The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION
Following the demise of the British Broadcasting Company's radio station 5PY in 1934 there was no further local radio broadcasts in Plymouth for a few years. Then on May 6th 1939 it was announced that the Corporation, as it had then become, had purchased the house "Ingledene" in Seymour Road at Mannamead for use as a studio and concert hall. The house had at one time been the home of Sir James Douglass, builder of the fourth and present lighthouse on the Eddystone Rocks. This new studio would be used in conjunction with a new transmitter at Start Point, on the south Devon coast.
Plymouth's low-powered transmitter was replaced as from June 14th 1939 by the new 20kW one at Clevedon, in Somerset. This was designed to solve the problem of poor coverage in the West of England for the "Home Service". The transmitter station is still in use today but only broadcasts BBC Radio 5. 
On June 1st 1946 the radio licence fee was increased from ten shillings to one pound and a new combined radio/television licence was introduced at £2. The television reception was in black and white only, of course.
Radio listeners of a certain age will remember "Uncle Mac", the presenter of the BBC's Children's Favourites for just over ten years. It may not been known that Mr Derek Ivor Breashur McCulloch, to give him his full name, was born in Plymouth on November 18th 1897. After service in the Great War, in both the infantry and the Royal Flying Corps, he went to work for the railways in Argentina. When that came to an end he returned to England where he underwent an operation to remove a bullet from his lung. In 1930 he joined the BBC and presented Children's Hour for the next twenty years until he resigned in 1950. He returned to the air waves again in 1954 as the host of the very popular Children's Favourites request programme every Saturday morning. He was also known for being the voiced of Larry the Lamb in the "Toytown" programmes. Mr McCulloch was awarded the OBE in 1964 and retired in 1965. Mr Derek Ivor Breashur McCulloch, "Uncle Mac", died at Hayward's Heath, on June 1st 1967. 
During 1951 the BBC announced a proposal to erect a transmission mast 750 feet tall on North Hessary Tor, just outside Princetown. It would serve Plymouth and a large area beyond. At that time it was not a firm proposal but at a meeting of the Dartmoor National Park Committee on July 15th 1952 the proposal was brought forward, causing the Chairman of the Dartmoor Preservation Society to get up and leave the meeting in protest. Just two days later, on the 17th, Devon County Council voted by a big majority to grant planning permission to the BBC.
Television was first inaugurated in the west country on August 15th 1952, when the Wenvoe Transmitting Station near Cardiff was opened. The following month the BBC carried out test transmissions from what they described as 'an experimental station' and then in November it was announced that Shaugh Moor had been chosen as a site for further tests.
Progress was slow for on December 8th 1952 it was announced in the House of Commons that neither private enterprise nor the BBC would be allowed to bring television to Plymouth in time for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the following year. The BBC got around that obstruction by boosting the power of Wenvoe from 5 to 50 kilowatts on December 21st 1952.
On June 1st 1954 the combined radio/television licence fee was increased to £3.
In the meantime, at 7.30pm on July 5th 1954, the BBC broadcast its first national news summary, introduced by Mr Richard Baker with the words 'Here is an illustrated summary of the news. It will be followed by the latest film of happenings at home and abroad.' However, Mr Baker was not allowed to appear on screen. That was not permitted by the management until September 4th 1955, after which Kenneth Kendall, Robert Dougall and Richard Baker went on to become household names, later to be joined by Michael Aspel from BBC Wales.
The first transmissions from North Hessary Tor were made on December 17th 1954 from a temporary mast. The erection of the permanent mast was completed by August 1955. The official opening, if it could be called that, was on May 22nd 1956. Very soon after that, on August 7th 1956, it started to transmit very high frequency (VHF) signals.
In August 1957 the Government imposed excise duty on the combined radio/television licence, which increased it to £4.
It is not remembered much today but Plymouth actually brought about the demise of a popular BBC children's programme. "The Caravan" was an outside broadcast show using a brightly painted caravan with a small stage as the set. Sometimes it was used purely on its own but when it came to Plymouth the weather was such that it was put inside a marquee for added protection from the wind and rain.
The show was broadcast from the site of the Hoe Summer Theatre on Wednesday September 23rd 1959 and featured young local talent, Miss Roseta Mallinson on the accordion; Master John Crimp on the piano; and a singer by the name of Miss Penny Davey. The series had run for four summer seasons from all over the British Isles, with ten programmes a season. But that all ended when it arrived in Plymouth.
Television was an absolute novelty to Plymothians and an outside broadcast unheard of. Such was the enthusiasm to be a part of the show, and be seen on television as part of the audience, that a hundreds of children rushed to the Hoe after school to be a part of it. Unfortunately Plymothians had no idea how to behave in such a situation and the crush and the noise inside the marquee brought transmission, which was live, to a stop on several occasions. Despite the attempts of the Master of Ceremonies, Mr Jeremy Geidt, to get the audience to keep quiet and a lone police constable submerged in noisy and unruly children, it was inevitable that the show would be stopped altogether as viewers could not hear anything but screaming. A BBC spokesman said: 'We have never had such an unruly audience'. It was the last show in the 1959 season and the programme was never broadcast again even though it had been extremely popular. The producer was Miss Barbara Hammond and one of the professional entertainers was Mr Clive Dunn, as Mr Crumpet.
It took the prospect of independent television in the area to spur the BBC to initiate a truly local programme. That was in 1961, when it started a 10-minute long "News from the South West", read by Cornishman, Mr Tom Salmon. In 1962 it was increased to 20-minutes and renamed "South West at Six" and the following year it finally took its present title of "Spotlight". At precisely 6.07 pm London switched over to Plymouth and at 6.25pm Plymouth switched back to London.
Mr John Irving was the Producer-in-Charge at Plymouth in 1961. The reporter was Mr David Smeaton and the news assistants were Mr Peter Crampton and Mr Donald Kerr.
The excise duty imposed in August 1957 was removed in October 1963 but the licence remained at £4. On August 1st 1965 the radio licence went up to £1 5s and the combined licence to £5. From January 1st 1968 there was a new radio/colour television licence, which cost £10. The radio only licence was abolished from February 1st 1971. Since then increases have been too numerous to list, with the radio/colour TV one going over the £100 mark in April 1999.
The foresight in buying "Ingledene" paid off in 1974 when it was necessary to build an extension on the eastern side of the house to accommodate the new colour television studio, which started transmitting in August that year.
Local broadcasting by the BBC finally reached its zenith with the starting of BBC Radio Devon on January 17th 1983. Its headquarters are in Exeter rather than Plymouth, although the latter feeds in a great deal of input. At first the programmes were run from Portacabins until the permanent studios were officially opened on September 30th 1983 by the then Director-General of the BBC, Alastair Milne.
The mast at North Hessary Tor was shortened to 600 feet in March 1987 and was sold to an American company, Castle Tower Corporation of Texas, in 1997.
|© Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK|
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