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BBC One (BBC1 until 1997) is the primary television channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It was launched on 2 November 1936 as the BBC Television Service, and was the world's first regular public television service with a high level of image resolution. It was later renamed BBC tv until the launch of sister channel BBC2 in 1964. The channel has an annual budget of £1,200 million. Along with the BBC's other domestic television stations, it is funded entirely by the licence fee, and therefore shows uninterrupted programming with no commercial advertising. It is currently the most watched television channel in the United Kingdom, ahead of its traditional rival for ratings leadership, ITV1.

The channel was named Channel of the Year at the 2007 Broadcast Awards.


The early years

Replica of an Emitron camera used to make the earliest 405-line programmes broadcast on the channel.

Baird Television made Britain's first television broadcast, on 30 September 1929 from its studio in Long Acremarker, London via the BBC's London transmitter, using the electromechanical system pioneered by John Logie Baird. This system used a vertically-scanned image of 30 lines — just enough resolution for a close-up of one person, and with a bandwidth low enough to use existing radio transmitters. Simultaneous transmission of sound and picture was achieved on 30 March 1930, by using the BBC's new twin transmitter at Brookmans Parkmarker. By late 1930, 30 minutes of morning programmes were broadcast Monday to Friday, and 30 minutes at midnight on Tuesdays and Fridays, after BBC radio went off the air. Baird broadcasts via the BBC continued until June 1932.

The BBC began its own regular television programming from the basement of Broadcasting Housemarker, London on 22 August 1932. The studio moved to expanded quarters at 16 Portland Placemarker, London, in February 1934, and continued broadcasting the 30-line images, carried by telephone line to the medium wave transmitter at Brookmans Parkmarker, until 11 September 1935, by which time advances in all-electronic television systems made the electromechanical broadcasts obsolete.

After a series of test transmissions and special broadcasts that began in August, regular BBC television broadcasts officially resumed on 1 October 1936, from a converted wing of Alexandra Palacemarker in London, housing two studios, various scenery stores, make-up areas, dressing rooms, offices, and even the transmitter itself, now broadcasting on the VHF band. BBC television initially used two systems, on alternate weeks: the 240-line Baird intermediate film system and the 405-line Marconi-EMI system, each making the BBC the world's first regular high-definition television service, broadcasting Monday to Saturday from 15:00 to 16:00 and 21:00 to 22:00. The two systems were to run on a trial basis for six months; early television sets supported both resolutions. However, the Baird system, which used a mechanical camera for filmed programming and Farnsworth image dissector cameras for live programming, proved too cumbersome and visually inferior, and was dropped in February 1937.

Initially, the station's range was officially a 25-mile (40 km) radius of the Alexandra Palace transmitter—in practice, however, transmissions could be picked up a good deal further away, and on one occasion in 1938 were picked up by engineers at RCA in New York, who were experimenting with a British television set.

Wartime closure

On 1 September 1939, two days before Britain declared war on Germany, the station was unceremoniously taken off air with little warning. It was feared that the VHF transmissions would act as a beacon to enemy aircraft homing in on London. Also, many of the television service's technical staff and engineers would be needed for the war effort, in particular on the RADAR programme. The last programme aired was a Mickey Mouse cartoon, Mickey's Gala Premiere. According to figures from England's Radio Manufacturers Association, 18,999 television sets had been manufactured from 1936 to September 1939, when production was halted by the war.


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 20 minutes later.

Postwar broadcast coverage extended to Birminghammarker in 1949 with the opening of the Sutton Coldfield transmitting stationmarker, and by the mid 1950s most of the country was covered.

Alexandra Palace was the home base of the channel until the early 1950s when the majority of production moved into Lime Grove Studiosmarker (closed 1991), then in 1960 to the purpose-built BBC Television Centremarker at White Citymarker, also in London, where the channel is still based.

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 purpose-built colour facilities at TV Centre on 20 September 1969.

The BBC held a monopoly on television broadcasting in the United Kingdom until the first ITV station was launched in 1955. The competition quickly forced the channel to change its identity and priorities following a large drop in audience figures. By the 1980s, the channel had launched the first breakfast television programmes and returned to its previous form under the controller of the channel at the time, Michael Grade.

The station was renamed BBC1 when BBC2 was launched in April 1964. At midnight on 15 November 1969, simultaneously with ITV and two years after BBC2, the channel officially began 625-line PAL colour programming with a broadcast of a concert by Petula Clark. In the weeks leading up to 15 November, BBC1 had unofficially transmitted the occasional programme in colour to test its system. Stereo audio transmissions began in 1991 (NICAM), and wide-screen programming was introduced on digital platforms in 1998. Many of these developments took some years to become available on all transmitters.

The most successful period for BBC1 in terms of audience share was under Bryan Cowgill between 1974 and 1977, when the channel achieved an average audience share of 45 per cent. This period is still regarded by many as a golden age of the BBC's output, with a very high standard being achieved across the BBC's entire range of series, serials, plays, light entertainment and documentaries.

Since the launch of multichannel television, BBC One's share of the viewing has declined, although not as fast as ITV's, leading the channel to once again become the most watched in the last decade.

Impact of Peter Fincham

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 soon followed by related 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 early evening current affairs and lifestyle programme The One Show (2006–present), now to run all but two weeks of the year, and the prime time chat show Davina (2006), the latter being designed as a vehicle for successful Big Brother presenter Davina McCall. 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. He continued with this experimentation in January 2007, when he moved the current affairs series Panorama from its Sunday night slot to 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.

Fincham's judgement was again called into question, this time by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, for his decision to spend £1.2 million replacing the BBC 'Rhythm & Movement' idents, which had been introduced by his predecessor Lorraine Heggessey several years earlier, with the BBC One 'Circle' idents, a set of eight ten-second films, some of which were shot abroad in locations such as Mexico and Croatiamarker. Fincham later found himself having to publicly defend the £18 million salary that the BBC paid presenter Jonathan Ross in 2006, although Ross's BBC One work — primarily consisting of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross — formed only a small part of his overall BBC commitment.

In May 2007, Fincham took the decision to drop the Australian soap opera Neighbours 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 m'. Neighbours left the channel in spring 2008 to move to Five and is currently the most popular daytime show.

Fincham was involved in a further controversy in July 2007, when he 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 BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons and he resigned on 5 October 2007.


In 2007, the top five watched programmes, at their peaks, according to BARB are as follows:
  1. EastEnders 14,830,000
  2. Doctor Who 13,310,000
  3. The Vicar of Dibley 13,080,000
  4. Concert for Diana 12,220,000
  5. Strictly Come Dancing 12,090,000

Channel Controllers

^ temporarily replaced by Martin J. O'Connor 1979-1980

* had not worked for the BBC before appointment

8.9% of peak programming (30.8% overall) is repeats, with a peak target of 5% in 2008/2009. Programming on this channel costs an average of £162,900 per hour.

With a mission to provide big programmes for all licence-fee payers, it has the main sport, news, current affairs and documentaries. It has historically broadcast children's programmes (now taken from CBBC and CBeebies). The channel remains one of the principal television channels in the United Kingdom and provides 2,508 annual hours of news and weather, 1,880 hours of factual and learning, 1,036 hours of drama, 672 hours of children's, 670 hours of sport, 654 hours of film, 433 hours of entertainment, 159 hours of current affairs, 92 hours of religion and 82 hours of music and arts.

News and current affairs

2,508 annual hours of news and weather (293 in peak, 1,049 of BBC News simulcasts) are provided by regular news programmes BBC Breakfast, the BBC News at One, BBC News at Six and the BBC News at Ten (the most-watched UK news programme), each including BBC regional news programmes. All of the three main news bulletins have a lead over their rival programmes on ITV and other terrestrial or cable channels. BBC One has also taken overnight simulcasts from the BBC News channel since 1997; the latter in turn simulcasts virtually all of the regular BBC One bulletins.

Each year 159 hours of current affairs programmes are broadcast on BBC One, including Panorama and Watchdog. Politics is also covered, with programmes such as Question Time and This Week. Crimewatch, a programme appealing for help in unsolved crimes, is also frequently broadcast.

Factual and learning

Whilst nature documentaries such as Planet Earth are the most familiar part of the 1,880 annual BBC One hours of factual and learning, this also includes lifestyle-format daytime programmes and a number of reality TV formats and the One Life strand.


BBC One is the BBC's home of drama, with 1,036 hours each year. There are four half-hour episodes of EastEnders each week, with an omnibus episode at the weekend, plus hospital dramas Casualty and Holby City. In recent years the BBC's innovative dramas such as Spooks, Judge John Deed, Hustle, Waterloo Road, Doctor Who, Hotel Babylon, Torchwood and time-travel police dramas Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes have defeated ITV in the ratings. In May 2009, BBC One broadcast a miniseries called Moving On.


BBC One has traditionally been the home to children's television . The launch in 2002 of dedicated digital channels for this content — CBBC and CBeebies — did not affect this provision. The channel broadcasts 672 hours of children's programmes each year , over two hours each day, mostly in the late afternoon. Saturday morning programming was switched to BBC Two in 2006 following a three month trial.


BBC One broadcasts 670 hours of sport each year . This includes Premier League football highlights on Match of the Day, tennis from Wimbledonmarker, horse racing such as the Grand National, the London Marathon plus other international athletics and swimming events, the Olympic Games, Rugby League, Rugby Union, Snooker tournaments, and more. The BBC will add Football League and League Cup coverage, plus Formula One motor racing, from 2009.


British and international films are broadcast for 654 hours each year on BBC One . This is mainly late-night fillers with some box office hits at Christmas and holiday periods .


433 hours of entertainment are broadcast by BBC One each year. This includes game shows like National Lottery, quiz shows like Have I Got News for You, several events and talent shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and the Eurovision Song Contest, and chat shows such as Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.


The annual 92 hours of religious programming comprise weekly editions of recorded Songs of Praise, Christian services and other shows from independent production companies. Mentorn Oxford produces Heart and Soul, described as “a new multifaith programme featuring a panel and a studio audience”, followed by Life from the Loft which is made by the Leeds-based company True North. In 2005 BBC One was criticised for reducing the amount of religious programming, previously 101 hours per year.


BBC One broadcasts many comedy programmes, often on Friday nights. These include the long-running My Family and highly successful Little Britain, no longer in production (though Little Britain USA is syndicated from American network HBO), as well as multi-award winning Gavin and Stacey, which were both transferred from BBC Three. One of the most popular BBC comedy shows was Only Fools and Horses, current comedies showing on the channel are The Green Green Grass and Life of Riley which make the Thursday Night comedy block.

Music and arts

As the weekly popular music chart programme Top of the Pops was axed (except for the Christmas Day edition), BBC One now broadcasts only 82 hours of music and arts each year. The majority of this is the Alan Yentob fronted Imagine and classical music concerts such as the BBC Proms.


BBC One's daytime lineup was a major factor in it overtaking ITV as the most popular channel in 2000, a position it has held ever since. The morning daytime lineup consists of lifestyle shows, such as Homes Under the Hammer and Bargain Hunt, the afternoons contain drama with daily soap Doctors and classic US drama, such as Diagnosis Murder. From 3:05 p.m. until 5:15 p.m. is the CBeebies/CBBC broadcasting strand, with its own visual identity. Historically, BBC One's most popular daytime programme was Neighbours, with audience figures approaching five million. From 11 February 2008 BBC One dropped Neighbours and the programme is now broadcast on Five. In its place is the game show The Weakest Link, moved from BBC Two.


28% of "qualifying hours" are made by independent production companies (statutory target is 25%). 99% of peak hours programmes are original productions (target 90%), as are 82% of all hours (target 70%).

Some of the channel's most popular programmes, such as Match of the Day, Have I Got News for You, QI, The Apprentice, Gavin and Stacey, Torchwood and Little Britain originally started off on other BBC channels, and moved to BBC One because of their popularity.


For the first fifty years of its existence, with the exception of films and imported programmes from countries such as the United States and Australia, 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 continue to contribute heavily to the schedule.


BBC One's identity has been symbolised by a globe shown on its idents for most of its existence. In 1962 this was represented as a map of the UK shown between programmes, but in 1963 the globe appeared, changing in style and appearance over the next 39 years.
  • From 15 November 1969 it became a 'mirror-globe' in several colours and sizes (a globe in front of a curved mirror which reflected a distorted view of the reverse).
  • On 18 February 1985 the COW (Computer Originated World) debuted. This was a computer-animated globe with the land coloured gold and the sea a transparent blue, giving the impression of a glass globe.
  • On 16 February 1991, the day that BBC2 rebranded, an ethereal crystal-ball-type globe appeared, played out on air from laserdisc.
  • On 4 October 1997 the globe became a red, orange and yellow hot-air balloon, coloured to resemble a globe, flying around various places in the UK.
  • On 29 March 2002 the globe was replaced by a series of idents consisting of people dancing in various styles (see BBC One 'Rhythm & Movement' idents).
  • On 7 October 2006 at 10.00 a.m. the new set of idents based on circles (see BBC One 'Circle' idents) was launched. According to the BBC, the circle symbol both represents togetherness and acts as a nod to the former globe idents.

Image:BBC-one1969.jpg|BBC One in colour (1969)Image:BBC One Balloon.jpg|The BBC One Balloon ident (1997-2002)Image:BBCRMBallet.png|The Ballet ident from the Rhythm & Movement idents (2002-2006)Image:BBCCirclesKites.png|The first circle ident, Kites (2006-present)

Regional variations

An example of the BBC One Scotland variation on the current national theme.
To reflect the countries within the United Kingdom in which the channel is available, BBC One has individual continuity and opt-outs for Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelandmarker. The channel's visual identity is largely the same as the version used in England, save for the inclusion of the country name below the main BBC One logo.

In the English regions, the BBC has regional news and current affairs programme opt-outs as well as a limited amount of continuity for the English regions. During such regional opt-outs, the region name is displayed as with the national variations, in smaller characters beneath the main channel logo. A generic news programme, UK Today, available mainly to digital viewers but also shown in the case of problems with regional news programmes was discontinued in 2002. This was replaced by transmission of BBC London News, since digital viewers are now able to receive regional programming.

BBC One Scotland has the greatest level of variation from the generic network, owing to BBC Scotland scheduling Scottish programming on the main BBC Scotland channel, rather than on BBC Two.BBC One Scotland variations include the soap opera River City and the football programme Sportscene, the inclusion of which causes network programming to be displaced or replaced.

BBC One Wales was considered a separate channel by the BBC as early as its launch in the mid-1960s, appearing as BBC Wales.

Subtitles service

The BBC announced in May 2008 that it had achieved its aim for all programming to have subtitles for viewers with hearing difficulties. The BBC also offers audio description on some popular BBC One programmes for visually impaired viewers. The percentage of the BBC's total television output with audio description available is 10%, having been increased from 8% in 2008.

Notes and references

  1. A 240-line intermediate film system and the Marconi-EMI's 405-line all-electronic television service. Germany introduced all-electronic television with a medium level of image resolution (180 lines) in 1935.
  2. BBC One Service Licence. Issued July 2009. BBC Trust
  3. BBC One named Channel Of The Year at Broadcast Awards BBC Press Office, 25 January 2007
  4. They filmed the static-ridden output they saw on their screen, and this poor-quality mute film footage is the only surviving record of 1930s British television filmed directly from the screen. Some images of programmes do survive in newsreels, which also contain footage shot in studios while programmes were being made, giving a feel for what was being done, albeit without directly replicating what was being shown on screen.
  5. Halifax Courier, 12 November 2009
  6. Neighbours will move in Spring 2008 Media Guardian
  7. Fincham Criticised by Sir Michael Lyons Times Online
  8. , and makes an annual profit of £900 million. BBC Annual Report and Accounts 2005/2006
  9. Selected programmes are produced in high definition and simulcast on BBC HD.
  10. BBC mulls Saturday morning switch BBC News, 21 December 2005
  11. The Apprentice moves to BBC One BBC Press Office
  12. About BBC One Scotland BBC Website
  13. About BBC One Wales BBC Website
  14. About BBC One Northern Ireland BBC Website
  15. BBC - England BBC Website
  16. "...a separate service - BBC Wales - available to the greater part of the people in the Principality..." BBC Handbook 1967, p25; British Broadcasting Corporation, London: 1966
  17. BBC Vision celebrates 100% subtitling BBC Press Office. 7 May 2008
  18. BBC policy on subtitles BBC Website
  19. BBC - About the BBC - Audio description BBC
BBC Trust Report

See also

External links

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