Spanning the Decades 

Graphic inspired by Graphis magazine No 39 cover by Olle Eksell

The rebuilding of Plymouth remained a key story for decades and the thoughts of director Jill Craigie were recorded in a BBC documentary 40 or so years on. Socialist Jill was to marry local politician Michael Foot which adds further interest to the story. BBC Plymouth produced a radio adaptation  of 'The Way We Live' for a feature in January 1947 using visiting pupils from Devonport High School as extras.

BBC Plymouth Studio 16th January 1947 producer Desmond Hawkins

Jill Craigie reflects on 'The Way We Live' (interview recorded in 1988)

Stranded On The Rock

In December 1946 the BBC's radio features department revived the pre-war round-the-world link-up of Christmas Day greetings which preceded the annual message from the Monarch. Edward Ward, BBC reporter and BBC Plymouth engineer Stanley Cooms set off for Bishop Rock Lighthouse, the most westerly part of England. It is in the westernmost part of the Isles Of Scilly about 35miles from Land's End. They were to record yuletide messages from the isolated lighthouse keepers.
The two men had planned to stay on the lighthouse for only a few days, but the same gale-force winds and heavy seas featured in their Christmas round-up were to ensnare them for far longer than they could imagine. The 'Western Morning News' began to feature their plight with a daily news update and it was not until the 29th day that a lifeboat arrived to provide an escape route.

Ward & Cooms relieved after their rescue 

credit:british newspaper archive

The St Mary's Lifeboat rescue the stranded men

St Mary's lifeboat returns

The story reached the national picture pages and an aircraft was booked to take aerial photographs of the 'rescue' by the crew of the St Mary's lifeboat. Their enforced sojourn came to an end on January 17th. Edward Ward in a typically understated manner, described the monotony of life during his enforced stay as ,"Most trying".  

Listen to one of Edward's reports here


Putting the Lighthouse into perspective

Drama to the fore

Dramatic productions were an important part of West region's output. In 1948 a new series 'At The Luscombes' was launched, produced not only in Bristol but on occasion Plymouth. Brandon Acton-Bond produced the series and became perhaps the leading creative voice within Ingledene and Whiteladies Road. Brandon was to later transistion to television where he produced a highly acclaimed version of Lorna Doone in Bristol. In the following video the memories of two people help capture the atmosphere of the time. We meet Tony Soper for the first time, he being an important Alumnus of the Plymouth station, having joined as a youth-in-training in 1947. In the following decades Tony was a significant person  setting up The Natural History Unit, and a regular contributor to both the radio and television output of the region. 

The Beveridge Committee on Broadcasting

Judging by the number of occasions that British politicians and governments have instigated committees on the subject, one would think that the United Kingdom had had an obsession with media organisation . No doubt they do, because the power of politics can be influenced and filtered  by the broadcasting organizations and the regulatory structures around them. Post-War there was a growing movement challenging the concept of monopoly. With the power of television on the rise it was seen by many as an opportunity to introduce competition. Radio was so established as a monopoly with the BBC and had delivered well during the war that there were few voices for commercial radio but television was another story. The conservative party had several eloquent voices wanting competition supported by some captains of industry. The BBC had made a major blunder in alienating their  controller of Television by promoting a radio man over his head. Norman Collins resigned  and became a dynamic voice, supporting the Conservative Party broadcasting group who in turn wanted commercial TV. The BBC director general Sir William Haley still had his head in the sand thinking that television would be subservient to radio. Staying with radio, the committee also supported the development of VHF radio transmissions which provided the English regions with a means of viability - hooray!    

And so it was,  The television Act of 1954 was passed which paved the way for ITV. The master stroke and key to our story, was to organise ITV along regional lines, promoting internal competition and building regional production centres.

It is this author's conjecture that without ITV the BBC would not have invested in regional television and that sites like Plymouth would never had been equipped for TV production. It was impossible for the corporate BBC mentality not to seek to compete, and soon rollout of BBC regional TV stations mirrored ITV regional licences.

Surprise - a bit of investment!

This was a rare event indeed - the ground floor of Ingledene saw some significant changes to establish two refurbished studios with a bit of glamour and style..this to to form a new 'Drama Suite'. 

Sight and Sound

The earth was soon to sprout  transmitters to offer up both new VHF-FM radio programmes and a television service for the region. A transmitter in South Wales - Wenvoe came into service in Summer 1952. Although designed to bring television to South Wales and the Bristol area, it also gave a service to North and East Devon, Somerset and parts of Dorset.  


Another transmitter was required to serve the main South West region. Two possible sites were identified on Dartmoor and another just south of Totnes in South Devon. Following field trials, North Hessary Tor (NHT) close to Princetown was selected. Initial proposals in October 1951 faced strong objections from the Dartmoor Preservation Society who petitioned parliament and a public inquiry announced. Permission was finally granted and a temporary mast erected pending a final build. 

The opportunity of television reception came to Southwest viewers in 1954 

During the bizzards of 1963, two of the engineers at NHT trekked 5 miles through the snow from Tavistock to deliver food and relieve their colleagues on duty - how's that for dedication!  

Getting a reliable connection to NHT was very difficult in the early days. It was too expensive for the Post Office (who had a monopoly) to install co-axial cables to the site and so rebroadcasting of an existing signal was the only achievable way. Initally this had to be from Wenvoe. With all the interference and weather conditions affecting analogue signals an acceptable signal could not be guaranteed and so a reserve feed from the Rowridge Isle Of Wight transmitter served as a back up. Later a TV receiver was set up for Rowridge at the Start Point site and a radio link beamed the  signal to NHT. When Plymouth began live TV transmissions, pressure increased for a proper contribution circuit from London. Eventually in the mid 1960's a circuit was established via a mast in Dorset which improved the service for viewers in those far off black and white 405 line days.   

NHT VHF-FM radio enabled the BBC to introduce local news reports for the first time since the Plymouth transmitter of 5PY. 

The First Murmurs of Journalism

It is significant to reflect on the state of journalism within the corporate BBC before moving to the presentation of news in the regions. After the war, under the leadership of Jerseyman William Haley, the BBC had created a news division to coordinate foreign and domestic output. In the late 1940's through a series of changes to the editorial board, Tahu Hole was promoted to Editor News. A New Zealander, he was noted as a man of extreme caution, forcing a situation where BBC correspondents could never supply a scoop story as he required all items broadcast to be supported by at least two sources. The result - BBC correspondents would give their stories to other agencies with the knowledge that before they got back to base the story would be on the agency wires and so be able to be broadcast themselves. This nonsense suppressed any ambition within the department. Together with the man's other, less than positive characteristics - demotion of challenging but able colleagues, a penchant for expensive meals and strip clubs while on working trips - he must be viewed in hindsight as perhaps one of the worst BBC managers ever. The BBC news division staggered on into the era of another Director General Sir Ian Jacob. At the start of the Korean war Tahu Hole suppressed the first reporting of hostilities fearing the news might cause a panic. In 1953 Cecil McGivern the Television Programme Controller had advocated for a daily news programme in vision. This unfortunately was held back by members of the board and Hole was given control of the Television Newsreel. It took over a year for a programme to reach the air, still with no in-vision content. It was described as a "sorry amateurish mess" and "about as impressive visually as the fat stock prices". A few weeks before the start of Independent television News on 22nd September 1955 Hole conceded that the faces of Richard Baker, Robert Dougall and Kenneth Kendall, the newsreaders, might actually be seen. BBC News was in the doldrums, ITV must have been bemused but delighted by the incompetence of their opposition. Tahu Hole was eventually moved on and BBC news began to compete with greater vigour. 

Back to the region, and the first thing to sort out was a news desk and a staffing structure to serve the region. Initially this had to be in the larger West Region using a Bristol base. Stuart Wyton was the editor and together with regional announcers the news was read from the continuity suite. The very first radio news bulletin for Devon and Cornwall was transmitted on 1st October 1956 just six weeks after the NHT transmitter went to full power from the new mast.

There was a rota of news presenters, the senior announcer Hugh Shirreff read the first bulletin.

Stuart Wyton news editor with Hugh Shirreff

Journalism in the region essentially started in the Spring of 1957 when staff were recruited and opened 'news desks' at the local stations. In Plymouth John Tanton was recruited and immediately began to establish contacts and began writing for both radio and television.

In Bristol a basic single camera TV presentation area was set up  with a rota of presenters from the pool of announcers. For the first programme Armine Sandford was chosen - the first woman to present news on BBC TV!

This first bulletin is lucky to have survived. The live broadcast was sent on a video link back up to London so a copy could be made, probably in order for managers to review the presentation. In those days before the advent of videotape the only medium for recording was film. A special machine was available at Alexandra Palace the home of BBC news. This synchronized an incoming  video signal to a 16mm film camera. The recordings of early TV programmes (before the invention of videotape) could only be made using this 'telerecording' method. This BBC West film suffered badly from vinegar syndrome a chemical breakdown of the acetate film base - so called because of the pungent aroma given off by affected films. The telecine inserts from the broadcast were also badly rendered on the original film so have very low fidelity. This edit has been digitally processed to improve its stability, resolution and audio fidelity.

Miall, L. (1995) Inside the BBC: British Broadcasting characters. London, UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Plymouth's First Television Film

In the Spring of 1955 a new maritime project had been conceived 'Project Mayflower' Warwick Charlton came up with the idea of building a replica of the original Pilgrim Fathers ship. This was to commemorate the strong bond between the USA and Britain in the aftermath of the second world war. The sponsors met with Plimoth Plantation in the USA and agreed to cooperate with the project. They supplied the plans for the Mayflower 2 which had been researched by renowned naval architect William A Baker of MIT. It was to be built at Brixham in Devon by Uphams Shipyard. They had the necessary traditional skills to successfully deliver such a challenging undertaking using English Oak beams and authentic materials. At the BBC in Plymouth, John Irvine had been posted to the station to learn how to make television documentaries. On learning about 'Project Mayflower' he and his bosses agreed that would make an excellent subject for his first film. Filming started, capturing many of the original processes and shipbuilding skills. The poetic magic of Charles Causley added creative spirit to the narration. His contribution to the film is wholly fitting given that he was made a bard of Gorsedh Kernow adopting the bardic name Morvardh meaning 'Sea Poet'. "Mayflower Sails Again" was completed and originally broadcast on BBC TV on the 16th April 1957, in the same week that the ship sailed from Plymouth, Devon for the USA. It was a popular programme, repeated during the same year with a special showing for childrens television. 


Our Intrepid Reporter Heads Out

John was quickly sending stories 'up the line' to the regional headquarters in Bristol and to the various London offices including the World Service. His 'stock -in -trade' was the EMI Midget recorder which could record a 15 minute interview for radio. lightweight in those days meant 6.5Kg plus all the other clobber. He features in the imagined news sequence for the acclaimed documentary "This Is The BBC" produced in 1959 by Richard Cawston.

John interviewing in 1957  

The Little Blue Book

In those far off times when mobile phones only existed in the minds of science fiction writers, our intrepid reporter had to rely on red phone boxes to plan his day. Here is John's trusty book where he recorded his telephone expenses claims. The figures are in shillings and pence for those of you not familiar with pre-decimal coinage. 

The Buccaneer Launches a Galleon

By late 1958 it was known by the Independent Television Authority (ITA) that there would be strong competition for the up-and-coming franchise for Southwest England. Peter Cadbury had already let it be known that he was enthusiastic about bidding, his flamboyant character and ego perhaps creating an image of a typical media entrepreneur. Peter had borrowed money from the Cadbury family to buy the Keith Prowse agency, powerful in West-End theatre and had already sailed the waters of commercial television as a director of Tyne Tees TV.

The BBC mindful of an impending rival, called an urgent meeting at Ingledene to formulate plans for a basic TV news and features facility in Plymouth using the cheapest possible equipment. The old canteen area would become a small studio with a control room behind a partition wall. Other technical equipment could  be housed in an adjacent extension. Freelance stringers and cameramen would be recruited along with extra operational engineers to staff the studio.  

Cadbury reputedly drove down to the region with a copy of Who’s Who and assembled a formidable group of supporters, advisors and directors. By October 1959 when applications opened, his group known as Westward Television presented an impressive  document loaded with professional know-how. No surprise then when Westward were offered the contract at a rental of £150,000 p.a.

Peter Cadbury then sought to get his new station on-the-air as soon as possible. He lobbied the ITA and Post Office for a start date in March 1961 but they said August 1961 - which would potentially lose a lot of advertising revenue, so he continued to bully for an spring start. His belligerence led to a rent deferment and a proposal for an April 1961 start. The BBC were keeping their eye on this time too which would give both enterprises an opportunity to build their studios during 1960. Westward needed to start from scratch whereas the BBC had a building and an existing transmitter. Westward needed two new transmitters and a new studio site.

Westward launched effective but costly publicity events and promotions. The most lavish being a hired steam train equipped with TV demonstration equipment . This toured 23 stations around the region.

In the video below we see Peter Cadbury requesting feedback from the audience and then a film showing the work going on behind the scenes. The TV stations at the time were vertically integrated with in-house costume, scenic and graphic design, construction, catering and so forth. at its peak Westward employed around 300 people both at Plymouth and at their sales office in London. Cadbury had spent lavishly on the new studio centre  with expensive cameras from Marconi, video tape machines from RCA and a generous TV studio. Soon the galleon was to strike a squall......    

After the first year where audiences had been disappointing compared with the other ITV companies the debt balance was not looking good. The Derry's Cross studio centre had run away with over half a million pounds capital outlay and no dividend was being paid to shareholders. Economies had to be made. Internal management quarrels and staff discontent did not help matters. 18 redundancies were announced amongst technical staff and union problems were looming. It could have developed into a nationwide strike, but a peace formula was reached with a compromise on staff reductions and  redundant staff being offered positions at other ITV companies. With some financial rent concessions, internal economies and a rise in advertising revenue the galleon was able to sail into calmer waters, repay debt and make modest profits in future years.     

Westward continued with increased and country leading  audience appreciation and soon 'Westward' was synonymous with regional TV in the southwest. ITV at the time had a strong public service remit, Westward demonstrated this with programmes like 'Acres for Profit' a dedicated weekly show for farmers and growers. Programmes like the quiz show 'Treasure Hunt' became regular essential viewing for the regional viewers. 

Peter Cadbury had planned an excellent studio centre architecturally suited to the requirements of the region. Designed by Treadgold & Elsey architects it provided a centrepiece for the Derry's Cross development. Original Artists Impression shown below:

Ingledene Expands into Live Television

By the end of the 1950's the BBC was rolling out regional TV news services throughout the country mirroring the expansion of the ITV network. Plymouth was an interesting site as it already hosted comprehensive radio production as well as a  medium wave transmitter - the only site in the UK which was earmarked for all three duties. A potential challenge was envisaged with the likelihood of radio frequency interference so the planning engineers had costed expensive copper shielding for the rooms to be equipped for television. In November 1959 the finance case had been approved and in June 1960 the building work commenced. The final technical installation was underway by the new year of 1961. The budget was around £50,000 around one-tenth of the costs at Westward TV. Donald Kerr, John Tanton & John Irvine were the creative leaders responsible for formulating the new news service and had a great deal of autonomy in providing a bespoke service for the southwest.  Watch the video below for a flavour of the first transmission day. No recordings exist of the first bulletin or indeed any of the early bulletins as there was no means of recording available on-site and no video contribution circuits out of Plymouth for review or recording elsewhere. 

Listen to a radio interview about the building challenges with the Chief Engineer

Plymouth News Bulletin Day One

The newsroom in March 1961 getting ready for the action.....