Launch of BBC2


Launch of BBC2

Muswell Hill, London The 20th of April 1964 AD

A lengthy campaign promoting the newcomer had been carried by its sister station BBC1; trade test transmissions, some of which are still regarded as mini-classics, had run for seemingly ages on the new frequencies to enable shops and TV engineers to get their part of the thing right. And then...on April 20 1964, at a quarter to seven in the evening, less than half an hour before the first official BBC2 broadcast was due to go out, a massive problem at Battersea Power Station blacked out Television Centre . Chaos, despair, ridicule.
The launch was put back to the next day, making Play School the first full programme to air on the channel (rather than a new comedy series called The Alberts). But in the BBC facilities at Alexandra Palace there was power, and so the news unit was able to provide some input to the planned first day. Gerald Priestland thus appeared out of the new channelís ether to provide brief news bulletins, though whether anyone ever watched them, preceded and followed by empty airtime, is debatable.
Add that fiasco to the fact that only 9 million viewers were able to receive the station in the early days on its 625-line format, and it is hard not to conclude things might have gone better.
BBC2 of course went on to build a major reputation for more cultural and perhaps more demanding fare than its sister station, but one of the secrets of its early adoption by viewers was The Forsyte Saga, with big name actors including Nyree Dawn Porter, Kenneth More , and Eric Porter, which made the channel something to check out in case there was something good on, when it had been feared the bulk of the audience might not bother.

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