. You might have expected that since it was now going out on the rolling news channel, the new programme would have a harder-edged, newsy focus. But in fact, it proved to be the opposite - the loss of the word 'News' from the programme title provided a clue to that. Instead, Breakfast promised to give viewers a softer start to their day than its predecessor. Even the sofa was brought back after a 14 year absence, although this was mainly used in the later parts of the programme, the desk being retained for more serious news items.

The new presenting duo was made up of Sophie Raworth, who stayed on from Breakfast News, and the BBC's Middle East correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, who brought a distinctly laid-back approach to the proceedings - rather too laid back in some people's opinion! Moira Stuart also joined the team to present news summaries every half hour. Business Breakfast, meanwhile, disappeared altogether, although business updates remained.

Later set changes saw the desk ditched altogether, several changes of sofa, and in November 2002 a revised theme tune and a change in the presenting line-up as Jeremy Bowen returned to reporting and Sophie Raworth moved to the Six O'Clock News. In their place came Dermot Murnaghan from ITV News, and Natasha Kaplinsky, who joined from Sky.

The next major relaunch occured on 2nd May 2006, when Breakfast received its first new opening title sequence since 2000. Due to a round of cost-cutting measures, the programme moved out of TC7 and joined the other main news bulletins in N6. This meant that the desk was back, although the sofa hadn't gone away - despite this, the set felt rather sparse and empty. The original backdrop, which showed white fluffy clouds on a deep blue sky, proved unpopular and within weeks was changed to orange. By this time Kaplinsky had gone to the Six O'Clock News, and Sian Williams took her place on Breakfast.

By the time of the 25th anniversary of breakfast television, Dermot Murnaghan had departed for Sky News, and so Bill Turnbull, who has been Breakfast's main relief presenter since 2001, stepped into his shoes. Shortly afterwards this studio became Breakfast's regular home again as the BBC news programmes begin another a game of musical studios. However in a controversial move, in 2012 Breakfast went north to MediaCity in Salford, where it remains to this day.


Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation