Nationwide

It had been four years since the demise of Tonight, the BBC's first early evening 'popular' current affairs magazine, so in 1969 they decided to revive the concept in a new programme which would go round the country and bring us stories from the four corners of the United Kingdom.

And so, the first Nationwide took to the air on Tuesday 9th September 1969, from the BBC's Lime Grove studios. Seemingly too cautious to commit to a full five day week, the programme would only air from Tuesday to Thursday. A jaunty theme tune heralded the start, and the original opening title sequence gave a namecheck to each of the regional news magazines (most of which still have the same name today). These now aired under the Nationwide banner from 6.00.

Then at 6.20 it was time for the scene Nationwide, 'co-ordinated' from London by Michael Barrett. Michael, as sole anchor, would link up with the various regions for guests and features, although this meant the show became something of a technical nightmare, and more often than not the link-ups would fall apart.

The start of the show must have been particularly complex - first a regional announcer would introduce the programme over the regional BBC1 ident; this was then followed by the Nationwide title sequence; then back to the regions for local headlines; then back to London again for a look ahead to 6.20; a Nationwide sting; then back to the regions again.

After only a year on air, the programme was given what would be the first of many revamps - in fact, during its 14 year life Nationwide got through countless sets of opening titles, and five theme tunes. However this first revamp saw the programme still in black-and-white, despite BBC1 having switched to colour transmission in November 1969. This was because Nationwide's home, Studio E at Lime Grove, had yet to be upgraded to colour - in fact the same was true of most of the regional centres.

Autumn 1971 saw Michael Barrett joined in the studio by Bob Wellings from the London-only section of the programme. Nationwide's most famous theme tune, 'The Good Word' by Johnny Scott, was introduced, along with a title sequence which featured a new cartwheeling logo. At last the programme was in colour, and, at last, it was on air five days a week - Nationwide's place in the nation's hearts was assured.

To cope with the increased workload, the Nationwide family continued to expand, and Frank Bough, for years a familiar face on Grandstand, arrived as co-anchor. Sue Lawley joined the reporting team, and was promoted to a studio presenter in autumn 1973. At the same time Valerie Singleton and Richard Stilgoe began presenting The Consumer Unit; while Jimmy Hill presented Friday's Sportswide.

The mid 1970s was the defining period for Nationwide, as millions tuned in each night to watch a skateboarding duck, surfing dog and beer drinking snail. But at the same time Nationwide was a serious current affairs programme, and it gave the opportunity for members of the public in studios around the country to give a grilling to the politicians of the day. Other viewers were grilled on why they bought what they believed to be 'instant sea pets'.

In 1975 Sue Lawley left to join Denis Tuohy and Donald MacCormack on Tonight (what an original name!), BBC1's more serious late night current affairs programme, the successor to 24 Hours and Midweek. So back at teatime more new names climbed aboard, like John Stapleton and Michael Barrett's wife Dilys Morgan. Val Singleton was promoted to become a main presenter, and Richard Stilgoe moved to the Monday night Pigeonhole letters slot. By now Nationwide's popularity had reached such heights that a board game was released - but it wasn't a success!

In the mid-70s the show introduced annual events, like the Christmas Carol competition, and it would also spend weeks away at regional studios across the UK. Meanwhile memorable reports came from the likes of James Hogg who, 27 years before I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, spent 14 days on a remote Scottish island. Nationwide held a 'stop smoking' campaign, but that didn't have much effect on Bob Wellings, who was caught on camera with a cigarette; Dilys Morgan duly exposed him to the nation.

1977 saw the departure of the show's original presenter, Michael Barrett. After anchoring the programme's Silver Jubilee coverage, he spent his final week touring the regions in a special Nationwide-branded train. However, all was not lost as Sue Lawley returned to the show; meanwhile the late Glyn Worsnip took Richard Stilgoe's place on Pigeonhole, and Des Lynam arrived on Sportswide.

By autumn 1978 the cartwheeling logo had been ditched, and a new theme tune was introduced (and a memorable one as far as I'm concerned as it's stuck in my mind since I was about 3 or 4 years old!). A new opening sequence harked back to the 1969 practice of listing the name of each regional news magazine - except for the South East. This is because the South East was, bizzarely, not considered to be a region by the BBC, and therefore did not receive any regional programming. The only exception was a round-up of the South East's news brought to us by the Nationwide team, while the other regions broke away for their own local news.

As Nationwide moved into the 1980s, Bob Wellings, John Stapleton and Val Singleton all departed. They were replaced by Richard Kershaw, Sue Cook and Hugh Scully. Hugh also presented the first incarnation of Watchdog on the Monday editions. A new team was developing for the new decade, but there was plenty of meddling to come, and relaunches became ever more frequent.

First, a new title sequence debuted around the start of 1981, along with a nasty rearrangement of the theme tune. One of the best remembered features from this era was when Tony Wilkinson spent a month 'Down and Out', in an attempt to discover what life was like for the homeless. In sharp contrast, in the very same month, February 1981, Nationwide could be seen hosting the British Rock and Pop awards, co-hosted by Sue Lawley and Dave Lee Travis.

Then at the start of January 1982 came a major relaunch, which also saw at last the introduction of a separately branded programme for the South East, South East at Six. There was a new set, along with completely new, and more modern-sounding, theme tune and a new title sequence. More significantly, however, was the installation of David Dimbleby as chief presenter, billed above stalwarts Frank and Sue. Dimbers arrived criticising Nationwide for its 'narrow vision, and failure to cover international events'. This was clearly a sign that Nationwide wanted to shake off its 'skateboarding duck' image and become a more serious current affairs programme. But viewers complained that it had become nothing more than a 'diluted Panorama'. Dimbleby's reign lasted no more than four months.

By now, the end was nigh for Nationwide. At the end of 1982 Frank Bough departed for Breakfast Time, and there was one more change of titles, and a few final bloopers, such as Sue Lawley finding herself presenting in the dark, before the axe finally fell. Despite a complaint to the BBC from Yours Truly, begging for it not to end, Nationwide Final Edition aired on Friday 5th August 1983, with a reunion of past presenters.

The ending of Nationwide after 14 years left a gaping hole in the early evening schedule, so how would the BBC fill it? Temporarily by Doctor Who repeats and Kick Start - but in the autumn a more permanent replacement was introduced. Well, it had been intended to be permanent, anyway...


Sixty Minutes

Sixty Minutes was an appalling, but thankfully short-lived, attempt at a 'serious but popular' teatime current affairs show to replace the much-loved Nationwide. Running each evening from 5.40 to 6.40 from 24th October 1983, it was presented by Nick Ross, Sarah Kennedy, Sally Magnusson, Desmond Wilcox and Beverley Anderson. It attempted to lump together the day's news, regional magazines and talking topics into one seamless show, complete with constant reminders of the show's theme tune.

Each programme begin with the Evening News, running for 13 minutes, down from the 20 minutes it had pre-Sixty Minutes. It was read by one of the BBC news team, usually Moira Stuart, Richard Whitmore or Jan Leeming. Then at 5.53 it was onto the regional news magazines, most of which retained their familiar names, but with a standardised Sixty Minutes-style set, title sequence and theme tune foisted upon them

The regional news was followed by a very brief weather report at 6.15; then the final 25 minutes consisted of 'the issues of the hour and some stories with a smile'; pretty much the same as Nationwide or Tonight then. However there was the controversial addition of The Special Correspondents - a team of 'humorists with some less serious observations on the day's events'. Then just before the end of the programme it was back to the newsroom for a brief news update.

A barrage of complaints followed - 'I've tried hard, but I cannot find anything likeable in the flashing lights and garish colours of the new Sixty Minutes format...this cauldron of meaningless chaos is unbearable...' wrote one Radio Times reader. Others complained about the 'mixing of straight news and informed comment with banal vox pop and rubbishy features', and some just called it 'flippant'.

By 1984 the title sequence and rather brash theme tune was re-recorded with a toned-down, shortened version. Meanwhile the set was altered to make it more relaxed, with sofas replacing the desks, and a proper weather forecast reintroduced. But the damage had already been done.

And yet, just as the show was starting to be accepted by the audience, it was announced on air the show had just six weeks left to run. Surprises all round - even Radio Times readers were saying things like 'don't axe it - it wasn't that bad after all!' The last programme was shown on 27th July, and in September Sixty Minutes was succeeded by the Six O'Clock News. The popular teatime current affairs concept had finally been declared dead and buried - or had it?...


The One Show

'Nationwide to return' reported The Times newspaper in December 2005. It seemed an unlikely story - but four months later BBC1 controller Peter Fincham confirmed that the Nationwide format would indeed be resurrected the following August, in an attempt to hold viewers across the 7.00 junction who switch over in droves to ITV1's Emmerdale Farm.

The programme duly went on air for the first time on 14th August 2006, at the beginning of a four week trial period. The Nationwide name was not resurrected, however, instead the programme is named The One Show - possibly the worst title for any programme ever?

In its initial run The One Show, a mixed bag of items, was presented by Adrian Chiles and Nadia Sawalha, each weekday evening from the BBC studios at Birmingham's 'Mailbox'. Rather like its illustrious forebear, the programme was linked to directly from the regional news magazines at 6.55, before returning to the regions for headlines and weather at 7.25.

Nationwide it most certainly wasn't, but The One Show was deemed successful enough to return as a regular fixture of the schedule. And so it did, on 9th July 2007. There are a number of changes to the original run, however - the show is now presented from the BBC's White City building in London, Nadia Sawalha is no longer on the presenting team, and the programme now begins at 7.00, having been separated from the regional news. The set is also somewhat more colourful and snazzy than the original.


Video

From our YouTube channel, the opening of the first edition of The One Show.


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