It’s 1996 and BBC One has been in its new, state-of-the-art playout area for just over a year. The days of programme breakdowns are a distant memory. Right?
Well, not quite. In fact, as with most new technology, there were quite a few teething problems with the new playout areas at Television Centre.
But one of the infamous incidents is the technical failure that resulted in BBC One having to pull its late film, Heaven Can Wait, in less than ideal circumstances.
Footage of this breakdown has been available online for a number of years – but only from the point of the ident linking into the film. Earlier this year, a couple of additional recordings were uploaded to YouTube. One of the clips shows what appears to be the full junction prior to the “non-airing” of Heaven Can Wait.
What’s interesting is that BBC One presentation resorted to the announcer doing a verbal rundown of the next evening’s programme, over a menu slide. Even in 1996, this type of thing was relatively unfashionable outside of the closedown junction. It smacks of pres playing for time – which suggests they were already aware of an issue.
Then we get the channel symbol and a link into the film – as if all was fine and the film was good to go. But then it all goes horribly wrong.
File-based programme delivery was still some way off in 1996, so the film would’ve been played off tape.
So what happened here? Former BBC TV network announcer Reg Sanders (who was on duty on BBC Two that evening) explains:
“In our new state-of-the-art robotic playout machine there was a safety function that prevented access to protect you from the robotic arm. I think the tape got chewed up and no-one could access the machine. So the guys were helpless – watching a machine chew a tape up! Ouch!
“They had to get a VT machine in TVC basement online with an operator and get a suitable standby film in place! After this incident we always had a separate non-automated machine in the new playout area for emergencies!”
Needless to say, the film did not get transmitted that evening.
An additional clip has also materialised which shows a text-based apology that was overlaid whilst the replacement programme was airing.
We also hear a further apology from the announcer, after the replacement programme finishes. Peter Brook confirmed Heaven Can Wait would be screened the following Tuesday.
NOTE; unfortunately, the more recent YouTube clips referenced in this article have since been deleted off the video sharing website.
PICTURED: BBC One breakdown graphic. SUPPLIED BY: YouTube Channel - Helical Memories. COPYRIGHT: BBC.