Back in time for TV: BBC-2


Han Cooper takes her time machine back to 1964 watch the output of the brand new BBC-2

Back in Time for TV indexA look at some of the programmes broadcast during BBC-2’s first year. The channel’s availability was rolled out gradually across the nation and it wasn’t just the luxury of a third television channel that viewers had to look forward to. While previous programming had been broadcast in 405-line, BBC-2 would be offering programmes in 625.


28 April 1964
“Tuesday Term”
Men and Money ‘A Question of Confidence’



This programme took us into the world of banking and as the main title suggests, it is a world largely inhabited by men. They lived up well to the stereotype of older, stuffy men in suits and bowler hats. There were interviews with several bankers but what really interested me was the explanation of how cheques are cleared. There is a floor full of women sorting through hundreds of cheques, many for vast amounts, even by today’s standards. These must be authorised by a set time as there is only a very limited amount of time for communications. It all seemed absolutely extraordinary how such a vast operation could be organised so well in a pre-digital age.

This programme has become a wonderful snapshot of a time when banking had remained the same for decades. Soon there would be cash machines appearing and within a few decades computers would usher in huge changes for how banks operated day-to-day. The introduction of credit and debit cards contributed to the decline of personal cheques.



25 July 1964
Horizon ‘Strangeness Minus Three’



I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed a documentary on theoretical physics. Professor Brian Cox has done his best to show me the wonders of the universe, but this Horizon documentary was still a fairly mentally taxing hour as I summoned up Mr Johnson’s Physics classroom in my mind’s eye and did my best to remember everything, or even just anything, he’d ever taught me about atoms.

First, we saw some awesome titles with funky electronic-type music and geometric shapes. I was impressed. We got straight into the documentary – there is no presenter introducing what’s going on and the show just cracks on with it.

I’m curious just how much knowledge the general population had about atoms as we pretty much jump straight in to breaking them up. My simple physics is that the world is made up of elements like hydrogen, magnesium, silver – all those things on the Periodic Table. Elements are made up of different types of atoms, which are made up of protons and neutrons. These two form the nucleus of an atom, which have electrons going round them.

In this programme, we look at the particles that make up protons and neutrons. Particles disintegrate into other particles, and each of these stages are called ‘strangeness’. If protons and neutrons are strangeness 0, then whatever disintegrates into them is strangeness -1, whatever disintegrates into strangeness -1 is called strangeness -2, and so on.

This is all explained in much more detail by a Bronx fellow, Richard Feynman, and I enjoyed his voice and demeanour – it was like having Tony Curtis as a Science teacher. He wasn’t the world’s best presenter though as he spent quite a lot of time looking down at his feet and I have the feeling he may have been glancing at notes on a desk too, which is understandable as he had a lot to explain and is a physicist, not a presenter. Feynman told us that based on the interaction of other particles, physicists knew that a particle must exist that could only disintegrate in three steps before it got to neutron and proton, therefore it was described as strangeness -3.

One of the people hunting who had predicted this particle was Murray Gell-Man, who is interviewed next to his pool by a very young-looking man called David Lutyens. I just can’t imagine a British scientist chatting away to a journalist in such a laid-back. When asked how he gets on with other scientists, Gell-Man replies, “We don’t get mad at each other at all but we scream and yell.”

The other scientist involved in the ‘strangeness’ theory was Yuval Ne’eman, who had previously been a Colonel in the Israeli army. He ended up in theoretical physics “because of London traffic” – he had been based at King’s College and a course at Imperial College was nearer. He wore a silky-looking striped and dotted tie for the interview, which I felt was a brave choice.

Next to be interviewed was a young fellow, Nicholas Samios, at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, who explained how a proton accelerator works. It fires atoms at each other so that they smash together. Photos are taken at the same time and by studying these, scientists can detect a particle’s rate of decay. We see some of the photos and I think the patterns, which the scientists were trying to predict, looks fantastic. He was working on the search for strangeness -3 and around 100,000 photos were taken altogether before they finally found what they were looking for on photo number 97,025. I loved what Samios had to say about what was going through his mind: “At this moment, we few on this face of this Earth, we are the only ones who know that this particle, this omega that goes this short distance, this particle exists. Other people may think they know, Gell-Man probably thought he knew, but he didn’t know. We knew.” How extraordinary that is when you think about such discoveries like he did – to be the only people in history at that moment to know something existed.

At the end, we return to Feynman, who is relaxing in his garden armchair and discussing what propels him to carry on. Each discovery gives him “excitement” as “we have a wonderful new view of nature, we see the ingenuity […] of nature herself”. I loved hearing someone speak so beautifully about physics. He presents his passion so well and Feynman believes he is living in a magnificent time for discoveries, going as far to say, “we live in a heroic age.”



22 August 1964
Match of the Day ‘Liverpool vs. Arsenal’




Even if you aren’t a football fan, it would be difficult to avoid being aware of Match of the Day. After using the same title for their Wimbledon coverage earlier in the summer, the first football-focussed Match of the Day series began with the start of the 1964/65 season in August. Its popularity ensured it wouldn’t be long before it was bumped up to BBC-1.

This wasn’t the BBC’s first foray into Football League coverage; they had been broadcasting brief clips in their Sports Special and Saturday Sport programmes for several years, and the synopsis for both had described them as reporting on the ‘match of the day’. However, while television had been able to provide coverage of big events like the FA Cup and international matches, negotiations with the League had proved tricky. ITV had attempted a regular live football programme in 1960 called The Big Game and it ended disastrously. While they had made agreements with the Football League, no one had thought to consult the clubs themselves and one by one they, excuse the pun, kicked off. The League and the clubs remained concerned that broadcasting games would affect match attendances.

The original Match of the Day did exactly what it said on the tin, showing highlights of a single match from earlier in the day. Arranging the filming for each weekend must have taken some organisation, so they could only ever guess and hope that the one match chosen that day would be a good one. That ‘match of the day’ claim was always going to be subjective. However, they did in fact manage to pick a corker for this first edition.

We’re at Liverpool’s home ground, Anfield, although no one in that part of the world would have seen the programme as BBC-2 hadn’t reached there yet. Liverpool were the previous season’s champions but this could hardly have been seen as a clash of titans, with Arsenal having finished eighth. Nonetheless, I found it a gripping game with plenty going on. One of the commentators is Kenneth Wolstenholme, whose words would later become known by most of England due to his oft-quoted 1966 World Cup Final commentary.

Almost the entire 55-minute programme consists of match time as there is no studio analysis and barely anything post-game. To my eyes, the editing is good overall and I found it hard to spot. There is no clock in the top corner and it seemed simply like a fast-paced game. Added to the enjoyment of this is Wolstenholme’s commentary. He’s clearly really enjoying himself and is thrilled to be witnessing such an exciting fixture. His descriptions of it go from “splendid” and “electrifying” to ending on “well I’d call it the match of the century, I don’t know about match of the day”.

I’m far from a huge football fan but it’s interesting to see just how much the sport has changed and television has certainly contributed to some of that. The kits are almost plain with a number on the back and while Liverpool have an oval version of their Liver Bird emblem, Arsenal have yet to add a club badge to the front of their kit. There is no sponsorship and nor did I spot any advertising around the stadium. The crowd can be seen to move, surging around in the standing areas. Children are right at the front, keen faces peering over the barriers. Around the very edge of the pitch, photographers lie on their stomachs and I’m sure there must have been some broken noses sacrificed for such a close, crucial picture. While no doubt helped by the editing, I like how well the game seemed to flow. I feel a bore for having to state it but there are no BAFTA-winning dives, no rolling around and no exaggerated pleas or abuse of the ref on the edge of the penalty box. The players seem altogether keen to get on with the game with throw-ins and free kicks all taken rather swiftly.

An amusing interlude was the appearance of a black cat shooting around the pitch. It appeared suddenly and halted play, with quick-thinking camera operators managing to follow it. Eventually it disappeared off the pitch, hopefully to be petted and given a saucer of something nice.



17 September 1964
Time Out ‘The Guns of James Bond’



Time Out looked at ‘the world of leisure’ and in BBC-2’s first year the programme looked at a range of activities. Polo, ballet, mountain climbing and judo are among those viewers may already have been familiar with but the programme also had more specialist episodes, with titles like ‘the Witches of Britain’, ‘a Coal Miner’s Day Out’, and ‘The House-Savers’ – about people who try to save historic houses from demolition.

This episode includes a look at the world of James Bond. I’ve always been a fan of 007 so this was quite exciting. Having read the Bond books, Geoffrey Boothroyd wrote to their author, Ian Fleming, advising him that Bond really should carry a better gun than his old Beretta. Fleming took Boothroyd’s advice and wrote him into the series as Major Boothroyd, better known as Q, who went on to become the gadget-master of the films.

There have been three James Bond films by this point, with the latest, Goldfinger, being released on the very day this episode goes out. Both the books and the films had become extremely popular so anything Bond-related was likely to get a few extra viewers tuning in.

In this feature, Boothroyd demonstrates a range of handguns, talking us through their pros and cons. Bond originally carried a small Beretta but Boothroyd favours a Colt 45 Magnum. The latter would have been familiar to 1964 audiences as it was the sort of gun often used by cowboys in Westerns, which were very popular at the time. It’s a big gun though so it’s a bit too conspicuous for 007. Boothroyd also demonstrates the chamois leather shoulder holster that Fleming had had Bond using. It’s clear why Boothroyd thought Bond would end up dead if he carried on with it – it easily catches on the gun when he tries to draw.

The highlight of the feature for me was Boothroyd’s demonstration of the guns with tomato cans. He fires a Beretta and a tiny hole appears in the can – barely anything. I’m sure it would smart but a single bullet is unlikely to seriously wound anyone unless it precisely hits a really vital spot. Next is the Walter PPK – the gun Boothroyd ultimately recommended for Bond. It makes a reasonably-sized hole in the can and while slightly bigger than the Beretta, it is still small enough to be concealed without ruining the line of a suit. Finally, the Magnum destroys half the can, with the contents rapidly pouring out. You wouldn’t last long once one of those had gone through you.



30 September 1964
Marriage Today ‘An Intimate Union’



The programme’s name gives away what it will be about and the show consists of discussions and interviews. In this episode sex and babies get most of the coverage.

The narration tells us that sex is talked about more than ever, which took me back a bit. Maybe among people, young people, but I wouldn’t have expected it so much in public at that time; it’s something I associate with the latter half of the decade. Not everyone is happy about this open state of affairs, with one councillor quoted as describing sex as “a disgusting necessity”. Specifically, what makes more people uncomfortable is discussion of premarital sex. A few younger people give vox-pop comments that provides a balanced view. One looks more serious than the rest and believes most people still know little about sex, but unfortunately he isn’t more specific. Does he mean the mechanics of it all? VD? Contraception? It’s a bit wide open.

Men are said to be becoming more involved in bringing up children, although this isn’t really backed up with one of the couples the programme focuses on, who talk us through the course of their marriage. They married while the husband was still studying as an engineer and after their first child adopted another two before unexpectedly having another biological child. Husband seemed very uncertain about children, saying that “I knew my wife liked children but as to whether I did or not, that wasn’t terribly clear to me.” It comes across as though he did what was expected – getting married and then trying for a baby. At one point they travelled to Nigeria for his work and barely saw each other. While the wife says she likes other people to make decisions, it sounds as though it was her who put her foot down to say she was fed up of this arrangement.

The world may have been moving forward but in 1964 three blokes were invited on television to discuss sex, in a conversation that soon drifted on to women’s enjoyment of sex. It seems mind-blowing that anyone ever thought this was alright, but even when a woman joins them for another discussion later in the programme, the talk seems very academic. It definitely appears that half their knowledge has come from textbooks written decades ago.

I was surprised to see them discussing something like women’s enjoyment of sex, which felt a bit beyond what I would have expected of 1964 television, but I was intrigued by several of the topics brought up – lust vs. love, sexual desire, affairs, the lack of accurate information on sex available. If there was more discussion than ever on sex, it seems to me that it could only be a good thing and perhaps lead to better health and happiness.




16 December 1964
The Likely Lads ‘Entente Cordial’


I know the lads from when they are a little older in The Likely Lads sequel, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, but I’ve always fancied getting to know them in their younger days. In this first episode, Terry and Bob have just got back from a holiday abroad. Foreign holidays were still quite unusual for most people and the two working class Newcastle boys have gone into it rather differently. While Bob spent the week eating paella and lusting after a French woman, Terry’s mistrust of anything foreign let him happily live on egg and chips while chatting up a variety of English ladies. Bob tried to leave his address at the French woman’s hotel but as he was too drunk to write, Terry wrote his own down instead. Surprisingly, she gets in touch and the lads arrange to meet up with her and her friend. Except it turns out she isn’t French – she’s Welsh.

As two young single blokes they seem to be doing well enough. They work together in an electrical factory and the trip abroad is evidence that they must be earning good wages. They both live at home and are free to spend most of their money on beer, dances and the opposite sex. Taking the lads to both be in their early twenties, they are among the first young men for several generations that haven’t had to go to war or complete National Service. At a time when most people got married by the age of 23 or 24, the lads are living remarkably carefree lives compared to those just a few years older than them.

It’s wonderful that already in this first episode you can see the sort of men the lads will later morph into. Bob is open to new things with slightly higher aspirations than Terry, and he is arguably the more gentlemanly of the two. Terry’s mistrust of anything outside Newcastle’s city boundaries will only become more vehement, even after visiting far flung corners with the army. While this doesn’t paint the best picture of Terry, in the later series he was always my favourite character as I am sympathetic to his cynical nature. There’s a lot of rot in the world but he can at least keep trust in Newcastle United, brown ale and, of course, Bob.



10 February 1965
Enquiry ‘Portrait of a GP’



Enquiry was touted as reporting on the ‘major issues of the day’ and this edition follows and interviews one GP in the course of his duties. Rather strangely, the doctor interviewed isn’t actually named at all during the programme. I was partly intrigued by the reporter, a young David Dimbleby, but he’s here in voice only unfortunately.

The doctor is very open about what he believes is going wrong in the National Health Service, which was less than 20 years old. While 1,700 doctors were produced each year in Britain, about 400 to 500 doctors had been emigrating every year since 1951. A lot of doctors had opposed the introduction of the NHS as they didn’t want to be employed by the government and worried it would limit their independence, so this can be put down to some of the early emigration.

The Enquiry GP makes it clear that workload, pay, and interference with family life were major downsides. He can see around 100 patients some days, giving him three and a quarter minutes with each of them. He makes £6,000 [£116,000 in 2019, allowing for inflation] a year, being left with £2,300 [£44,500] pre-tax after the practice costs have been taken out. Adjusted for 2018, that’s a decent amount of money and possibly more than the average GP makes today [Partners in practice make an average of £103,000pa, those employed directly by the primary healthcare trusts get between £53,781 and £81,158 – Ed]. However, he doesn’t believe it’s enough recompense for the work most GPs do.

He articulates his frustrations well throughout the programme. A nurse works in his practice as an assistant/receptionist and he has to pay her out of his own pocket. He describes her as a “tremendous asset” and that’s clear from the list of things she does, which includes injections, wound dressings, and home visits for some routine nursing procedures. I was amused and amazed that he was so open in criticising some of his patients: “There are a number of patients whose nuisance value greatly exceeds their numbers. They’ve been promised a free, personal health service when they can call upon their doctor without any let or hindrance, any time of the day or night. They pay their stamp for it and they mistakenly believe that all the money on the stamp goes straight to their general practitioner.”

It seems to really pain him that his work affects his home life so much. His wife steps in to answer calls when he’s on his rounds and “will deal with, sometimes, appalling casualties which arrive at one’s front door”, all for no pay. They have edited the programme well for this point as we see him sitting at the family dinner table as his voiceover says, “there’s no time mend the children’s toys,” and then the phone rings.

Watching today is all the more extraordinary because the country seems to be having the same discussions about the NHS’s problems in the present. Having risen by a third over the previous two decades, in the late 1950s the government decided to cut the numbers of trainee doctors, fearing a surplus. Yet the shortages were soon evident and by 1971 nearly a third of all doctors had been initially trained overseas.

I wish we had been given the doctor’s name because I would love to know what happened to him. This is such an intriguing snapshot of a single person’s experience in a job at that time. The programme ends with him contemplating the possibility of looking for a change within the next few years, yet he doesn’t really want to as it’s “the only thing I have ever wanted to do […] I like the people I look after but I have responsibilities to my family.”

About the author

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Wasting my youth watching archive telly, with the odd pause for a pint. Frequently to be found wandering around circa 1960 something.

1 thought on “Back in time for TV: BBC-2

  1. BBC 2 ,what a channel,inrhe 60,s,70,s it didn’t start till around 7,30 pm and finished around 11pm
    It was full of schools type of education, an absolute turn off,not mu h better today,
    So if you turned auntie off and put the radio on ,you could tune into259 and listen to Caroline South,
    Johnnie Walker,the admiral robbie dale,roger day,andy archer, or tune to 266 and listen to the likes of Tony Windsor,tony Blackburn,ed Stewart on wonderful BIG L

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