The BBC story

From Children’s Hour, to the latest breaking news, from gardening and food, the latest investigative documentary, and leading soap opera, to Strictly Come Dancing.

No other broadcaster in the world has had such a diverse, exciting and long history. The BBC celebrates its centenary in 2022, and this timeline maps out the Corporations life decade by decade.


1920s - where it all began

Savoy Hill

Savoy Hill studio

The first regular radio broadcasts, the first edition of The Radio Times, and the first ever demonstrations of television.

The 1920s saw the end of the amateur radio enthusiasts, and the beginning of a professional broadcast organisation. It was an exciting time where experimentation ruled, not only amongst the pioneering engineers, but amongst creative staff where programme formats were being invented by the day.

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1930s - the birth of television

Adele Dixon

Adele Dixon

This was the decade that changed everything, and the BBC was aware that it might have to operate in a radically different way should war come.

This didn’t stop the BBC investing and developing, and it was the first broadcaster to begin a regularly scheduled TV service, in 1936. Radio went from strength to strength with the brand new Broadcasting House opening in 1932. Innovations, such as live commentary on location became possible because of the need to cover the war. A lightness of presentation changed the ‘feel’ of radio forever, as it had to find ways of keeping the listening public’s morale up when war came.

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1940s - the BBC at War and beyond

On 1 October 1939 Winston Churchill gave his first wartime broadcast.

Winston Churchill

The BBC at war saw fundamental changes in programme making practice and was a fundamental source of propaganda news to the free world.

Post war a TV news service was launched, the first post-war Olympic Games was televised, and Children’s Television began. The BBC was also a big technical innovator at this time. In the spirit of re-building Britain, BBC engineers invented the first means of recording live TV, and extended the corporations international presence.

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1950s - the age of television

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, broadcast live on 2 June 1953.

The Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II

The 50s was the decade of television, with the televising of the Coronation the driving force behind a massive increase in sales of sets.

Radio was still very important, and early in the decade the world’s longest running radio soap opera was born - The Archers. BBC TV’s second big debut of the decade came in 1958, in the guise of a children’s programme; Blue Peter - still running to this day.

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1960s - colour TV

The BBC’s first colour on-screen identity a rotating ‘2’.

BBC Two colour

A decade of colour, drama, and international collaboration mark the 1960s as an era of exceptional broadcasting innovation and excitement.

Colour TV ended a long period of technological isolation for Britain, the BBC drama department produced world beating TV series with Doctor Who and The Forsyte Saga the two main successes. The first satellite broadcasts also became a reality.

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1970s - classic comedy

From 1969 to 1977 the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show was viewed by millions.

The Morecambe and Wise Show

Despite hyper-inflation in much of the world, the BBC scored major hits in its light entertainment programmes.

The award winning Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served, and The Good Life, not to mention the ratings topping Morecambe and Wise Show and The Two Ronnies were the big hits of the 1970s. The BBC also developed CEEFAX for TV, and quadraphonic sound for radio.

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1980s - world conflict

The creation of Live Aid from BBC TWO's Live Aid - Against All Odds

Live Aid

This was a decade of major international conflict and the BBC found itself torn between covering conflict in several locations.

Conflicts in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, Tiananmen Square, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, stretched resources immensely. In Africa reporter Michael Buerk alerted the world through BBC News to a famine of biblical proportions in Ethiopia, leading to Bob Geldof’s international Live Aid phenomenon in 1985 masterminded by the BBC.

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1990s - Princess Diana

Interview in which Diana, the Princess of Wales talks to Martin Bashir.

Princess Diana

Arguably the TV highlight of the 90s came right in the middle of the decade - the Panorama interview with Princess Diana (1995).

Watched by 15 million people and regularly voted one of the most memorable interviews of all time, Diana talked frankly about her marriage to Prince Charles. Later in the decade, nineteen million people would watch the funeral of Diana, at the time, the largest outside broadcast ever mounted by the BBC.

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2000s - the digital revolution

Introducing the BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer

The digital revolution that started in the late 90s, neared part completion with the analogue TV switch off in 2012.

Since the start of 21st century, digital BBC TV channels, and radio services have increased, and HDTV has become the standard for many. What have become essentials, such as Red Button, Connected Red Button, the BBCiplayer, and 3D TV (pioneered at Wimbledon), continue to make a huge impact on content users and conventional audiences alike.

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