News

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

In this section we list 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 slot was increased to 15 minutes at the start of 1962, and then to 25 minutes in September of that year.

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

Little footage seems to survive from Town and Around. However it might be inferred that this regional news magazine may have been more 'magazine' than 'news' - for example, from 1966 to 1968 the programme included a weekly contribution from cookery expert Zena Skinner, and even produced its own cookery books.

In July 1968 there were signs that the BBC perhaps 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 was 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, including losing the newsroom backdrop that gave the programme its name in the mid-90s.


The look in the first two images here was introduced on 9th October 1997. It was presumably designed to coincide with the launch of the new BBC logo - but arrived a few days late.

Almost two years later, on 4th October 1999, Newsroom South East became the first English region to take on the new BBC News corporate look, as seen here with Tim Donovan.


Newsroom South East's fate was sealed when the region was split up at the start of the 21st century. With its days numbered, on 4th August 2001 it became the first English regional news programme to gain full widescreen capability when it moved from Elstree to a new high-tech digitally-equipped studio in Marylebone High Street in west London. This would shortly become the home of Newsroom South East's successor.

But as we shall see on the next page, there would, in fact, not be just one replacement, but three...


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