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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
End of the Nine
Presenter Michael Buerk previously filed some of the bulletin's most harrowing reports
Presenter Michael Buerk previously filed from Ethiopia
The Nine O'Clock News was broadcast for the last time on Friday, ending 30 years of television history. BBC News Online traces the key moments of the flagship bulletin.

Some 30 years ago, Britons would tune into the main evening news bulletin at nine o'clock - on the radio.

Until the Nine O'Clock News launched in September 1970, the 9pm radio slot was the principal bulletin of the day, particularly during World War II.

Biafran conflict, 1967-1970
The media pushed for Western aid in Biafra
When the BBC began televising evening news bulletins in 1954, updates were broadcast on the hour with the exception of 9pm, when loyal audiences tuned into the wireless to catch up with the day's events.

Yet these programmes were little more than radio news on the TV - for much of the 1950s, the presenters spoke off-camera, lest their facial expressions be misconstrued by those on the lookout for evidence of biased reporting.

In the late 1960s, television news underwent a dramatic shake-up - ITN launched the now-defunct News at Ten, which pioneered the format we know today.

"News at Ten pioneered the televised political interview, pioneered using pictures to tell the story, pioneered reporting from on-the-spot," says Dr Jean Seaton, of the University of Westminster.

"That kicked the Beeb into turning itself into something modern and good, but it took about a year to respond."

Graphic images

Two events proved to be a turning point in telling the story with pictures, she says - the Vietnam War and the Biafran conflict in Nigeria.

Michael Blakey reporting in Vietnam
First-hand reports: Michael Blakey in Vietnam
"In Vietnam, the Americans were producing such extraordinary footage.

"It was one of the first wars where you had reporters on screen with a war going on behind them.

"There was a new urgency to reporting that viewers hadn't seen before - and some of the journalists were quite young, which gave you a sense of how desperate it was out there."

Feed the world

Some 15 years later, then Africa correspondent Michael Buerk revealed the true extent of the famine in Ethiopia on the Nine O'Clock News.

Michael Buerk in Ethiopia, 1984
Bob Geldof saw this on the Nine O'Clock News...
Among those watching the harrowing reports was Bob Geldof, the lead singer of the Boomtown Rats.

Horrified at the footage of skeletal, fly-blown children suckling at the withered breasts of their dehydrated mothers, the singer immediately vowed to do his bit to help.

The following July, the singer staged Live Aid, a 16-hour televised concert staged simultaneously at London's Wembley Stadium and the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

The Nine's coverage of the famine was one of the first examples of a carefully managed news event, says Dr Seaton.

"The aid agencies knew the famine was coming in the spring [of 1984] but wanted to hold onto the story until September because they knew people gave more money between September and Christmas."

1985 live aid concert
...and organised Live Aid to help the victims
As the BBC's flagship bulletin, the nightly review of events around the world, the Nine O'Clock News was considered the best programme on which to unfold the tragedy, Dr Seaton says.

"It sounds like a cynical move, but those involved were attempting to deal with the public's compassion fatigue."

Review of events

Although less likely to cover breaking news than the lunchtime and 6pm bulletins, the Nine offered a more considered review of the day's events around the world.

Martin Bell
Martin Bell: Hit by shrapnel while covering the Bosnian war in 1992
Before the advent of 24-hour rolling news channels, the Nine was "where you actually saw the stories you had heard about during the day" - particularly for audiences in the main metropolitan centres.

It was the bulletin on which many watched a lone protester face down the Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square, the first bulldozers plough through the Berlin Wall, the footage of war correspondent Martin Bell felled by shrapnel in front of his own cameras in Sarajevo.

In the controversial move to 10pm, the aim is to cover more news as it happens - late-night votes in the Commons, late-afternoon events in the United States.

Buerk, who switched from reporter to presenter on the Nine in 1988, will alternate with Peter Sissions in fronting the new bulletin.

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See also:

13 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Goodbye Nine O'clock News
03 Oct 00 | UK
BBC news move 'senseless'
13 Jan 00 | Africa
Biafra: Thirty years on
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