The BBC in the…
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London and it is the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

The BBC is established under a Royal Charter and operates under its Agreement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Its work is funded principally by an annual television licence fee which is charged to all British households, companies, and organisations using any type of equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts and iPlayer catch-up. The fee is set by the British Government, agreed by Parliament, and used to fund the BBC’s radio, TV, and online services covering the nations and regions of the UK.

Around a quarter of BBC revenues come from its commercial arm BBC Studios Ltd (formerly BBC Worldwide), which sells BBC programmes and services internationally and also distributes the BBC’s international 24-hour English-language news services BBC World News, and from, provided by BBC Global News Ltd.

From its inception, through the Second World War (where its broadcasts helped to unite the nation), to the 21st century, the BBC has played a prominent role in British culture. It has also been known as “The Beeb”, and “Auntie”.


  • January 17: BBC CWR launches.
    March 25: At 7 pm BBC Radio 2 becomes available on FM 24/7 for the first time after the final ever ‘borrow’ of its FM frequencies by BBC Radio 1.
  • April 12: BBC Radio Suffolk launches.
  • August 27: BBC Radio 5 begins broadcasting on BBC Radio 2‘s MW frequencies. BBC Radio’s sports coverage transfers to the new station from Radio 2 and educational and children’s programmes transfer from Radio 4 FM. Consequently, BBC Radio 2 becomes the first national BBC station to broadcast exclusively on FM and the full BBC Radio 4 schedule becomes available on FM for the first time.
  • September 5: The new BBC building at White City opens.


  • January 7: The BBC East Midlands region is created and the first edition of East Midlands Today is broadcast.
  • January 16: Radio 4 News FM starts Gulf War broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 FM frequencies.
  • February 16: BBC 1 and BBC 2 receive new idents generated from laserdisc, BBC 1 with a ‘1’ encased in a swirling globe, and BBC 2 with eleven idents based around the numeral ‘2’.
  • March 2: Radio 4 News FM closes and BBC Radio 4 returns to FM.
  • March: After nearly eight years on air, BBC Radio Gwent closes.
  • April 1: The BBC becomes the statutory authority for issuing television licences, assuming the responsibility of licence fee collection and enforcement.
  • April 15: The World Service Television News service is launched. Unlike World Service radio which is funded by direct grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, WSTV is commercially funded and carries advertising, which means that it cannot be broadcast in the UK.
  • May 1: BBC Radio 1 begins 24-hour transmission, but only on FM – Radio 1’s MW transmitters still close down overnight, between 12 midnight and 6 am.
  • July 31: The BBC’s Lime Grove Studios close.
  • August 31: BBC television starts officially broadcasting in stereo using the NICAM system. (Some transmitters had been broadcasting in stereo since 1986, but these were classified as tests.)
  • September 16: The main BBC Radio 4 service moves from long wave to FM as FM coverage has now been extended to cover almost all of the UK – Radio 4 didn’t become available on FM in much of Scotland and Wales until the start of the 1990s. Opt-outs are transferred from FM to long wave.
  • October 14: World Service TV launches its Asian service.
  • November 14: BBC Radio Surrey launches.


  • January 21: BBC Select is launched as an overnight subscription service and BBC Radio Berkshire launches.
  • February 29: BBC Radio 3 ceases broadcasting on medium wave (AM).
  • April 17: BBC Radio Nottingham ends transmissions on one of its MW transmitters. BBC Radio Cleveland, BBC Radio Northampton and BBC Radio Oxford also stop broadcasting on MW.
  • November 1: The satellite TV channel UK Gold, run by the BBC with Thames Television, starts broadcasting.


  • April 5: BBC Radio Bedfordshire expands to cover the counties of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and is renamed BBC Three Counties Radio.
  • April 13: For the first time all BBC News programmes have the same look following a relaunch of all of the main news bulletins.
  • April 26: BBC Dorset FM launches as an opt-out service from BBC Radio Devon.
  • Autumn: BBC GLR and BBC GMR stop broadcasting on MW.
  • October: BBC Radio Clwyd closes, although news opt-outs continue until 2002.


  • March 27: BBC Radio 5 ends transmission.
  • March 28: BBC Radio 5 Live, a dedicated news and sport network, starts round-the-clock broadcasts.
  • April 13: First BBC website created for the BBC 2 series The Net.
  • July 1: BBC Radio 1 ceases broadcasting on medium wave (AM) at 9 am.
  • July: Arabic Television television service launched with funding from the Saudi Arabian Mawarid Group.
  • August 1: BBC Radio Surrey and BBC Radio Sussex merge to form BBC Southern Counties Radio.


  • January 16: BBC World Service Television was renamed as BBC World it was
  • January 26: BBC World is launched as an international free-to-air news channel at 19:00 GMT.
  • January 30: BBC Prime launches as a local encrypted variety and light entertainment channel by BBC Enterprises.
  • BBC Enterprises, the BBC’s commercial arm, is restructured as BBC Worldwide Ltd.
  • October 9: BBC Learning Zone is launched.
  • BBC Radio CWR closes as a stand-alone station and becomes an opt-out of BBC Radio WM.


  • April 9: BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Radio Berkshire merge to form BBC Thames Valley FM. Also in early 1996 BBC Dorset FM closes and its frequency is used to relay BBC Radio Solent.
  • April 21: Arabic Television closes down when the Saudi backer pulls out following a row over coverage of the execution of a princess accused of adultery.
  • June: Radio 1 starts live streaming on the internet.
  • June 7: The BBC is restructured by the Director-General, John Birt. In the new structure BBC Broadcast will commission programmes, and BBC Production will make them.
  • November 4: The Asian Network expands into a full-time station when it increases the number of hours on air from 80 hours a week to 126 hours a week (18 hours a day). The station, which broadcasts on the MW frequencies of BBC Radio Leicester and BBC WM, is renamed BBC Asian Network. Consequently, Radios Leicester and WM become FM only stations.
  • December 29: What was billed as the last ever episode of Only Fools and Horses before the new millennium is watched by 24.35 million viewers, the largest ever TV audience for a sitcom.


  • The BBC broadcasts the much praised “Perfect Day” corporate advertisement, featuring 27 artists singing lines of Lou Reed‘s original. The song later becomes a fund-raising single for Children in Need.
  • February 28: The BBC sells its transmitters and transmission services to Castle Transmission Services for £244 million, to help fund its plans for the digital age.
  • September 6: The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales is broadcast on BBC Radio & Television and aired to over 200 countries worldwide. Nearly 3 billion viewers and listeners watch the ceremonies. In the USA, BBC’s coverage is aired on A&E and CSPAN Cable Networks. David Dimbleby hosts the coverage with Tom Fleming narrating the service inside Westminster Abbey.
  • October 4: Current corporate identity adopted. At a reported cost of £5m the new logo was introduced due to the increase in digital services, as it is designed to be more visible at small size it is better suited for use in websites and on screen “DOGs.” On Screen Identities changed, with BBC One adopting the Balloon Idents, and BBC Two retaining their 2’s used from 1991, with new legend.
  • November 4: BBC News Online, a web-based news service, is launched.
  • November 8: BBC One closes down for the very last time as from the following day, BBC News 24 broadcasts during the channel’s overnight hours.
  • November 9: BBC News 24, the Corporation’s UK television news service, is launched at 17.30.
  • December: The BBC launches its online service BBC Online.


  • February: Sunday Grandstand becomes a year-round programme. Previously it had only broadcast between May and September.
  • August: The BBC’s domestic TV channels become available on Sky Digital‘s satellite service. An unintended consequence of this is that people in the rest of Europe can now watch BBC One and Two, using viewing cards from the UK, as the signal is encrypted for rights reasons. This applies even within the UK: people in England can now watch BBC channels from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and vice versa.
    September 23: The BBC launches BBC Choice, its first new TV channel since 1964, available only on digital TV services. The BBC Parliament TV channel also starts broadcasting on digital services and analogue cable.
    November 15: Public launch of digital terrestrial TV in the UK.


  • BBC 648, which provided French and German language content for northern Europe from the Orfordness transmitting station, ends with the closure of the BBC’s German service. The French for Europe service had closed in 1995. Consequently, all programming from this transmitter was in English only.
    May 10: BBC network news relaunched with new music, titles and a red and ivory set. This design was used for the relaunch of News 24, enhancing cross-channel promotion of the service.
  • May 20: The BBC’s digital teletext service starts.
  • June 1: BBC Knowledge starts broadcasting on digital services.
  • June 20: The BBC broadcasts live cricket for the final time when it shows live coverage of the 1999 Cricket World Cup Final, bringing to an end of sixty years of continuous cricket coverage on the BBC. The terrestrial rights transfer to Channel 4.
  • October 25: News 24 is relaunched.

BBC Timeline courtesy of Wikipedia

The BBC in the…
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s