History of the BBC in Birmingham

photo by Ben Peissel, 2003, no reproduction without permission

photo by Ben Peissel, 2003, no reproduction without permission













History of the BBC in Birmingham

(taken from notes held at the BBC Archives in Caversham)


1922 Nov 15               British Broadcasting Company begins transmitting from rooms at the GEC Works at Witton. Managed by Percy Edgar and Pat Casey, it consisted of three room: one contained the transmitter, one was the office and the other was the 12x20ft studio.

1923 Dec 6                 The first ever Children’s Hour comes from Birmingham. Children’s circle established, proceeds of which were donated to West Midlands Children’s charities.

1924                            Witton premises too small. Moved to top storey of 105 New Street. One studio and a suite of offices.

1926                            New Street premises too small (and rat infested). Purpose built studios at 282 Broad Street acquired. Largest studio could accommodate a full orchestra and chorus.

1927 Jan 1                   British Broadcasting Company dissolved and the British Broadcasting Corporation constituted under Royal Charter.

1927                            Daventry ‘Experimental Transmitter’ replaces 5 IT at Witton.

1938                            First episode of Paul Temple attracts 7,000 fan letters.

1949                            Sutton Coldfield transmitter opens bringing television to the Midlands.

1951 Jan 1                  The Archers first appears on the Light Programme. Brookfield Farm was located in Studio 2 at Broad Street for 20 years.

1951                            BBC acquired the lease for Pebble Mill site.

1954                            Carpenter Road, Edgbaston became the new Broadcasting House.

1955 Dec 29                First Midland Region television studio opened at Gosta Green, Birmingham.

1956                            Gardening Club (now Gardeners’ World) began.

1957 Sept 30               First BBC Midlands TV News broadcast each weekday evening. 6.10-6.15.

1962                            Nightly TV magazine programme – Midlands at Six  

1962                            A model of proposed BBC Pebble Mill Broadcasting Centre was show to the press.

1964 Sept                    First episode of  Midlands Today presented by Barry Lankester and produced by Michael Hancock. News items were a football bribery trial, a new course on local government, Swedish sport and an item called ‘the body beautiful’.

1965                            Immigrants Unit set up by Patrick Beech to provide Hindu/Urdu programmes. BBC’s first bi-media department, making programmes for both radio and television.

1967                            First BBC Local Radio Station in Leicester.

1967                            Pebble Mill – first sod was cut by then Director General Sir Hugh Greene.

1970 Nov 7                 Pebble Mill began with Radio Birmingham, later became Radio WM.

1971                            HRH Princess Anne officially opens the new Pebble Mill studios.

1972-86                       Pebble Mill at One, presenters included Donny Macleod, Bob Langley, Ross King, Judi Spiers and Alan Titchmarsh.

1976                            Saturday Night at the Mill – live. All staged in either one of the studios or outside the front of Pebble Mill. The courtyard around the back was constructed into a mini ice-rink with a canopy area for if it rained when live bands were on.

1977                            The Horror of Fang Rock, only episode of Dr Who to be filmed here at The Mill. The set consisted of a lighthouse built in the studio, and it was the setting for a battle with an alien shape shifter. The story featured the one and only appearance in the series of a Rutan – seen in its natural state as an amorphous green blob with trailing tentacles. It was the fifteenth season of the series and the  Doctor at the time was Tom Baker. It was transmitted between 03/09/1977 and 24/09/1977.

1988 Oct                     Midlands Today became the first regional news programme to include a nightly sports section.

Tales from the Archive – Princess Anne prefers Coca Cola!

Princess Anne touring the Pebble Mill studios

Princess Anne touring the Pebble Mill studios














Copyright of the photo resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission. 

I had a trip down to the BBC Archives at Caversham on Thursday to get more of an insight into the history of Pebble Mill.

If you haven’t been to the BBC Archives, it’s a fascinating experience. You make contact by email, and you are assigned a researcher, who then gets back to you confirming whether or not they have files for you to search through. You then arrange a day when there is a spare desk, and go down to have a look through the files. All the information you’ve requested is on a trolley waiting for you.

The files themselves are pink card folders, carefully catalogued with a reference number and dates. The files I’d asked for were mainly full of memos, often from the Controller of the Midland Region, to other BBC Staff, including the Director General. Each file had been certified by my researcher as suitable for me to look through, i.e. not containing any very sensitive or confidential material. I suspect that the vast majority of the memos hadn’t been read since they were filed away!

One file I came across was all about the Opening Ceremony of Pebble Mill in 1971. There were some fascinating insights into the politics of the occasion. ATV had secured Princess Alexandra to open their Birmingham television centre, and Pebble Mill did not want to be upstaged! There were discussions with the Director General about whether to ask Prince Charles or Princess Anne. It was felt that a Royal from the younger generation was more appropriate for a forward looking broadcasting centre. Princess Anne was agreed upon, and then there was a strategy of how and when to make the approach. Letters flew backwards and forwards to Buckingham Palace, and, after the original date was rearranged to avoid the Princess’s holiday in Scotland, the 10th November 1971 was confirmed.

The timetable and itinerary for the visit were also interesting. The Princess was to arrive at midday in a Wessex helicopter and land at the Police Training Centre across the Pershore Road. A BBC car would then take her over to Pebble Mill, whilst the Royal car carried her Personal Standard. The Personal Standard would be raised up the flagpole on arrival. A bouquet was to be given to the Princess by the eight year old daughter of the Controller of the English Regions, Patrick Beech, following which the Princess would unveil the plaque in the foyer, which read:

“This Broadcasting Centre was opened by Her Royal
Highness the Princess Anne on 10th November, 1971.”

Lunch for 150 guests was to follow at 12.45, after which there was a tour of both the television and radio studios. A highlight of the tour was to be the presentation of a gold-minted Archers’ medallion to commemorate 21 years of the drama! Signing the Visitors’ Book was to end the visit, with Princess Anne’s helicopter departing at 14.50.

I also found a memo about the menu for lunch, the food was to consist of:

Melon with Parma ham,
Steak chasseur,
French beans,
Parmentier potatoes,
Norwegian Cream,
Cheese and coffee.

A rather inferior buffet lunch was available for members of the Press, with a special roast turkey dinner being laid on for staff in the restaurant. Members of staff had to fill out a form, requesting the lunch, and they were then issued with a special ticket.

lunch ticket from Gail Herbert

lunch ticket from Gail Herbert














There was also a note about protocol on the day, about how to address the Princess, that she doesn’t smoke, and doesn’t want to be offered cigarettes, and about the fact that she would drink wine only when a toast was involved, and that otherwise she would like a soft drink, preferably Coca Cola! When people were to be presented to her, husbands would go first and shake hands, followed by wives, and ladies must always curtsey!

Vanessa Jackson

The following comments were added on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Stuart Gandy: ‘It was great positive time for Birmingham to get this great new broadcasting centre, and it became so well known thanks to PM @1, nationally too. sadly, it’s a very different story today.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘A fascinating piece of research, well done Vanessa. how far away it all seems now when the Mill was all sparkling new and clean and full of enterprising management and teams ready to make the place famous. As Stuart says what a different story for Birmingham today.’

Jean Thomas: ‘Yes I remember the day very well. Remember Prince Charles, Diana, Margaret Thatcher visiting also. John Smith the new Labour leader a lovely man, he passed away not long after his visit. Those occasions will always stand out to me.’

Pete Simpkin: ‘Re the Margaret Thatcher visit I remember ending my shift at about 4pm when she was in the building and being unable to get out of the front doors and guided by Security all the way round to the back followed by men in suits until I exited the North road. Overhead a sombre looking aeroplane was circling round and round on ‘secret security duty’ apparently according to a bobby on patrol.’

Jean Thomas: ‘I didn’t notice the plane. But special branch with their guns in the roof. I was at the front when she came in. You’ve guessed she headed straight for me. Cameras popping all over the place. I just wanted to disappear…’.

Karen Davies’ blog

(Copyright of the photo remains with the original holder)

I was asked to man the lift when Princess Anne opened the building….even bought a new scarf for the occasion. As a PA of only 4’11” stature and spending most of my time in the 2nd floor bar, nervous personnel doctored the lift buttons to make sure I pressed number ‘4’ to take her to the lofty management echelons! I also practically passed out waving my antennae on the reception steps in an extremely unwieldy rubber ant costume for a Pebble Mill At One, Doctor Who feature. The joys of being diminutive. I joined the Asian Unit as Gerry Hynes PA in 1971, became a Production Assistant a year later & left for ATV in ’78. Carole Glover, Coral Higson, Heather Storr, Jenny Homer, Polly Whitehouse, Jane Alderson & Pam Relton were my partners in crime.

(The photo includes Dr Charles Hill (Chairman of BBC Governors), white haired man on the left, it is David Rose (Head of Drama) who Princess Anne is talking to, and 3rd from the right is Bob Gale (senior dresser).)

Princess Anne opens Pebble Mill – photos from Gail Herbert

Princess Anne opens Pebble Mill

Princess Anne officially opened the BBC Pebble Mill building on 10th Nov 1971.  The photo shows her being introduced to various members of staff in Studio A.  The white haired man on the left is Dr Charles Hill (Chairman of BBC Governors) I think that it is David Rose (Head of Drama) who Princess Anne is talking to, 3rd from the right is Bob Gale (senior dresser).

Below is an invitation to the official lunch with Princess Anne.

Please add a comment if you can identify other people in the photos.

Thanks to Gail Herbert for making the photo and invitation available.







Princess Anne lunch invitation