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Formerly Called BBC2
Launched: 20 April 1964
Audience Share (Aug 2004[1] ( 7.7%
Owned By:BBC
Terrestrial Analogue:Usually Channel 2
Terrestrial Digital:Freeview Channel 2
Satellite:Sky Digital Channel 102
Cable:NTL Channel 102

Telewest Channel 102

BBC Two (or BBC2 as it was formerly styled) was the second UK television station to be aired by the BBC.



The channel was scheduled to begin at 7:20 pm on April 20 1964 and show an evening of light entertainment, starting with the comedy show The Alberts and a production of Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate. However, at around 6:45 pm a huge power failure, originating from Battersea Power Station, caused the Television Centre to lose all power. BBC One was able to continue broadcasting via its facilities at Alexandra Palace, but all attempts to show the scheduled programmes on the new channel failed, and at 10 pm they conceded defeat postponing programming until the following morning. As the BBC's news centre at Alexandra Palace was unaffected, they did in fact broadcast brief bulletins on BBC Two that evening, beginning with an announcement by the newsreader Gerald Priestland at around 7:25.

At 11 am on April 21, power had been restored to the studios and programming began, thus making Playschool the first official programme to be shown on the channel.

Unlike the other channels available at that time (BBC One and ITV) BBC Two was broadcast only on the 625 line UHF system, so was not available to viewers with 405 line VHF sets. This created a market for dual standard receivers which could switch between the two systems. BBC One and ITV later joined BBC Two on 625-line UHF but continued to simulcast on 405-line VHF until the early 1980s. BBC Two became the first British channel to broadcast in colour in the summer of 1967, using the PAL system. BBC One and ITV simultaneously introduced PAL colour on UHF in late 1969.


New BBC shows often appear on BBC Two, especially if those behind the show have not proven themselves elsewhere. A successful BBC Two show may be moved to BBC One, such as happened with Have I Got News For You. The channel also has a reputation for screening challenging and 'prestige' drama productions, such as Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) and 1996's epic, critically-acclaimed Our Friends in the North. BBC Two's programmes always had a "highbrow" image, compared to those on rival channels. This perception persists in today's multi-channel world so that a programme that is moved from BBC Two to BBC One will often get a much larger audience, even though no other change has been made.

Some popular programmes:

On screen identity

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BBC2 ident "Copper cutout" used from 1991 to 1999. The '888' in the top right indicated the availability of subtitles on Ceefax.
As well as programmes, BBC Two has also proved memorable for its numerous idents—various short films shown in between programme junctions, promoting the channel identity. Since it began in 1964, the figure '2' has almost always been used, using revolving, mechanical models and computer-aided technology, including the world's first computer-generated ident in 1979. On Easter 1986 the '2' was replaced by the word 'TWO' in red, green and blue on a white background. However, a survey carried out by the BBC in 1990 found that this gave the channel a 'dull' and 'old-fashioned' image, and the ident was changed back to a figure '2' in 1991. From then the '2' appeared the same shape but in various guises, adopting ideas like a remote-controlled car, a rubber duck and a fluffy dog. These are generally regarded as the best idents ever produced for a television channel and stayed in use for 10 years. In 2001, the figure '2' remained, but it was now always shown white on a yellow background, with various computer technology to aid it.

BBC Two today

In recent years, BBC Two has been accused of "dumbing down"; since the launch of the new digital-only BBC Four, the BBC has been accused of letting its more highbrow output go to the new channel (which many viewers cannot receive) instead of BBC Two, the perceived reason being to allow BBC Two to show more popular programmes and get higher ratings. Certainly there does seem to be a strong resemblance between the new BBC Four and the early, slightly stuffy, BBC Two.

The current controller of BBC Two is Roly Keating, who took up the post in June 2004 having formerly been controller of BBC Four. His predecessor Jane Root, who was appointed in 1999 and was the first woman to be appointed controller of a BBC television channel, departed in May 2004 to become the executive vice president and general manager of US-based Discovery Channel.

Controllers of BBC Two

See also

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