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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
A short history of the BBC
The British Broadcasting Company started life in 1922, when the government licensed the UK's six major radio manufacturers to form the new outfit.

It had a staff of four, and was financed by a Post Office licence fee of 10 shillings, payable by anyone owning a receiver, and supplemented by royalties on radio sales.

The first broadcast came from London on 14 November, and "listening-in" quickly became a popular pastime.

John Reith
John Reith, the BBC's first director-general
John Reith became general manager a month later, and after the baptism of fire of covering the 1926 General Strike - the company was dissolved and the British Broadcasting Corporation formed with a royal charter.

Radio listening spread widely during the 1930s, with people gathering together to listen to national and sporting events, while the BBC also became a major patron of the arts, commissioning music and drama.

It also took up home at Broadcasting House in London in 1932, the same year as the Empire Service - precursor of the World Service, began broadcasting.

TV comes

The BBC Television Service arrived on 2 November 1936 - but was suspended at the outbreak of war in 1939.

Wartime brought huge challenges for the corporation - having to deal with the government's Ministry of Information while finding itself a target for German bombs.

Newsreader Bruce Belfrage was on air when 500lbs of explosives hit Broadcasting House in October 1940. He paused as he heard the bomb go off during his nine o'clock bulletin - but continued as normal, as he was not allowed to react on air because of security reasons. Seven people were killed.

Broadcasting House after the 1940 bomb
Entertainment and drama on the Home Service kept up morale - particularly It's That Man Again, featuring comedian Tommy Handley. Meanwhile, the Empire Service - settling into new headquarters at Bush House - broadcast to occupied Europe.

Peacetime saw the resumption of the television service and a reorganisation of radio - which now boasted the Home Service, the Light Programme and from 1946, the Third Programme featured music, drama and the arts.

The Empire Service continued as the External Service, now receiving "grant-in-aid" from the government, a situation which continues today with the World Service.

Coronation boost

Television made steady progress from its base at Alexandra Palace, north London - broadcasting for 30 hours each week by 1950, and 50 by 1955. Families rushed to buy sets to watch the Queen's coronation in 1953.

But 1955 saw competition in the form of ITV - BBC Radio responding on launch night by killing off Grace Archer in the five-year-old radio drama The Archers.

Competition proved difficult - as many BBC staff left to join the new ITV companies - but confidence grew with the beginning of many programmes still familiar today: Grandstand, The Sky At Night and This Is Your Life.

BBC Two launch postcard
BBC Two hopped along in 1964
The opening of Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush, west London came in 1960, playing host to groundbreaking satire That Was The Week That Was two years later.

After careful planning, BBC Two was launched in 1964 - but a power cut disrupted transmissions on the first night.

Popular TV dramas like Cathy Come Home and Up The Junction captured the nation's attention, while playwrights Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard were getting their breaks on radio.

The success of pirate pop stations prompted the launch of Radio 1 in 1967, and the re-organisation of the Light, Third and Home networks into Radios 2, 3 and 4. The same year saw colour television come to BBC Two.

More competition

The 1970s saw Open University programmes come to the BBC, and the end of the Post Office's control of broadcasting hours. Teletext arrived in 1974 with early Ceefax transmissions - subtitling for the deaf - coming five years later.

The decade was also a strong one for BBC programmes, with Fawlty Towers, The Generation Game, Antiques Roadshow, Question Time, Top Gear and Not The Nine O'Clock News.

More competition came in the shape of commercial radio in 1973, followed by Channel 4 television in 1982.

Brian Hanrahan
1982: Brian Hanrahan at the Falklands
The Falklands War saw reporter Brian Hanrahan tell audiences: "I counted them all out and I counted them all back in," as he watched Harrier jump jets return to their aircraft carrier after a raid.

But Margaret Thatcher's government complained the BBC's reports were biased towards the Argentine point of view.

The 1984 miners' strike saw similar complaints of bias - this time from the left. Further clashes with politicians took place throughout the 1980s.

Michael Buerk's reports from Ethopia inspired the Band Aid and Live Aid fundraising efforts, while EastEnders was the BBC's answer to Coronation Street.

The 1990s saw further change, as new director-general John Birt reorganised much of the BBC's internal workings, amid tremendous controversy.


The BBC expanded with new channels - World Service radio being complemented by a BBC World television service, and satellite channel UK Gold helped it exploit its valuable archives.

Anita Dobson and Leslie Grantham
EastEnders hit screens in 1985
A new Radio 5 was launched in 1990, becoming news and sport network Radio 5 Live in 1994.

The late 1990s saw the BBC invest in new internet services - such as BBC News Online - and prepare for the launch of digital television by introducing new channels.

Now, under Greg Dyke, it has launched new childrens' TV services CBeebies and CBBC, a cultural network, BBC Four, as well as a collection of digital radio services.

Indeed, Mr Dyke's appointment was confirmed by BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland in a BBC Online chat forum - demonstrating just how wide the BBC now considers its remit to be.

Charting its past, present and digital future
See also:

06 Aug 00 | Entertainment
13 Oct 00 | UK
21 Sep 98 | Entertainment
25 Jun 99 | BBC after Birt
10 Oct 98 | Entertainment
16 Feb 00 | Entertainment
02 Jan 01 | Entertainment
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