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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 14:23 GMT
A difficult birth
Noel Coward
Noel Coward refused to appear on Panorama
Panorama was born on 11 November 1953, at a time when the radio was still king and television still the poor relation.

The "magazine of informed comment on the contemporary scene" led with a report on the "brainwashing" of British spy Edgar Sanders after he was captured by the Soviets.

Other items included a National Coal Board representative answering complaints about the quality of coal, a discussion about the state of the fishing industry and an art review section.

It was the brainchild of Dennis Bardens, a former Fleet Street journalist and BBC Radio producer and staff producer Andrew Miller Jones.

Around 100 potential programme titles including, 14 Days Journal, Fortnightly Witness, Eye on the World and You and the World, were rejected in favour of Panorama.


the theme tune should be "spacious without being pompous; rich in texture, but not glamorous; memorable without being trite, virile without being choppy or a march; melodious but not sacchariny
Kenneth Wright, BBC head of music 1953
Some say the name was suggested by Miller Jones's wife to be, but Bardens says it came to him in a flash of inspiration as he was enjoying the panorama in his fifth floor office at Alexandra Palace.

Kenneth A Wright, head of music programmes, suggested the theme tune should be "spacious without being pompous; rich in texture, but not glamorous; memorable without being trite, virile without being choppy or a march; melodious but not sacchariny."

From these directions, the last movement from Carl Nielsen's Sinfonia Espansiva was suggested, although an extract from Jean Sibelius' Pelleas and Melisande was finally chosen. The current theme tune (Aujourd'hui C'est Toi by Francis Lai) was first used in the 1960s.

Despite Panorama being the longest running current affairs programme in the world, the first programme could easily have been the last.

According to a memo from Miller Jones, Noel Coward refused to appear because he claimed "television is not yet ready for him".

Problems on the set

Panorama logo
The early titles showed a panoramic view of London

The original format was criticised internally for lacking in visual presentation and placing too much emphasis on verbal comment.

Head of television programmes, Cecil McGivern, wrote on 29 September, 1953: "The lay-out also give me the feeling that, though thought has been given to the subject of a magazine programme in television, there just are no new ideas forthcoming and that the thing is tending to fall to pieces."

The art criticism section was included only after a debate between Miller Jones and McGivern.

"Our relations with the theatre and the cinema are delicate and difficult," said McGivern in a memo. "I feel that it would be very bad diplomacy to include criticism in our programmes until times are more auspicious".

"C.P.Tel (McGivern) has vetoed film criticism in any shape or form, because he feels that we should not do anything to help the film industry until they become a little more helpful to television", Miller Jones lamented.


Disjointed and scrappy; presentation was crude.
Audience reaction to the first Panorama

Rehearsals for the programme itself also went badly. The set wasn't complete at the beginning of rehearsals on the day of transmission.

Miller Jones later complained about a wobbly photograph display and a bookcase lectern that was too flimsy to take the weight of books.

The programme "guide" Patrick Murphy, had never been in a television studio before and met Bardens for the first time on the day of broadcast.

Murphy, a Fleet Street hack whose conversational skills were legendary, froze. He played one tape backwards and got the timing wrong on a television essay (a series of thoughts spoken over changing pictures) so that the words didn't fit the picture.

Audience reaction

Pat Murphy's letter to Panorama
Pat Murphy wrote to Andrew Miller Jones after his disastrous debut
At the end of the first programme, he said: "We'll be on the air again in about 15 days."

McGivern cancelled the second edition, meaning it was a full month before the second Panorama was aired.

Murphy wrote to Miller Jones a week later, apologising for his "blundering excursion into television".

"May I puff a little breeze of affection to expel from your heart the ache I clearly detected when you signalled, so honestly, the dropping of the Murphy pilot from Panorama," Murphy wrote.

"I am sorry I did not rise above the conditions which circumstances created. Mea culpa, non tua. God prosper your brave ways."

The critics, being friends of Murphy, were as kind as they could be, however the audience reaction was less than gracious.

Positive comments

The audience research report found that 48% of the adult TV public watched the programme, but 8% of those surveyed gave the show the lowest mark (C-), 7% an A+ and 31% a C.

The comments included: "disjointed and scrappy", "presentation was crude", "it lacks polish" and "it needs pepping up".

But there were sufficient positive comments to suggest that the programme could, as indeed it did, carry on with a bit of tweaking.

"'This promises well for future viewing. We look forward to meeting many interesting people and to hearing more Under Fire discussions" commented a commercial traveller's wife, one of the most enthusiastic", the report said.



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