The answer: when it was showing programmes for the Open University.
A few videos have emerged recently of afternoon closedowns in the mid-70s.
The announcer trails “the next programme on BBC Two” in the early evening then closes down until the start of programmes for the Open University well before then.
To modern ears this might sound confusing and it might sound like there is more than a little pedantry in the phrasing. But at the time it made sense and was clear.
The Open University was not a part of BBC Television in the normal sense. The OU had an agreement with the BBC which would produce and transmit its programmes.
The OU was created by Harold Wilson’s government which had described the project as “the university of the air”. Initially, thought was given to the idea that the fourth channel could be brought into being for the project.
This proved impractical and government overtures to the ITA to involve the ITV companies were unsuccessful.
So an agreement was reached that the OU would have a certain amount of airtime on BBC Two. The BBC also produced the OU programmes but the OU paid for them.
At the point when the OU was created, broadcasting hours were still regulated so the agreement to allow a certain number of BBC Two’s unused hours to be used explicitly for the OU effectively created a “channel within a channel”.
OU programmes were made and broadcast explicitly for the university’s students – not the general viewing public. The BBC was just a means of distributing them. Programmes for schools, colleges and adult education broadcasts however were simply a normal aspect of the BBC’s service paid for with licence money.
So for all those reasons there was a determination to ensure the OU wasn’t simply seen as part of BBC Two. Initially, the Radio Times gave no details at all of OU programmes and later on merely printed the titles in small type.
The attempt to keep the OU separate had one big flaw – the continuity announcer. The same announcer straddled the OU and BBC Two’s normal schedule.
This often lead to the same voice closing the OU then opening BBC Two seconds later. Or before late-night OU broadcasts, viewers who “weren’t staying on” for the OU would be wished goodnight.
By the mid-80s though arrangements had started to become more informal. Around the same time as a dedicated self-operation suite was created to make OU transmissions more cost-effective, the OU idents were amended to include the regular channel logos. By this time there were also OU programmes on BBC One.
But there were still signs the OU was still distinct.
OU programmes could not begin before 11.30pm so sometimes BBC Two would leave viewers with a late-night interval after Newsnight.
On BBC One, occasionally, there were similar gaps – presumably as the OU programme couldn’t start immediately as one of the nations was open later than the network service.
By the mid-90s special OU presentation had gone. The OU was introduced as part of the Learning Zone or with the regular BBC Two idents.
But these closedown announcements of the 70s were not merely pedantic or clumsily phrased. There was a reason behind them.
PICTURED: The Open University ident. COPYRIGHT: BBC.