The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a national publicly-funded broadcaster based in the United Kingdom. It is frequently heralded as the most widely respected broadcaster in the world. Affectionately known to local consumers as the "Beeb" or "Auntie", it was for many years the only television and radio provider in the United Kingdom.

Before the introduction of Independent Television in 1955 and subsequently Independent Radio in 1973, it held a monopoly on broadcasting. More recent de-regulation of the British television broadcasting market produced analogue cable television and satellite broadcasting and later digital satellite, digital cable and digital terrestrial television (DTT) . Today the BBC broadcasts in almost every medium including these and the Internet.

The BBC's technical lead is assisted by its Research & Development department at Kingswood Warren. - Website

Table of contents
1 History
2 Political controversy and neutrality
3 Funding
4 Divisions
5 Timeline and recent events
6 List of Stations
7 Related Articles


Prior to the establishment of the BBC a number of private companies had been making experimental radio broadcasts in the UK. The Post Office (under the 1904 Wireless Telegraphy Act) was responsible for the issuing of broadcasting licences and in 1919 it stopped issuing further licences because of the large number of complaints of interference to military communications received from the Armed Forces. As the number of radio receiving sets increased during the early 1920s the Post Office came under extreme pressure to allow national radio broadcasting. A committee of radio manufacturers spent several months discussing various proposals and the result was the establishment of the BBC.

The BBC was founded as the British Broadcasting Company in 1922 by a consortium including Marconi, GEC, British Thomson Houston, Metropolitan Vickers, Western Electric and the Radio Communication Company. The initial remit of the company was to establish a nationwide network of radio transmitters to provide a national broadcasting service. On November 14, 1922, the first BBC station 2LO began broadcasting on mediumwave, from the roof of Selfridges department store in Oxford Street, London. The following day 5IT in Birmingham, and 2ZY in Manchester went on the air.

It took on its current form in 1927 when it was granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation. The form is that of an autonomous corporation run by a board of governors appointed by the incumbent government for a term of four years (formerly five years). General management of the organisation is in the hands of a Director-General appointed by the governors.

Political controversy and neutrality

The autonomous nature of the board of governors gives it an independence from direct government control. The BBC has taken advantage of its independence to criticise government policy from time to time. However the BBC does not have any constitutional protection for such criticism and in the past it has suffered as a result.

The BBC is regularly accused by the government of the day of bias in favour of the opposition, and, by the opposition, of bias in favour of the government. At some times, both of these accusations have been made at once by politicians from each side. In spite of these criticisms, the BBC is widely regarded by the British public as a trusted and politically neutral news source.


The Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1904 instituted government regulation of radio broadcasting and reception under the authority of the Postmaster General. A licence scheme was introduced whereby anyone wishing to purchase or construct radio equipment was required to obtain a licence from the Post Office. With the founding of the BBC, the radio licence fees became its principal means of funding. The household radio licence was eventually abolished in 1971 but a licence is still required for television reception.

Today each household (with exemptions for the elderly and others, paid for by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) or business in the UK using a television or other equipment to receive broadcasts has to buy an annual television licence. The licence fees are set by the government but collected by independent contractors, Capita and AMV. The fees are to ensure that the BBC is sufficiently funded to provide for the British public high quality and diverse media content designed to "educate, inform and entertain" as per the remit of its charter. Because of this unique funding method, BBC radio and television output has been free of the constraints of commercial advertisers; programme makers are, in theory, answerable only to the licence payer, but pressure from political parties via appointments to the board of governors and by threats over changes to the amount of the licence fee as well as competition with commercial television channels for audience share are still significant factors in the corporation's output. The BBC has also for many years received funding from British Government departments for certain sections of its output. For instance the World Service, which, as its name suggests, is broadcast around the world, is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In recent years the BBC has also received large amounts of revenue from its commercial wing, particularly by exploiting its massive back catalogue of programmes.

The 2003 Annual report gave revenue sources in millions of:

  • £2,659m licence fees collected from consumers.
  • £147m from BBC Commercial Holdings Ltd.
  • £223.7m from the World Service, of which £201m is from grants (primarily funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), £16.1m from subscriptions and £6.6m from other sources.
  • Assorted additional sources such as property and interest.



The BBC was originally set up to provide a radio service for the British public. Radio made up the bulk of its output prior to the introduction and widespread adoption of the BBC's television service; this can be seen today in the title of the BBC's listings magazine, Radio Times. Radio still makes up a large part of the corporation's output.

The first two radio services to broadcast were the Home Service (originally the National Programme) and the World Service (originally the General Overseas Service). These were followed by the Light Programme (using the transmitters vacated by the wartime Forces Programme), and the Third Programme. A contemporary music station, BBC Radio 1, was launched in 1967 in response to pirate radio stations (most of which closed on or before the introduction of new legislation on 15 August, 1967), and the present numbered names were adopted on the same day, 30 September, 1967. Radio 1 was accompanied by Radio 2 (broadcasting easy listening, folk, jazz and light entertainment - formerly the Light Programme), Radio 3 (the new name for the Third Programme) and Radio Four (formerly the Home Service). BBC Radio 5 was launched on 27 August 1990, and was later renamed BBC Radio Five Live.

The BBC today runs ten national domestic radio stations, five of which are only available in a digital format: via DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting - i.e. Digital Radio), the Internet or the different forms of Digital Television in the UK. The five new stations are: 6Music (broadcasting rock, funk, punk and reggae), BBC 7 (comedy, drama, books, science fiction, fantasy and children's programmes), The Asian Network, 1Xtra and Five Live Sports Extra.

Each of the national BBC radio stations caters for a different audience. For example, BBC Radio 1 broadcasts contemporary popular music aimed at a young target audience, whereas BBC Radio Five Live broadcasts news and sport (including live coverage of sports fixtures).

The BBC also runs regional radio stations throughout the UK, for example BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Devon. These stations focus on regional issues to a greater extent than their national counterparts, organising live phone-in debates about these issues, as well as lighter talk shows with music from different decades of the 20th Century. Compared to many advertising-funded Independent Local Radio (ILR) stations, which often broadcast contemporary popular music, BBC Local Radio stations offer a more "serious" alternative.

The BBC World Service is also available on the mainstream digital broadcasting platforms in the UK, as well as the Internet and shortwave radio, both of which can be received in many places across the globe. It is a major source of news and information programming, and is funded by the British Foreign Office.

All of the national BBC radio stations, as well as the BBC World Service, are available over the Internet in the RealAudio streaming format. The BBC has also recently experimented with the free, open source Ogg Vorbis streaming audio format.

A most famous BBC radio programme is the soap The Archers. The BBC is also famous for its comedy output - in particular The Goon Show.


What is now known as BBC ONE was the world's first regular television service. It began broadcasting from Alexandra Palace in London on November 2, 1936, to just a few hundred viewers in the immediate area. It was reaching some 25,000 homes before the outbreak of the Second World War caused the service to be suspended. The broadcasts would have provided an ideal radio beacon for German bombers homing in on London. In 1946 TV transmissions resumed from Alexandra Palace. The BBC Television Service was renamed BBC ONE in 1964, after the launch of BBC TWO. BBC ONE shows popular programming, including drama, comedies, documentaries, game shows and soap operas, covering a wide range of genres and regularly competes with ITV to become the channel with the highest ratings for that week. BBC ONE is the home to the BBC's main news bulletins, currently being shown at 1pm, 6pm and 10pm GMT (or British Summer Time, depending on the time of the year).

BBC TWO was the third television station (ITV was the second) for the UK; its remit is to provide more niche programming. The channel was due to launch on 20 April, 1964, but was put off the air by a massive power failure that affected much of London, caused by a fire at Battersea Power Station. A videotape made on the opening night was recently rediscovered by a BBC technician. In the end the launch went ahead the following night, hosted by an announcer holding a candle. BBC2 (as it was originally spelled) was the first British channel to use UHF and 625-line pictures, giving higher definition than the existing VHF 405-line system. In December of 1967 it became the first regular television channel in Europe to broadcast in colour, using the German PAL system that is still in use today although being gradually superseded by digital systems. (BBC ONE and ITV began 625-line colour broadcasts simultaneously in late 1969). Unlike its contemporaries, BBC TWO does not have the usual soap opera or standard news programming, but rather a breadth of programming that is eclectic, fun and diverse (although if a programme has high audience viewing figures, it is often repositioned onto BBC ONE). Well known BBC TWO programmes include Newsnight.

Regional variations also occur within the BBC ONE and BBC TWO schedules. England's BBC ONE output is split up into regions (such as South West and East), which exist mainly to produce local news programming, but also occasionally opt out of the network to show programmes of local importance (such as major local events). The other nations in the United Kingdom (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) have been granted more autonomy from the English network; for example, programmes are mostly introduced by local announcers, rather than by those in London. BBC ONE and BBC TWO schedules in these areas can vary immensely from BBC ONE and BBC TWO in England.

Programmes, such as the politically fuelled Give My Head Peace (produced by BBC Northern Ireland) and the soap opera River City (produced by BBC Scotland), have been created specifically to cater for people in these areas, who may have found programmes created for English audiences irrelevant. BBC Wales also produces a large amount of Welsh language programming for S4C, particularly news, sport and other programmes, especially the soap opera Pobol y Cwm ('People of the Valley').

However, the BBC produces many programmes shown across the UK, such as The Good Life, One Foot in the Grave, Harry Enfield and Chums and EastEnders. The nations also produce a number of programmes that are shown across the UK, such as BBC Scotland's comedy series Chewin' the Fat, and BBC Northern Ireland's talk show Patrick Kielty: Almost Live. The BBC is also renowned for its production of costume dramas, such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Programmes have also been imported from other countries: notable examples include The Simpsons and 24 from the United States, and Neighbours from Australia.

The BBC also introduced CEEFAX, the first teletext service, starting in 1974. This service allows BBC viewers to view information (such as the latest news) on their television. CEEFAX has not made a full transition to digital television, instead being replaced by the new interactive BBCi service.

The commercial arm of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, broadcasts television stations throughout the world. The cable and satellite stations BBC Prime (in Europe, Africa and the Middle East), BBC America and BBC Canada broadcast popular BBC programmes such Ground Force and EastEnders to people outside the UK, as does UK.TV in Australasia. BBC Worldwide also runs a 24-hour news channel, BBC World. In addition, BBC television news appears nightly on many Public Broadcasting System stations in the United States, as do reruns of BBC programmes from Lionheart TV.

Since 1975, the BBC has also provided its TV programmes to the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS), allowing members of HM Armed Forces serving all over the world to watch their favourite programmes from home.

The BBC Natural History Unit (based in Bristol) is famed throughout the world for producing high quality programmes such as Life On Earth, The Private Life of Plants and The Blue Planet, very often presented by Sir David Attenborough (who was also once controller of BBC2).

See List of BBC television programming.


The name BBCi (meaning BBC interactive) is given to all of the BBC's interactive services: on television and on the Internet. Since the introduction of digital television and the explosion in World Wide Web use, the BBC has developed new channels, interactive services and types of online content under this name.

The BBCi web service, formerly known as BBC Online, includes a comprehensive news website and archive. The website allows the BBC to produce sections which complement the various programmes on television and radio, and it is common for viewers and listeners to be told website addresses for the BBCi sections relating to that programme. BBCi on the Internet also allows users to see and hear many of the BBC's television and radio services using streaming media. According to Alexa's TrafficRank system, in January 2004 the BBC's main website was 26th on their "Global Top 500" list of most visited Web sites, and the 12th most popular English Language site. (References: Global Top 500 Sites - Top English Language Sites)

In recent years some major on-line companies and politicans have complained that the BBCi website receives too much funding from the television licence, meaning that other websites are unable to compete with the vast amount of advertising-free on-line content available on BBCi. Some have proposed that the amount of licence fee money spent on BBCi should be reduced - either being replaced with funding from advertisements or subscriptions, or a reduction in the amount of content available on the site.

On digital television, BBCi has replaced the CEEFAX service. Unlike CEEFAX, BBCi is able to display full colour graphics, photographs and video, as well as allow the viewer to interact with the programme. Recent examples include the interactive sports coverage for football and rugby football matches and an interactive national IQ test. All of the BBC's digital television stations, with the exception of BBC Parliament on digital satellite, allow access to the BBCi service.

Timeline and recent events

The BBC was formed on 18 October 1922 and began broadcasting later that year on 14 November.

In 1927 the British Broadcasting Company becomes the British Broadcasting Corporation, when it is granted a Royal Charter.

In 1932 the BBC begins what will one day become the World Service when it introduces the BBC Empire Service. In 1938, the first foreign-language service (in Arabic) begins. By the beginning of the Second World War it is also broadcasting in French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

John Logie Baird begins experimental broadcasts in conjunction with the BBC in 1932 and on 2 November 1936 the BBC opened the world's first regular high-definition television service from Alexandra Palace. The service is suspended during the Second World War but returns in 1946.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 in Westminster Abbey is broadcast by the BBC and watched live by an estimated audience of 20 million people in Britain.

On 30 September 1967 the BBC launches BBC Radio 1 as a response to the threat from pirate radio stations broadcasts of popular music.

On 17 January 1983 the BBC launched the UK's first breakfast television service: BBC Breakfast Time, ahead of the ITV franchise TV-am, which launched on 1 February.

In October 1991, the BBC launched the World Service Television (WSTV) news and information channel, which was renamed BBC World in January 1995. Unlike its World Service radio counterpart, WSTV was commercially funded, and carried advertising, which meant that it could not be broadcast in the UK. The Corporation's UK news service, called News 24, was not launched until November 1997.

In August 1998, the BBC's domestic TV channels became available on Sky Digital's satellite service. An unintended consequence of this was that people in the rest of Europe could now watch BBC1 and 2, using viewing cards from the UK, as the signal was encrypted for rights reasons. This even applied within the UK: people in England could not watch BBC channels from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or vice versa.

On 20 June 2000, and again on June 30, 2001, the BBC experienced serious power outages at their Television Centre facility in West London which not only knocked out all of their terrestrial and digital satellite television stations and all of the radio stations throughout the United Kingdom and as a result of a serious equipment failure the BBC's backup power generator at the Television Centre burst into flames. Personnel from Television Centre had to be evacuated and moved to other BBC facilities until police and fire allowed BBC personnel back into the building.

On 3 March, 2001, a terrorist bomb located in a taxi exploded in front of the BBC's Television Centre. 11 people were seriously injured in the blast. The top suspect in the investigation is a dissident group from the Irish Republican Army (IRA) called Real IRA.

In March 2003 the BBC announced that from the end of May 2003 (subsequently deferred to July 14) it intended to transmit all eight of its domestic television channels (including the 15 regional variations of BBC ONE) unencrypted from the Astra 2D satellite. This move was estimated to save the BBC 85 million over the next 5 years.

While the "footprint" of the Astra 2D satellite was smaller than that of Astra 2A, from which it was previously broadcast encrypted, it meant that viewers with appropriate equipment were able to receive BBC channels "free-to-air" over much of Western Europe. Consequently, some rights issues have needed to be resolved with programme providers such as Hollywood studios and sporting organisations, who have expressed concern about the unencrypted signal leaking out.

In July 2003, the BBC Radio 4's Today programme broadcast a news item, quoting a government official suggesting that the Government had "sexed up" the British Government's dossier on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, against the wishes of the Intelligence services. The journalist involved later claimed in a newspaper article that Alistair Campbell, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications was responsible. The British Government strongly denied the claims, which prompted an investigation by Parliament. The situation severely damaged the BBC's relationship with the government. The Ministry of Defence scientist, Dr. David Kelly, was then named as the alleged source of the news item in another leaked news briefing. The subsequent suicide of Dr. Kelly resulted in an escalation of the conflict between the government and the BBC, during which both sides have received severe criticism for their roles in the matter. The Hutton inquiry is now investigating the affair.

On 28 November a power supply problem caused the BBC TV Centre to be evacuated, causing the Today Programme, Radio 5 and BBC News 24 to fall off the air for 15 minutes. Services were disrupted for the rest of the day.

In 2006, the BBC's Royal Charter is due to be renewed.

List of Stations


  • United Kingdom
  • United Kingdom, digital only (Digital Terrestrial (DTT), Digital Cable and Digital Satellite (Astra 2D))
    • BBC THREE, formerly known as BBC Choice (DTT channel 7)
    • BBC FOUR, formerly known as BBC Knowledge (DTT channel 10)
    • BBC Parliament (terrestrial digital was originally audio only, but now broadcasts a quarter-sized screen due to capacity limitations) (DTT channel 45)
    • BBC News 24 (DTT channel 40)
    • CBBC Channel (Children's digital channel aimed towards children over 8yrs) (DTT channel 30)
    • CBeebies (Children's digital channel aimed towards children under 8yrs) (DTT channel 31)

  • Rest of the world
  • 'Channels operated by BBC Worldwide Ltd in association with other organisations
    • Animal Planet (in association with Discovery Communications Inc)
    • People+Arts (in association with Discovery Communications Inc)
    • UKTV (in association with Flextech Television)
      • UK Gold
      • UK Food
      • UK Style
      • UK Horizons
      • UK Drama
      • UK History
      • UK Bright Ideas
    • UKTV (Australia) (in association with FOXTEL and Fremantle Media)



Related Articles