History of British Telly

A summary of key events in British TV history…



  • October 18: The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is formed. [1]


  • John Logie Baird demonstrates a semi-mechanical television system with the transmission of moving silhouette images. [2]


  • March 25: Baird performs the first public demonstration of his “televisor” at the Selfridges department store on London’s Oxford Street. The demonstrations of moving silhouette images continued through April. The system consisted of 30 lines and 12.5 pictures per second. [3]
  • October 2: Baird achieves the first live television image with tone graduations (not silhouette or duotone images) in his laboratory. Baird brings office boy William Taynton in front of the camera to become the first face televised. But rate of five images per second is below realistic movement. [3]


  • January 26: Baird demonstrates the world’s first television system to transmit live, moving images with tone graduations, to 40 members of the Royal Institution. The 30-line images are scanned mechanically by a disk with a spiral of lenses at 12.5 images per second. [4]


  • January 1:  The British Broadcasting Company becomes the British Broadcasting Corporation, when it is granted a Royal Charter. Sir John Reith becomes the first Director-General. [1]
  • May 24: Baird transmits a television signal from London to Glasgow by telephone line. [5]
  • September 7: The Television Society is founded. [6]
  • September 20: Baird demonstrates the first ever system for recording television. His Phonovision VideoDisc apparatus records 30-line television pictures and sound on conventional 78 rpm gramophone records. [5]


  • February 9: Baird transmits television pictures across the Atlantic. The pictures are transmitted from Motograph House, London by telephone cable to Ben Clapp’s station GK2Z at 40 Warwick Road, Coulsdon, Surrey, and then by radio to Hartsdale, New York, United States. [7]
  • July 3: Baird demonstrates a colour television system achieved by using a scanning disc with spirals of red, green and blue filters at the transmitting and receiving ends. [7]
  • September 22-29: John Logie Baird’s Television Development Company demonstrates their model A, B, and C ‘televisors’ to the general public at the Radio Exhibition held at Olympia in London. The exhibition proves hugely popular, with an estimated nine hundred people per day watching the demonstration programming. [8]


  • August 20: First transmissions of Baird’s 30-line television system by the BBC. [9]
  • November: The BBC and John Logie Baird begin daily experimental broadcasting of 30-line television transmissions using the BBC’s 2LO transmitter. [10]


  • March 31: Baird installs a television receiver at the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’s residence in London. [11]
  • April 18: The BBC evening news announces “There is no news”, after which the broadcaster plays Piano music. [11]
  • July 14: For the first time in the United Kingdom, a television drama is broadcast. The drama is a production of Luigi Pirandello’s The Man With the Flower in His Mouth; it is broadcast at 3.30pm [12] by the BBC from Baird’s studios at 133 Long Acre, London. [13]
  • November 5: Baird television transmissions at Hairdressing Fair of Fashion include the world’s first television commercial for the Eugène Method of permanent hair waving. [11]


  • June 2: First live outside broadcast with transmission of The Derby. [14]


  • April 21: The first television revue, Looking In, is shown on the BBC. The first four minutes of this programme survive on a Silvatone record, an early method of home video recording. [15]


  • January 8: The first television programme listed in the Radio Times, “Television by the Baird Process”, aired at 11pm, and starred Cal McCord, the comical, cordial cowboy. [16]
  • March 31: The agreement for joint experimental transmissions by the BBC and John Logie Baird’s company comes to an end. [17]


  • September 11: Final transmission of John Logie Baird’s 30-line television system by the BBC. The BBC begins preparations for a regular high definition broadcasting service from Alexandra Palace. [18]


  • November 2: The BBC opens the world’s first regular high-definition television service, from Alexandra Palace. [14]


  • January 19: BBC Television broadcasts The Underground Murder Mystery by J. Bissell Thomas from its London station, the first play written for television. [19]
  • February 6: The BBC Television Service drops the Baird system in favour of the Marconi-EMI 405 lines system. [21]
  • April 24: The very first children’s television show For the Children is broadcast. [14]
  • May 12: At 2pm [22], the first use of a TV outside broadcast van, to cover the procession that followed the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. [14]
  • May 14: At 9.30pm [23], the BBC Television Service broadcasts a thirty-minute excerpt of Twelfth Night, the first known instance of a Shakespeare play on television. Among the cast is Greer Garson. Peggy Ashcroft appeared in a 1939 telecast of the entire play. [21]
  • June 18: At 3.35pm [24], a broadcast of the Agatha Christie play Wasp’s Nest, the only instance of Christie adapting one of her works for television, a medium she later came to dislike. [21]
  • June 21: The BBC broadcasts television coverage of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships for the first time. [14]
  • September 16: The BBC makes the world’s first live television broadcast of a football match, a specially arranged local mirror match derby fixture between Arsenal and Arsenal reserves. [14]
  • November 11: At 9pm [25], BBC Television devotes the evening to a broadcast of Journey’s End by R. C. Sherriff (1928, set on the Western Front (World War I) in 1918), the first full-length television adaptation of a stage play. Reginald Tate plays the lead, Stanhope, a rôle he has performed extensively in the theatre. [20]
  • December 31: 2,121 television sets had been sold in England. [21]


  • February 21: At 3.20pm [26], the BBC Television Service broadcasts the first ever piece of television science-fiction, a 35-minute adaptation of a segment of the play R.U.R. by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek. [27]
  • March 12: At 3.25pm [28], the first news bulletin carried by the BBC Television Service, in sound only. Previously, the service had aired British Movietone News cinema newsreels. [27]
  • April 1: The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race is first televised on the BBC Television Service. [27]
  • April 19: The first televised football (soccer) match, England v Scotland, shown on the BBC Television Service. [27]
  • April 30: The BBC broadcasts television coverage of the FA Cup for the first time. [14]
  • May 14: The first quiz show, Spelling Bee, is televised on the BBC Television Service. [27]
  • June 24: Test Match Cricket is broadcast for the first time on the BBC Television Service, with coverage of the second test of The Ashes series between England and Australia, live from Lord’s Cricket Ground. [27]
  • June 24: John Logie Baird gives the world’s first public demonstration of a colour television broadcast. The 120-line image is projected at the Dominion Theatre, London on a 12 by 9 feet (3.7 by 2.7 m) screen in front of an audience of 3,000. [27]
  • October 26: The first televised ice hockey match, Harringay Racers vs. Streatham Redskins, shown by the BBC. [29]
  • December 31: 9,315 television sets had been sold in England. [29]


  • March 4: At 10.05pm [30], the BBC Television Service broadcasts one of the first plays to be written especially for television, Condemned To Be Shot by R. E. J. Brooke. The production is notable for the use of a camera as the first-person perspective of the play’s unseen central character. [31]
  • March 27: At 8.15pm [32], the BBC Television Service broadcasts the entirety of Magyar Melody live from His Majesty’s Theatre. The 175-minute broadcast is the first showing of a full-length musical on television. [31]
  • August 31: 18,999 television sets had been sold in England before manufacture stops during the Second World War. [31]
  • September 1:  The BBC Television Service is suspended, about 20 minutes after the conclusion of a Mickey Mouse cartoon (Mickey’s Gala Premiere), owing to the imminent outbreak of the Second World War and amid fears that the VHF transmissions would act as perfect guidance beams for enemy bombers attempting to locate central London. Additionally, the service’s technicians and engineers will be needed for such war efforts as the development of radar. [14]


  • August 16: John Logie Baird demonstrates the world’s first colour television picture tube. Colour movies are shown from a flying-spot scanner. [33]


  • June 1: The first television licence is introduced in the United Kingdom costing £2. [34]
  • June 7: At 3pm [35], BBC Television broadcasts (405 lines) resume after the war including the coverages of cricket and Wimbledon Tennis. One of the first programmes shown is the Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1939. [36]
  • July 7: At 3pm [37], the BBC’s children’s programme For the Children returns, one of the few pre-war programmes to resume after the reintroduction of the BBC Television Service. [34]
  • August 4: At 3.15pm [38], children’s puppet “Muffin the Mule” debuts in an episode of For The Children. He is so popular he is given his own show later in the year on a new service Watch with Mother. [34]
  • October 19: At 3pm [39], the first live televised football match is broadcast from Barnet’s home ground Underhill. Twenty minutes of first half the game against Wealdstone were televised and thirty five minutes of the second half were shown before it became too dark to continue with the coverage. [34]
  • November 29: At 8.30pm [40], Pinwright’s Progress, British television’s first sitcom, debuts on the BBC Television Service. [34]


  • February 10 – March 11: The BBC Television Service is temporarily suspended for the first time since World War II due to a national fuel crisis. [41]
  • October 7: At 3.30pm [42], Adelaide Hall singing at a RadiOlympia variety show is the oldest surviving telerecorded programme in Britain. [36]
  • November 9: First use of telerecording of an outside broadcast: the Service of Remembrance from the Cenotaph is televised live (at 10.45am [43]), and a telerecording shown that evening (at 8.45pm [44]). [36]
  • November 20: From 10.50am [45], the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh is televised by the BBC from 10.50am [17]. It is watched by an estimated 400,000 viewers. [36]


  • January 5: Television Newsreel is first shown on the BBC Television Service [46] at 8.30pm [47].
  • July 29 – August 14: From the opening ceremony at 2.30pm on July 19 [48], the London Olympic Games is televised. [36] The BBC broadcast an average three and a half hours a day of live coverage from the games [49] up to the end of the closing ceremony at 6.30pm on August 14. [50]


  • July 29 [51]: At 10.15pm [51], BBC Television revives the regular televised weather forecast. [52]
  • October 26: At 8.30pm [53], How Do You View?, the first comedy series on British television, starring Terry-Thomas, is first broadcast. [52]
  • December 17: For the first time television extends beyond London when the Sutton Coldfield transmitter starts broadcasting at 8pm [54], providing television reception across the Midlands. [36]


  • February 23: First televised report of general election results in the UK [55] was broadcast at 10.30pm [56]
  • April 3: The BBC aspect ratio changes from 5:4 to 4:3. [55]
  • August 27: At 9.30pm [58], the first live television from the European continent, using BBC outside broadcast equipment. [57]
  • September 30: At 3.30pm [59], the first BBC Television Service broadcast from an aircraft. [55]


  • October 12: At 8pm [20], television extends to the north of England following the switching on of the Holme Moss transmitting station. [1a]


  • March 14: At 7.30pm [21], television becomes available in Scotland for the first time following the switching on of the Kirk o’Shotts transmitting station. [1a]
  • August 15: At 7.45pm [22], television becomes available in Wales and the West for the first time following the switching on of the Wenvoe transmitting station. [1a]


  • April 21: At 4pm [23], Watch With Mother, the iconic pre-schoolers strand, debuts [1a].
  • May 1: Television becomes available in Northern Ireland for the first time although initially from a temporary transmitter, brought into service in time for the Queen’s Coronation. [1a]
  • June 2: From 9.15am [9], the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is televised from London. Sales of TV sets in the United Kingdom rise sharply in the weeks leading up to the event. It is also one of the earliest broadcasts to be deliberately recorded for posterity and still exists in its entirety. [10]
  • November 11: At 8.15pm [24], the first edition of Panorama is presented by Daily Mail reporter Pat Murphy. Panorama is the world’s longest-running current affairs programme and retains a peak-time slot to this day. [1a]


  • January 11: At 7.55pm [25], the very first in-vision weather forecast is broadcast, presented by George Cowling. Previously, weather forecasts had been read by an off-screen announcer with a weather map filling the entire screen. [1a]
  • July 5: At 7.30pm [26], BBC newsreader Richard Baker reads the first televised BBC News bulletin. [1a] To avoid the risk of the newsreader’s expression betraying his opinion, they were not at first visible on screen – viewers heard a disembodied voice over captions and photos. [27]


  • SeptemberKenneth Kendall becomes the BBC’s first in-vision newsreader, followed by Richard Baker and Robert Dougall. [1a]
  • September 22: Commercial television starts in the United Kingdom with the Independent Television Authority’s first ITV franchise beginning broadcasting in London – Associated-Rediffusion on weekdays, ATV during weekends, ending the previous BBC monopoly. The rest of the UK receives its regional ITV franchises during the next seve: n years. The first advertisement shown is for Gibbs SR toothpaste. [11]
  • October 10: Alexandra Palace begins test transmissions of a 405-line colour television service. [1a]


  • March 28: Television transmissions begin from the new Crystal Palace site in south London. [1a]


  • April 24: At 10.30pm [28], The Sky at Night, a monthly astronomy programme presented by Sir Patrick Moore, is first broadcast. [1a]
  • September 24: At 2.05pm [29], the first programmes for schools are broadcast. [1a]
  • September 30 [30]: At 6.10pm [30], the first broadcasts of regional news bulletins take place. [1a]
  • December 25: At 3pm [31], the first TV broadcast of the Queen’s Christmas Day message. [1a]


  • The BBC introduces a new 3 box system logo. The logo featured slanted lettering within upright boxes. [1a]
  • May 5: First experimental transmissions of a 625-line television service. [1a]
  • October 11: At 2pm, the first UK multi-sport television show, Grandstand, is broadcast [32].
  • October 16: At 5pm [33], the first broadcast of the United Kingdom’s longest-running children’s television show Blue Peter. [1a]


  • January 5 [34]: The BBC North East and Cumbria region is created with localised bulletins from Newcastle-upon-Tyne aired for the first time at 6.15pm [35]. Previously, the area was part of a pan-Northern region based in Manchester. [1a]


  • March 26: At 3.15pm [36], BBC Television televises the Grand National for the first time. [1a]
  • June 19: Nan Winton becomes the BBC’s first national female newsreader. [1a]
  • October 8: The BBC Television Service is renamed as BBC TV.


  • June 27: The Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting publishes its report into the future of UK broadcasting. Among its recommendations are the introduction of colour television licenses, and that Britain’s third national television channel should be awarded to the BBC. [1a]


  • The BBC logo is improved by slanting the boxed lettering. [1a]
  • September 30: A globe is used as the BBC Television’s logo for the first time. [1a]
  • November 23: At 5.15pm [37], the first broadcast of the world’s longest-running science fiction television programme, Doctor Who. [1a]


  • January 1: At 6.35pm [38], the first broadcast of pop and rock music television show Top of the Pops. [1a]
  • April 20BBC2 starts broadcasting (on 625 lines) at 7.20pm [39]. The existing BBC Television is renamed BBC1. [1a]
  • August 22: At 6.30pm on BBC2 [40], the first broadcast of top flight football television show Match of the Day. [1a]


  • June 25: At 7.55pm [41], the first worldwide live satellite programme, Our World, featuring the Pop band, the Beatles, is televised. [1a]
  • July 1: At 2pm [42], regular colour TV transmissions (625 lines) begin on BBC2, starting with the Wimbledon tennis championships. [1a]
  • October 23Service Information is broadcast for the first time [1a]
  • December 2: BBC2 becomes the first television channel in Britain to broadcast in colour. [1a]


  • March 25: BBC regional television from Leeds began and the first edition of Look North is broadcast. Previously, the Yorkshire area had been part of a wider North region based in Manchester. [1]

External Links*

  1. Timeline of the BBC – 1920s (Wikipedia)
  2. Before 1925 in Television (Wikipedia)
  3. 1925 in Television (Wikipedia)
  4. 1926 in Television (Wikipedia)
  5. 1927 in Television (Wikipedia)
  6. 1927 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  7. 1928 in Television (Wikipedia)
  8. 1928 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  9. 1929 in Television (Wikipedia)
  10. 1929 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  11. 1930 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  12. Radio Times July 14, 1930 (BBC Genome)
  13. 1930 in Television (Wikipedia)
  14. Timeline of the BBC -1930s (Wikipedia)
  15. 1933 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  16. Radio Times January 8, 1934 (BBC Genome)
  17. 1934 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  18. 1935 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  19. 1936 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  20. 1937 in Television (Wikipedia)
  21. 1937 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  22. Radio Times May 12, 1937 (BBC Genome)
  23. Radio Times May 14, 1937 (BBC Genome)
  24. Radio Times June 18, 1937 (BBC Genome)
  25. Radio Times November 11, 1937 (BBC Genome)
  26. Radio Times February 11, 1938 (BBC Genome)
  27. 1938 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  28. Radio Times March 12, 1938 (BBC Genome)
  29. 1938 in Television (Wikipedia)
  30. Radio Times March 4, 1939 (BBC Genome)
  31. 1939 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  32. Radio Times March 27, 1939 (BBC Genome)
  33. 1944 in Television (Wikipedia)
  34. 1946 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  35. Radio Times June 7, 1946 (BBC Genome)
  36. Timeline of the BBC – 1940s (Wikipedia)
  37. Radio Times July 7, 1946 (BBC Genome)
  38. Radio Times August 4, 1946 (BBC Genome)
  39. Radio Times October 19, 1946 (BBC Genome)
  40. Radio Times November 29, 1946 (BBC Genome)
  41. 1947 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  42. Radio Times October 7, 1947 (BBC Genome)
  43. Radio Times November 9, 1947 #1 (BBC Genome)
  44. Radio Times November 9, 1947 #2 (BBC Genome)
  45. Radio Times November 20, 1947 (BBC Genome)
  46. 1948 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  47. Radio Times January 5, 1948 (BBC Genome)
  48. Radio Times July 29, 1948 (BBC Genome)
  49. 1948 in Television (Wikipedia)
  50. Radio Times August 14, 1948 (BBC Genome)
  51. Radio Times July 29, 1949 (BBC Genome)
  52. 1949 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  53. Radio Times October 26, 1949 (BBC Genome)
  54. Radio Times December 17, 1949 (BBC Genome)
  55. 1950 in British Television (Wikipedia)
  56. Radio Times February 23, 1950 (BBC Genome)
  57. Timeline of the BBC – 1950s (Wikipedia)
  58. Radio Times August 27, 1950 (BBC Genome)
  59. Radio Times September 30, 1950 (BBC Genome)
  60. Come Dancing
  61. BBC Genome
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  74. Wikipedia
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1a. 1b. Wikipedia

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