The 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict will have stirred many memories. It was a war fought in the television age but it was not a television war.
Those too young to remember the conflict may be surprised to learn that there was no rolling coverage or live images from the South Atlantic. Instead it was left to regular news and current affairs programmes to report as best they could.
The day of the invasion demonstrates just how different television was then.
Regular schools programmes had stopped for the term. Only two programmes were scheduled on BBC Television before lunchtime: a Welsh language schools programme “on certain transmitters only” was scheduled for 11am on BBC One while Play School was on BBC Two at the same time.
BBC Radio had been reporting the unfolding situation all morning but the first word on television came in short news reports after these programmes – then it was back to the test card.
It isn’t clear if the BBC One report was shown in Scotland and Northern Ireland which had remained closed during the schools programme.
Naturally though the response to the invasion, the dispatch of the Task Force to the South Atlantic and the diplomatic efforts to settle the crisis dominated news bulletins and programmes such as Nationwide, Newsnight and Panorama.
As ever, the BBC found itself under fire. In particular some on the right objected to the Corporation talking of the “British position” or “British troops” rather than “our troops”.
Once the fighting started, newsflashes started to appear regularly.
For many the defining image was of the government spokesman Ian McDonald who read each Ministry of Defence communique in a deliberately slow way with no apparent emotion in his voice – whether the news was good or bad.
But images of the fighting took days even weeks to appear. Tapes had to be sent back to Ascension Island off the West African coast before they could be fed by satellite to the UK.
Instead there were pooled reports by radio telephone from the reporters with the Task Force – principally the BBC’s Brian Hanrahan and ITN’s Michael Nicolson. As the reports were pooled, occasionally a BBC report would be used by agreement by ITN and vice versa.
As the war escalated, schedules did start to change. There was often a short news bulletin on BBC One before schools programmes and even weekend editions of News After Noon. Newsflashes could appear anywhere – even during schools and children’s programmes.
For the presentation department the period was hard work.
First they had to ensure no inadvertently inappropriate programme made it to air – an innocent joke or rendition of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina in a programme made months earlier.
Then there were the inevitable last-minute schedule changes to cope with extended news bulletins and newsflashes. In a sense, they had to wing it.
Often these situations highlighted the skills of the announcer and network director. A fade to black and a pause over the globe allowed a few moments to move from the news back to something more lighthearted.
During the conflict, more dead air appeared to be filled by Ceefax In Vision than normal. Two somber tapes of music were produced to reduce the risk of a lapse of taste.
By the time of the first Gulf War just nine years later, rolling news was developing. Live images from war zones quickly came to be taken for granted.
The Falklands Conflict though took place during what was still a very different time for television:
PICTURED: BBC News Report slide. COPYRIGHT: BBC.