The first radio show by the British Broadcasting Company went out on 14th November 1922, after the government had licensed six major UK radio manufacturers to launch the new venture. There were only four employees and the service was funded by the Post Office licence fee of 10 shillings.
Anyone who owned a receiver was liable to pay the fee. Additional funding came from royalties from the sales of radios. The first director general was John Reith, who covered the difficult period during the 1926 General Strike. Soon afterwards the company was dissolved, to be replaced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, which had a royal charter.
Radio listening soon became a popular pastime and families would gather around the receiver and listen to broadcasts. In the 1930s, the BBC began commissioning drama and music shows and sporting and national events were also broadcast.
The BBC moved to its headquarters, Broadcasting House in London, in 1932. In the same year, the Empire Service, forerunner of the World Service, was launched.
The BBC launched its first television service on 2nd November 1936 but the outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to its suspension. Hit by a German bomb in October 1940, newsreader Bruce Belfrage was on air reading the 9pm news bulletin – he heard the explosion which killed seven people but he carried on reading. Keeping up morale during the war, the BBC continued to host entertainment and drama shows. The Empire Service broadcast to occupied Europe from its headquarters at Bush House.
After the war, the TV service resumed. On the radio, the Home Service and Light Programme were launched, followed by the Third Programme in 1946 that had an emphasis on the arts.
By 1950, television was broadcasting for 30 hours a week. The Queen’s coronation in 1953 gave television manufacturers a massive boost, as people rushed to buy a set to watch the spectacle. By 1955, the BBC was airing 50 hours of TV per week.
The same year saw competition from the newly-launched ITV but the BBC continued to flourish, with the launch of many long-running programmes, such as The Sky at Night and This is Your Life.
Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush opened in 1960 and four years later, BBC2 was launched. The BBC became known for gritty dramas, such as Cathy Come Home. BBC Radio continued to flourish, with playwrights Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter being regular contributors.
Radio 1 was launched in 1967 in an effort to combat the lure of pirate pop stations. The Light, Third and Home stations became Radio 2, 3 and 4. Later that year, BBC2 began to broadcast in colour, including coverage of the 1967 Wimbledon tennis championships.
More competition came in 1973 when commercial radio was launched but the BBC remained popular. It began broadcasting Open University programmes on TV, the information service Teletext arrived in 1974 and in 1979, Ceefax transmissions for deaf viewers were launched with subtitles.
The BBC had many popular light entertainment programmes such as Fawlty Towers, Top Gear, The Generation Game, Question Time and Antiques Roadshow, to name but a few.
Channel 4 television was launched in 1982, creating more competition. The BBC became well-known for its often-controversial political reporting, with extensive coverage of the Falklands War in 1982 and the miners’ strike in 1984.
In the 1990s, new director general John Birt reorganised much of the BBC’s internal workings. Radio 5 was launched in 1990, later to become sports and news station Radio 5 Live in 1994. While preparing for digital television, the BBC invested in internet services in the late 90s, including BBC News Online.
Subsequently, it launched new children’s television services CBBC and CBeebies; cultural network BBC Four; and a selection of digital radio services.
Today, the BBC provides multiple TV channels, including a 24-hour news service and a channel devoted to live Parliamentary coverage via cable, satellite or digital services. BBC Radio now broadcasts around the world in more than 40 languages.
To serve as further testament to the high standards of our work, Automatic Access has undertaken a project for the BBC. Bath City Farm, set up by the local community in the early 1990s, became a registered charity in 1995. Now home to goats, sheep, pigs, a pony, ducks, guinea fowl and chickens, it offers the community a chance to meet the animals.
The BBC’s DIY SOS team built an office and wet weather facilities for the volunteers and visitors in 2005. Automatic Access supplied and fitted three pairs of automatic doors and screens as part of the refurbishment, enabling disabled people to access the building more easily. The works were televised on BBC1’s DIY SOS programme later that year.