BBC South East

One of the biggest, and easily the most populated, regions in the UK, the former BBC South East region stretched from Dover in the south east to Banbury in the north west, taking in Kent, Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, the Luton area of Bedfordshire and the Crawley/East Grinstead area of West Sussex. It also included East Sussex until 1993.

Despite covering such a large area, the region was often known simply as 'London'. In fact, until the mid-1980s wasn't even considered to be a region at all by the BBC, continuing with network output at the times that other regions had their own dedicated programming.

Unlike most other regional news programmes which have retained the same names for decades, like Look East, Look North, Midlands Today and so on, the regional news in London and the South East has endured through several different identities.

The last major change was when the region was split up around the turn of the century, in order to give a better service to some parts of the area.

Below are listed the various news programmes, past and present, which have covered this vast region.


TOWN AND AROUND (1 Jan 1959?-3 Sep 1969)

A nightly five-minute slot for regional news first appeared in the BBC Television schedules on 30th September 1957. By 1959, the slot had been doubled in length, and in London and the South East had become known as Town and Around - though the first mention of this title in Radio Times is not until March 1960.

The programme was produced by the BBC's News Division at Alexandra Palace. Presenters over the years included Michael Aspel, Corbet Woodall, Richard Baker, Zena Skinner and John Edmunds.

Little footage seems to survive from Town and Around. However given that at one point the programme produced its own cookery books, it might be inferred that this regional news magazine may have been more 'magazine' than 'news'.

In July 1968 there were signs that the BBC regarded a regional news programme for London and the South East as a non-essential part of the schedule, when Town and Around was reduced to a twice-weekly slot on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Tuesday edition disappeared in October, and then at the start of 1969 the now-weekly programme moved to Wednesdays. London This Week took over on Fridays at this point, with the regional news slot on other days being filled with non-news programmes such as US sitcoms Get Smart! and Bewitched.


LONDON THIS WEEK (3 Jan 1969-25 Aug 1972)

Complementing Town and Around from the start of 1969, London This Week initially appeared on Fridays only. Presented by Ronald Allison, the programme promised to include 'film reports on matters of concern, interest and amusement to Londoners'. Whether they would also be of interest to viewers in the wider South East is not known...

In September 1969, upon the launch of Nationwide on Tuesdays to Thursdays, London This Week moved to Mondays, with the vacated Friday slot being filled by other programmes such as the US sitcom Here's Lucy, the cookery programme Entertaining with Kerr and, for several weeks in 1970, by what sounds like a spin-off, Europe This Week.

From January 1971 London This Week went twice-weekly on Mondays and Fridays, continuing until Nationwide was extended to five nights a week in September 1972.


LONDON - NATIONWIDE (9 Sep 1969-1971)

The story of South East regional news in the late 60s and early 70s is rather complicated. Town and Around ended upon the launch of Nationwide in September 1969, and on Tuesdays to Thursdays the South East news was presented from within Nationwide.

Initially, this appears to have formed a stand-alone segment with its own set, theme tune and presenter - Bob Wellings. The combined programme was listed in the London edition of Radio Times under the title London - Nationwide. Occasionally, for example when Nationwide was on its summer break, or when it had a day off to make way for coverage of the moon landings, Bob's segment appeared as a programme in its own right and in Radio Times was simply titled London.

With London - Nationwide on air three days a week, London This Week, an entirely separate enterprise, continued on Mondays, with other programmes on Fridays as detailed above. However for several weeks in the summer of 1970 there was also a Friday edition of London.


NATIONWIDE (1971-23 Dec 1981)

At some point in 1971 the South East segment became fully integrated into Nationwide on Tuesdays to Thursdays, with Bob Wellings promoted to join Michael Barrett on the national programme. London This Week continued on Mondays and Fridays until the end of August 1972, when Nationwide was extended to five days a week.

For the next decade South East news was presented by the national team, with Nationwide continuing in the South East only when the national programme was on its summer break, often with compilations of previously featured material. South East regional news was non-existent at all other times - daytime, weekends, bank holidays, and even the entire Christmas and New Year period.

In 1982, the BBC started to take the South East a little more seriously as a region...


SOUTH EAST AT SIX (4 Jan 1982-14 Oct 1983)

Presented by Laurie Mayer, Sue Cook and Fran Morrison, South East at Six was the first proper attempt to separate the regional news from Nationwide - although the theme tune was the same as its parent, and the beige and red set was almost identical.

South East at Six continued for around two months after Nationwide's demise in August 1983, albeit with a new look (I seem to remember the big red six on black blackground had changed to blue on a brown background); it then ended in mid-October.

For the next week, leading up to the launch of Sixty Minutes, South East news came from the South Today team in Southampton, in an unusual link-up between the two regions. This was presumably while the Lime Grove studio was being set up for Sixty Minutes.


SIXTY MINUTES SOUTH EAST (24 Oct 1983-10 Aug 1984)

Right back to the Nationwide situation - South East was nothing more than a segment of Sixty Minutes, presented by the national team of Nick Ross, Sarah Kennedy, Sally Magnusson and others.

Sixty Minutes was not a great success, and was dropped at the end of July 1984. With its replacement, the Six O'Clock News, not beginning until the start of September, there was to be another interim period. South East continued as a stand-alone programme from 5.55-6.15 for the first two weeks, presented by the Sixty Minutes team - though the Radio Times resurrected the South East at Six title for its listing.

For the remaining weeks of August there was another link-up with South Today, just as in the previous year.

Then in September, the South East got its first entirely separate news programme since the 1960s...


LONDON PLUS (3 Sep 1984-23 Mar 1989)

The new programme was billed as a 'day-to-day guide to life in Britain's busiest region' - but don't be deceived by the title, London Plus still covered the entire South East region. However, it wasn't technically a 'regional' production at all; it was produced by the BBC Current Affairs department, and used the former Nationwide/Sixty Minutes facilities at Lime Grove.

The original London Plus theme tune was without doubt the best regional news theme ever! Sadly, its replacement was a hideous re-recording of the same music. In fact, despite its relatively short life, London Plus managed to get through three different theme tunes, three sets, four opening title sequences and umpteen presenters.

The launch team was made up of Guy Michelmore, Sally Magnusson and former Nationwide presenter Bob Wellings. However within a year they had all moved on, and were followed by a long succession of presenters, including Jeremy Paxman, Deborah Hall, John Stapleton, Penny Bustin, Caroline Righton, Rob Curling, Lucy Meacock, Steve Clarke, and Richard Bath, who presented the final edition in 1989.

In September 1985, short bulletins at lunchtime and mid-afternoon were introduced, which had been a feature of other regions for years before, although these were not branded as London Plus.

The following year, a weekly regional documentary strand was introduced on BBC2. The South East's version was originally known as South East Reports, and had a title sequence similar to that of London Plus. It subsequently became known as The Friday Report, and finally First Sight.


NEWSROOM SOUTH EAST (28 Mar 1989-30 Sep 2001)

In 1989 a 'proper' BBC South East region was finally created, and its base was to be at the BBC's Elstree centre in Hertfordshire. This was deliberately chosen because it wasn't in London, emphasising that there was more to the South East than London. Fine in concept - but in practice it did little to stop the new news programme for the region, Newsroom South East, from remaining very London-centric.

Newsroom South East launched with Guy Michelmore in charge once again (he also composed the theme tune!), but this time he managed to hang around for over four years. Other presenters over the programme's twelve year life included Louise Batchelor, Jacqui Harper, Sharon Doughty, Tim Ewart, Gwenan Edwards, Mike Embley, Gargy Patel, Charley Figgis and Gillian Joseph.

The programme updated its look roughly every two years from 1993 onwards, losing the newsroom backdrop in the mid-90s, and in October 1999 became the first English region to take on the new BBC News corporate look, as seen in the last image here with Tim Donovan.

Newsroom South East's fate was sealed when the region was split up at the start of the 21st century, and there was not one, but three replacements...


BBC LONDON NEWS (1 Oct 2001-date)

The new programme for London and the surrounding region presented a radical break from the past. Look - no desk, no chairs, no studio! BBC London News was initially presented by Emily Maitlis, from two levels of BBC London's Marylebone High Street newsroom, and everyone had to stand up, including interviewees.

The programme launched in 2001 as part of a much-vanted tri-media project encompassing the television programme, the radio station BBC London 94.9 and the website. All three were confusingly branded as 'LDN' - but despite popular belief, this was merely the logo, not the name of the programme, and the phrase 'LDN' was never spoken. Thankfully, the branding changed to 'BBC London' in 2004.

Over the next few years, elements of furniture were gradually introduced - including in 2007 a chair for the presenter! By this time, Riz Lateef had taken over as the programme's lead presenter.

In April 2008 BBC London found its own tri-media branding overruled by the bigger beast of BBC News, which saw a new title sequence following a standardised look used across all English regions.

The following year, BBC London News moved out of Marylebone High Street and into a studio at Broadcasting House, with a tiny, shoebox-like set. With this studio destined to become home to The One Show, in 2013 it moved again to Studio A, BBC News's virtual reality studio where anything is possible - so they made it look like a news studio! From now on, the presenter would read the news sitting at a desk - just like they used to do in the old days!

The programme's new permanent home, Studio D, was finally ready in June 2014, where the London skyline is used as the backdrop.

In July 2019, as part of the roll-out across BBC News of the corporation's own font, Reith, the programme title was changed to match the on-screen branding, and is now known simply as BBC London.

Despite the name, BBC London continues to be received by viewers over a considerable portion of the South East outside the capital, from Luton to Crawley, and Reading to Southend. What the BBC actually now consider to be the 'South East', however, is a somewhat smaller area...


SOUTH EAST TODAY (3 Sep 2001-date)

Nearly a month before the start of BBC London News, viewers in Kent and East Sussex, along with those in the eastern fringes of Surrey and West Sussex received their own dedicated news programme, presented from the new region's base in Tunbridge Wells, also home to BBC Radio Kent.

South East Today's launch presenter was a familiar one to long-time viewers in the region - Laurie Mayer, who used to present South East at Six all those years ago! However he departed after less than a year, and his place was taken by Beverley Thompson, who co-presented initially with Giles Dilnot, and then with former Meridian presenter Geoff Clark. In 2009, the duo were replaced by the younger pairing of Polly Evans and Rob Smith.


SOUTH TODAY/BBC OXFORD NEWS (16 Oct 2000-date)

The final part of the South East jigsaw, consisting of Oxfordshire and small parts of surrounding counties, was the first to leave the region. In October 2000, the area found itself joining the South Today region, albeit with its own 10-minute opt-out at the start of the 6.30 programme, and its own 10.25 late bulletin.

Presented initially from South Today's base in Southampton, the Oxford opt-out moved to a studio in the city itself in 2004. The title changed to BBC Oxford News in April 2008, only to revert to South Today in 2012.


From our YouTube channel, some Newsroom South East and BBC London News opening titles, plus clips relating to the launch of South East Today.

Links

BBC London News official site
BBC South East Today official site
BBC South Today - Oxford official site
Nationwide at BBC Programmes
South East at Six at BBC Programmes
London Plus at BBC Programmes
Town and Around at BBC Genome
London This Week at BBC Genome
Nationwide at BBC Genome
South East at Six at BBC Genome
Sixty Minutes at BBC Genome
London Plus at BBC Genome
Newsroom South East at BBC Genome
BBC London News at BBC Genome
Nationwide Wikipedia entry
Sixty Minutes Wikipedia entry
London Plus Wikipedia entry
Newsroom South East Wikipedia entry
BBC London News Wikipedia entry
BBC South East Today Wikipedia entry
BBC South Today - Oxford Wikipedia entry