The Birth of the British Broadcasting Corporation

Last Updated on May 29, 2023

British Broadcasting Corporation is Created

It was in May of 1922, when the Post Office met the representatives of 18 different companies with a single goal.   It was the first time that there looked like a genuine possibility of the the Government allowing regular broadcasts of radio transmissions in the United Kingdom.    They had been worried that the transmissions would interfere with military and other essential services.  However the popularity of radio was rising in the United States and there was intense public pressure to allow a full radio service.

The discussions lasted over 5 months, but after that time a new company was born with a remit to set up eight radio stations in the major UK cities – this was the beginning of the BBC.  It didn’t take long to start daily transmissions – in November 14th, 19922 the company started it’s first broadcasts.  The radio license was sold at ten shillings (50 pence), and over one million had been issued to the British public.   It was in 1927 that company was restructured into a public corporation, by one of it’s founders John Reith.

In these days of the BBC iPlayer and the huge corporation of today, it seems a long time However it was in 1923 when the technology started to emerge that would define the BBC, John Logie Baird developed a system which made the commercial broadcasting of television possible.   The cathode ray tube has been created in the previous century however it needed Baird’s disc scanning equipment would bring television to the people.

It took some years but Baird’s experiments were offered the use of the BBC’s South Bank studios.  These were then moved to a dedicated studio in Portland Place – W1.  Here he continued to refine and improve their service into a high definition system that could be used to broadcast to the UK.   There were now other parties developing a TV system most notably Marconi and EMI.  To assess the potential a committee headed by Lord Selsdon was set up by  the British Government to assess services and check whether a public television service was viable using one of the systems.

It deemed that it was possible, and the BBC was to be tasked with the development of Television in the United Kingdom.  The minimum definition agreed was 240 lines and 25 pictures per second, this effectively ruled out any sort of low definition system.  The focus was on Baird’s 240 lines and the Marconi-EMI 405 line system.   Both were to be trailled from their new base in Alexandra Palace in Haringey, situated high on a hill to place the transmitter which would cover London and the home counties.

BBC’s First Broadcast

The first regular broadcast in high definition tool place on November 2nd 1936, the audience were approximately 100 or so televisions in the UK.

bbc-firstprogramme_guide Here’s the line up for the first day although as this was published before the live transmission took place it was actually changed slightly on the day.

The show was actually rebroadcast several times during the first week to help supplement the other programmes. There was a daily and nightly news show supplied by British Movietone and a variety of other shows including a display by champion Alsations, music presentations and a mini documentary about a bus driver L.A Stock and how he had constructed a model of the ship the Golden Hind.

Obviously there was a very restricted range of these first broadcasts, it was estimated that about 40 miles was the limit but many people reported picking them up from much further, even as far as Ireland. In the early days, the weather conditions and which of the two transmission systems being used effected who could watch the first pictures.

BBC Transmission System

There was still no decision on which of the two transmission systems would be used going further, however most experts suggest that the Marconi/EMI system was generally preferred. However no decision was made until a fire occurred at Crystal Palace which destroyed the majority of Baird’s TV equipment. It was then fairly inevitable that three months later that the Television Advisory Committee recommended termination of the dual transmission period and to adopt the Marconi-EMi system as the defined standard.

Who Were British Movietone?

British Movietone was a newsreel company founded in 1929 in London, United Kingdom. They produced weekly newsreels that were shown in cinemas across Britain and other parts of the world, covering major events and stories of the time. The company continued to operate until 1979, when the decline of cinema newsreels and the rise of television news led to its closure. British Movietone archives are now owned by Associated Press and are used for historical footage in documentaries and news reports.

What was the Marconi-EMI Transmission System?

The Marconi-EMI Transmission System was a television transmission system developed by the Marconi Company and the Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) in the 1930s. It was the first high-definition television system and was used by the BBC to transmit the world’s first regular television service in November 1936. The system used a 405-line resolution and utilized a cathode ray tube to display the images. The Marconi-EMI Transmission System was used in the United Kingdom until 1964 when it was replaced by a new system with a higher resolution.


What replaced the Marconi-EMI Transmission System in the United Kingdom?

The Marconi-EMI Transmission System in the United Kingdom was replaced by the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) system.  Although much of their content is broadcast over the internet in 2023 so people can watch online in the UK.  Many millions also watch the BBC using proxies from outside the United Kingdom too.

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