BBC history, profile and history video
The BBC is the world’s leading public service broadcaster. Its mission is to enrich people’s lives with programmes that inform, educate and entertain
Established by a Royal Charter, the BBC is a public service broadcaster funded by the licence fee paid by UK households.
We use the income from the licence fee to provide services including 10 national TV channels plus regional programming, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations and an extensive website.
BBC World Service broadcasts to the world on radio, on TV and online, providing news and information in 27 languages and world service English language.
We also have a commercial arm, BBC Worldwide as well as a number of other commercial ventures. Profits from these activities are returned to the BBC for investment in new programming and services.”
1922 to 1939
The BBC was the world’s first national broadcasting organisation. It was founded on 18 October 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company Ltd by the British General Post Office (GPO) and a group of six telecommunications companies—Marconi, Radio Communication Company,Metropolitan-Vickers (MetroVick), General Electric, Western Electric, and British Thomson-Houston (BTH)—to broadcast experimental radio services. The first transmission was on 14 November of that year, from station 2LO, located at Marconi House, London. That year its founder John Reith became its first general manager.
In 1923, the Sykes Committee rejected advertising for the service as it would lower standards, and recommended that a 10 shillings licence feefund broadcasts. To avoid competition with newspapers, Fleet Street persuaded the government to ban news programmes until 7 pm, and the BBC could only use news from wire services instead of reporting its own. By 1925, the BBC reached about 80% of Britons through a network of regional and relay stations. While regional stations at first offered many local programmes, by 1930 the National Programme from London, and a Regional Programme from London and several regional cities, replaced local radio.
The GPO was reluctant to collect the licence fee for a commercial entity, and the BBC’s financial losses caused wireless manufacturers to wish to exit the consortium. In 1925, Reith persuaded another committee led by the Earl of Crawford to recommend that a new entity, independent of both the government and corporations, administer broadcasting. The 1926 general strike interrupted newspaper publishing so temporarily ended the ban on news reporting, and the BBC’s balanced representation of strikers’ and government viewpoints during the national crisis impressed millions of listeners. By the end of 1926, the government accepted the Crawford Committee’s recommendations, and Reith was knighted. On 1 January 1927, the British Broadcasting Corporation, established under a Royal Charter, and with Reith as Director-General, became successor in interest. To represent its purpose and (stated) values, the Corporation adopted the coat of arms, including the motto “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation”. The motto is generally attributed to Montague John Rendall, former headmaster of Winchester College and member of the first BBC Board of Governors. The motto is said to be a “felicitous adaptation” of Micah 4: 3 “nation shall not lift up a sword against nation”.
The success of “wireless” broadcasting provoked animosities between the BBC and well established media such as theatres, concert halls and the recording industry. By 1929 the BBC complained that the agents of many London comedians refused to sign contracts for broadcasting, because they feared it harmed the artist “by making his material stale” and that it “reduces the value of the artist as a visible music-hall performer”. On the other hand the BBC was “keenly interested” in a cooperation with the recording companies who “in recent years … have not been slow to make records of singers, orchestras, dance bands, etc. who have already proved their power to achieve popularity by wireless.” Radio plays were so popular that the BBC had received 6,000 manuscripts by 1929, most of them written for stage and of little value for broadcasting: “Day in and day out, manuscripts come in, and nearly all go out again through the post, with a note saying ‘We regret, etc.'”
Experimental television broadcasts were started in 1932 using an electromechanical 30-line system developed by John Logie Baird. Limited regular broadcasts using this system began in 1934, and an expanded service (now named the BBC Television Service) started from Alexandra Palace in 1936, alternating between an improved Baird mechanical 240 line system and the all electronic 405 line Marconi-EMI system. The superiority of the electronic system saw the mechanical system dropped early the following year.
1939 to 2000
Television broadcasting was suspended from 1 September 1939 to 7 June 1946 during the Second World War. There was a widely reported urban myth that, upon resumption of service, announcer Leslie Mitchell started by saying, “As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted …” In fact, the first person to appear when transmission resumed wasJasmine Bligh and the words said were “Good afternoon, everybody. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh … ?”
The European Broadcasting Union was formed on 12 February 1950, in Torquay with the BBC among the 23 founding broadcasting organisations.
Competition to the BBC was introduced in 1955 with the commercial and independently operated television network of ITV. However, the BBC monopoly on radio services would persist into the 1970s. As a result of the Pilkington Committee report of 1962, in which the BBC was praised for the quality and range of its output, and ITV was very heavily criticised for not providing enough quality programming, the decision was taken to award the BBC a second television channel, BBC2, in 1964, renaming the existing service BBC1. BBC2 used the higher resolution 625 line standard which had been standardised across Europe. BBC2 was broadcast in colour from 1 July 1967, and was joined by BBC1 and ITV on 15 November 1969. The 405 line VHF transmissions of BBC1 (and ITV) were continued for compatibility with older television receivers until 1985.
Starting in 1964, a series of pirate radio stations (starting with Radio Caroline) came on the air and forced the British government finally to regulate radio services to permit nationally based advertising-financed services. In response, the BBC reorganised and renamed their radio channels. The Light Programme was split into Radio 1 offering continuous “Popular” music and Radio 2 more “Easy Listening”.The “Third” programme became Radio 3 offering classical music and cultural programming. The Home Service became Radio 4 offering news, and non-musical content such as quiz shows, readings, dramas and plays. As well as the four national channels, a series of local BBC radio stations were established in 1967, including Radio London.
In 1969, the BBC Enterprises department was formed to exploit BBC brands and programmes for commercial spin-off products. In 1979 it became a wholly owned limited company, BBC Enterprises Ltd.
In 1974, the BBC’s teletext service, Ceefax, was introduced, created initially to provide subtitling, but developed into a news and information service. In 1978, BBC staff went on strike just before the Christmas of that year, thus blocking out the transmission of both channels and amalgamating all four radio stations into one.
Since the deregulation of the UK television and radio market in the 1980s, the BBC has faced increased competition from the commercial sector (and from the advertiser-funded public service broadcaster Channel 4), especially on satellite television, cable television, and digital television services.
In the late 1980s, the BBC began a process of divestment by spinning off and selling parts of its organisation. In 1988 it sold off the Hulton Press Library, a photographic archive which had been acquired from the Picture Post magazine by the BBC in 1957. The archive was sold to Brian Deutsch and is now owned by Getty Images. During the 1990s, this process continued with the separation of certain operational arms of the corporation into autonomous but wholly owned subsidiaries of the BBC, with the aim of generating additional revenue for programme-making. BBC Enterprises was reorganised and relaunched in 1995 as BBC Worldwide Ltd. In 1998, BBC studios, outside broadcasts, post production, design, costumes and wigs were spun off into BBC Resources Ltd.
The BBC Research Department has played a major part in the development of broadcasting and recording techniques. In the early days, it carried out essential research into acoustics and programme level and noise measurement. The BBC was also responsible for the development of the NICAM stereo standard.
In recent decades, a number of additional channels and radio stations have been launched: Radio 5 was launched in 1990 as a sports and educational station, but was replaced in 1994 with Radio 5 Live, following the success of the Radio 4 service to cover the 1991 Gulf War. The new station would be a news and sport station. In 1997, BBC News 24, a rolling news channel, launched on digital television services and the following year, BBC Choice launched as the third general entertainment channel from the BBC. The BBC also purchased The Parliamentary Channel, which was renamed BBC Parliament. In 1999, BBC Knowledge launched as a multi media channel, with services available on the newly launched BBC Text digital teletext service, and on BBC Online. The channel had an educational aim, which was modified later on in its life to offer documentaries.
2000 to 2011
In 2002, several television and radio channels were reorganised. BBC Knowledge was renamed BBC Four and became the BBC’s arts and documentaries channel. CBBC, which had been a programming strand as Children’s BBC since 1985, was split into CBBC and CBeebies, for younger children, with both new services getting a digital channel: theCBBC Channel and CBeebies Channel. In addition to the television channels, new digital radio stations were created: 1Xtra, 6 Music and BBC7. BBC 1Xtra was a sister station toRadio 1 and specialised in modern black music, BBC 6 Music specialised in alternative music genres and BBC7 specialised in archive, speech and children’s programming.
The following few years resulted in repositioning of some of the channels to conform to a larger brand: in 2003, BBC Choice became BBC Three, with programming for younger generations and shocking real life documentaries, BBC News 24 became the BBC News Channel in 2008, and BBC Radio 7 became BBC Radio 4 Extra in 2011, with new programmes to supplement those broadcast on Radio 4. In 2008, another channel was launched, BBC Alba, a Scottish Gaelic service.
During this decade, the corporation began to sell off a number of its operational divisions to private owners; BBC Broadcast was spun off as a separate company in 2002, and in 2005 it was sold off to Australian-based Macquarie Capital Alliance Group and Macquarie Bank Limited and rebranded Red Bee Media. The BBC’s IT, telephony andbroadcast technology were brought together as BBC Technology Ltd in 2001, and the division was later sold to the German engineering and electronics company Siemens IT Solutions and Services (SIS). SIS was subsequently acquired from Siemens by the French company Atos. Further divestments in this decade included BBC Books (sold toRandom House in 2006); BBC Outside Broadcasts Ltd (sold in 2008 to Satellite Information Services); Costumes and Wigs (sold in 2008 to Angels The Costumiers); andBBC Magazines (sold to Immediate Media Company in 2011). After the sales of OBs and costumes, the remainder of BBC Resources was reorganised as BBC Studios and Post Production, which continues today as a wholly owned subsidiary of the BBC.
The 2004 Hutton Inquiry and the subsequent Report raised questions about the BBC’s journalistic standards and its impartiality. This led to resignations of senior management members at the time including the then Director General, Greg Dyke. In January 2007, the BBC released minutes of the Board meeting which led to Greg Dyke’s resignation.
Unlike the other departments of the BBC, the BBC World Service is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, more commonly known as the Foreign Office or the FCO, is the British government department responsible for promoting the interests of the United Kingdom abroad.
In the past few years, the BBC has experimented in high-definition television. In 2006, BBC HD launched as an experimental service, and became official in December 2007. The channel broadcasts HD simulcasts of programmes on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three and BBC Four as well as repeats of some older programmes in HD. In 2010, a HD simulcast of BBC One launched: BBC One HD. The new channel uses HD versions of BBC One’s schedule and uses upscaled versions of programmes not currently produced in HD.
On 18 October 2007, BBC Director General Mark Thompson announced a controversial plan to make major cuts and reduce the size of the BBC as an organisation. The plans included a reduction in posts of 2,500; including 1,800 redundancies, consolidating news operations, reducing programming output by 10% and selling off the flagship Television Centre building in London. These plans have been fiercely opposed by unions, who have threatened a series of strikes, however the BBC have stated that the cuts are essential to move the organisation forward and concentrate on increasing the quality of programming.
On 20 October 2010, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that the television licence fee would be frozen at its current level until the end of the current charter in 2016. The same announcement revealed that the BBC would take on the full cost of running the BBC World Service and theBBC Monitoring service from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and will partially finance the Welsh broadcaster S4C.
2011 to present
Further cuts were announced on 6 October 2011, so the BBC could reach a total reduction in their budget of 20%, following the licence fee freeze in October 2010. Details include cutting staff by 2000 and sending a further 1000 to the MediaCityUK development, with BBC Three moving in 2016, the sharing of more programmes between stations and channels, sharing of radio news bulletins, more repeats in schedules, including the whole of BBC Two daytime and for some original programming to be reduced. BBC HD was closed on 26 March 2013 and replaced with an HD simulcast of BBC Two, however flagship programmes, other channels and full funding for CBBC andCBeebies would be retained. Numerous BBC facilities have been sold off, including New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road in Manchester. Many major departments have been relocated to Broadcasting House and MediaCityUK, particularly since the closure of BBC Television Centre in March 2013.
In December 2012, the BBC completed a digitisation exercise, scanning the listings of all BBC programmes from an entire run of about 4,500 copies of the Radio Times magazine from the first, 1923, issue to 2009 (later listings already being held electronically), the ‘BBC Genome project’, with a view to creating an online database of its programme output.An earlier nine years of listings are to be obtained from other sources. They identified around five million programmes, involving 8.5 million actors, presenters, writers and technical staff.”
*Information from Bbc.co.uk and Wikipedia.org
**Video published on YouTube by “BBC News“