Telly Years

In this section, we take a look back at sample BBC television and radio schedules from years gone by, with listings from the BBC Genome Project.

We also have timelines of key dates in broadcasting for each decade.

On this page we look at the 1930s. On other pages: 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. For 2000 and 2010s we have broadcasting dates only.


BBC Genome schedule for Monday 22 August 1932

Two months after the cessation of the Baird Television Company's broadcasts in June 1932, the BBC launched its own television service from a studio in the basement of the newly-opened Broadcasting House in London. In February 1934, the studio was moved to 16 Portland Place.

The service continued to make use of Baird's 30-line process. Transmissions were on medium wave, which meant they could be received over a large part of the British Isles. Sound was broadcast via the Midland Regional Programme from Daventry, with vision using the London National Programme transmitter at Brookmans Park - however, because of this, television broadcasts were not able to commence until 11.00pm, after both radio stations had finished programmes for the night.

Radio Times, which continued to include the broadcasts amongst its radio listings, again offers no clue as to the content of the BBC's inaugural television transmission.


BBC Genome schedule for Wednesday 11 September 1935

With Baird's company working on an improved mechanical process on 240 lines, and rival Marconi-EMI promising an electronic system on 405 lines, in January 1935 a government committee led by Lord Selsdon announced that the BBC should launch a high definition television service. This was effectively the death knell for the 30-line system.

The BBC made its final late night low definition television broadcast on 11th September 1935, with a programme of music and dance, featuring the soprano Olive Groves, baritone Morgan Davies, pianist Cyril Smith (no, not that one), violinist Daisy Kennedy and ballerina Lydia Sokolova.

Once this was over, the few thousand owners of Baird's Televisors found themselves left with nothing but an expensive paperweight.


BBC Genome schedule for Monday 2 November 1936

A truly historic day - the beginning of television as we know it, as the BBC inaugurated the world's first regular high definition public television service.

The first broadcasts from Alexandra Palace had taken place on 26th August with an announcement by Elizabeth Cowell and the programme Here's Looking at You; these could be seen by visitors to the Radiolympia exhibition.

The BBC's early television broadcasts were only receivable by those living within range of the Alexandra Palace transmitter, and had a potential audience of around 300 people who owned sets. So only the London edition of Radio Times even mentioned the word 'television'. Initially there was just two hours of broadcasting a day - from 3-4pm, and 9-10pm. However for this opening day, the first hour was actually performed twice - first using the mechanical Baird system, and then again, using the electronic Marconi-EMI system.

So what could the privileged few see on day one of the BBC Television Service? After a succession of speeches, including one from BBC chairman RC Norman who said, "We believe that these proceedings will be remembered as an historic occasion", there was a bulletin of British Movietone News, then variety from musical comedy actress Adele Dixon and American dancers Buck and Bubbles. Though billed to run from 3.30 to 4.00, this programme in fact ran from approx 3.23 to 3.31. Then the BBC Television Orchestra continued in sound only till around 3.50.

In the evening there was a short film Television Comes to London, which was repeated a number of times over the following days, then the first edition of the magazine programme Picture Page, which was to run until 1939, and again from 1946-54.

The second day of television got under way at 3.00pm with exhibits from the Metropolitan and Essex Canine Society's Show, described by A. Croxton Smith OBE. This was followed by a model of The Golden Hind made by L.A. Stock, bus driver, and more variety in Starlight with comedians Bebe and Ben Lyon.

Other early programmes included the first televised opera, Mr Pickwick, on 13 November; while it didn't take long for the first cookery programme to be shown, on 9 December.

For the first three months of television the Baird and Marconi-EMI systems were used on alternate weeks. Baird's system was used first (decided on the toss of a coin, allegedly!), but was dropped on 4 February 1937.


BBC Genome schedule for Friday 1 September 1939

Following our look at the first day of high definition television, we now move straight to the last day of the pre-war BBC Television Service. Uniquely in this section, this is a line-up of programmes most of which did not actually make it to air.

Legend has it that television was suddenly pulled off air part of the way through a Mickey Mouse cartoon, and indeed the schedule shows that Touchdown Mickey was scheduled for 3.30. However research carried out by the Transdiffusion website has shown that the truth is rather different. The mouse did indeed put in an appearance that day, but some three-and-a-half hours earlier, and in a different cartoon, Mickey's Gala Premiere.

Transmissions that day had got under way as scheduled with Come and Be Televised, an hour-long outside broadcast from the Radiolympia exhibition with Elizabeth Cowell. Diverging from the published schedule, it was immediately followed shortly after midday by the Mickey Mouse cartoon which was in fact shown all the way to the end, before pre-war transmissions ended for good some twenty minutes later.

Scheduled programmes that never went to air later that day included a session with Mantovani and his orchestra, a trip to London Zoo, which had in fact already aired that week, and another visit to Radiolympia for a variety extravaganza.

1930s Timeline

09/03/30 National Programme opened on LW from Daventry, replacing 5XX, and on MW from Brookman's Park
09/03/30 Regional Programme opened from Brookman's Park, replacing 2LO. Midlands Regional Programme opened from Daventry, replacing 5GB
31/03/30 Baird's television service transmitted on MW from Brookman's Park
18/04/30 Piano music broadcast instead of news bulletin
14/07/30 First television play, The Man with a Flower in His Mouth
22/07/30 The BBC suspends programming involvement with Baird's television service
17/05/31 North Regional Programme opened from Moorside Edge, replacing 2ZY and its relays
12/07/31 The National Programme opens at Moorside Edge
15/03/32 First radio broadcast from Broadcasting House, the BBC Dance Orchestra conducted by Henry Hall
14/05/32 Broadcasting House opened and becomes the BBC's headquarters
12/06/32 Scottish Regional Programme opened from Westerglen, replacing 5SC and its relays
17/06/32 End of Baird's broadcasts using the BBC's transmitter
22/08/32 Start of the BBC Television Service on MW using the 30-line Baird system
25/09/32 The National Programme opens at Westerglen
19/12/32 BBC Empire Service launched, broadcasting on shortwave from Daventry's Borough Hill
25/12/32 King George V becomes the first monarch to deliver a Christmas Day message by radio
28/05/33 West Regional Programme opened from Washford, replacing 5WA and its relay
04/06/33 Radio Luxembourg launched, broadcasting 5.00pm-midnight, Sundays only
17/07/33 The National Programme opens at Washford
15/01/34 The Lucerne Plan is implemented. The National Programme moves to 200kHz
??/02/34 BBC Television studio moved to 16 Portland Place, London
13/04/34 BBC Television reduced to two nights a week
07/10/34 The National Programme moves from Daventry to Droitwich on 200kHz long wave
31/01/35 A government committee recommends the immediate introduction of a public television service
17/02/35 Midlands Regional Programme moves from Daventry to Droitwich
11/09/35 Final transmission of the BBC Television Service using the 30-line Baird system
20/05/36 Northern Ireland Regional Programme opened from Lisnagarvey, replacing 2BE
26/08/36 Experimental closed circuit high-definition television transmissions from Radiolympia
31/08/36 Elizabeth Cowell becomes the first female television announcer
05/09/36 Final high-definition television transmissions from Radiolympia
02/11/36 Inauguration at 3.00pm of the high-definition BBC Television Service from Alexandra Palace
02/11/36 First edition of Picture Page
01/02/37 West Regional Programme becomes the West and Wales Regional Programme, with the addition of a transmitter at Penmon
04/02/37 BBC Television drops the Baird system
12/05/37 George VI's coronation televised, the first major outside broadcast
04/07/37 Separate Wales and West Regional Programmes introduced. Washford transmits both services, but no longer transmits the National Programme
03/01/38 First foreign language broadcast, in Arabic
14/03/38 Start of the Latin American Service
03/04/38 First BBC Television broadcasts on a Sunday, for one hour
27/09/38 Start of the BBC European Service, broadcasting in French, German and Italian
??/??/39 The Droitwich transmitter is modified to radiate the European Service on MW
01/09/39 BBC Television Service closed down at 12.35pm. The long wave service from Droitwich is closed down. BBC Home Service replaces National and Regional Programmes at 8.15pm on 668/767kHz
01/10/39 Winston Churchill's first wartime broadcast

Next page: 1940s
Previous page: 1920s


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