BBC Alexandra Palace

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In today’s world of multi-channel television, it is hard to think back to a time when the fledgling medium was in its infancy. And yet nestled amongst 200 acres of sprawling parkland in north London lies the very birthplace of television.

Alexandra Palace in Wood Green was built in 1873 as ‘The People’s Palace’ and is where the BBC decided to launch the world’s first regular television service on 2nd November 1936. The location was chosen for technical reasons – standing 300 feet above sea level meant the inaugural ‘BBC Television Service’ would benefit from a clear transmission signal across the capital and surrounding areas.

We Can Work It Out

The BBC leased the east wing of the building from the palace’s trustees in June 1935, before embarking on a major programme of renovation and refurbishment that including the building of studios, make-up rooms and production galleries – as well as the installation of transmission equipment and a mast on the roof of the east tower. Two competing production systems were initially tested ahead of the launch (one operated by Marconi-EMI from Studio A, another by rival Baird Systems in Studio B). BBC engineers eventually opted for Marconi in 1937.

History Repeating

Alexandra Palace would go on to play a vital role in the broadcast of television services over the next 20 years – including the BBC’s coverage of the Queen’s coronation (1953), the launch of BBC TV News (1955) and the first TV programmes broadcast as part of the Open University (1971).

The timeline below, shows some of the key dates in the history of Alexandra Palace and its unique place in the story of television.

Year Milestone
1936 The BBC launches the world’s first regular television service from Alexandra Palace
1939 BBC TV Service is suspended during WWII. The transmitter is used to jam Luftwaffe radio signals
1946 BBC Television Service resumes broadcasting from Alexandra Palace
1953 The BBC broadcasts its coverage of the Queen’s coronation from Alexandra Palace
1955 BBC Television News is launched from Alexandra Palace
1956 Crystal Palace takes over as London’s main TV transmitter
1964 Transmission signals are incorporated into the design of Haringey Council’s coat of arms
1968 The BBC broadcasts the UK’s first TV news bulletin in colour from Alexandra Palace
1971 The Open University begins broadcasting from Alexandra Palace
1993 Alexandra Palace hosts the Brit Awards
1996 The Department of National Heritage confers Grade II listed status on Alexandra Palace
2016 Alexandra Palace is used as the bootcamp location for series 13 of The X Factor
2018 Alexandra Palace is selected as one of the venues for the BBC Proms

Death is Not the End

In 1956, Alexandra Palace was replaced by Crystal Palace in south London as the capital’s main television transmitter – carrying both the BBC Television Service as well as the newly launched commercial service ITV . However, the mast remains in place today and is still used for broadcasting some local television and radio services (including several DAB stations).

14 Jul 2018 Media Buildings