27th October 2021 marks an anniversary which may make some people feel very old. It is the 35th anniversary of BBC daytime television.
The start of a full BBC daytime service is but a footnote in the history of TV in the 1980s. It was minor compared to the start of Channel 4, breakfast TV or the first attempts to get satellite television off the ground.
Yet it is now scarcely comprehensible that it was impossible to watch television for entertainment at 11am on a weekday until relatively recently.
Of course the move to a full daytime service was gradual.
ITV offered full afternoon viewing from 1972 and generally filled the mornings through the school holidays.
The BBC also filled the afternoons from 1972 but scrapped the fledgling service two years later amid a financial crisis.
Then in 1985 history repeated itself – afternoon programmes, which had been reintroduced alongside the launch of Breakfast Time, fell victim to the urgent need to make savings as the BBC campaigned for a significant rise in the licence fee.
By then schools programmes had moved to BBC Two so the cuts left BBC One in the humiliating position of showing Ceefax for 5 hours a day.
Something needed to be done. In the summer of 1985 plans to make BBC One an “all-day channel” were announced.
There’s no doubt the cuts made earlier that year needed reversed as soon as finances allowed but was mid-morning TV really vital?
This is where the BBC of the mid-80s felt the need to be competitive.
ITV was lobbying to move schools programmes to Channel 4 to create a commercial morning schedule. The IBA said the move would be allowed in 1987 once Channel 4 transmitter coverage was practically complete.
Realising that mid-morning TV was inevitable, the BBC realised it could get in a year early so landed the first blow.
For its first year, the BBC’s new morning service was successful. The next year there was competition from ITV but the BBC held its own.
Then in 1988, ITV launched This Morning and blasted BBC One’s morning schedule out of the water.
For years the corporation struggled in the mornings. It was easy to ask: why even bother?
Could the mornings be officially abandoned? The return of Ceefax was never likely but could the mornings simply be filled in with repeats and films? By then this was the practice on BBC Two and Channel 4 when there were no schools programmes.
This was apparently considered in the early 90s by a working group of John Birt’s but was ruled out.
Still it is interesting that the idea could not be completely dismissed at that time. With ITV dominant at that time of day and BBC Two and Channel 4 showing schools programmes, did BBC One really need to waste resources on unsuccessful morning programmes?
Afterall it did the BBC no harm to stay closed in the overnight hours while ITV catered for insomniacs.
But these debates high up in the corporation certainly didn’t work their way through to the schedules – in 1992 Good Morning with Anne and Nick was launched in direct competition to This Morning.
Its failure after 4 years led the BBC to attempt to create a form of morning TV which was popular but not a clone of ITV – the precursor of today’s daytime schedule.
There’s no doubt that in 1986 the BBC could have got away with mid-morning Ceefax for a little longer but sooner or later some sort of coffee break TV would have had to be introduced.
But isn’t it incredible that all-day TV quickly came to be taken for granted? The idea of BBC One leaving the screen empty at 11am quickly became as arcane as the idea of the Toddlers’ Truce in the 1950s.
PICTURED: BBC Daytime logo. COPYRIGHT: BBC.