BBC Birmingham is one of the oldest regional arms of the BBC, located in Birmingham. It was the first region outside London to start broadcasting both the corporation's radio (in 1922) and television (in 1949) transmissions, the latter from the Sutton Coldfield television transmitter. For many years, BBC Birmingham was based at the Pebble Mill Studios, but in 2004 moved to the brand-new Mailbox facility in the city centre. Pebble Mill has since been demolished to make way for a science park, however the site is currently empty as of 2013.
Pebble Mill at One, an afternoon talk show, ran for many years from 1973 to 1986 on BBC1, with several long-standing presenters, including Alan Titchmarsh, and raised the profile of the Pebble Mill studios almost to the status of a national institution. Birmingham is home to BBC Midlands Today (television) and BBC WM (radio).
BBC Birmingham is not to be confused with BBC Midlands, which is also based at the Mailbox. BBC Birmingham is the name of the Network Productions Centre in Birmingham making network programmes for television and radio. BBC Midlands is the regional operation providing news, current affairs and other regional programmes.
Some departments within BBC Birmingham, such as factual programming, have been subject to review as part of a wider restructuring process. Much of the factual department, making programmes such as Countryfile, has been moved to either Bristol, Salford or other BBC offices.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Birmingham branch of the BBC was home to the English Regions Drama department, which was set up in 1971 with a remit for producing drama programmes set in various regions of the UK, to try to redress the balance of the majority of programmes being made and set in and around London. Perhaps the department's best known drama production is Boys from the Blackstuff (1982). The Birmingham studios also occasionally provided a home to usually London-based productions when regular studio space was unavailable.
As with all other BBC regions, BBC Birmingham is responsible for providing local radio services and the regional television news broadcasts on BBC One during the times when all regions opt out of the network feed to provide their own local news programming, which in the BBC Birmingham area is called Midlands Today. As one of the larger regions, however, it also provides many programmes to the network for national consumption.
Current BBC Birmingham productions
BBC Birmingham output has steadily diminished over time as production has moved elsewhere with the closure of Pebble Mill and the development of other BBC sites. Doctors is currently produced at the BBC Drama Village in Selly Oak, and The Archers is produced for BBC Radio 4. Father Brown, WPC 56, and The Coroner are all BBC Birmingham productions for afternoon broadcast. The closure of the Factual Unit in 2012 meant no factual programmes outside of regional output are produced in Birmingham.
Notable historical BBC Birmingham productions
As mentioned above BBC Birmingham hosted many London produced programmes when studio requirements demanded it, an example was The Brothers starring Jean Anderson from BBC Drama Serials. Two other programmes shoe-horned into BBC Pebble Mill, were children's programmes, Play School and Jackanory. Drama played a key role at BBC Birmingham and senior BBC producer David Rose became the first head of BBC English Regions drama, where a series of plays by new writers, called Second City Firsts, produced by Peter Ansorge and Tara Prem were aired on BBC2. The unit also produced the first BBC Television drama with a predominantly black and Asian cast, Empire Road (1978–79) which was shown on BBC2.
During the early '60s, BBC Birmingham pioneered television programmes, for the Asian community. These were presented and produced by Mahendra Kaul and directed by Ashok Rampal, and broadcast on Sunday mornings on the sole BBC Television channel at the time. The programme, Apna Hi Ghar Samajhiye ("Make Yourself At Home") aired on Sundays at 9.00am for half an hour.
BBC Birmingham utilised the main foyer of Pebble Mill for television entertainment and magazine programmes, mostly for BBC1. One fixture of the schedule Pebble Mill at One became a popular British afternoon chat BBC1 show, though it started originally on BBC2. The idea to use the reception and foyer for programmes was borne out of the fact, all the other studio space was either fully used for Birmingham produced, or for BBCTV's network needs for the various London based programme departments. Pebble Mill at One ran from 1972 until 1986, was then one of few daytime magazine programmes, hence its popularity at the time.
There was at least one Pebble Mill spin-off during the 1970s, when BBC1 rested its main Saturday chat show, Parkinson. BBC Birmingham was commissioned to produce a late night chat show. Saturday Night at the Mill, was the result and Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen were the regular house band, and they performed the show's signature tune. The programme was directed and produced in Birmingham by Roy Norton and Roy Ronnie. In 1981 an early evening version of a hit show from the '60s on BBC1 called Six Five Special re-surfaced during the Mill's summer break, presented by Donny MacLeod and Marian Foster, occupying the slot vacated after the Evening News by Nationwide fronted among other by Michael Barratt and Sue Lawley.
The Pebble Mill format returned in 1988 as Daytime Live, renamed Scene Today and finally Pebble Mill.
Well-known BBC programmes based in Birmingham included the drama series Dalziel and Pascoe, daytime soap opera Doctors, anthology series The Afternoon Play and daytime property show To Buy or Not to Buy. The countryside and environmental series Countryfile and viewer feedback show Points of View were also based here, until moving to BBC Bristol and BBC Northern Ireland respectively. The original series of Top Gear was also produced by BBC Birmingham as was some content of the astronomy-based programme The Sky at Night, while the rest is produced in Selsey..
BBC regional news
BBC Midlands Today is broadcast from in the Mailbox in Birmingham, and is the regional news for;
- Northern Gloucestershire
- West Midlands
- North and West Oxfordshire
- BBC Asian Network
- Sue Beardsmore
- Ashley Blake
- Carl Chinn
- Sonia Deol
- Ed Doolan
- David Gregory-Kumar
- Kay Alexander
- Nick Owen
- Shefali Oza
- Satnam Rana
- Suzanne Virdee
- Adil Ray
- Peter Sissons
- Adam Yosef
- Michael Buerk
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- BBC Birmingham
- BBC mulls departure from White City
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/review_report_research/dqf/dqf.pdf[dead link]
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