Early years and launching
Replica of an Emitron camera used to make the earliest 405-line programmes broadcast on the channel
The BBC began its own regular television programming from the basement of Broadcasting House, London, on 22 August 1932. The BBC Television Service officially began regular broadcasts on 2 November 1936 from a converted wing of the Alexandra Palace in London. On 1 September 1939, two days before Britain declared war on Germany, the station was taken off air with little warning, with one of the last programmes to be shown before the suspension of the service being a Mickey Mouse cartoon; the government was concerned that the VHF transmissions would act as a beacon to enemy aircraft homing in on London. BBC Television returned on 7 June 1946 at 15:00. Jasmine Bligh, one of the original announcers, made the first announcement, saying, "Good afternoon everybody. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh?". The Mickey Mouse cartoon of 1939 was repeated twenty minutes later.
Creation of BBC One
The BBC held a statutory monopoly on television broadcasting in the United Kingdom until the first Independent Television station began to broadcast on 22 September 1955, when ITV started broadcasting. The competition quickly forced the channel to change its identity and priorities following a large reduction in its audience.
The 1962 Pilkington Report on the future of broadcasting noticed this, and that ITV lacked any serious programming. It therefore decided that Britain's third television station should be awarded to the BBC.
The station, renamed BBC TV in 1960, became BBC1 when BBC2 was launched on 20 April 1964 transmitting an incompatible 625-line image on UHF. The only way to receive all channels was to use a complex "dual-standard" 405- and 625-line, VHF and UHF, receiver, with both a VHF and a UHF aerial. Old 405-line-only sets became obsolete in 1985, when transmission in the standard ended, although standards converters have become available for enthusiasts who collect and restore such TVs.
BBC1 was based at the purpose-built BBC Television Centre at White City, London between 1960 and 2013. Television News continued to use Alexandra Palace as its base—by early 1968 it had even converted one of its studios to colour—before moving to new purpose-built facilities at Television Centre on 20 September 1969.
In the weeks leading up to 15 November 1969, BBC1 unofficially transmitted the occasional programme in its new colour system, to test it. At midnight on 15 November, simultaneously with ITV and two years after BBC2, BBC1 officially began 625-line PAL colour programming on UHF with a broadcast of a concert by Petula Clark. Colour transmissions could be received (in monochrome) on monochrome 625-line sets until the end of analogue broadcasting.
In terms of audience share, the most successful period for BBC1 was under Bryan Cowgill between 1973 and 1977, when the channel achieved an average audience share of 45%. This period is still regarded by many as a golden age of the BBC's output, with the BBC achieving a very high standard across its entire range of series, serials, plays, light entertainment and documentaries.
On 30 December 1980, the BBC announced their intention to introduce a new breakfast television service to compete with TV-am. The BBC stated it would start broadcasting before TV-am, but made clear their hands were tied until November 1981 when the new licence fee income became available, to help finance extending broadcast hours, with the hope of starting in 1982. On 17 January 1983, the first edition of Breakfast Time was shown on BBC1, becoming the first UK wide breakfast television service and continued to lead in the ratings until 1984.
Michael Grade era (1984–1987)
In 1984, Bill Cotton become managing director of Television at the BBC, and set about overhauling BBC1, which had been slated for poor home grown shows, its heavy reliance on US imports, with Dallas and The Thorn Birds being BBC1's highest rated programmes and ratings being over 20% behind ITV. Cotton recruited Michael Grade to become Controller of BBC1, the first time the Corporation had recruited someone outside of the BBC, replacing Alan Hart, who has been criticised for his lack of knowledge in general entertainment, as he was head of BBC Sport prior to 1981.
The first major overhaul was to axe the unpopular Sixty Minutes current affairs programme: this was a replacement for the news and magazine show Nationwide. Its replacement was the BBC Six O'Clock News, a straight new programme in a bid to shore up its failing early evening slot. It was believed the BBC were planning to cut short the evening news and move more light entertainment programming in from the 18:20 slot, but this was dismissed. The Miss Great Britain contest was dropped, being described as verging on the too offensive after the January 1985 contest, with Worlds Strongest Man and International Superstar also being cancelled.
BBC1 was relaunched on 18 February 1985 with a new look, new programming including Wogan, EastEnders and a revised schedule to help streamline and maintain viewers throughout the course of the evening. Grade started to gear most programmes to either on the hour or half past the hour, while Panorama and Omnibus were both moved after the Nine O'Clock News. Grade was also determined to end the dated and inept BBC1 scheduling which was hampering the network and which was holding back good programmes. Grade stated "When I took over BBC1, I discovered there were wonderful things, it was just a case of where to put them." Wogan had been scheduled for a 10 pm slot, but Grade moved it to a 7 pm slot as he believed the show had potential.
From February to August 1985, a high number of American mini-series were broadcast while filming took place of a number of new home grown programmes, including 'Allo 'Allo!, In Sickness and in Health, and Open All Hours. Further improvement come about when the corporation strengthened its drama output costing £30 million, with eight new series, including Howards' Way, All Creatures Great and Small, Hold the Back Page, and Bluebill, along with the return of Bergerac and Big Deal. The increase in the drama department was achieved by switching the money away from the administrative service over a three-year period, after BBC1 was criticised for failing in matching ITV's output in drama. EastEnders was moved to a 19:30 slot, where it managed to soar to 20 million, helping the BBC1 audience share increase to nearly 50% for the first time since 1982.
On 27 February 1985 Doctor Who was placed on an 18-month hiatus. The BBC originally planned to axe the series as they wished to spend its budgets on new programming for the channel, but was forced to back down from public pressure and Doctor Who returned in September 1986. At the time Michael Grade and Jonathan Powell were blamed for the decision (Grade was the target of death threats) but it was later revealed that the decision was taken due to the series running out of creative inspiration, making it impossible to find anyone (at the time) who knew what to do with the series.
On 9 September 1985, the long-standing children's programming block was overhauled and rebranded as Children's BBC, which gave it dedicated idents for the first time and had a live in-vision presenter, similar to rival ITV's Children's ITV block which had been running since January 1983. Previously the BBC had broadcast children's programming using BBC1's team of regular duty announcers. The launch presenter for this block, and thus the first Children's BBC presenter of the current format, was Phillip Schofield.
On 23 May 1986, long-running lunchtime magazine show Pebble Mill at One was broadcast for the last time after 14 years on the air. Monday 27 October 1986 saw BBC1 launch its daytime television schedules. In a statement, BBC Daytime head Roger Laughton said:
||It was the natural extension of the corporation's commitment to public service broadcasting, since half the population had access to television during the day mainly the retired, unemployed and housewives.
Logo of BBC1 from 16 February 1991 to 4 October 1997
Stereo audio transmissions, using the NICAM digital stereo sound format began on BBC1 in late 1987, to coincide with the sale of the first consumer NICAM-enabled equipment, a year after BBC2, and were gradually phased in across BBC TV output, although it took until 31 August 1991 for the service to begin officially on both channels. During this time, both commercial analogue broadcasters, ITV and Channel 4 had officially begun stereo transmissions using the BBC-developed NICAM system. Widescreen programming was introduced on digital platforms in 1998.
For the first fifty years of its existence, with the exception of films and purchased programmes from the United States and elsewhere, almost all the channel's output was produced by the BBC's in-house production departments. This changed following the Broadcasting Act 1990, which required that 25% of the BBC's television output be out-sourced to independent production companies. By 2004 many popular BBC One shows were made for the channel by independents, but the in-house production departments continued to contribute heavily to the schedule.
In March 1991, as part of the £63 million programme package for spring and summer line up on BBC1, it was announced an extra £20 million was to be spent on rejuvenating the channels drama and comedy output during peak times, which meant the channel would be in a healthy state once the new Channel 3 licences were awarded.
In December 1991 Wogan was to be cancelled, due to falling ratings against a number of ITV shows, in which Wogan only managed six million viewers compared to double for This Is Your Life, The Krypton Factor and The $64,000 Question. Additionally an extra £40 million a year was spent on narrowing the gap on ITV's ratings lead, since a few months prior to this the channel had been criticised for its Autumn schedule, having tired formats, uninspiring scheduling of new programmes and poor scripts. Wogan was replaced with Eldorado, in early July 1992, but this was itself cancelled a year later.
Alan Yentob launched the 1993 Autumn schedule calling it "My first try with a lot of help from my friends", with the channel still under criticism, following the start of new programming Alan introduced a year earlier and the number of summer repeats. £175 million was spent on 80 hours of original drama produced, enchantment to the arts with an extended 26-week run for Omnibus, and documentaries with The Downing Street Years, new wildlife series and an eight-month look at Sheffield's Children's hospital, while Goodnight Sweetheart, Grace & Favour and The Danny Baker Show were new comedy series. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was brought in to give the Saturday night line up a bit of variety.
Following the public disapproval of filling its schedule with 25% of repeats during the summer months in 1993, BBC1 agreed to broadcast an extra 110 hours worth of original programming over the same period during the summer in 1994, which included giving EastEnders an additional episode per week. Efficiency savings of £25 million were found which were redeployed on the new productions. The savings were seen as a vindication so for the producer choice, the controversial market-oriented drive introduced in April 1993.
By March 1999, the channel admitted defeat in its ratings war with ITV, with its Spring line up with a stronger emphasis on serious factual programmes, educations and drama. This change in strategy came about after continuing complaints that the channel was appealing to the lowest common denominator to win viewers, which has left it chastened by the hoax guests on The Vanessa Show, over reliance on docusoaps and the dropping of the vilified Noel's House Party. Alan Yentob said "The spring package is to remind people of what the BBC is here for, Range and ambition you won't find anywhere else at peak time". The changes help the channel distinguish itself from (as one BBC executive said) "its downmarket rival and would not compete for viewers on ITV's terms."
Lorraine Heggessey became Controller of BBC One, a post she took up on 1 November 2000. She had previously been sounded out about the job in 1997 after Michael Jackson's departure, but had turned down the opportunity as she felt she was then not yet experienced enough.
During Heggessey's five years in charge, BBC One's audience share fell by 19.9%, to 23%, although this was in the context of declining audience figures across all British television channels due to increased competition from multichannel digital television. However, in 2001 BBC One overtook its main rival ITV in terms of annual audience share for the first time since the rival channel had launched in 1955, although much of this was down to the success of the channel's daytime television line-up, which had its own Controller: Jane Lush.
When Heggessey arrived at the channel in November 2000, she inherited two controversial schedule changes which had been implemented the previous month, at the behest of Director-General of the BBC Greg Dyke; the Nine O'Clock News had been moved to the later time of 22:00 and Panorama moved from a Monday night prime time slot to a later slot on Sunday nights. The moving of Panorama attracted criticism that BBC One was sidelining serious programming in favour of more populist output. Heggessey publicly defended the decision, despite it not being hers, claiming that Panorama's ratings would have "dwindled" in its previous slot.
Heggessey and the BBC's Controller of Drama Commissioning, Jane Tranter, took advantage of the weekday 21:00 slot opened up by the moving of the news to commission new popular drama output, such as the successful Waking the Dead (2000–2011) and Spooks (2002–2011). Celebrity dancing show Strictly Come Dancing (2004–present) was also a popular success on Saturday nights, although another Saturday night entertainment series, Fame Academy, faced accusations of being too derivative of the output of commercial rivals, and during Heggessey's era the channel frequently came under attack for being too populist and not providing enough serious programming.
In 2002, Heggessey took the decision to abandon the traditional "Globe" idents the channel had used in a variety of forms for its between-programme idents since 1963. They were replaced by a new style of on-air identity for the channel, the "Rhythm & Movement" idents. The new idents attracted criticism for going against the traditions of the channel and pandering to political correctness, as they featured activities performed by people of various ethnicities. The abandonment of a station clock, and perceived lack of a 'serious ident', also put the BBC in an embarrassing situation just one day into the new look with the death of the Queen Mother.
One of Heggessey's most notable decisions and last major success at the channel was the recommissioning of the science-fiction drama series Doctor Who, which had been a popular hit in previous decades but ceased production in 1989. Heggessey and Jane Tranter recommissioned the series in September 2003, after Heggessey had spent two years persuading the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, to abandon their attempts to make a feature film version of the programme and allow it instead to return to BBC One. The new version of Doctor Who (2005–present) debuted on 26 March 2005 and became a critical and popular hit, with Paul Hoggart of The Times newspaper describing the series as "a joyful, exuberant reinvention and a fine legacy from Ms Heggessey."
Heggessey did later concede in a 2005 interview with The Independent newspaper that arts programming had suffered a cutback under her control of BBC One. However, she did respond to this omission following criticism from the Board of Governors of the BBC by commissioning programmes such as the arts documentary series Imagine... (2003–present) and A Picture of Britain (2005).
On 14 February 2005 it was announced that Lorraine Heggessey was to leave the BBC to take up the post of Chief Executive at production company Talkback Thames. She left on 15 April. Five months after her departure, BBC One was named "Channel of the Year" at the Edinburgh Television Festival, primarily on the strength of Heggessey commissions such as Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who.
Joining the channel as Controller in 2005, Peter Fincham oversaw the commissioning of several successful BBC One programmes including Robin Hood (2006–2009), Jane Eyre (2006) and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, which was followed by similar shows Any Dream Will Do and I'd Do Anything because of its success. His first full year in charge of the channel saw a year-on-year growth in the audience share, with a rise from 22.2% in August 2005 to 23.6% in August 2006.
Fincham also directly initiated the creation of both The One Show (2006–present), an early evening, current-affairs and lifestyle magazine programme, which now runs all but two weeks of the year, and Davina (2006), a prime time chat show, the latter hosted by Davina McCall, who presented Big Brother. However, Davina was a critical and ratings disaster, which Fincham subsequently admitted was personally his fault, although he defended the strategy of experimenting with the BBC One schedule. This he continued in January 2007, when he moved the current affairs series Panorama from its Sunday night slot back to the prime time Monday evening slot from which it had been removed in 2000, most likely in response to a demand from the Board of Governors of the BBC for the channel to show more current affairs programming in prime time.
Logo of BBC One from 29 March 2002 to 7 October 2006
Fincham's judgement was again called into question, this time by The Telegraph, for his decision to spend £1.2 million replacing the channel's 'Rhythm and Movement' idents, which had been introduced by his predecessor Lorraine Heggessey several years earlier, with the 'Circle' idents, a set of eight ten-second films, some of which were shot abroad in locations such as Mexico and Croatia. Fincham later found himself having to publicly defend the £18 million salary that the BBC paid Jonathan Ross in 2006, although Ross's BBC One work—primarily consisting of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross—formed only part of his overall BBC commitment.
The channel was named Channel of the Year at the 2007 Broadcast Awards.
The One to Watch campaign
Following its rebrand in March 2002, BBC One launched The One to Watch campaign, during which animated blocks created the word "The" and moved into the BBC logo.
Each new campaign incorporating the theme retained the same animated sequence.
In May 2007, Fincham took the decision to drop Neighbours, an Australian soap opera, from BBC One after 21 years on the channel, when its producers significantly raised the price they wanted the BBC to pay for it in a bidding war. Fincham commented that it was 'a big loss', but that BBC One would not pay 'the best part of £300 million'. Neighbours left the channel in spring 2008 to move to Channel 5. The Weakest Link was moved from BBC Two to fill the gap, with the afternoon CBBC slot moving 20 minutes earlier.
There was further controversy in July 2007 when Fincham was accused of misleading BBC One viewers. The incident involved a clip from forthcoming documentary A Year with the Queen which was shown to journalists during a press conference. It apparently showed the Queen storming out of a session with American photographer Annie Leibovitz over a disagreement about what she should wear, but the BBC subsequently admitted that the scenes used in the trailer had been edited out of their correct order, meaning that a false impression was given. Fincham admitted the error, but rejected calls that he should resign from his position as a result. His future was deemed uncertain following critical comments from Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust and he resigned on 5 October 2007.
In 2009, a report published by the BBC Trust found said scheduling changes had led to a decrease in viewers. This was especially noticeable for Blue Peter and Newsround, two of CBBC's flagship programmes; Blue Peter which recorded its lowest viewing numbers since it started in 1958, and Newsround with fewer than 100,000 viewers compared to 225,000 in 2007.
An image of 'Digit Al
' sitting on the last BBC1 mechanical ident, taken from the last analogue BBC One Northern Ireland transmission on 23 October 2012 at 23:31 GMT.
As part of the Delivering Quality First proposals submitted by the BBC in October 2011 and approved by the BBC Trust in May 2012, all children's programming on BBC One and Two would be moved permanently to the CBBC and CBeebies channels following the digital switchover. It was found that the majority of child viewers watched the programmes on these channels already and that only 7% of these children watched CBBC programmes on BBC One and Two only, it was made clear "Children's programmes are absolutely fundamental to the BBC and that is why we have protected investment in them in the light of cuts elsewhere." Children's programming on BBC One ended on 21 December 2012. The move was criticised by Teletubbies co-creator Anne Wood, who described the changes as "ghettoising children's programmes" and believe it was merely a cost-cutting measure. Wood said "On the one hand it is inevitable. But it is dismissive of children. There is a certain amount of overlooking of the fact that children's programmes do get a wider audience than people are aware of ... I have frequently had letters from older people who have enjoyed my programmes as much as children do. A lot of the reason older people like to watch children's programming is because it is life-enhancing." Head of BBC Children's, Joe Godwin said: "Our young viewers are our priority and the vast majority of children in the UK already tune in to CBeebies and CBBC to find their favourite BBC children's programmes. Far from being a 'cynical' move, we're just following where our audience has already gone."
As part of the review in 2012 other changes were brought in, including:
- BBC One is reducing the minimum hours of arts and music from 45 to 40, achieved through cutting episodes of shows, in particular Film 2013.
- BBC One and Two will "largely be protected from making significant cuts".
- Repeats on BBC One will increase, but remain under 10% of all output (the current rate is 8.4%
- Expenditure on sports rights will be cut by 15%. This had largely been achieved already by sharing rights to Formula 1 coverage from 2012 (it was later dropped entirely from 2016).
In 2012, the BBC out-bid ITV for the rights to air a British version of Dutch TV talent show The Voice. The BBC paid £22 million for the rights to broadcast the show in the UK for two years. The Voice UK achieved good ratings for the BBC but ratings dropped towards the end of the first series and the second series. In 2013, The Voice UK was rescheduled to avoid a clash, and as a result, ratings have improved. In November 2015, it was announced that The Voice UK would be moving to ITV from 2017.