All change for BBC News in 1981

For pres fans, the first week of September 1981 was significant. The modification of the BBC One globe was a small tweak by modern standards but quite noticeable at the time. Then channel symbols were things of permanence.

But a much more important change happened to BBC Television two days later. The overhaul of news programmes in 1981 was, arguably, the most significant individual change in the presentation of news on BBC Television.

Superficially, the revamp was the biggest seen for many years. The signature tune used since the mid-1960s was finally retired.

But two more significant changes also happened.

The individual programmes started to gain identities. Up until then the news was simply a bulletin – the Nine o’Clock News was differentiated mostly by its length rather than its character.

The lunchtime news, News After Noon, included live interviews – up until then the preserve of current affairs programmes. It replaced a straight 12-minute bulletin.

VIDEO: the first edition of News After Noon. TX DATE/TIME: Monday 7th September, 12.30pm. SUPPLIED BY: YouTube Channel – Treffynnon19. COPYRIGHT: BBC.

The Evening News remained as a bulletin but was extended.

The Nine o’Clock News – presented by John Humphries and John Simpson – started to focus even more on longer items.

The change to the ‘Nine’ represented the single biggest shift away from employing newsreaders rather than journalists although, contrary to some claims, it had started years before.

Notably Richard Baker, Kenneth Kendall and Jan Leeming were confined to the 5.40 bulletin, weekends and holidays. Kendall left shortly afterwards and Baker a year or so later.

However much consistency remained between the bulletins – only the ‘Nine’ had its own set and graphics though they were not dissimilar to those used at other times.

But this revamp, in retrospect, paved the way for each programme to adopt its own visual identity a few years later. Indeed later revamps in the 80s tended to only affect individual programmes, one at a time.

The big cosmetic changes in 1993 and 1999 led to format changes for the ‘One’ in 1993 and the ‘Six’ in 1999 but otherwise it was business as usual editorially. Even the big schedule change in 2000 when the main news moved to 10pm was just that – a schedule change.

Meanwhile behind-the-scenes changes, such as the moves towards specialist coverage and analysis in the late-80s, did not always lead to superficially obvious changes even if some will have noticed gradual changes in content.

In some ways 1981 is the forgotten milestone in the history of BBC News.



PICTURED: Richard Whitmore presenting the first edition of News After Noon (1981). SUPPLIED BY: YouTube Channel - Treffynnon19. COPYRIGHT: BBC.

Posted by Andrew Nairn

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.