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BBC Four look at ‘How the BBC Began’

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BBC Four look at ‘How the BBC Began’

This new film by John Bridcut is the third part of a documentary series about the first 50 years of the BBC…

The first two films  –“Accident and Opportunity” and “Building The Audience” – were shown in October 2022 marking the BBC’s centenary and are available on iPlayer. The third and concluding part of the trilogy completes John Bridcut’s entertaining and insightful history of the early days of the BBC.

In “Shooting The Rapids”, those at the sharp end of making programmes remember how the BBC was continually under pressure, whether from politicians, campaigners, the press – and often the audiences themselves. It shows the way the doctrine of BBC impartiality developed as demonstrated by the coverage of the General Strike in 1926, the Suez crisis in 1956, and the 1971 documentary about Labour politicians’ adjustment to their loss of office, Yesterday’s Men, with contributions from David Dimbleby, Harold Wilson’s press secretary Joe Haines, Sir David Attenborough, Peter Dimmock and Sir Paul Fox.

In the 1960s the BBC struggled at times to handle the changing social mores in Britain. The Director-General said it was the BBC’s job to be ahead of public opinion, but he met his nemesis in Mrs Mary Whitehouse, who led a highly visible “clean up TV” campaign. Baroness Joan Bakewell remembers a cabinet minister making a pass at her in a taxi on the way to the studios and the former head of children’s television, Monica Sims, describes how the then Director-General came to her house and kept looking at her legs. Presenter Denis Tuohy remembers a live discussion which broke down because two of the six writers involved had had too much to drink, while Lord Reith’s secretary Dorothy Singer explains how Reith changed his attitude to alcohol after going on a cruise.

Paul Fox, a former editor of Panorama, says that before the Troubles in Northern Ireland began, the programme could not report political issues there because of what he describes as “censorship” by BBC management in Belfast.

This third episode includes further specially shot interviews with Michael Peacock, Sir Humphrey Burton, Tony Bilbow, Martin Bell, John Grist, Waris Hussein and Angela Pope, and first started filming ten years ago.

How the BBC Began tonight at 9 pm on BBC Four

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