Sunday 19 November 2017

Dogs, alcohol and drag artists were banned on TV sets, BBC archive shows

The site features archive material including programming for the Queen's coronation in 1953
The site features archive material including programming for the Queen's coronation in 1953

History buffs can learn about the early days of television, which included rules against bringing dogs on set and a fear of alcohol in studios becoming "unmanageable", at a new BBC archive to mark 80 years on screen.

The micro-site from BBC History launches today featuring archive material from the 1930s to the 1950s such as the programming for the coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

But as well as early TV moments, it also lets users learn about great moments in the small screen's history - the opening night at Alexandra Palace in 1936, the battle between the Marconi-EMI partnership and the Baird Company to be the top technology provider, and the first ever TV theme tune performed by the BBC Television Orchestra and musical comedy star Adele Dixon.

A new era in broadcasting brought with it a new set of rules, and the archive shows that these involved a ban on dogs, men in drag, and alcohol on set.

Internal memos to staff at the time warned that if alcohol "got a foothold at Alexandra Palace it would sooner or later spread to Maida Vale and Broadcasting House, and possibly become unmanageable".

The records show that high-profile celebrities of the day were keen to visit Alexandra Palace to appear on BBC TV cameras and see how a broadcast worked.

At its launch, TV was only on air between 3pm and 4pm, and then 9pm and 10pm in order to avoid eye strain and fit around domestic life, including children's bedtimes, but not everything about it initially proved popular with all viewers.

A social research organisation, Mass Observation, from 1949 detailed some people's views of the changes television brought, with O Barritt, a 28-year-old housewife, writing: "The worst of television, from a housewife's point of view, is it requires a darkened room, so that knitting or mending is out of the question."

Other worries were expressed by Mrs P Green, who wrote that: "A television set in the home would tend to make one lazy whereas if you go out to a show it means extra sprucing up (a joy to a woman who has been busy around the house most of the day)."

The archive also includes information about television going off air in 1939 for the duration of the Second World War.

Robert Seatter, head of BBC History, said: "We are delighted to mark this momentous occasion by sharing much never-before-seen material from the BBC archives.

"The anecdotes, images and recordings offer today's audiences a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into the early days of television.

"It's also great to be doing this in partnership with media history experts from the University of Sussex and other UK research centres, who set our BBC story in the wider context of what was happening in communications and society."

The archive is available to view at

Press Association

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