Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The BBC TV Archive Online

The British Broadcasting Corporation, commonly known as the BBC, is one of the oldest television stations in the world and, since their beginning in the 1930s, they have created some of the best television programs ever made.

What most Americans don't realize is there is not one BBC station...not two...not three....but four! BBC Four was launched in 2002 as an alternative channel to mainstream programming and offers some very interesting documentaries, arts and cultural programs, and re-runs, or "catch-ups" as the Brits call it, of classic programs. 

Like archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler here, we've unearthed a website that delves into these classic programs, providing an insight into Britain's television past. It's called the BBC iPlayer. 

The BBC iPlayer features a selection of some of the best archival programs from BBC 4, dating back to the 1950s. The programs are available for streaming online ( which you can view through your tele, too ) from the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/collections

Here is a brief overview of some of the programs they offer : 

The Sky at Night - Seven episodes from one of the longest-running television shows in history. Each month, beginning in 1957, host Patrick Moore took marvels from the far reaches of outer space and described them to us earthlings in fairly simple terminology. These episodes range from 1969-2005. 
Bohemian Icons A selection of ten programs exploring the lives of artists and writers who were bohemians in their time. A few episodes of Omnibus, an excellent documentary series, are included. 

Back to BASIC - Six 25-minute programs dating from the 1980s, when BBC launched BBC Micro to help people get acquainted with their computers. I'm sure some seniors are wishing there were programs like this today to help them navigate their smartphones. 

Legends of British Comedy Film - Nine programs about famous British comedians including Kenneth Williams, Norman Wisdom and Dirk Bogarde. Also, there is a great documentary about Ealing Studios thrown in. It dates from 1970. 
Post-War Architecture - London was bombed heavily during WWII and, instead of replicating their buildings of the past, the Brits took the opportunity to experiment with modern architectural designs of the future...or at least they seemed modern at the time. These 23 programs, dating from the 1980s and 1990s, take a look at those post-war designs. 

Archaeology at the BBC - Dating back from the 1950s, these 23 programs cover some of the major discoveries in the world of archaeology...including Stonehenge, Monhenjo-daro, and the story of the Ape Man discovered near Sussex that turned out to be a hoax. 

Classic Game Shows - Nine classic game shows ( unfortunately, only one episode per show ) including Ask the Family ( a variation of Family Feud? ), Animal Vegetable or Mineral ( panelists guess what unusual objects are ), and my favorite What's My Line?. Yes, the long-running US game show went across the pond and lasted several decades too. 
The Space Race - Brits had a bad case of Space Age fever during the 1960s and, even though they didn't make it to the moon, they launched some pretty stellar programs about the men who did. Eight of them, from Horizon, the Sky at Night and Panoramas, are in the archive.

Horizon - Speaking of Horizon, there is a selection of sixteen episodes from the long-running science documentary series included as well. 

Sir David Attenborough - This series of 31 programs takes a look back at the career of Sir David Attenborough and showcases his early work, primarily his adventures through Australia.
Talk - Daphne De Maurier, David Niven, Victoria Principal, Muhammad Ali, and Orson Welles are just a few of the people to receive in-depth interviews on series such as Panorama, Arena, and Parkinson.

The Great War Interviews - Sir Max Hastings introduces this selection of thirteen episodes from The Great War, where civilians and soldiers discuss how WWI affected their lives. 

Home Sweet Home - This series of 15 modern documentaries takes a look back at how the Brits lived in the 1940s-1980s. The All Mod Cons episodes are especially entertaining. 
Now, before you go heading over to the BBC archive to view these programs, there is something we neglected to tell you.....you can't view them online. At least not technically. But technologically you can!

The BBC iPlayer is for UK audiences only, so once the website detects your American "IP" address it will display a signpost announcing that these programs are unavailable overseas. However, there are websites that offer VPN services, allowing you to change your IP address to one from any other country, thereby masking your physical location. ExpressVPN, NordVPNUnlocator, and Unblockus are just a few companies that offer this service, usually offering a 7-14 day free trial, and thereafter at a cost of $4.99 per month. 

But wait...there's more! We just do not realize how lucky we are here. Did you know that in the UK you have to pay to watch television? This isn't your usual cable bill, it's a government license that entitles you the privilege of being bombarded with commercials...for the mere price of (£) 145 per year. It's known as the TV License. Whether you watch television live, on your laptop, your phone, or through recorded media ( DVRs ), you need a TV license. 

So, even after you mask your IP address you'll see a pop-up box asking you if you have a TV license. However, since we're not Brits ( in this case, thank heaven! ), just click on the "Yes, I have one" button and watch the programs. At $4.99 they are well worth the cost. 

A word of advice : It would be best to enjoy these programs soon. The BBC can - and probably will - remove them at any time, and it looks like some of the series "expire" within a year regardless. 


  1. Thanks for the info, especially the tech tips on the VPN services. I'm not sure why the BBC wouldn't want to promote these shows more "across the pond." I haven't seen many of the old BBC shows, but have enjoyed many of the ones I have (e.g., QUATERMASS AND THE PIT).

    1. I'm sure most of us Americans have not seen the BBC programs, but they really did have some top notch shows during the 1960s-1980s, and it is nice to see BBC put them online, even if they aren't promoted here. I hope you enjoy them!

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