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


BBC Genome schedule for Tuesday 13 September 1955

This was an important month for television. In less than two weeks the BBC Television Service would find itself facing competition for the first time in its history - from independent television. On 22nd September Associated-Rediffusion would begin a commercial television service for viewers in the London region.

Children now had an hour of programmes at 5.00, and there was now a fifteen minute news bulletin - just the one - each evening at 7.30. But there were changes on the horizon. Following on from the first television weather forecaster in 1954, Kenneth Kendall had just become the first in-vision newsreader (on 4th September), in direct response to ITN who would be using in-vision presenters.

Broadcasting hours would also be increased, from 36 to 49 hours a week, starting on 19th September, which would see a further hour of afternoon programmes from 4-5pm, and evening programmes now starting at 7.00. However airtime for both the BBC and independent television services were still very much restricted. Neither could transmit more than 35 hours between Monday and Friday, with a maximum of 8 hours on any given day. No broadcasts were allowed earlier than 9am or later than 11pm, nor between 6-7pm (the 'Toddlers Truce' - see below for more details on this). At the weekend airtime was limited to 15 hours, although religious broadcasting and outside broadcasts of special events were permitted outside these hours.

It's telling that at this point the BBC still considered television as subservient to radio - their attempt at spoiling Associated-Rediffusion's launch was to kill off Grace in The Archers...


BBC Genome schedule for Monday 18 February 1957

In this age of 24 hour broadcasting, it seems absurd that until February 1957, neither the BBC nor ITV was allowed to broadcast television between 6.00 and 7.00pm. The hours' break was known as 'The Gap', or 'Toddlers' Truce', and was imposed to enable parents to get their children to bed!

The rule was finally relaxed in our featured week, and the BBC chose to fill the gap with an extra news bulletin, and Tonight - a new magazine show which promised us "interviews with people in the news; views from people who never get into the news; sporting comment; reviews of the day's papers; musicians and music; something about travel; stories, puzzles, and up-to-the-minute flashes from the newsroom." The programme, introduced by Cliff Michelmore, ran until 1965.

On Saturdays the gap was filled with a new pop programme, Six Five Special, presented by Josephine Douglas and Pete Murray which, aside from music, would also include comedy sketches, something for sports lovers, and items on rock climbing.

There was another magazine show on this day, this time for children, Studio E with Vera McKechnie, and featuring Tony Hart, which came from the Lime Grove studios in Shepherd's Bush which the BBC had bought at the start of the 1950s. At this point BBC television programmes were produced from Alexandra Palace and Lime Grove; Television Centre opened three years later.

Apart from the news, one programme survives to this day - 'television's window on the world', Panorama, and some other long-running shows would begin soon - The Sky at Night began in April and was presented monthly by Patrick Moore, almost without fail, right up until his death; October 1958 would see the launch of both Grandstand and Blue Peter.

Broadcasting hours were still very restricted; there was nothing before 3.00pm when the BBC's thrilling programming included a guide to vacuum cleaners, while it was bedtime after the news at 10.45.


BBC Genome schedule for Saturday 30 May 1959

A typical late spring Saturday from the end of the 50s. Harry Secombe was the star of Saturday night, with his show Secombe at Large. Your entertainment would also include detective drama in Charleworth, the inevitable western - Wells Fargo - and music in Drumbeat which this week featured the likes of Bob Miller and the Millermen, Adam Faith and Dickie Valentine.

Meanwhile the BBC were continuing with their Stereophony experiments, which were transmitted every two weeks or so throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Classical music would be broadcast simultaneously on the Television Service and on Network Three, with the television transmitter broadcasting the right hand channel of the sound, and the left hand channel broadcast on the radio. This of course meant listeners would have to shuffle their equipment round the room to get the full benefit of the broadcasts, and results were mixed, to say the least. (Hear a clip on our Radio 3 page).

There was a lot of sport cluttering up the Light Programme - however for pop fans there was Saturday Club with Brian Matthew, which had begun in 1957, promising the 'best of today's 'pop' entertainment'. It would run for a further ten years. But destined to be even more durable would be Pick of the Pops. Having started in 1955, the show was currently shoved into a late night slot, and was presented by David Jacobs - it would be another two years before Alan Freeman would get anywhere near it. However at this point it was not yet a chart show; instead Mr Jacobs brought us 'a review of the current popular records as well as some of the latest issues'. After more than half a century POTP is still on the air - but now as a golden oldie chart show.

1950s Timeline

12/02/50 Formation of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
23/02/50 First television coverage of the General Election results
15/03/50 BBC radio frequencies reorganised as per the 1948 Copenhagen plan
03/04/50 Aspect ratio of television broadcasts changed from 5:4 to 4:3
23/04/50 First edition of Children's Newsreel
21/05/50 The BBC open their studios at Lime Grove
29/05/50 First episode of The Archers on the Midland Home Service
27/08/50 First live television broadcast from the continent - Television Crosses the Channel
01/01/51 First episode of The Archers broadcast nationally on the Light Programme
02/07/51 Radio Luxembourg's English-language service moves to 1439 kHz (208 metres)
12/10/51 BBC Television extended to the North of England, with the opening of the Holme Moss transmitter
15/10/51 First party political broadcast
14/03/52 BBC Television extended to Scotland
05/05/52 First experimental schools television programme
30/06/52 The European VHF Broadcasting Conference at Stockholm agrees plans for frequencies in VHF Bands I, II and III
15/08/52 BBC Television extended to Wales and the West, with the opening of the Wenvoe transmitter
21/04/53 Watch with Mother umbrella title introduced for BBC pre-school programmes
01/05/53 BBC Television extended to Northern Ireland
02/06/53 Televised coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation
??/09/53 The BBC purchases the Shepherds Bush Empire and converts it into the Television Theatre
11/11/53 First edition of Panorama on the BBC Television Service
02/12/53 BBC Television's 'bat's wings' symbol introduced
11/01/54 First in-vision weatherman
09/04/54 The first television soap opera begins, The Grove Family
06/06/54 First transmission by the EBU's Eurovision network
05/07/54 First edition of BBC News and Newsreel
04/08/54 Formation of the Independent Television Authority (ITA)
12/11/54 BBC Television extended to the South of England, with the opening of the Rowridge transmitter
22/03/55 Television broadcasting hours restricted to 50 hours a week
02/05/55 The BBC begins regular VHF radio transmissions in Band II of the Light Programme, Third Programme and Home Service from the Wrotham transmitter
29/07/55 First edition of This is Your Life on the BBC Television Service
04/09/55 Kenneth Kendall is the first in-vision newsreader
19/09/55 BBC Television broadcasting hours increased from 36 to 49 hours a week. Afternoon programmes run from 3-5pm, with children's programmes from 4-5pm, evening programmes start at 7pm
22/09/55 ITV launched in London at 7.15pm from the Croydon transmitter. the providers are Associated-Rediffusion (weekdays) and ATV (weekends)
10/10/55 Experimental BBC colour television transmissions on 405 lines from Alexandra Palace
17/02/56 ITV extends to the Midlands - the providers are ATV (weekdays) and ABC (weekends)
28/03/56 First BBC television transmissions from Crystal Palace, replacing Alexandra Palace
03/04/56 First public colour television test transmission from Alexandra Palace
03/05/56 ITV extends to the North West - the providers are Granada (weekdays) and ABC (weekends)
24/05/56 First Eurovision Song Contest
06/07/56 First episode of Hancock's Half Hour on the BBC Television Service
03/11/56 ITV extends to the North of England from the Emley Moor transmitter - the providers as per North West
18/02/57 Television broadcasts now permitted between 6.00 and 7.00pm. The early evening news bulletin on the BBC Television Service moves from 7.00 to 7.15, with an extra bulletin introduced at 6.00. First edition of Tonight
24/04/57 First edition of The Sky at Night
13/05/57 Schools television broadcasts begin on ITV, with one programme a day
30/08/57 The BBC's first regional news service, the Scottish News Summary, begins
31/08/57 ITV extends to central Scotland - the provider is Scottish Television
24/09/57 Schools television broadcasts begin on the BBC Television Service in the afternoons
30/09/57 Regional news begins on BBC Television for the North, Midlands, Northern Ireland, and Wales and West
30/09/57 Network Three begins on BBC Third Programme frequencies in the early evening with minority interest programmes and some music
28/10/57 First edition of Today on the BBC Home Service
??/11/57 Experimental television transmissions in Band V on 405 lines from Crystal Palace
05/11/57 First experimental colour television transmissions with live pictures from Alexandra Palace studios and Crystal Palace transmitter
25/12/57 The Queen's Christmas message televised for the first time
13/01/58 Experimental stereo radio transmissions from Wrotham for two days
14/01/58 ITV extended to the West and South Wales - the provider is Television Wales and the West
30/01/58 ITV extended to the South of England - the provider is Southern Television
01/04/58 BBC Radiophonic Workshop formed
08/04/58 First public demonstration of VERA (Vision Electronic Recording Apparatus) for magnetic recording of television pictures
05/05/58 Experimental television transmissions in Band V on 625 lines from Crystal Palace
11/10/58 First edition of Grandstand on the BBC Television Service
16/10/58 First edition of Blue Peter on the BBC Television Service
18/10/58 Regular fortnightly experimental Stereophony transmissions begin on the BBC Television Service and Network Three
01/01/59 First edition of Town and Around on the BBC Television Service in London and the South East
15/01/59 ITV extended to the North East - the provider is Tyne Tees
24/06/59 BBC relay station plans announced - 14 television and 10 VHF radio sites
05/10/59 BBC East begins regional news broadcasts
27/10/59 ITV extended to the East of England - the provider is Anglia
31/10/59 ITV extended to Northern Ireland - the provider is Ulster Television

Next page: 1960s
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