Power Cuts

In the early 2000s, the power cuts at BBC Television Centre seemed to become something of a tradition.  Here's a minute-by-minute guide to what was happening on-screen during the 2003 incidents:


Power Cut 2003

There was no power failure in 2002, and it looked like there wouldn't be in 2003...but oh yes, in November it came. Unlike the 2000 and 2001 incidents, this time it only involved Stage VI (the news centre, at the front of Television Centre, meaning BBC television presentation and transmission was not affected. But it did cause major disruption to all BBC news services...

Friday 28 November 2003

7.52am An overheated piece of machinery causes a failure in the main power system in the news centre. BBC1's Breakfast is thrown into confusion during the weather, and is unable to link to regional news, while BBC News 24 (simulcasting Breakfast) is forced off air altogether. Radio networks are also affected - Radio 5 Live is forced off air, as is Radio 4, which went off during an inteview with Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell on the Today programme (so it wasn't all bad then). Until normal programmes can be resumed the Radio 4 announcer plays in classical music with intermittent announcements, while Radio 5 plays a recorded Simon Mayo interview with Sir David Attenborough.

8.00 BBC World shows a recorded news bulletin. Having lost most of its technical facilities, Breakfast are rescuing old scripts from the bin, and writing new ones on scraps of paper.

8.08 Radio networks resume, having moved to studios on a different floor. Jack Straw, who was waiting to be interviewed by Radio 4, comments: "Perhaps it's a not so subtle bid by the BBC to increase the licence fee to pay the electricity bill!"

8.15 BBC News 24 back on air, but without the DOG.

8.25 Regional news still unavailable on BBC1.

9.00 BBC1 continues with normal programming, while BBC News 24 remains in the Breakfast studio (TC7) with Sian Williams (whose birthday it is!) and Bill Turnbull. (At this point News 24 would normally have been coming from a temporary studio with a CSO backdrop (TC10) while its normal home in Stage VI was being revamped for the forthcoming relaunch planned for 1st December). BBC World continues showing recorded bulletins.

9.35 BBC News 24 shows an edition of HARDtalk.

10.00 BBC1 unable to show its normal hourly news headlines - this continues throughout the morning. BBC News 24 returns to the Breakfast studio for news with Philip Hayton. There are few reports, but some long studio interviews. All graphics, including the clock, are in the Breakfast style, not News 24's. BBC World now showing live news bulletins.

10.20 Improvised sports news comes from the Breakfast sofa, with the sports presenter reading from the newspapers!

10.30 Philip Hayton hands over to Darren Jordon and Carrie Gracie, who are in the Westminster studio at Millbank. This continues throughout the morning. Most of News 24's graphics are intact, but there is no DOG, no clock, no countdowns or trailers. At first some reports appear to have been recorded off-air from Breakfast (large black bar at the bottom of the screen covering up the clock); this is also the case with the weather.

12.30pm BBC News 24 shows another edition of HARDtalk, with Sir David Attenborough (making his second emergency appearance that day!), in order that the One O'Clock News can be prepared for. Meanwhile, it is announced the relaunch of the channel will be delayed by one week, to 8th December.

12.59 BBC News 24 shows a static caption, with the countdown music playing. Then the One O'Clock News is simulcast on BBC1 and BBC News 24, with Darren Jordon; the opening titles look somewhat stretched.

1.30 Following the weather, BBC1 goes to regional news as normal. BBC News 24 continues from Westminster with Chris Eakin and Carrie Gracie.

4.00 BBC News 24 returns to its temporary home in TC10 at Television Centre. The DOG and clock are still missing; they reappear two hours later, unfortunately. Although normal service is now resumed for viewers, it will be some days before full power is restored to Stage VI. Greg Dyke promises an investigation into the power failure - but didn't he say that three years earlier?

But this wasn't the end of the power problems. The following Wednesday evening, when full power was due to start being restored to Stage VI, things went wrong again...

Wednesday 3 December 2003

8.00pm BBC4 News (which is normally simulcast with BBC World) is disrupted during the opening titles. The picture freezes and then goes black. BBC4 switches to a breakdown caption, while BBC World goes to a recorded news bulletin. BBC4 soon joins back with BBC World, but shows a 14:9 image within a 16:9 frame. On radio, football coverage on Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra is disrupted.

8.25 BBC4 News resumes on BBC4 with Kirsty Lang, while BBC World continues with its recorded bulletin.

8.50 Jon Sopel on BBC News 24 apologises for the lack of a sport bulletin, due to 'major electrical issues in the building'.

9.15 BBC News 24 loses picture, but sound continues. After two minutes they switch to that trusty standby HARDtalk. Picture resumes shortly afterwards, but the DOG and clock are once again missing (hooray!)

9.30 BBC News 24 returns to live broadcasting, with a simulcast with BBC World, and a live edition of World Business Report. Unlike BBC4's simulcast earlier, this is in 16:9 widescreen. At 9.45 WBR hands over to Asia Today.

9.50 Asia Today goes off mid-report, and we return to a rather empty-looking BBC World newsroom, with Mishal Husain presenting. The monitors in the background are switched off.

9.59 BBC News 24 shows 61 seconds of its countdown (still DOG-free).

10.00 BBC1's Ten O'Clock News with Huw Edwards has ended up in TC10 (the News 24 CSO temporary studio). There is no regional insert into the headlines. BBC News 24 continues to simulcast with BBC World.

10.25 At the end of the Ten O'Clock News Huw apologises for the unusual setting, and hopes things will be back to normal by tomorrow! Regional news goes ahead as normal on BBC1. BBC World news ends on BBC News 24, and they go to a UK weather forecast, and trailers.

10.30 Mishal Husain returns with the BBC News 24 headlines (not now simulcasting with BBC World), followed by Australia Direct. The BBC World simulcast resumes at 11.00 (as it had originally planned to be, to allow for the restoration of full power to the news centre).

There was slight disruption on BBC News 24 at around 4.10am, while BBC1 and BBC2 were showing a testcard to allow for planned engineering work. Normal News 24 service was resumed by Thursday morning, and another attempt at restoring full power made that night. But would News 24 be ready for its relaunch on Monday 8th? Stay tuned for the next thrilling instalment of the BBC Power Cut (or perhaps don't)!


From our YouTube channel, Daniel Boettcher reports on the 28th November blackout.


Power Cut 1964

Of course, power cuts are nothing new at BBC Television Centre - the opening night of BBC2 in 1964 was blacked out by one! Read more about it here (external site).


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