BBC Two is the second television channel operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. It covers a wide range of subject matter, but tending towards more "highbrow" programmes than the more mainstream and popular BBC One. Like the BBC's other domestic TV and radio channels, it is funded by the television licence, and is therefore commercial-free. It is a comparatively well-funded public service network, regularly attaining a much higher audience share than most public service networks worldwide.
Originally styled BBC2, it was the third British television station to be launched (starting on 20 April 1964), and from 1 July 1967, Europe's first television channel to broadcast regularly in colour. It was envisaged as a home for less mainstream and more ambitious programming, and while this tendency has continued to date, most special-interest programmes of a kind previously broadcast on BBC Two, for example the BBC Proms, now tend to appear on BBC Four instead.
A high-definition version of the channel launched on 26 March 2013, replacing BBC HD.
British television at the time of BBC2's launch consisted of two channels: the BBC Television Service and the ITV network made up of smaller regional companies. Both channels had existed in a state of competition since ITV's launch in 1955, and both had aimed for a populist approach in response. The 1962 Pilkington Report on the future of broadcasting noticed this, and that ITV lacked any serious programming. It therefore decided that Britain's third television station should be awarded to the BBC.
Prior to its launch, the new BBC2 was promoted on the BBC Television Service: the soon to be renamed BBC1. The animated adverts featured the campaign mascots "Hullabaloo", a mother kangaroo, and "Custard", her joey. Prior to, and several years after, the channel's formal launch, the channel broadcast "Trade Test Transmissions", short films made externally by companies such as Shell and BP, which served to enable engineers to test reception, but became cult viewing.
The channel was scheduled to begin at 19:20 on 20 April 1964 and show an evening of light entertainment, starting with the comedy show The Alberts, a performance from Soviet comedian Arkady Raikin, and a production of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, culminating with a fireworks display. However, at around 18:45 a huge power failure, originating from a fire at Battersea Power Station, caused Television Centre, and indeed much of west London, to lose all power. BBC1 was able to continue broadcasting via its facilities at Alexandra Palace, but all attempts to show the scheduled programmes on the new channel failed. Associated-Rediffusion, the London weekday ITV franchise-holder, offered to transmit on the BBC's behalf, but their gesture was rejected. At 22:00 programming was officially postponed until the following morning. As the BBC's news centre at Alexandra Palace was unaffected, they did in fact broadcast brief bulletins on BBC2 that evening, beginning with an announcement by the newsreader Gerald Priestland at around 19:25. There was believed to be no recording made of this bulletin, but a videotape was discovered in early 2003.
By 11:00 on 21 April, power had been restored to the studios and programming began, thus making Play School the first programme to be shown officially on the channel. The launch schedule, postponed from the night before, was then successfully shown that evening, albeit with minor changes. In reference to the power cut, the transmission opened with a shot of a lit candle which was then sarcastically blown out by presenter Denis Tuohy.
To establish the new channel's identity and draw viewers to it, the BBC decided that a widely promoted, lavish series would be essential in its earliest days. The production chosen was The Forsyte Saga (1967), a no-expense-spared adaptation of the novels by John Galsworthy, featuring well-established actors Kenneth More and Eric Porter. Critically for the future of the fledgling channel, the BBC's gamble was hugely successful, with an average of six million viewers tuning in per episode: a feat made more prominent by the fact that only 9 million were able to receive the channel at the time.
Unlike BBC1 and ITV, BBC2 was broadcast only on the 625 line UHF system, so was not available to viewers still using sets on the 405-line VHF system. This created a market for dual standard receivers which could switch between the two systems. The early technical problems, which included being unable to transmit US-recorded videotapes due to a lack of system conversion from the US NTSC system, were resolved by a committee headed by James Redmond.
The new 625 line system had one noticeable advantage: the bandwidth was sufficient for colour broadcasts and indeed on 1 July 1967, during the Wimbledon Championships, BBC2 became the first channel in Europe to begin regular broadcasts in colour, using the PAL system. The thirteen part series Civilisation (1969) was created as a celebration of two millennia of western art and culture to showpiece the new colour technology. BBC1 and ITV later joined BBC2 on 625-line UHF band, but continued to simulcast on 405-line VHF until 1985. BBC1 and ITV simultaneously introduced PAL colour on UHF on 15 November 1969, although they both had broadcast some programmes in colour "unofficially" since at least late 1968.
In 1979, the station adopted the first computer-generated channel identification (ident) in Britain, with its use of the double striped, orange '2' logo. The ident, created in house by BBC engineers, lasted until March 1986 and heralded the start of computer-generated logos.
As the switch to digital-only terrestrial transmission progressed, BBC Two was (in each region in turn) the first analogue TV channel to be replaced with the BBC multiplex, at first four, then two weeks ahead of the other four channels. This was required for those relay transmitters that had no current Freeview service giving viewers time to purchase the equipment, unless they had already selected a satellite or cable service. The last region for BBC Two to end on analogue terrestrial television was Northern Ireland on 10 October 2012.
It was announced on 19 February 2013 that a HD simulcast of BBC Two would commence on 26 March 2013 at 6am. This is the single UK service without national variations.
At the 2012 Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, BBC Two was named "Terrestrial Channel of the Year".
The channel controllers have been:
- 1964–1965: Michael Peacock
- 1965–1969: David Attenborough
- 1969–1974: Robin Scott
- 1974–1978: Aubrey Singer
- 1978–1982: Brian Wenham
- 1982–1987: Graeme MacDonald
- 1987–1992: Alan Yentob
- 1992–1996: Michael Jackson
- 1996–1999: Mark Thompson
- 1999–2004: Jane Root
- 2004–2008: Roly Keating
- 2008–2014: Janice Hadlow
- 2014–present: Kim Shillinglaw
Adam Barker served as Acting Controller of the channel, after Janice Hadlow left the channel in March 2014 and until Kim Shillinglaw began as new permanent occupant of the post.
Since 2013, the Controller of BBC Two has been given the expanded title Controller of BBC Two and BBC Four, with ultimate oversight of the BBC Four service added to their duties (a BBC Four "Channel Editor", reporting up to this Controller, has day-to-day operational control of Four).
BBC Two’s remit is to be a mixed-genre channel appealing to a broad adult audience with programmes of depth and substance. It should carry the greatest amount and range of knowledge building programming of any BBC television channel, complemented by distinctive comedy, drama and arts programming.— BBC Two remit
BBC Two's remit historically was one screening programmes targeting the arts, culture, some comedy and drama, and appealing to audiences not already served by BBC1 or ITV. Over its first thirty or so years the channel developed a reputation for screening highly praised and prestigious drama series, among these Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) or 1996's, critically acclaimed Our Friends in the North. The channels "highbrow" profile is also in part attributable to a long history of demanding documentaries of all types, beginning with Civilisation and The Ascent of Man in the 1960s. Like the early Channel 4, BBC2 also established for itself a reputation as a champion of independent and international cinema, under the Screen 2 brand.
The channel has sometimes been judged, increasingly in more recent years, to have moved away from this original role and to have moved closer to the mainstream. Since the launch of the digital-only BBC Four, the BBC has been accused in particular of shifting its more highbrow output to the new channel, which, until the end of the UK's digital TV switchover in October 2012, a minority (7.5% in the final quarter of 2010) of viewers did not receive. BBC Four's remit is very similar to that of the earlier remit of BBC2, and contains many documentaries and arts programming. It has been perceived by some that this strategy is to allow BBC Two to show more popular programmes and to secure higher ratings. Since 2004 there have been some signs of an attempt to return closer to parts of BBC Two's earlier output with the arts strand The Culture Show. Its most popular programme at the moment is Top Gear.
Much of BBC Two's output have previously, or subsequently been shown on other channels. Some of these programmes are repeats of popular or flagship programmes from BBC Four in a late night strand, originally called BBC Four on Two but now unbranded, for the benefit of audiences without access to BBC Four. Other programmes are moved to the channel as a result of their success on BBC Three or Four, so that subsequent series are well received. An example of this is the BBC Three series Torchwood that was transferred to the channel following the success of the first series. BBC Two is also used as a testing ground for programmes prior to their moving to the flagship BBC One: such examples include Have I Got News for You and popular comedy Miranda, which moved to BBC One after success on Two. Also in August 2014 The Great British Bake Off moved to BBC One due to its success the previous year on BBC Two.
Another founding part of BBC Two was to provide educational and community programming on the BBC, as part of its public service remit. The educational section of this commitment saw BBC2 broadcast a large amount of programming for the Open University, who co-produced programming with the corporation, and saw the channel broadcast BBC Schools programmes from 1983 until the programmes were transferred to the BBC Learning Zone in 2010.
As a result of the channel's commitment to community broadcasting, the channel produced the symbolic Open Space series, a strand developed in the early 1970s in which members of the public would be allotted half an hour of television time, and given a level of editorial and technical training in order to produce for themselves a film on an issue most important to them. BBC2's Community Programme Unit kept this aspect of the channel's tradition alive into the 1990s in the form of Video Diaries and later Video Nation. The Community Programmes Unit was disbanded in 2004.
BBC Two originally showed children's programming in the morning, with two different blocks: CBBC and CBeebies. First, at 6 am until 7 am the CBeebies block was shown (every day), then at 7 am until 8:30 am CBBC was shown (weekdays only), then at 8:30 am to 11:30 am it was followed by BBC World News, with Daily Politics on Wednesday. The CBeebies block was then shown again (only on weekdays). On BBC Two Scotland between 8.30 and 9 am, they would show Gaelic children's programmes under the name CBeebies Alba. Then at 9 am they would hand over to CBeebies. On Saturdays, the CBBC block was shown from 7 am until 12 pm (at 11:40 am a repeat of MOTD Kickabout would be shown.) On Sundays, the CBBC block was shown from 7 am until 10 am (except if special events were shown). But in 2013 this was removed as the digital switchover meant that the dedicated CBBC and Cbeebies channel were widely available, and replaced by repeats and the Signzone (programmes from across the BBC with sign language, audio description etc.). At the same time a new hour-long news programme was created at 11 am called Eleven O'Clock Newshour which is made up of half an hour of BBC News and half BBC World News. Other News Channel programmes such as HARDtalk and Click were added to fill the 10:30 slot. From 2014 the first UK airing of BBC World News's The Travel Show fills the Friday morning slot.
On weekday holidays and weekends at 11:30 am feature films are shown instead of programmes such as Ready Steady Cook, The Pink Panther Show, Meerkat Manor or BBC World News. Mainly the films are black and white.
On occasional Friday nights when charity telethons, such as Sports Relief or Comic Relief, are shown, a 40-minute section is shown at 10 pm while the BBC News at Ten is being broadcast on BBC One, and the National Lottery is shown around 11:30 pm.
Some BBC Two programming was simulcast or repeated in high definition on separate channel BBC HD, until 6:00 am on 26 March 2013, when the BBC HD channel ceased operation, being instead replaced by BBC Two HD and simulcast with its SD variant.
Since January 2013, BBC Two stopped showing children's programmes and replaced the weekday morning schedule with repeats of the previous BBC One morning schedule such as Homes Under the Hammer, Don't Get Done, Get Dom, Street Patrol UK, Caught Red Handed, Cowboy Trap, Rip Off Britain and other consumer programmes shown between 6.05 am and 8.20 am, then between 8.20 am and 10.35 am they show Sign Zone with programming with sign language on. On weekend mornings they show old black and white movies followed by a double bill of nature programming of David Attenborough, and occasionally an omnibus of programmes that have been during the week including Great Railway Journeys. They also started showing Sign Zone in the early hours after 12:20 am, which BBC One used to show before 2013.
From October 2013, BBC Two showed old classic programmes like Bergerac, Cagney and Lacey, The Rockford Files, 'Allo 'Allo!, and Are You Being Served? on weekday afternoons around 2:15 with the old retro logos from 1970s–80s in between the programmes.
In October 2014, Russell Howard's Good News and Backchat moved to BBC Two. They were previously shown on BBC Three.
In 2014, BBC Two commissioned Britain's first transgender sitcom, called Boy Meets Girl, which follows the developing relationship between Leo, a 26-year-old man and Judy, a 40-year-old transgender woman.
From 7 April 2015 the morning sign-zone was replaced by Victoria Derbyshire.
As well as programmes, BBC Two has also proved memorable for its numerous idents — various short films shown in between programme junctions that serve as the channel identity. Nearly all of the identity packages used since the channel's launch in 1964 have featured a prominent numeral '2' in the design. Notable designs include the electronic double striped 2, the white TWO ident (the only ident not to use a numeral '2'), and most notably the 1991 '2's.
The 1991 '2's featured a sans-serif numeral '2' at the centre of an initially art-related scene; however the idents moved away from this style later on as the station's style changed. Although highly praised, this expansive set of idents was ended in November 2001. The BBC corporate logo was updated within the idents in October 1997, though the idents moved away from the original viridian colour scheme in these latter years. The subsequent presentation style was introduced on 19 November 2001 and kept the same figure '2', but in a yellow background and given a personality. At the time, BBC Two became the first BBC channel to feature a box logo.
In 2007, BBC Two debuted the new theme a "Window on the World", with the '2' numeral providing that view. Introduced on 18 February 2007, the new look also saw the channel adopt a new teal coloured box logo, featuring the BBC logo above the name 'TWO' in the font Avenir.
In 2014, some of the 1990s idents were re-introduced, with a white box at the bottom right of the screen with the 2007 logo, which rotates to reveal the words "50 Years" to its left. There was also a special anniversary ident with the same 50 Years logo variant in the corner.
On 1 January 2015, BBC Two permanently reintroduced and modified the selection of the 1990s idents used in 2014, implementing the teal box logo whilst ridding of the 50 Years logo. However, BBC Two Northern Ireland have opted for a centralised text-only logo and, unlike the other regional variations of BBC Two, are currently airing nearly forty idents from the '1991—2001' set.
BBC Two also has regional variations in the nations: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Nations versions of BBC Two share the same idents, but with the nation name in the BBC Two box. BBC Two Scotland shows a lot of specifically Scottish programming on the channel, as well as its sister channel BBC One Scotland, and the schedules are often mixed around to match. BBC Two Northern Ireland and BBC Two Wales both have the option to opt out, however they generally stick to the network schedule, only opting out a couple of times each week. Until December 2008, BBC Wales broadcast a special, digital-only channel, BBC 2W, which contained more opt-outs than analogue-only BBC Two Wales. BBC Scotland occasionally broadcast Gaelic-language programmes under the banner BBC Two Alba.
In England, many of the English regions were combined to form "super-regions", such as the entire North or Midlands. These had the option to opt out of the network programming on the analogue feed, and replace it with local programming. However this was usually only done in exceptional circumstances, as all regular regional programming has been transferred to BBC One, and the English regions are not available on digital on BBC Two. There is no specific BBC Two England; this role is fulfilled by the network BBC Two.
Availability outside the UK
BBC Two is widely available in the Republic of Ireland on cable and MMDS, as well as being received directly in areas bordering Northern Ireland, or in coastal areas from Wales. It is also available on cable and IPTV in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. On 27 March 2013, it began being carried by British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) to members of HM Forces and their families around the world, replacing the BFBS2 TV channel, which already carried a selection of BBC Two programmes. It shares a channel with CBBC, which broadcasts from early morning until the early evening.
The BBC announced in May 2008 that it had achieved its aim for all programming to have subtitles for viewers with hearing difficulties. These are available on the BBC Red Button, and until 23 October 2012, via the Ceefax teletext service. The BBC also offers audio description on some popular programmes for visually impaired-viewers. The percentage of the BBC's total television output with audio description available is 10%, having been increased from 8% in 2008.
BBC Two HD
Originally, programmes from BBC Two were shown in high definition on the dedicated BBC HD channel, alongside programmes from BBC Three and BBC Four, as well as some select series from CBBC and CBeebies. However, in plans outlined by the director general Mark Thompson on 6 October 2011, BBC HD would close to be replaced by BBC Two HD, a high-definition simulcast of BBC Two that would work much the same way as BBC One HD. This move allowed the corporation to save £2.1 million, used to count towards its budget deficit following the freezing of the licence fee and the additional financial responsibility of addition services.
On 19 February 2013, it was announced that BBC Two HD would replace BBC HD from 6.05 am on 26 March 2013. Channel numbers for the BBC's HD channels also changed on Sky, to allow BBC One HD and BBC Two HD to sit side-by-side on channels 141, and 142 respectively on the EPG.
On 16 July 2013, the BBC indicated that it wants to launch Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh variations of BBC Two HD; however, this would require the approval of the BBC Trust, with a proposal due to be presented within six months.
On 10 December 2013, BBC Two HD was swapped with the SD channel in England on Sky's EPG for HD subscribers.