Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Years of Aunty; AS THE BBC CELEBRATES EIGHT DECADES OF BROADCASTING, MARION MCMULLEN LOOKS AT SOME OF ITS EARLIEST SHOWS

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Years of Aunty; AS THE BBC CELEBRATES EIGHT DECADES OF BROADCASTING, MARION MCMULLEN LOOKS AT SOME OF ITS EARLIEST SHOWS

Article excerpt

Byline: MARION MCMULLEN

THE telly world was born with a song ... "A mighty maze of mystic magic rays is all about us in the blue."

Adele Dixon sang in front of the cameras as the BBC launched the world's first regular high definition television service at 3pm on November 2, 1936, from specially constructed studios at London's Alexandra Palace, known affectionately as "Ally Pally."

However, many senior BBC executives were not convinced that this new-fangled invention called television even had a future and Sir John Reith, the first Director General of the BBC, wrote in his diary that day: "To Alexandra Palace for the television opening, I had declined to be televised or to take part."

The first shows were broadcast to only a few thousand households within a 35-mile radius of Alexandra Palace and BBC bosses wondered if anyone was watching at all in the early days. During experimental broadcasts leading up to the launch, they placed an advertisement in the newspapers asking: "The BBC is most anxious to know the number of people seeing this television programme. Will those looking in send a postcard marked 'Z' to Broadcasting House immediately."

At the time television sets cost PS100, the same price as a small car, and had 10-inch wide screens. The pre-war licence fee was 10 shillings

(50p).

Two different technical systems were tested on alternate weeks for six months. John Logie Baird's mechanical system producing pictures of 240 lines and the EMI-Marconi electronic system, which produced images of 405 lines. On the toss of a coin, Baird's system inaugurated the service, followed by EMIMarconi's. The latter was to prove the winning system.

The first programmes included a variety show, a Movietone newsreel and a documentary called Television Comes To London and the BBC was on air for just two hours.

But, within a few months of the opening, the infant television service had virtually set the blueprint for the modern programme schedules and new shows were created every day.

The cameras soon discovered television's first gardener, the elegantly dressed Mr C H Middleton, and the first cook, Moira Meighn and there was sport, including Wimbledon, drama, films, school broadcasts, ballet, opera, documentaries, children's programmes Mickey Mouse cartoons and variety.

Moira Meighn was giving tips on quick snacks in December 1936 and Leslie Mitchell, Jasmine Bligh and Elizabeth Cowell were the first three BBC Television Services presenters. It is said that the camermen would put gauze over their lenses to soften the beautiful Miss Bligh's looks is she had been to a party the previous night.

Picture Page, the first television magazine show, began broadcasting on November 9 and featured interviews with celebrities like comedy actor Will Hay, tennis star Kay Stammers and aviator Jim Mollinson, while Theatre Parade offered drama such as the first television broadcast of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, The Wasp's Nest, starring Francis L Sullivan as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. …

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