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1980
Newsnight added to the news menu
"The programme that asks the awkward questions", is how it describes itself. But Newsnight had a few questions to answer itself on 23 January 1980 - the day it should have gone on air for the first time.

"Where is the programme?" would have been the most pertinent. Transmission had been held up by trade union objections.

The BBC Yearbook spoke coyly of "the elision of different methods of working" in this "innovative nightly collaboration" between news and current affairs.

"Good evening - and welcome at last," said Peter Snow- when Newsnight finally made its debut, a week late.

Newsnight came under fire during the Falklands conflict - after Snow had used the words "If we believe the British... ". The Sun called the BBC "traitors".

There were headlines in 1997 for presenter Jeremy Paxman - whose BBC career before Newsnight had included spells on both Tonight and Panorama.

Paxman got an award for "interview of the year" after famously asking Conservative Michael Howard the same question more than a dozen times. Paxman said later that he had had to keep going, because the next item hadn't been ready.

Howard acknowledged it had not been "the best interview I have ever given".


Jeremy Paxman and Peter Snow
1983
Waking up to Breakfast Time
BBC TV viewers were able to get their first daily fix of news rather earlier than usual from the first month of 1983. At half past six in the morning of 17 January, Breakfast Time became Britain's first early-morning TV news programme.

Breakfast Time went out for two-and-a-half hours from the BBC's Lime Grove studio. It came complete with red leather sofas, chunky sweaters, and a style that was described as "unnervingly cheerful".

The presenters on the first edition were Frank Bough and former ITN newsreader Selina Scott.

Editor Ron Neil said the aim was to be "relaxed and informal". To ensure no-one was too relaxed, viewers were encouraged to take some exercise with their cornflakes - by Diana Moran, the so-called Green Goddess. The news was read by Debbie Rix - and David Icke covered sport.

Breakfast Time also featured astrology - from Russell Grant. "There is no earthly reason why anyone of intelligence should watch it," said Richard Ingrams in the Spectator. But 1,500 people rang the BBC to offer congratulations. Director general Alasdair Milne said it had been a "terrific start". Two weeks later, TV-am launched Good Morning Britain.

Breakfast Time lasted more than six-and-a-half years. It went out for the last time on 30 September 1989. In its place came Breakfast News - with presenters sitting behind desks.

But the desks disappeared in 2000 - when the name was trimmed back to just Breakfast and Jeremy Bowen and Sophie Raworth took over. They were a "great fusion of cheeky glamour and slightly confused father at parents' evening," according to one viewer.


The original Breakfast Time line up
1984
Striking a balance
BBC One's Six O'Clock News first appeared in September 1984.

This came six months after the start of the miners strike that was to continue into the following year. From the start of the dispute, the BBC again found itself facing accusations of bias.

It was a strike that brought violence on a scale that was unprecented - certainly, in the age of mass broadcasting. Throughout, miners leader Arthur Scargill accused both the BBC and ITN of "distorted coverage". Others believed the BBC was favouring the miners' cause.

Questions were also raised about the presence of cameras contributing to the violence on the picket lines. BBC reporter John Thorne pointed out afterwards that newspaper journalists had been able to mingle with the crowd. It had been impossible for television people, with all their equipment, to become "part of the scenery", he said.

Another BBC correspondent, Nicholas Jones, wrote later of the "roller coaster ride" for journalists trying to cover what was happening. Coverage of the dispute dominated the news bulletins for months on end.

More challenges were to follow, once the strike was over. BBC and ITN journalists staged a brief stoppage of their own -after Conservative pressure to drop a programme about Northern Ireland in the Real Lives series. Mrs Thatcher was concerned about giving terrorists "the oxygen of publicity".

BBC TV's One O'Clock News was broadcast for the first time on 27 October 1986 - as it happens, the same day that saw the launch of Neighbours.


Opening titles for the Six O'Clock News
1987
The birth of Birtism
BBC news - especially in television - received a severe jolt in 1987, with the arrival of John Birt from London Weekend as deputy DG.

At the time, the news and current affairs department at Broadcasting House was able to call on an army of overseas correspondents spread across the world. In contrast, only a handful worked directly for TV. Radio also had far more specialist home correspondents. Only those based at Westminster worked for both radio and television.

It appeared to Birt that the Television Service had "starved" TV news of resources. There was "no single and coherent overview of the BBC's journalism," he wrote later. Many of the news staff, he said, had "long since ceased to think enquiringly".

Birt set out on to impose a policy of radical change. Promotions went mainly to those of "energy and confidence" from a younger generation; many additional specialist correspondents were recruited; it was the end of the road for what he called "the green-eyeshade tendency".

"Bi-mediaism" was the watchword: correspondents at home and abroad were to work for both TV and radio. It emerged later that there were doubts about the policy among some of those most closely involved - including Jenny Abramsky, chosen by Birt to help "marshal the young lions".

The autumn of 1988 brought more problems for the BBC - when the government barred broadcasters from using the voices of anyone representing "organisations associated with terrorism in Northern Ireland". The ban was a "low point for British democracy", Birt believed.

Awaiting his elevation to director general, he also made the decision to "bite the bullet" on the World Service - as the old External Services had now become. It was to be "drawn wholeheartedly into the new BBC-wide structure".

The creation of the specialist reporting teams was one of the most significant legacies of Birt's stewardship of BBC News. He would later be one of the driving forces behind the launch of the continuous news services - Radio 5 Live, News Online and BBC News 24.


Former BBC Director General John Birt
 
 

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