Sutton Coldfield




A Personal Foreword

A model of BBC Television Centre
A view of the model of the scheme adopted in principle by the BBC for the progressive development of the Corporation's 13-acre 'White City' site at Shepherds Bush. The portion of the scheme containing the circular ring and buildings to the left of the ring will be erected first and will be devoted to television.

A Personal Foreword

In the first place, why a picture-book? Simply because pictures are the raw material of television. They are television. And merely to write about television and then add a few pictures as an afterthought is the wrong way round.

Accordingly, what the compilers of this booklet have done is to choose 120 pictures from the earliest studio beginnings down to the present day (with a glimpse of the future of things in the new Lime Grove studios and the White City permanent centre) and then add a few lines of comment in explanation. That is the right way.

In the result, television picture book really shows you what television is like. That is important because some of you who find yourselves with this book in your screen may never have seen television at all. And if you are one of these, I recommend you to turn to pages 45-47 to see what television looks like on the screen. You can come back later to the photographs of national events, sporting occasions and studio productions that go to make up the programmes.

There is one thing that this Picture Book cannot do, and that is to show you the pictures in action. Only a television receiver can do that. And already the Alexandra Palace and Sutton Coldfield transmitters have brought television within the range of 17,000,000 viewers.

But the story does not end there. By 1954, television will be available to more than eighty per cent of the population of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And by then television will have become so much a part of the national life that there will be no need for explanatory forewords like this one.

NORMAN COLLINS, Controller bbc Television

Photographs by hugh tosh and roynan raikes, BBC staff photographers, Picture Post Library, British Insulated Callender Cables, Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd. Screen Tele-snaps by john cura. Script by david clayton

Here is the story

Here is the twenty-year-old story of BBC television told in pictures.

It is a story of small beginnings, many changes, great progress. It starts at No. 16 Portland Place, London, W.1, and then moves up to a hill in North London. It continues in the roominess of Lime Grove at Shepherds Bush. Someday, soon, White City will be Television City serving the whole nation.

The Play – then and now

In 1930 a Nevinson drawing for a backcloth, a plain curtain behind.

In 1950, elaborate sets, skilled lighting, depth, atmosphere, favourites of the West End; a recent production of The Chiltern Hundreds.

The Pioneers

The Pioneers

Among the beginners in television drama was gladys young who was to become, during and after the war, the Great Lady of Radio. The boy holding the disc for ‘fading-in’ the artist is george inns, now a variety producer in sound broad­casting.

(Left) Miss Young in a 1950 produc­tion of Corinth House, a play by Pamela Hansford Johnson. Her reappearance before the cameras in a long and exacting part was generally acclaimed.

Experiment – expansion – more experiment…

Experiment – expansion – more experiment…

In 1934 at 16 Portland Place, the props were makeshift, and the Easter-egg shaped microphone was always within view.

Lighting, makeup, scenery, camera positions, each presented problems to be overcome.

(Right) In 1950 at Lime Grove, Studio D. 5,400 square feet of floor space. Room to move. Room for more experiment…

Song, dance and laughter

Song, dance and laughter

To the television screens of the early 30’s came the favourite entertainers of the day, measuring their talents in a strange new world.

(Above) sandy powell and company brought the End of the Pier with them to Portland Place. 

Now there is a two-way traffic between the West End and the Television Studios. Fame today may first come from appearances before bbc cameras. These in turn have gone out, wherever possible, to the theatres themselves.

(Left) Camera and crew soar high above the heads of a youthful audience whilst cecil landeau‘s Christmas Party is performed at the Cambridge Theatre in January 1950.

Two decades of dress

Two decades of dress

Between 1932 (above) and 1950 (below) fashions have changed. So, and just as spectacularly, has the way in which they have been shown to viewers. Then the mannequin pirouetted in and out of ubiquitous apparatus to the tinkle of a piano. Now the setting is sophisticated, and the camera moves forward to pick out the detail of the dress worn by the famous post-war model, Barbara, which is made from a fabric unknown to the early ’30’s – rayon.

Television marches on…

Television marches on…

In November 1936, Television moved up to Alexandra Palace and became a Service. From the bigger (but still cramped) studios the cameras recorded the opening ceremony by Major the rt. hon. george clement tryon, His Majesty’s Postmaster-General. 

Installed in its new home, Television also went out and about to bring great national events into the homes of the people…

(Left) The Royal Coach bearing Their Majesties, passes the television came­ras at Apsley Gate on the Coronation Route.

…And a great man came to Alexandra Palace.

…And a great man came to Alexandra Palace.

(Below) Mr. george bernard shaw attends a rehearsal of his play, How he lied to her husband in 1937, and holds forth to the cast which includes Miss greer garson. The producer, sitting on the floor, was george more o’ferrall, who in 1950 presented Othello

A Prime Minister came home. An anxious nation waited. Television was there.

A Prime Minister came home. An anxious nation waited. Television was there.

On 16 September 1938, when Mr. neville chamberlain returned from Germany after his talks with Hitler, the cameras went to Heston Airport. A little less than a year later Television went off the air and remained so for the duration. It had a different job to do. 

The Cameras took up the task of presenting history in the making

A camera points at soldiers on horse back

The Cameras took up the task of presenting history in the making

The Royal Wedding, 1947. Princess Elizabeth’s coach on the way to Westminster Abbey. Viewers also saw the scenes outside Buckingham Palace, including the Royal Party on the balcony, and the evening’s news-reel portrayed the ceremony in the Abbey itself.

Royal Visit – Television goes abroad

Royal Visit

(Top) princess elizabeth and the duke of edinburgh visit Alexandra Palace. The cast of Hulbert’s Follies is presented.

Television goes abroad

(Right) On tour with the King’s Party in South Africa in 1947, a T.V. film cameraman visits a native village to collect material for the home screens.

Television builds its playhouse

Television builds its playhouse

From the two Studios at Alexandra Palace come a hundred plays a year; drama in all its forms. One evening the realistic presentation of life on a transatlantic waterfront. On another, the forth of small talk in a Mayfair drawing room.

(Above) The Gentle People by Irwin Shaw set in a Brooklyn slum.

(Left) The Eternal Triangle set in London’s West End.

macdonald hobley (right centre), whose smile is familiar to every viewer, demonstrates, with a rare frown, that he is also an actor of talent.

Ballet finds new patterns

Ballet finds new patterns

Familiar favourites adapted to Television’s special needs; many thousands of new ballet-lovers won; world-famous choreographers creating original themes.

This is the tale of the five years 1946-1950.

(Right) nijinsky, the Master, visits Alexandra Palace a few days before his death to see his famous pupil Serge Lifar at a dress rehearsal.

(Below) Salome. One of the first first [sic] special ballets, which Celia Franca devised and danced. 

(Above) 1948. Suite de Blanc, by Serge Lifar. Danced by Yvette Chauvire and Company of the Theatre National de Opera de Paris.

(Right) 1947. Designs with Strings; Svetlana Beriosova and the Metropolitan Ballet.

The Children come first

The Children come first

The first programme to come from the new television studios at Lime Grove in the summer of 1950 was a Children’s Hour. This was a sign that for the children nothing but the best that Television can offer will do.

the announcer – Jennifer Gay, who is 14, introduces the Children’s Programme. 

the clown – The famous Keele entertains the children at Christmas. 

the film star – John Mills brings his own children to the Studio. 

the radio uncle – The beloved Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac), reads to children from the Dominions gathered in the Studio.

Film in Television

Film in Television

(Above) Sir stafford cripps is interviewed by the B B C Television Newsreel camera. A commentator (right) records a sequence for London Town. Sound is added to this and similar items in Television’s own theatre at Alexandra Palace. Behind him, in the glass-enclosed ‘mixing room’, the engineers regulate the sound and add music and effects.

Cabaret of Nations

Cabaret of Nations

Cafe Continental is an institution but the bill it offers is always new. Dancers, singers, acrobats, tumblers, funny men, and music-makers from the capitals of Europe make their bow to British audiences here.

The Casa d’Esalta so the programme said, was ‘somewhere in South America’, where the music is a tango, or a samba or a conga, and the love songs are sultry.

Seen on the screen

Seen on the Screen

gracie fields and duggie wakefield in Lucky Dip

bobby howes in Paging You

vera lynn in Starlight

arthur askey in Variety

bowyer and ravel in Variety

lois green in Mirth and Melody

claude hulbert in Paging You

cecily courtneidge and jack hulbert in Under the Counter

jocelyn loy in Come to the Party

jean kent in Rooftop Rendezvous

jack train in Rooftop Rendezvous

vicki autier in Starlight



As if the viewer was within splashing distance of the oars. The Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the Television screen. These pictures, together with those above and below, were photographed directly from a television screen.


Into the foyer of Covent Garden Opera House on the occasion of the visit of a Royal Party including president and mme. auriol of France… 

and (below) an informal glimpse of h.m. the king.

A programme is born…

An idea is born and discussed. A date is fixed, transmission time allotted.

At the weekly General Programme Conference held at Alexandra Palace every aspect of a production – time, costs, space, studio details – are arranged many weeks ahead.

Here the heads of departments plan all the ramifications of OTHELLO, under the chairmanship of Mr. cecil mcgivern (facing camera, centre), head of television programmes. 

The complete cast meet for a first general reading. The producer is in the centre, with his leading man on his right, and models of the sets in front of him.


The Producer, his assistant, the Studio Manager, the Lighting Engineer, and other production staff use these scale models to work out detail in the early stages.

Leading man and leading lady rehearse their great scene (below).

She then retires to a quiet corner to concentrate on her lines (left).

‘This is how it should be done’, suggests the Producer…

…and this is how they did it on the night.

Hampers from the theatrical costumiers must be checked by the wardrobe mistresses and if necessary, alterations made to the costumes.

Swords and daggers must be ordered from the ‘prop room’.

In the studio the sets grow steadily from confusion into some semblance of order. The lighting engineer tries out his ideas.

High up on the gantry an electrician watches for instructions on how his lamps are to be placed and where they are to shine.

The Carpenter assembles the bed.

The scene painter puts the finishing touches to the sets. ‘Stock stuff’ is used wherever available. A wall that once did for a London Underground Station looks out of place as backing for a Shakespearean play…

…but from the font, on the night, it looks completely ‘in period’.

Rehearsal. The Cameraman, the Producer and Othello discuss an awkward camera angle.

Othello grew his own beard.

…but the make-up deparment darkened his beard and hair, and stained his skin to turn him into the dusky Moor.

While the viewer turns to his Radio Times

…Cassio assumes doublet and hose…

…the call-boy knocks, and… 

OTHELLO is on the air.

Cassio greets Emilia and Iago replies…

Sir, would she give you so much of her lips,
As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,
You’ld have enough…’

Desdemona pleads with the Duke to let her accompany Othello to Cyprus.

…’That I did love the Moor to live with him,
My downright violence and scorn of fortunes
May trumpet to the world: my heart’s subdu’d
Even to the very quality of my lord…’

The Final Scene: ‘…O lady, speak again!
Sweet Desdemona, O sweet mistress, speak!’

BBC 30 line testcard