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1950: Television crosses the Channel

VIDEO : Television's first cross-channel broadcast

The BBC has transmitted the first ever live television pictures across the Channel.

A two-hour programme was broadcast live from Calais in northern France to mark the centenary of the first message sent by submarine telegraph cable from England to France.

"In spite of formidable difficulties, this pioneer venture was successful, though the picture quality was far from perfect"

Edward Pawley
BBC Engineer

British viewers were able to watch the town of Calais "en fete", with a torchlight procession, dancing and a firework display all taking place in the Place de l'Hotel de Ville.

Presenters Richard Dimbleby and Alan Adair gave commentaries on the festivities and interviewed local personalities in front of the cameras.

Technical difficulties

The historic transmission, which has taken more than two months to plan, was made possible largely because of recent developments in portable television radio links.

In the past the working range for outside broadcast units was just 25 miles (40 km).

Five portable radio-link stations, designed to receive and send microwave signals, were set up temporarily along the 95-mile (153 km) route from Calais to London.

The first was installed at the top of the Hotel de Ville in Calais.

The microwave links work on wave-lengths of a few centimetres and concentrate the radio energy into sharp beams.

The idea is to direct as much energy as possible towards the next receiving station, which in this case was situated high above Dover at the Air Ministry Radar Station at Swingate.

There were initial teething problems when it was found that the strength of the signal fluctuated greatly according to the weather, the tide and shipping in the Channel.

Technical adjustments were required and the broadcast signals were eventually received by equipment situated at the top of London University's 200-ft (61m) Senate House, having passed through the towns of Lenham and Harvel in Kent.

From there the pictures were transmitted via cable to Alexandra Palace and onto Sutton Coldfield by the GPO radio-link from where they were beamed to the nation.

In Context - key events in broadcasting history

  • 14 November 1922 - first broadcast by British Broadcasting Company.
  • 26 March 1923 - daily weather forecast first broadcast.
  • 1 October 1939 - first wartime speech by Winston Churchill.
  • 18 March 1947 - first Party Political Broadcast.
  • 28 October 1957 - first broadcast of Today.
  • 23 April 1968 - Radio coverage of the House of Commons begins.
  • 9 June 1975 - first live broadcast from House of Commons.


  • 5 January 1948 - first transmission of Newsreel, the first regular TV news programme.
  • 27 August 1950 - first cross-channel transmission.
  • June 2 1953 - Broadcast of Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey.
  • 11 November 1953 - first transmission of Panorama.
  • 5 July 1954 - first transmission of News & Newsreel, Britain's first daily TV news programme.
  • 4 September 1955 - newsreaders appear "in vision" for the first time.
  • 1955 - Launch of ITV
  • 1960 - Television Centre in Shepherds Bush opened.
  • 1964 - Launch of BBC2
  • 23 Sept 1974 - first regular transmission of CEEFAX
  • 21 November 1989 - House of Commons televised for the first time
  • 4 November 1997 - launch of BBC News Online
  • 9 November 1997 - Launch of News 24

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