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It is the world’s oldest and largest broadcaster and, for many, still the most trusted name in TV and radio. Now to mark its centenary, the BBC has launched an online exhibition featuring 100 iconic objects from its past.
It includes artwork, props, technology, documents and even buildings that played a key role in the Corporation’s history, including a classic BBC lip microphone and Roy Plomley’s rather self-deprecating letter proposing a new show called Desert Island Discs.
Also included are Captain Sir Tom Moore’s walking frame, the Queen Victoria bust from EastEnders and Mr Darcy’s white linen shirt worn by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
While many of the artefacts are wellknown, Auntie has gamely included previously unseen items detailing its misjudgements… including a job rejection letter to a young David Attenborough. Here are some of the most fascinating and surprising objects on offer…
ALEXANDRA PALACE MAST Broadcasts from this television transmitter perched above London’s Alexandra Palace were first beamed around the world in 1935. The site was selected as it was 93 metres above sea level.
AXBT MICROPHONE One of the most memorable mics in history, the AXBT was the fourth generation of Marconi “Type A” microphones used widely by the BBC from the 1930s onwards – X, B and T signified later developments.
BBC MICRO A BBC Micro computer, featuring orangered function keys, lived in most school classrooms in the 1980s.The Micro was made by Acorn as part of a national computer literacy project and sold almost 1.5 million copies.
BILL AND BEN, THE FLOWERPOT MEN Identical string puppets Bill and Ben lived at the bottom of a suburban garden where they regularly found adventure with their friend LittleWeed in this 1952 children’s classic.
BLUE PETER BADGE Since its introduction in 1963, the white shielded badge with a blue ship has been sought after by children aged six to 15. Eight different varieties now exist for achievements ranging from bravery to conservationism.
BROADCASTING HOUSE The BBC’s headquarters was the birthplace of its first radio broadcast in 1932 and is famed for its Portland stone art deco building.
CAPTAIN TOM’S WALKER Captain Sir Tom Moore inspired the nation when he walked 100 laps around his garden, aged 99, with his now-famous walking frame, to fundraise for the NHS during the first Covid lockdown. Knighted for his efforts, he raised £40million.
CEEFAX Ceefax – a pun on “seeing facts” – kept people abreast of the news before the internet as the world’s first text-based information site.ATV signal sent words instead of pictures.
COLOUR CAMERA PHILIPS PC 60 The Beeb’s first colour broadcast on July 1, 1967, was through the Philips camera. It was developed by David Attenborough, then BBC Two controller, who was determined to beat Germany to colour TV – and succeeded.
CORONATION MAP Published in the Radio Times, this detailed map outlined the television camera spots along the route of Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 Coronation.
DALEK MOULD Exterminate! The archetypal Doctor Who baddies were constructed using fibreglass moulds, modelled on the shape of pepper pots, by designer Raymond Cusick.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH’S JOB APPLICATION He may be a national treasure now but in 1952 Sir David was rejected for his first BBC job as Home Talks Producer. He gained a place on the BBC Television Training Scheme later that year.
DAVID BOWIE’S AUDITION REPORT The BBC Talent Selection Group, a committee that selected bands to appear on BBC broadcasts in the 1950s and 1960s, were unfavourable about “David Bowie & The Lower Third”, finding Bowie “devoid of personality”, “amateur sounding” and someone who would “not improve with practice”. Oops!
DESERT ISLANDS DISCS – PROPOSAL LETTER Contained in these short lines are the beginnings of a BBC classic: Desert Islands Discs, pitched by radio broadcaster Roy Plomley. He chose actor and comedian Vic Oliver as the first castaway in January 1942.
EASTENDERS QUEEN VIC BUST The regal Queen Victoria bust has sat in the thick of the drama in the EastEnders’ Queen Vic pub since 1985 – it even took centre stage as a murder weapon for Dirty Den.
GORDON THE GOPHER PUPPET Fuzzy yellow puppet Gordon, famed for his cute squeaks, was adored by millions of children in the 1980s as Phillip Schofield’s fuzzy sidekick on Going Live! and The Broom Cupboard.
JOHN SIMPSON – FLAK JACKET Veteran war correspondent John Simpson’s bullet-proof protective jacket saved his life after his convoy was attacked by an American plane in Northern Iraq in 2003. At least ten others died.
KEN HOM’S WOK Chinese-American chef Ken Hom taught Britons how to cook Chinese cuisine on his 1984 Chinese Cookery show, with accompanying recipe book.
KILLING EVE DRESS It wasVillanelle’s flamingo-pink tulle dress, paired with black biker boots, that confirmed her as a fashion icon, albeit a deadly one, in season one of the hit drama Killing Eve.
LIP MICROPHONE The BBC designed the now-famous lip microphone in 1937 to eliminate background noise during interviews at outside broadcasts.
MADHUR JAFFREY’S INDIAN COOKERY BOOK Indian actress turned food writer Madhur Jaffrey begged her mother to send her recipes from home while at RADA in the 1950s.Then she taught Britons how to follow the same traditional Indian recipes in her 1982 book.
MASTERMIND CHAIR Does any seat seem scarier than the iconic black leather and chrome chair designed by Charles and Ray Eames for Mastermind in 1969? The original was used for 25 years and is symbolic of the show’s nailbiting tension.
MIRROR GLOBE IDENT The rotating globe has been synonymous with BBC branding since its introduction in 1963.When the broadcaster moved to colour in 1969, it switched to the “Symbol C” ident using a concave mirror to stretch the world behind it, thus becoming known as the “mirror globe”.
MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS GRAPHICS Monty Python and talented artist Terry Gilliam’s descending foot from heaven set the absurd tone for every episode of the surrealistic sketch show.The collage stopmotion animations regularly recreated famous artworks.
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MOON LANDING RADIO TIMES SPECIAL Relive the joy and excitement of Apollo 11’s lunar expedition in the Radio Times’ celebratory edition of the mission, titled “Target Moon”, published July 12 to 18, 1969.
MORPH He stands 12cm tall, weighs 5.5oz and is made of terracotta-coloured clay. Children’s favourite Morph came to life on Take Hart, the art show presented by Tony Hart, thanks to Aardman Animation’s stop-motion animation.
ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES – RELIANT REGAL SUPERVAN III The three-wheeled yellow van driven by Del Boy and Rodney Trotter in Only Fools and Horses is a piece of history from one of Britain’s best-loved sitcoms. Six vans were used and were painted to look dirty. Cushty!
ORWELL SCULPTURE Acclaimed novelist George Orwell was a BBC producer in the Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943.The statue, unveiled in his honour outside Broadcasting House in 2017, was designed by sculptor Martin Jennings to denote clear, honest journalism.
PLAY SCHOOL TOYS Humpty, Jemima, Big Ted, Little Ted and Hamble all featured on the classic show Play School, which ran from 1964 to 1988. Hamble was replaced by Poppy in the 1980s.
PUDSEY BEAR BBC designer Joanna Lane was asked to transform Children in Need’s logo in 1985. She suggested a teddy mascot and named him after her home town in Yorkshire. He’s been the charity’s beloved public face since. Originally brown with a red bandage, Pudsey is now yellow and sports a polka-dot eye patch.
SEXY SHIRT WORN BY MR DARCY It was a moment that made women swoon across their sofas while supercharging Colin Firth’s acting career: a wringing wet Mr Darcy emerges from a lake in a clinging white linen shirt in Andrew Davies’ 1990s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE CENTURY TROPHY Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was the stand-out winner of this much-coveted trophy in 1999, with more votes than all the other contestants put together.
STIG’S HELMET For years, mystery surrounded the identity of the Stig, the Top Gear racing driver who set lap times.Two previous Stigs – racing driver Perry McCarthy and stuntman Ben Collins – have been revealed but the current Stig’s identity remains a closely-guarded secret thanks to his emblematic helmet.
STRICTLY GLITTERBALL TROPHY The silver sparkling revolving glitterball encapsulates all the showbiz glamour of cultural juggernaut Strictly Come Dancing. It features on the coveted trophy and the opening credits.
TELETUBBIES COSTUME TinkyWinky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, aka the Teletubbies, were a 1990s TV phenomenon, watched across 120 countries in 45 languages.The brightly-coloured characters lived in a grassy land populated by rabbits and were zany but loving.
TELEVISION CENTRE Affectionately known as “the doughnut” for its circular design, the BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane, west London, became Grade II listed in 2009. Sold the year after, Graham Dawbarn’s design remains an iconic piece of architecture.
TESTCARD F The most famous testcard in history features Carole Hersee, then aged eight, playing noughts and crosses with clown doll Bubbles. The testcard was a troubleshooting device and ran when programmes were off air.
THE ARCHERS 1ST SCRIPT BBC radio drama The Archers was supposed to promote British farming but became a soap about country life. It is the world’s longest-running drama at 60 years old.
V.E.R.A Vision Electronic Recording Apparatus or V.E.R.A was the UK’s first videotape recorder developed by the BBC in 1952. It was unveiled six years later on Panorama by broadcaster Richard Dimbleby.
WOMEN TV ANNOUNCER PRESS CUTTING The BBC’s public search for its first woman television announcer, exemplified in this 1935 Sunday Express news report, saw thousands apply.The lucky winner was Elizabeth Cowell.
- Check out the full collection of 100 objects at bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/bbc-100/100-objects/
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